A yoga bolster is like a pillow but thicker and more supportive, designed to support, create relaxation, help soften a posture, or aid in opening the body. A bolster is commonly used in prenatal, restorative, and Iyengar based classes.
Using props like bolsters, blocks and pillows in your home yoga practice can support you to go deeper into the pose, relax muscles and improve precision and alignment. These props are also great for incorporating into poses that challenge you. Whether you prefer Hatha, Vinyasa, or Iyengar, it’s always recommended to integrate props if they feel good for you.
So which are the best poses for using pillows and bolsters in your home yoga practice?
Shavasana (aka corpse pose)
This asana (pose) is often used for relaxation at the end of a session, during yoga nidra meditation. Lying on your back, it’s time to relax your mind and let your body absorb the good work of your session. The feeling of the body on the floor heightens sensory awareness and creates a biofeedback system, which helps you relax naturally
Once on your back, feel your weight sinking into the ground. Then breathe into and relax onto the pressure points until your body feels the release. If you feel back pain in this position, it can be helpful to use a supportive memory foam under the knees, like the Boost Pillow. This lengthens and creates space in the lower back, allowing it to relax and soften down into the floor. A Go Pillow is also excellent for supporting the head and shoulders correctly, without pushing the head forward.
Balasana (Child's Pose)
Start with a bolster lengthways in front of you and kneel with your sit bones on your heels. Touch big toes together and widen your knees. If this position is too much for your knees, you could try straddling a bolster lengthways – pull the pillow towards you and fold forward to rest your torso on it until you can relax into the pose. If you only need a little support, try the Boost Pillow lengthways.
Your head can turn to the left or right, as long as you switch during the pose. Breathe deeply to relax your muscles and slow your heart rate, imagining expanding across the back and chest and creating space in the muscles between the ribs.
Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
Sit tall with legs extended in front of you. For tight hip flexors, try sitting on a slim pillow, and if you need hamstring support, place the Boost Pillow under your knees. Lengthen through your spine and gently ‘walk’ your sit bones backwards. Place 1 to 2 pillows, lengthwise, on top of your legs, drawing the edge of the pillow(s) all the way to your lower belly and hips.
Then, extend your upper body upwards, lengthen your chest forward and rest your arms by your legs as you soften down over the pillows. Round through your entire back, releasing the muscles that support your spine.
Viparita Karani (lying with your legs up the wall)
In this pose, extra support underneath the sacrum relieves tension in tight hamstrings and hip flexors. Place one or more pillows against the wall (the Go Pillow gives a slight elevation without being too thick). Lie on your side next to the pillow, and roll onto your back until your legs are pointing straight up the wall and your sacrum is in the middle of the pillow. (It may take a while to get into this position). Rest your arms by your sides and relax completely as you breathe slowly and deeply for 5-10 minutes.
Sukhasana – sitting on the floor cross-legged
If you sit at a desk and don’t stretch your lower body often, this classic yoga pose may be challenging. It’s often practiced during meditation, therefore it’s one where you should feel comfortable for extended periods. Sitting on a slim pillow or folded towel takes the pressure off the spine by slightly tilting the pelvis forward.
Find a comfortable cross-legged position – whether your ankles are stacked one in front of the other, in a half-lotus, or even full lotus. Rest the knees on the ground, letting the pelvis tilt forward to naturally lengthen the spine. Gently engage your core to support the lower back. Roll the shoulders back and down, and let your knees drop. If one leg is tighter than the other, it can feel good to support that knee with a pillow.
Upavistha Konasana – forward bend with legs apart
Props can help create comfort as you increase your flexibility in this floor pose. Stretch both legs out as wide as feels good for you – the trick is to feel challenged but not in pain. Feel the connection between your sit bones and the earth. To protect the hamstrings, keep flexion in the feet and your quads engaged. Place your bolster lengthways in front of you. Breathe in as you lengthen the spine, and breathe out while folding forward. As you become more flexible in this pose, you may prefer to move to a smaller pillow or remove this support altogether.