Welcome to our ‘How to Yoga’ prop series! In this series of posts, we’ll be going through some of the different types of props you might be able to use in your yoga practice, and ways to use them. This isn’t by any means a definitive guide, because your prop use is only limited by your imagination! Everyone will find different things helpful for their practice, so take these ideas as inspiration to get creative in your own body.
And remember, under no circumstances does using props make your yoga ‘less’ than a yoga practice without props. They’re not aides or training wheels, they’re tools for you to explore. People at every stage of their yoga journey can use props to help support or extend their practice, and everyone deserves to do yoga that feels comfortable in their body.
Get comfy, because in this post we’re talking all about how to use yoga bolsters in your yoga practice!
Bolsters are often associated with restorative practices, like Yin yoga, but they’re also a fantastic tool to use in all kinds of practices to help you adapt or add to your poses.
They kind of resemble giant pillows, and come in a huge range of sizes, shapes, patterns, and firmness. Most commonly, they’re long cylindrical or oval shaped pillows, around 50-70cms long. Firmness really depends on personal preference and what you’re hoping to use it for. You don’t want them too squishy, otherwise they don’t provide much support!
Yoga bolsters are unfortunately on the more expensive side, but you can certainly achieve most of the uses by subbing for a couple of firmer pillows. Experiment around with what works and use your imagination!
The bolster in the pictures are from a wonderful Australian company called Stretch Now, and I highly recommend them!
1. Supporting Joints
Sore or weak joints are some of the most common complaints that people experience in their bodies and can be a barrier in a lot of yoga poses. Putting pressure on the wrists and knees in particular can be really difficult, and impact your whole practice, so bolsters can be a fantastic adaptive tool here.
The added height of the bolster means that you can use it as an extension of your arms. For example, you can hold the weight through your elbows rather than wrists, like in downward dog and cobra, as shown in the pictures below. You might also use the softness to pad the knees in poses like tabletop, camel, and any other poses that weight bear on your knees.
2. Lifting Hips
We spoke about this in our blog post about blocks, and the same principle applies here. Sitting can be tough on the hips, knees, and lower back, and end up being quite uncomfortable. Using a bolster for seated poses can lift your hips off the ground and give your legs a lot more space to open, and your spine some extra length. In the photos below, you can see an (exaggerated) example of the difference a bolster can make.
I actually prefer using the bolster rather than a block for this, and if you look at some of my photos and videos on social media and the website, you’ll see that I usually have a bolster to sit on, especially during breathing practices!
As we’ve seen with other props, bolsters can be fantastic for grounding. Particularly because they have some weight to them, the sensory feedback is a great element to anchor the attention. In savasana and meditation using the bolster on your body can add that extra layer of deep relaxation.
You can experiment around with the best uses for you, but my favourites are across the knees or belly (seated in a chair is great for across the knees, but there is no chair in the photos for obvious reasons). You might also lay your spine along the bolster to experience that different shape and comfort in your relaxation.
Inversions might sound intimidating, but in reality, an inversion is any position where your head is below your heart. This can get your blood circulating in new ways, calm your nervous system, and build strength. There are plenty of ways to make inversions more accessible, and bolsters can definitely be helpful here.
In the pictures you can see a couple of examples of how you might use a bolster in your inversion practice. My favourite way to learn crow balance is by squatting on the bolster and learning to rock your weight into your hands. Your body is essentially in the right position from here, and you can practice lifting your toes up to balance on your hands!
You can also use it as an extra boost to your legs up the wall inversion (shown as legs in the air below, for obvious reasons). And lastly, you could deepen your headstand or forearm stand practice by getting that extra height under your feet to shift your weight.
5. Restorative Support
I talk about my love of restorative poses a lot, but this is the type of practice where bolsters really come into their own! They provide a comforting and grounding support to move your body into positions that you can hold for longer periods of time, while allowing your mind to settle into a meditation.
There are endless ways to do this, but here are some of my favourites! Reclined butterfly is my absolute go-to for restorative practice and laying your upper body on the bolster can bring a beautiful openness through your chest. Similar principle with the side bend, using the shape of the bolster under your body and opening up through your rib cage. And lastly, the bolster has enough flexibility to lean on in a fold to take the strain out of the stretch. If you have multiple bolsters or pillows, you can even have some fun stacking and layering them to reach some whole new levels!
What's your favourite way to use a bolster? Let me know in the comments!
Go ahead and check out the rest of our blog series! We have posts talking about blocks, straps, and chairs, with more to come.