The Best Yoga Bolster
Yoga is such a wonderful way to combine exercise, mindfulness and meditation. The best thing about it is that variations of it can be practiced pretty much anywhere, from a studio class to your living room and everywhere in between. Yogis seasoned and new will know that you can take your practice with you wherever you go, even modifying poses to do at your desk, in your lunch break or on a long flight.
If you have a regular practice, whatever level you are at, you’ll know just how wonderful it can be to add a yoga prop to your routine. While some say that yoga props are only for beginners, that’s simply not true. Props can really help you to vary and improve your practice, greatly enhance your experience of certain postures, and add extra support, promoting freedom and stability. Yoga props might include blocks, straps or bolsters. In the case of this article, we are going to look at the benefits of adding a yoga bolster to your practice.
What is a Yoga Bolster?
A traditional bolster is like a long, firm pillow or cylindrical cushion, similar to a body pillow. It’s used to provide comfort, support and soften specific poses and to help you to stretch into restorative postures, acting as an aid to open the body further.
You can also find it of gentle assistance during deep breathing exercises, helping you to reach a profound level of relaxation and enabling your focus to be entirely on your breathing and meditation.
Nowadays, using yoga props and accessories is really normal, but these were not actually properly introduced until the 1960s, when teachers like B.K.S Iyengar realized that props like the bolster helped students who had difficulty maintaining certain poses in a correct posture, due to past injury or challenges with their flexibility. Using a bolster really helps to ease the way into certain poses and can make a huge difference to your form and level of comfort.
Yoga bolsters can be a wonderful aid to anyone who suffers from physical discomfort due to an injury, any kind of condition that hinders flexibility, those who need extra support in certain areas and also anyone practicing pregnancy yoga. You can use a bolster to help any part of your body that requires a little extra support. Advanced yogis can use bolsters for a bit of additional comfort when warming up or stretching, and beginners can use the bolster on its side or top to add height and help them reach specific poses. Everyone can use a bolster for deeper stretches as they progress in their practice.
Yoga bolsters are different to yoga blocks
Yoga bolsters are not the same as yoga blocks (although both can be very useful!). Blocks primarily act to bring the floor up to you, making it easier to reach certain poses (triangle pose for example). They work to account for different proportions and help you to reach postures without straining or overstretching. They are very useful for flexibility both with yogis who need the help to reach the floor or those hyper-flexible individuals who may stretch too far and cause injury.
Yoga Bolsters, being larger and softer, are more useful in restorative poses that calm the nervous system and promote deep relaxation. Bolsters can aid seated or lying down positions, offering padding and support.
Benefits of Yoga Bolsters
Yoga bolsters are often used frequently in restorative yoga classes. That’s because they really help to promote deep relaxation and total release. When you have the help of a firm, comfortable bolster beneath your body you can let go and relax more easily. Since restorative yoga is all about soothing the mind and body, adding a yoga bolster can help you reach that calm, peaceful state. Bolsters are also used as discussed in antenatal yoga and Iyengar yoga classes.
Specific poses that can really benefit from a bolster include:
Savasana: The final resting pose, Savasana is a time to find stillness after movement and to fully relax and let go. If you find yourself lying on a hard surface it might be hard to relax so easily. Add a bolster, placing it beneath your knees and you can find a little more comfort, using it to lengthen your lower back, create space there and soften into the ground beneath you.
Supported Backbend: This is a wonderful heart opener that creates space in the lower back and allows your shoulders, chest and abdomen to open and relax. Place the bolster under your back and as close to your body as possible. Lie back over it and allow your back, head and neck to be fully supported as you open and relax.
Supported Forward Fold: A forward fold is a great pose for lengthening and stretching out the muscles. Stretch both legs out in front of the body and place the bolster directly on top of the legs. Leaning forward over the bolster, exhale as you bring your upper body to rest on it. You can also modify this for a wide-seated forward bend with legs apart.
Supported Easy Pose: A challenging pose for many despite its name, as we are not accustomed to sitting cross-legged on the floor. With a bolster to help support your position, it can be much improved. Sit on top of the bolster with your legs crossed in front of you and engage your core.
Yoga bolsters are beneficial because they can help you to fully let go and relax, reducing stress and increasing blood circulation. You can also push yourself a little more in certain poses with the added support of a bolster. They can help to release tension in bridge pose or backbends. If you want to get into a challenging pose but haven’t yet developed the core strength to do so, a bolster can really assist.
A bolster can also really help to keep your knees lower than your hips – an important part of maintaining an erect spine during yoga and meditation.
If you are trying more advanced moves like the split, you can use a bolster to avoid injury while you train your flexibility.
Bolsters work as a great support for opening the chest and heart center. You can relieve any tension in the upper back from long periods of sitting at a desk.
What to Look for When Purchasing a Yoga Bolster
How can you know which bolster is right for you? There are certain essentials to take into account when choosing a bolster. Start with identifying why you want a bolster, what will you mainly be using it for? Meditation or restorative yoga? It’s a good idea to chat to a yoga professional for extra advice, especially if you are pregnant or suffering from any injuries, they may be able to guide you in a specific direction before purchasing a bolster that’s right for you.
Size and Shape – Yoga bolsters come in three basic shapes: Lean, rectangular and cylindrical. You may find a different shape, but those three are the basics! You can decide which is best for you knowing what your individual needs will be.
Yoga bolsters also vary in size and weight. Some are longer and bigger, some are heavier. You can check the actual dimensions before you buy. Taller yogis might prefer longer bolsters, especially if you plan to use the bolster for support in folds or bends where the length matters.
Weight – Depending on what the bolster is filled with, the weight will vary. You might want to consider if you plan to travel with it or frequently take it to class. The fillings are important and will impact how you care for your bolster. Usually bolsters are filled with polyester fibre, buckwheat or recron.
Material – Bolsters are covered in a range of materials from strong, durable cotton to polyester. You should consider about durability of the seams (this can be a weak point as the bolster gains use) and whether or not it’s easy to remove the cover for cleaning.
Comfort – How comfortable the bolster is depends on what the filling material and cover material are. You should also think about how firm you need the bolster to be (dependent on the material it is filled with). Fillings like Buckwheat will remain firm but mold around you, a bit like sand. Cotton will seem much firmer at first but as you use your bolster and it adapts to your shape and weight, it will become more comfortable.
Ecology – If you have a preference for materials sourced from renewable resources and care about the environment, consider which companies have given extra consideration to using natural materials and their impact on our planet.
Types of Bolsters Available
Standard – These standard bolsters are a rectangular shape with a wide flat top, these are the ones used in restorative yoga so tend to be firm so that they can offer the best support. The covering is usually removable and washable.
Round – The round yoga bolster is a large cylinder pillow, usually around 10 inches in diameter. The round bolsters are perfect for going beneath your upper back for heart opening, beneath the knees and for straddling.
Pranayama Pillows – These are smaller in diameter than a a round bolster but other than that very similar. They are however, specifically designed for breathing exercises and don’t offer quite the same versatility as the other bolsters.
Our Best Yoga Bolster Guide – Feeling overwhelmed with information? Check our helpful guide below to see which bolster might be right for you. We have listed our favorites here, along with the pros for each product and why you might want to choose it. Have fun supplementing your yoga practice with the right yoga prop for you!
Yoga Bolster Reviews
Brentwood Home Crystal Cove Yoga Bolster
This rectangular bolster is filled with buckwheat and has an Oeko-Tex certified organic cotton cover. Both materials are natural and non-toxic, ideal for the eco-conscious yogis. The fabric is soft, supportive and the bolster will mold to your body, providing a gentle, nourishing support in restorative yoga poses. The bolster also has a beautiful and original design, with box-stitched carry handles for easy transportation. You can remove the outer cover for easy washing. The dimensions of the yoga bolster are 25″ x 11″ x 6″.
Manduka Enlight Rectangular Yoga Bolster
This soft bolster is comfortable, sturdy and very well made to provide strong support. It also happens to be light weight with a removable microfiber fabric cover, easy for washing. The filling is 30% recycled polyester fiber, meaning it’s light weight and long lasting (the bolster weighs less than 2kg). This bolster will provide good comfort for kneeling, stretching across it or back support and is firm but with just enough give. It also comes with a convenient carry handle for travel and has a hidden zipper construction, making it smooth and seamless.
Bean Products Yoga Bolster
An excellent choice from this eco-friendly company. Bean products use sustainable resources in their handmade products, and this yoga bolster is of a high quality. The cover is made of premium hemp, organic cotton or easy care vinyl and the core is made from a durable solid foam with cotton batting, giving it a tight wrap around the bolster, helping it to always maintain its shape. You can choose from different colors and materials as well as a variety of shapes and sizes. This is a top choice for those with sensitive skin (due to the organic materials used on the covering) and also anyone looking for a bolster that can handle both active and restorative forms of yoga.
Lotuscrafts Yoga Bolster
A sturdy, comfortable and high quality choice, perfect for yin yoga. This bolster is square and multi-purpose, offering support for backbends, leg support and chest opening. It can also be used as a meditation cushion. The cover is environmentally friendly made from organic cotton, which can be easily removed and machine-washed. The filling is kapook wool, which keeps the bolster firm but light weight. It’s available in two sizes, large 28″ x 12″ x 8″and small 28″ x 8″ x 6 and a variety of colors.
YogaAccessories MAX Support
This round bolster offers excellent support much as the name suggests. The MAX has a 100% cotton cover and is filled with a lovely, soft and fluffy non-synthetic foam core providing great comfort. It measures 28 inches long by 10 inches tall so it’s great for lying down, and will provide adequate room for your back. You can remove and machine wash the cover, plus choose from different colors. The round shape is great for restorative poses like “legs up the wall” and will fit snugly beneath you for backbends.