Using Yoga Bolsters ~ Restorative Yoga to Relax and Renew

A yoga bolster can support you and help you relax for your personal yoga therapy.

'A person is said to have achieved yoga, the union with the Self, when the perfectly disciplined mind gets freedom from all desires, and becomes absorbed in the Self alone.' ~ Bhagavad Gita

Supported yoga poses using yoga bolsters and other yoga props are what is known as restorative yoga. With the support of bolsters, straps and blankets, this allows one to become totally relaxed and absorbed in the yoga pose, and therefore into the Self.

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Almost anyone can do a yoga pose that is supported by a yoga bolster and additional yoga props. This is the beauty of restorative yoga.

For those very active and accomplished yogis, supported, restorative-type poses help you integrate and assimilate all that you have done prior to the supported pose.

For the ill, yoga bolsters allow for the achievement of yoga poses that the body would not be able to do otherwise. The yoga bolster supports and allows for total relaxation and renewal.The bolsters allow the ill person to experience the yoga benefits without exerting much effort.

The healthy are also able to receive many yoga benefits from the restorative poses. A totally relaxed and supported physical body allows for the mind also to let go and relax when the person is guided into and through the yoga pose.

Supported yoga poses provide the perfect environment for healing – a totally relaxed body and mind. A person in the supported yoga pose is able to totally and completely let go.

I normally don’t teach Restorative Yoga, but I would really love to one day. I love these supported and therapeutic yoga poses. I don’t know why most classes don’t end with more restorative yoga poses using the yoga bolsters. If yoga is meant to calm the inner ruminations of the mind, there is nothing like using a yoga bolster to help you totally melt into a pose. 

It is the single best way to relax and renew your spirit. I end almost all my yoga classes with a pose that uses a yoga bolster just before I place my students into the final resting pose, the Corpse Pose, or Savasana.

The following restorative yoga poses shown in this article are a few of the more common and easy ones to do. If you are ill, you should seek out a restorative yoga class or find a teacher that does yoga therapy to design the appropriate program just for you.

If you do not have a yoga bolster, you can use pillows. Longer bed pillows are better than square ones, but you can experiment with what works for you. Use a least two pillows to replace the larger yoga bolster shown in the photos.

I use large and small bolsters, so again, find your pillows that fit you and are most comfortable for you. All of the yoga poses can be modified to suit you too. You can add more padding anywhere you need it. 

Create a peaceful atmosphere to do these poses. They are meant to be extremely relaxing and meditative. Put on soothing music, light candles and make sure you won’t be disturbed. This is your time for your own personal yoga therapy, so make sure it will be as peaceful as possible for the full yoga benefits.

Stay in each pose for at least 5 minutes. 10 minutes is even better. More if you have the time. When you go to change your position, make sure you get up slowly. If you are lying on your back, roll to the right side first, as you slowly push up with your hands. Breathe deeply throughout all the yoga poses.

To add to the feeling of comfort and security for all the restorative yoga poses, you may cover yourself with a blanket. I did not cover my students in blankets for the pictures in this article so you could see the pose and the positioning of the yoga props.

To all of the restorative yoga poses I show, one could also add an eye pillow to decrease outside stimulation even more and to further the relaxation process.

The first yoga pose that I will show you with a yoga bolster is a modified Side Lying Pose. This pose is extremely easy. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your legs to one side. Slide the bolster right up to your hip at a 90-degree angle.

Twist your torso gently toward the yoga bolster so that you are reaching for it and can lay your torso and head on it. Your arms will fall to both sides of the bolster as you surround the bolster with your arms in a hugging fashion.

If your head needs more support, you can add a small pillow or rolled up towel for additional height for your head or support for your neck.

Side Lying Pose, Right with Yoga BolsterSide Lying Pose, Right

When you do this restorative yoga pose, make sure you do both sides for the equal amount of time. Return to sitting by pushing up with your arms. Very slowly, move your legs to the other side of your body. Place the yoga bolster on your opposite hip as before, and repeat on this side.

Side Lying Pose, Left, with Yoga BolsterSide Lying Pose, Left

Positive affirmations to say in this restorative yoga pose: "I turn my life into Peace." "I embrace Love." "I am supported in Loving-kindness from God and from myself." Or say your own affirmations/prayers as your heart desires.

The next pose is the beloved Child’s Pose. If you have hips that pinch when you do this pose without a yoga bolster, the added cushioning will soften the pose and make it easier and more relaxing for you.

Kneel on the floor. Place your yoga bolster into the front of your hips, widening your knees just enough to place the bolster between your knees. Keep the bolster as close to your hips as possible, while still allowing the hips to bend as you lie down on your stomach on the bolster.

Again, one arm will fall to each side, as you hug the bolster close to your body. Turn your head to one side and melt into the cushion as you breathe deeply and let go.

Child's Pose, with Yoga Bolster, Head LeftChild's Pose, Head Left

Halfway through this restorative yoga pose, turn your head to the opposite side. Slowly come up out of the pose, by pushing up with your arms.

Positive affirmations to say in this pose: "I surrender to the flow of Life." "I am supported in all things." "I release fully into Love." Or create your own affirmations and prayers as your heart is led.

Come out slowly from this pose as you return to a kneeling position, all the time breathing evenly and deeply.

Child's Pose, with Yoga Bolster, Head RightChild's Pose, Head Right

The supported Fish Pose is a very gentle restorative backbend that is a great counter-pose to the folding together of the Child’s Pose. To go into this pose, sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you. Place the yoga bolster behind your back long-ways as shown.

Make sure your head will also be on the bolster. Keep the bolster as close to your hips as possible. Relax as your back gently bends back and your chest and heart open. Turn your palms up for a totally receptive posture.

Supported Fish Pose with Yoga BolsterSupported Fish Pose

If this chest stretch is too intense for your shoulders, you can place pillows or another bolster under each arm. But if you can do without the arm supports, this is a wonderful chest-opener.

I love how I feel in this one. I say affirmations for receiving Love as my heart opens ever wider as I melt into the pose. I always feel my hands tingle as energy flows into my body. It is one of my favorite restorative yoga poses.

Positive affirmations to say in this yoga pose: "I receive Love." "I receive all that God/the Universe has to offer me." "My heart fills with Love." Or say your own prayers and affirmations as your heart guides you.

To come out of this pose, turn your hands over and bring your arms toward your sides. Roll off the yoga bolster to your right side as you deeply breathe and push up with your arms, back to a sitting position.

You can deepen this pose on the yoga bolster, by placing it perpendicular to your body (not shown). The pillows or bolster will be under your shoulder blades and your head will be on the ground. This is more intense, so make sure you can tolerate the one above first before trying this.

My favorite restorative yoga pose is the Legs Up the Wall Pose. It supports and releases my back, which tends to stiffen up. This yoga pose is very relaxing for me. Yet it is also an energizing pose, as your legs up in the air increases the blood supply to your head and upper body to stimulate you. If you keep your palms up, you will receive even more energy.

You can do this pose without the yoga props, but if you add the yoga bolster (or pillows) under your hips, it give you a bit more of the inverted energy, and it can provide a mild lower back bend as well. Experiment around with the positioning of the bolster to find what is best for you.

I even like to place my hips on a foam roller as an even stronger support and higher inversion. Do as your heart desires.

Legs Up the Wall Pose with yoga bolster and blanket. Legs Up the Wall Pose with yoga bolster and blanket

If you place a blanket or towel on top of your feet, it adds a dimension of comfort that you may also like.

To do this pose, lie in the fetal position with your knees into your chest and scoot your behind as close to the wall as possible. Then roll onto your back, with your knees still into your chest. Straighten and raise your legs. Have your blanket or towel by your side and ready to put on your feet before your straighten them.

To come out of the pose just do the reverse.

Positive affirmations to say in this yoga pose: "I am supported by God/the Universe." "I am grounded and integrated in all of Life." "I release into Peace."

Another favorite is the Bound Angle Pose. There are many variations to this one. Some prefer doing the pose without the yoga strap around the legs. Some prefer to have their knees supported by smaller cushions, as well.

In the picture, the gentleman had shoulders that hurt if over stretched, so I placed a smaller yoga bolster under each arm for support. Others might find it better to have a towel rolled under their neck for additional support there as well.

Bound Angle Pose with yoga bolsters and strap. Bound Angle Pose with bolsters and strap.

To go into the pose, see my article on using yoga straps, for placing the strap properly. Then when you are sitting in the bound position, place the yoga bolster behind your back, lengthwise, and close to your hips like in the above Fish Pose. Lie back onto the yoga bolster and place your arms on the ground with your palms up.

Positive affirmations to say in this yoga pose: "I am One with all things." "I am open to all possibilities." "I receive guidance from God/the Universe." Or choose your own prayers and affirmation that speak your own truth.

Come out of the pose by slowly sitting back up.

The final pose in all yoga practice is the Corpse Pose, or Savasana. Normally it is done without yoga props, but if you have the time for total relaxation and total comfort, the yoga props greatly enhance this pose.

A yoga bolster is placed under the knees, and sometimes under the arms as well (not shown). I also used a blanket, rolled into a roll on one end to place under the neck for more support, and folded the other end to elevate the head slightly.

Savasana with yoga bolster and blanket roll under head. Savasana with yoga bolster and blanket roll under head.

You may choose between arms on the ground with palms up or down. Choose palms down if you want to conserve your energy and relax deeply. Choose palms up if you wish to receive more energy.

This pose lends itself particularly well to being covered with a blanket. It adds to the feeling of safety, security and comfort.

Positive affirmations to say in this yoga pose: "I am safe and secure." "I am totally relaxed, grounded and free." "I integrate my whole self, body, mind and soul."

May you come to learn to love the restorative yoga poses, using your yoga bolster and other yoga props, just as much as I do. May you relax and renew each and every day, on your path to healing your body-mind-soul.

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