What's a Bolster...? Its basically it's a big sausage like cushion used in many yoga practices like Yin and Restorative yoga and can often be recommended to support lower back pain, and you can use in so many different ways (as shown below) for relaxing, stretching, supporting and deepening poses. It is a yoga prop I highly recommend EVERYONE should have if you practice Yoga - second to a Yoga Mat.
Above is one of my all time favourite poses!
This supported reclined pose (also know as Supported Supta Baddha Konasana / Reclined Butterfly Pose) is a quick way to tap into that Sympathetic Nervous System (inducing that rest and relaxation state), by reprogramming your nervous system, as you sink into the support of the bolster and just 'let go'. Super comfy too! It allows your chest and heart to open, reversing the affects of the rounding from hunching over computers or driving and a great stretch for the shoulders too. It also creates more space across the front body, opening the lungs to breathe freely and more fully. As well as a lovely hip opener.
In this picture I have actually crossed my legs, to support my thighs a little more and you can put some cushions or blocks under thighs/knees to support the legs too if you like, because this can be quite an intense stretch into the inner thighs, groin and hips, when half for a long period. So feel free to have your legs bent or even just out long... whatever works for you and your body.
If you haven't got blocks or a bolster you can recreate this pose with a bed pillow (or two) and some folded blankets or smaller cushions underneath to create the angle and height... have a play!
Add an eye pillow and blanket for a super dreamy pose and I would recommend 5-10mins in this pose.
Then with the same set up... you can try this one (above), as you can tell from my face, another awesome pose to rest the mind and body after a long and stressful day.
The bolster can be propped like this (above) or just lay the bolster on the ground. In both poses, I recommend playing with the height and angle that works for you to support any areas you might need to take care of like the neck, or knees, to make sure it is comfortable. You can add more cushions, or folded blankets for chest, head or even your seat (placing the cushion or blanket between calves and bottom to create lift and reduce compression on backs of knees)
In the pose, have the bolster between the legs and simply 'snuggle' the bolster (or cushions), you can turn the palm up or down (whatever is more comfortable for shoulders) or even wrap your arms around the bolster.
Both the above poses are great to help create a calm mind before bed and induce a good nights sleep... so I highly recommended these if you struggle unwinding at the end of the day. You can do these poses anything from 2-10mins - but set a timer as you will drift off!
These two poses above and the one below I use often in my Yin & Restore Monthly Specials (see links at end of post) and my Sleep Well Course which is currently running, but more dates coming, so if interested get in touch and check out more here or below: https://www.wildandfreeadventures.co.uk/sleep-well
Add a 'twist' into the equation with this great pose, which at first glance may or may not look relaxing but I promise you it is! Reclined Twist with a Bolster is a lovely way to unravel the spine, body and mind after a long day, especially it you feel tense at the end of a day, this pose lengthens and almost wrings out the spine, releasing any knots and tension build up in the back, spine and hips.
I tend to recommend this one with the bolster on the ground or just slightly lifted (as shown above) and an extra couple of folded blankets or cushions to place under the arms... but all our bodies are different, so you may not want anything under the arms (I have short arms, so for me, it is nice to bring the ground up to my forearms to allow my shoulders and arms to full relax)
To come into this one sit sideways next to the bolster (hip next to end of bolster), drop the knees (bent) towards the bolster and take hands either side of bolster and lower down onto bolster and get comfy.
In this version I have then slid my top knee/leg back behind the lower leg to increase the twist and stretch into the hip and thigh a bit more... trust me, it feels good!
Bolsters are great props if you are tight in hips and legs, because they can be great for accessing stretches that otherwise you may find difficult because of tightness.
This pose above can be done with the knee bent and the foot on the mat, or stretched out long like above.
To come into this pose, lay onto your back, bend both knees and lift the hips into a bridge pose (see picture below) and gently slide the bolster underneath your sacrum (flat part below the lower back) and then draw one knee into the chest with hands and either keep the opposite knee bent or extend for a deeper stretch into the front thigh. I recommend coming into this with knee bent for a few breaths first and then extending the leg... allowing time for muscle and tissues to lengthen and release, it is much more effective and avoids over stretching.
With the hips lifted by the bolster (again you can use cushions and folded blankets instead) it allows you to bring the knee in a little closer into your body. At the same time if you extend the leg, it increases the stretch by getting deeper into hip flexors and the Psoas muscle. An awesome stretch if you sit at a desk and drive a lot, when the hip flexors become short and tight.
Another amazing pose to calm and reset the nervous system... the feeling of the full weight off your hips being supported is so relaxing. They are heavy (and large bones) after all !
This can also be done with a yoga block, cushions, or folded blanket, but again nothing beats that soft but firm feeling of a bolster as you let go of the hips and just sink into its support.
The knees can be bent or some people prefer a little back bend and thigh stretch while here and extend legs out long (just be sure this feels okay on the lower back... listen to your body!). I sometimes suggest taking the feet the width of your mat and then allowing the knees to fall inwards, to really let go of the lower body.
This pose is a great pose for circulation, offering fresh blood flow to the brain organs and another one I recommend for a busy mind to settle before bed, really setting you up for a good nights sleep. Also a great one to reset in the middle of the day during a lunch break, if you're feeling overwhelmed from a busy day, just take a moment to come into this pose... release and feel the grounding sensation of the earth beneath.
Another useful way to use your bolster in your yoga practice is to support the legs in low lunge, like above. The bolster can be under the front leg to sink into, or to support the back leg by placing it underneath your back thigh. Either way it is a great way to support your body weight while lunging and focus on alignment and strengthening.
I often do this as a strengthening exercise with my clients and I get them to hold this for a period of time to lengthen tight legs and hips, but also strengthen the legs and back at the same time. Lunges can sometimes be a 'marmite' pose that people find difficult when working through a sun salutation or vinyasa flow and this is often due to lack of strength. So working on strengthening the leg muscles is a great way to support your balance and smoother transitions in/out of these poses in a flow... try it and let me know how you get on. I recommend holding for 2-3mins each side and focusing on rooting down (pressing) front foot into earth so the front legs muscles are engaged, while taking some long deep breaths. Play with the positioning of bolster and add a couple of blocks on top as well, to bring the props to your body and not try to reach the props... work with your range of mobility and flexibility (not the other way round).
Do you find Sphinx (Salamba Bhujangasana) a little strong on the shoulders?
Here's the perfect way to relax into this pose (above), while still stimulating and extending the back, but simply with some support. You can move the bolster further down or up the body to find the right stress for your lower back and then relax into the bolster. Taking the shoulders and pressure in this area out of the equation, especially if holding for longer periods in Yin or if you want a more Restorative practice or pose.
Sphinx Pose is great for stretching the abdominal muscles, chest and front of body, while you extend the back body. For a deeper backbend, check out the below pose.
Enjoy Salamba Bhujangasana/Sphinx Pose and working on your backbends and want to work safely into a more deeper backbend? Here is an alternative way of working with the bolster to increase the stress and extension, by taking the forearms up onto the bolster (but with a softer and more forgiving surface, rather than the hard floor). Feel free to separate the legs to a comfortable distance and make sure the back is comfortable. You want to feel a sensation but not pinching and you need to be able to maintain this position for a couple of minutes, so do not come to your edge or maximum, find that 'goldilocks' position.
You can deepen this even further by taking hands onto bolster and straightening the arms... coming into Seal Pose. The deeper the back bend, I recommend reducing the amount of time you hold the pose.
For back bends and good counter pose is Childs Pose (forward fold, with knees bent) to release the spine from compression. See below an option with a bolster, which offers a shoulder stretch too. This pose below is great for desk workers and surfers (releasing tight muscles from paddling) and a great chest opener too.
So... there's why you need a bolster in your life!
Honestly this has been the best yoga prop purchase I ever made and it come with me everywhere.
Try some of the poses above with some cushions (bed pillows are a great alternative to a bolster) or folded blankets and or yoga blocks, while you are waiting for your bolster to arrive. Then, try them again with a bolster - and see the difference!
I recommend foam bolsters as they are firmer and while the buckwheat ones are great, I find foam bolsters more versatile and lighter to carry around too! If you are planning to take your bolster to yoga classes, I recommend investing in a yoga bolster bag, as they are large items and a strange shape that doesn't really fit into the bags you'll have at home, so while you are splashing out, why not treat yourself.
Happy Bolster shopping and I'd love to know how you get on... so whether you are trying some of my favourite poses above or purchasing a bolster for the first time, please share your thoughts/comment below and also feel free to ask questions.
I am not affiliated with Yoga Matters in any way or is this a paid ad, but get my bolsters (the one above) from Yoga Matters and my bolsters have been on many Yoga Retreats and classes and have stood up to the wear and tear of a lot of use, so I do recommend their bolsters - see link below: https://www.yogamatters.com/collections/yoga-bolsters/products/yogamatters-bolster
If you want to join me on my Yin & Restorative Yoga Sessions to explore these poses and more, check out my Monthly Specials: https://www.wildandfreeadventures.co.uk/bookings-checkout/yin-restore
Or if you are looking for improving your Sleep and interested in finding more about relaxation techniques for a busy mind or struggle with sleep (whether thats getting off to sleep or waking in the night) then check out my Sleep Well Course, which is currently running atm, so register your interest if you would be interested in this course: https://www.wildandfreeadventures.co.uk/sleep-well
Thanks for reading and like I said 'share' your thoughts, experiences, or ask questions... I love hearing from you.