by Kate Hanley
One of the great things about yoga is that as long as you have a yoga mat and some stretchy clothes, you’re good to go. Yet, there is one yoga prop I love. The next time someone asks what you might like as a gift, consider asking for a yoga bolster (see cushion shown).
Using a bolster gives you a concrete way to give yourself extra TLC when you’re frenzied or super-tired or feeling a little under the weather. It can also subtly broadcast your need for loving attention; when I pull out my bolster, my husband knows it’s time to try a little tenderness.
Resting on a bolster feels fantastic, in part because its comfortable support encourages your muscles to release gently and gradually. Using a bolster to support your body weight enables you to experience the benefits of a yoga pose without exerting nearly as much effort. By being completely passive, you can also be utterly relaxed, and in that sweet spot of relaxation, your body is even more receptive to the benefits of each pose.
Here are three of my favorite restorative yoga poses that make good use of a bolster or, alternatively, a narrow couch cushion, stack of firm pillows or a couple of folded blankets.
SUPPORTED CHILD’S POSE
Sit on the floor with your shins folded underneath you, toes untucked and knees open wide. Place the bolster on the floor between your thighs, as close to your groin as possible, and fold forward, resting your torso and head on the bolster and your arms wherever they are comfortable. Turn your head to one side. After a minute or two, turn your head to the other side and hold it for an equal amount of time.
BENEFITS: Relieves lower-back tension and opens the hips. Quiets the mind and makes you feel babied and cared for.
Sit on the floor with your shins folded underneath you, and then shift your hips to the right and rest your right hip on the floor. Place the bolster on the ground by your right hip, perpendicular to your thighs, and bring your hands to the floor, one on either side of the bolster. Use the leverage of your hands to twist your torso to the right as far as you can, and then lean forward until your stomach, ribcage and head are resting on the bolster. Place your left cheek on the bolster and rest your arms wherever they are comfortable. Stay there and breathe for two to three minutes. Repeat in reverse on the other side.
BENEFITS: Massages abdominal organs, stimulating digestion and detoxification. Wrings tension out of the muscles along the spine.
HEART OPENING RECLINE
Sit cross-legged on the floor, with the bolster placed directly behind your hips, and have a folded blanket handy to use as a pillow. Recline until your back and head are resting on the bolster and place the blanket under your head. Rest the backs of your hands on the floor alongside your torso. Stay in this position for up to five minutes, breathing deeply and feeling the weight of your spine sinking into the bolster.
BENEFITS: Opens the chest; creates more room for the lungs to expand and deepens breathing.
Spending a few minutes in one or all of these poses helps you feel more relaxed, less irritable and more clear-headed. As a result, you become less likely to overreact and more able to enjoy the constant stream of things to do that accompanies the holidays—making restorative yoga a wonderful gift for you and those around you.