What is a bolster?
Traditional bolster pillows have been around a long time. A bolster is a long, firm, narrow, often cylindrical cushion or pillow that is placed under other pillows for support on a bed or a sofa. You can still buy bolster pillows to provide greater support for both day and night today.
So – more specifically – what is a yoga bolster?
A yoga bolster is a popular yoga accessory used to provide comfort, support poses and increase stretching during restorative postures and deep breathing exercises. Many of the yoga accessories that we consider popular now like the yoga bolster weren’t really used much within a yoga practice until the 1960s, when yoga teachers such as B.K.S. Iyengar noticed that many of their students had trouble maintaining proper posture in certain poses due to injury or lack of flexibility. Iyengar therefore developed and introduced props and equipment to help people access poses with greater comfort and better form.
What is a yoga bolster used for?
Bolsters are widely used in restorative yoga classes, where a bolster can be placed under various parts of the body for firm yet comfortable support to encourage total release and relaxation. Restorative yoga can have a deeply soothing effect on the mind and nervous system – think of a bolster as restorative yoga’s best friend!
A bolster is particularly useful in pregnancy yoga and can also be super helpful for anyone working with injuries or specific conditions – basically, a bolster offers support to any part of the body that requires more support.
Our go-to poses using a bolster…
The wonderful thing about bolsters (and all yoga props) is that there are infinite ways in which they can be used. As always, it is best to be led by how you feel, rather than what a shape or pose looks like, however, here are a few places to get started.
Even just thinking about it makes us soften a little…
Balasana – child’s pose
Kneel on the floor and then widen your knees apart, so the bolster can sit lengthways and snuggly in between your thighs. Slowly, fold your torso over the bolster and let your head turn to one side.
- Let your arms drape either side of the bolster – it might even be nice to let your hands wrap underneath the bolster as if you were giving it a little hug. Either way, find a version that lets your shoulders rest.
- Notice your breath and let your front body soften into the support of the bolster.
- After 5 minutes of so, let your head turn to the other side
- If there is lots of space between your heels and the backs of your thighs or you have any knee pain, try placing a folded blanket or even another bolster between the backs of your thighs and calves.
- If your head/neck doesn’t rest comfortably on the bolster, try placing a folded blanket underneath your head to act as a little pillow.
- You may also wish to try a wide leg version
TOP TIP: For the above, we recommend our classic bolster made from recron and a 100% cotton cover.
Sukhasana – easy pose
Oh the irony! Sukhasana is translated as ‘easy pose’ and yet – sitting comfortably can be one the most challenging aspects of our yoga practice! A bolster can be a beautiful addition to a regular meditation practice to support the body in comfortably sitting still.
- Come to sit cross-legged on your bolster. You can sit directly on top of it or you can sit slightly forwards so that your sit bones roll over the edge of the bolster and your pelvis tilts forwards.
- Let your hands rest softly somewhere on your thighs or knees.
- Feel the weight of your pelvis and sit bones drop into the support of your bolster.
- Let the crown of your head lift lightly towards the sky. Notice the back of your neck lengthen and feel your spine tall.
- Place your awareness on your breath. Simply watch your inhale and your exhale, noticing the rise and fall or your belly and chest.
- Sit for as long as feels appropriate or comfortable for you.
- If you find your knees are very high away from the floor and it still feels uncomfortable to sit upright, try rolling up two blankets so they are in a short/fat sausage shape and place them underneath your knees for additional support.
TOP TIP: Try a rectangular bolster – the flatter surface area is perfect for sitting.
Viparita Karani – Legs up the wall pose
Sit sideways against a wall with your right hip and right shoulder gently touching the wall. Carefully in one smooth movement, swing your legs up the wall and allow your back and head to come to rest flat on the ground.
- If you have moved away from the wall, shuffle yourself forwards slightly so that your sitting bones are as close to the wall as possible.
- Press your feet into the wall and lift your pelvis up so you can slide your bolster underneath your pelvis.
- Let your pelvis nestle into the bolster and extend the legs straight up the wall
- Allow your arms/hands come to rest somewhere that feels comfortable. The arms could be in a T-shape or overhead or just gently rest the hands on the belly.
- Stay here for as long as you wish – we suggest 10-15 minutes initially.
- Bend the knees slightly if the hamstrings are tight.
TOP TIP: Our buckwheat bolster is super versatile and will mould to your body shape.
How do I know which bolster is right for me?
Bolsters come in variety of shapes and sizes and it isn’t always easy to know which bolster is right for you. Firstly, identify what you want it for, is it for meditation? Restorative yoga? Speak with a yoga teacher or even visit a yoga studio such as Triyoga to try the Yogamatters bolsters out for yourself. If you have an injury or are working with a particular condition, again, check in your yoga teacher to find the perfect match.
Now onto the practicalities…when choosing a bolster, there are five things that you need to consider: size, shape, weight, filling and colour or pattern.
Yoga bolsters generally come in three basic shapes: cylindrical, rectangular and lean. You’ll need to decide which is best for your particular needs.
Size matters too. Some are much longer and bigger than others. You’ll need to check the size dimensions before making a choice. Bolsters vary greatly in weight, depending on what they are filled with. If you are carrying a bolster to class with you, the weight may be an important factor for you to consider.
Bolsters contains a variety of fillings for a variety of reasons. You’ll need to do your research, because each filling acts in a different way and needs to be cared for in a different way. The bolsters that are stocked by Yogamatters contain one of three different fillings: recron, buckwheat and a fibre-fill made from 30% recycled polyester fibre. Recron® Fibrefill is a specially engineered hollow polyester fibre that is light, soft and comfortable. Manduka has developed a long-lasting fibre-fill made from 30% recycled polyester fibre for its bolsters. Buckwheat hulls are used as filling for a variety of upholstered goods as a durable, natural alternative to more synthetic filling materials.
The final consideration is colour and pattern. For some, this selection will be paramount! For others, not so much. The good news is that there are plenty of colourways to choose from.
Caring for your bolster
As with all yoga equipment, it’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions about how to care for your bolster. All of the bolsters in the Yogamatters range come fitted with a zip so you can actually remove the cover to wash it. It’s recommended that you wash the cover on a cool cycle at 30° to prevent shrinking and all bolster covers should be hang dried and not dried in a dryer.
The Yogamatters standard round bolsters and rectangular bolsters are filled with recron which is very similar to cotton. This material holds its shape and is quite firm. The buckwheat bolster has small kernels of buckwheat inside and is therefore more malleable, moulding to your shape. Buckwheat is heavier than the recron. It’s also possible to remove some of the filling whether it is recron or kernels if your bolster is too firm for you.
Bolsters beyond the mat…
When it comes to yoga clothes we love nothing more than a wardrobe that can take us from the studio to the shops. And we must admit, we feel the same about bolsters too. We use them as beautiful additions to our home: from spare seating in the lounge, to pretty decoration on our beds.
There are so many beautiful options and patterns that can uplift a room and the best thing about having them on display is that we are more likely to use them for a quick meditation or 10 mins of relaxation. We love the chattra collection for the ultimate home studio.
Bolsters available at yogamatters.com
Size: 65cm x 23cm diameter
This cylindrical bolster is ideal for restorative yoga –
The Yogamatters bolsters come in a selection of vibrant colours with a long-lasting 100% organic cotton cover that is removable and machine washable. The bolsters also have a strong carry handle.
This cylindrical bolster is filled with recron, which guarantees firmness throughout use whilst giving gentle and comfortable support.
Size: 65cm x 23cm diameter
This gorgeous bolster with traditional Indian gold trim is identical in every way to the Yogamatters cylindrical bolster above, except that it is decorated with an attractive gold trim pattern (which could vary slightly from the one shown in the product image) at each end.
Made in India, the bolster is filled with recron with a cover available in an array of rich colours that is made from 100% Global Organic Textile Standard Certified cotton.
Size: 63cm x 30cm x 15cm
This rectangular variation of the classic cylindrical bolster offers greater width and a flatter surface for supine postures.The long, flat surface supports the whole back and can also be used to raise the hips in sitting postures and for support in shoulder stand variations.
Rectangular bolsters are generally considered safer for use in pregnancy yoga, as they offer cushioning but are safer for the back than a cylindrical bolster.
The Yogamatters rectangular bolster is filled with recron and comes with a machine-washable outer cover and a useful carrying handle, making it ideal for both studio and home use.
Size: 61cm x 20cm diameter
The Yogamatters buckwheat bolster is slightly smaller in size than the standard cylindrical bolster. This cylindrical bolster is filled with sturdy buckwheat hulls that don’t break down over time, so that the bolster can withstand much more pressure and stay firmer for longer. Having said that, the nature of the buckwheat filling means that these bolsters are more malleable and will mould to your body shape every time you do a posture.
The removable outer cover is made from 100% organic cotton and features a strong zip covering a natural cotton inner and a convenient handle for easy carrying.
Size: 69cm x 23cm diameter
Made in USA, the Enlight round bolster from Manduka is a lightweight, classic, round bolster featuring a resilient, long-lasting fibre-fill made from 30% recycled polyester fibre. This creates a firm cushion that provides superior support.
The removable fabric cover is a soft, plush, absorbent eQua micro-fibre that keeps you dry and comfortable. The convenient, sturdy, easy-carry handle has a faux-suede logo detail.
Size: 15cm x 30.5cm x 67cm
The Enlight rectangular bolster from Manduka is popular and functional.
The core is a resilient, long lasting fibre-fill that is 30% recycled polyester fibre, which is super lightweight, meaning that this bolster weighs in at less than 2kg.
The removable outer microfibre cover is made with the eQua® microfibre fabric, a recyclable synthetic material, engineered for performance & durability. The hidden zipper construction creates a smooth, seamless finish.
Size: 66 cm x 18 cm x 8 cm
The Enlight lean bolster is, as the name suggests, the most compact and lightweight of the Manduka bolsters.
As with the other Manduka Enlight bolsters, this lean bolster features the 30% recycled polyester fibre core and the soft, plush, absorbent eQua micro-fibre fabric cover.
This thin bolster is ideal for those who need that little bit of extra support to stretch more effectively in restorative poses without the risk of over-stretching and causing injury.
Size: 60 cm x 28 cm diameter
This luxurious floral printed bolster from Shanti Sundays is the fashionable yogi’s choice according to Vogue.
Filled with organic buckwheat hull, the bolster moves with the contours of the body. Ethically made in India from 100% cotton chambray, each bolster is then filled in London with organic buckwheat and scented with lavender essential oils.
This bolster is popular with pre and post natal mums as it doubles up as a pregnancy pillow, a breastfeeding cushion and offers excellent support for babies and small children.
Size: 60 cm x 15 cm diameter
The Baby Star Bolster from Shanti Sundays is the mini version of the Printed Floral Bolster above.
This baby bolster, also available as the Baby Floral Bolster, offers a lovely gentle release across the length of the spine and a gentle backbend when placed below the back of the shoulder blades, helping undo some of the tension we can develop by sitting at a computer all day.
Each of these Shanti Sundays bolsters is filled with organic buckwheat hulls and scented with lavender essential oils. The machine washable removable cover is ethically made in India from 100% cotton chambray.
If you would like to be in control of filling your own bolster with the filling of your choice, then why not buy one of these attractive bolster covers from Milochie, an ethical yoga company based in the UK? Being in full control of the density and stiffness of the filling allows you to tailor the support to your personal need and preference.
The Milochie range of fairly traded, machine-washable, 100% cotton bolster covers feature limited edition designs to style up any standard cylindrical bolster. The zip is at the end of the bolster so that it will not be in your way during your yoga practice.
Check out the Milochie Amazonia Bolster Cover too.