The yoga blanket is a highly versatile prop, not only used for warmth but also for refinement in poses, for support and alignment. Cotton is the best material so the blanket can retain its shape and density as well as being malleable enough to be used in many different ways. The synthetic, thin, fleecy blanket that you might buy from a home furnishings store, while cheap, isn’t the best investment to make. It will only serve one or two functions and won’t give you the range and versatility that the Indian cotton blankets do.
If you go to a yoga studio that regularly uses cotton blankets, such as an Iyengar centre, you will see piles of them. They are one of the main pieces of equipment used in the practice and learning to fold and stack them neatly is critical.
There are three main shapes of blankets– flat folded, rolled and pleated – and each shape provides support, structure, ease, movement and alignment, depending on how it is used, for which pose and for what reason. Often, these methods are combined, with several blankets being used in one pose. The softness and stability also provide an important touch sensation.
For example, the soft surface touching the neck skin when resting the head on a folded blanket in Savasana (Corpse Pose), send signals to the brain to relax the muscles there.
Conversely, if used to support the knee in a seated pose such as Janu Sirsasana, there is enough give so that the knee can gradually move down or press down to a lower height.
Blankets are important when you might need recuperative or gentle practice, as you’ll see from some of the following examples. They are very useful for modifying poses to give the body extra relief, so you can stay longer and get maximum benefit from recuperative poses.
Here are examples of each shape used in Savasana (Corpse pose), the single most important pose for recuperation and healing.
In Savasana, the trunk can be elevated on folded blankets to give a feeling of ease and lightness in the breath, provide support for your heart and lungs, and educate your body in the proper alignment of your head, neck shoulder girdle and ribs. It can be extremely helpful for pregnancy, when lying down flat becomes uncomfortable, and for anyone who finds lying on the floor a problem. Savasana II is used as a pre-cursor to seated breath work – Pranayama. It allows students to relax their nerves and nervous system, and to quieten the mind.
First, learn how to create a flat folded blanket: always fold along the long edge, bringing the two shorter edges together. Then learn how to neatly pleat or roll your blankets, keeping the selvedge tucked inside and having the smooth, folded edges in contact with your skin.
Four flat, folded blankets are stacked neatly, folded wide to allow for complete support of the rib cage. There is a slight step of the top two blankets from the edge, to allow for the lower abdomen to completely descend towards the lower back spine. As you lie down, keep your legs bent and your buttocks on the floor. You can shift a little further off the blankets depending on the shape of your pelvis and length of your lower back but make sure that the whole of your rib cage, shoulder girdle and head are supported on the blankets.
Your arms should be either on the floor or, if this is uncomfortable (where the arms pull down on the neck), lengthwise folded blankets can be used to keep your arms at the same level as your trunk.
A further folded blanket should be placed for the head with the neat edge of the fold towards the shoulders to provide a soft surface for your neck. Pull the blanket right up to lightly touch the shoulders, so that the whole of the back of the neck and head is touching the blanket.
If your legs are tight, refusing to relax or release, use a firmly rolled blanket to encourage them to soften. With your legs apart and heels extended, pull the rolled blankets into the side of each thigh.
Let your feet roll outwards so that the thigh flesh rests on the rolls. (The roll shape should be more or less as long as your thigh and do not place the blankets under your thighs; just let them rest on the blanket rolls.)
If your hamstrings are tight or your lower back is tender, place one large blanket roll under the back of each knee by using two blankets rolled together. If your heels don’t touch the floor, use a block under each foot.
Horizontal: This is a good option to really open and widen the chest but also for pregnancy, where there is heart burn or acidity, placing the pleated blanket across the back of the chest is very helpful and gives relief. It’s fantastic for those with lung problems, asthma and heart conditions. Make a narrow pleat as shown in the photo and position that on top of the pile of folded blankets shown in Savasana (above). The pleated blanket will lift the centre of the chest up so an extra lift under the head might be necessary. In this picture, Rachel is lifting the blanket from both ends to encourage the chest to lift and open.
In India, white cotton blankets are the norm and have been since the 1960’s and ’70s. In the US, Mexican blankets are favoured because of their cotton and wool mix, vibrant colours and durability. In the 1970’s, the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco collected surplus blankets from the army. They were a bit rough and rugged but for a studio, could be bought in bulk and were long lasting.
Read more: yogamatters.com