Yoga bolsters are firm pillows that are used to add support for the body during yoga practice. They can come in handy for modifying active poses, such as forward bends, so that you can ease into the pose and benefit from it fully even if you aren’t quite flexible or strong enough to realize the full, unmodified pose. And they can be invaluable in a restorative practice, offering the support your body needs to fully relax and release tension.
But yoga bolsters come in a range of sizes — long and short, round and rectangular. You can even buy flat, mat-like yoga cushions or round yoga pillows for meditation. Some bolsters are filled with synthetic materials, like polyfill, while others are filled with sustainable, organic materials, like buckwheat hulls, and, of course, bolsters come in a variety of colors and patterns.
Which yoga bolsters are best for your practice? It depends on your physical limitations and what you hope to get from your yoga practice.
Types of Bolsters
There are four basic types of yoga bolsters — round, rectangular, pranayama, and meditation. A round or rectangular bolster is a long, firm yoga pillow intended to modify active poses. For example, in a yoga class, your teacher might help you place a rectangular bolster under your hip during pigeon pose, so that your body can be supported and relax into the pose, stretching your muscles and connective tissues.
Rectangular bolsters are flat and firm, so they’re more supportive and stable, but round bolsters are somewhat thinner and tend to be more popular among more advanced yogis, because they can be less stable. Rectangular and round bolsters tend to come in small (sometimes called “junior”) and large sizes. Usually, the small sizes are several inches shorter than the large sizes, and some manufacturers produce even smaller travel sizes.
Pranayama bolsters are similar to rectangular bolsters, but they have a slimmer profile and are longer. These bolsters are used for reclining pranayama practice, since they can be placed under the spine to open up the chest, abdomen, and chakras for deep breathing practices. Meditation bolsters are used to support the body in a seated, spine-straight position during meditation — these can consist of round, circular cushions or crescent-shaped cushions, known as zafus, which support the body in seated meditation poses like lotus, and flat, mat-like pillows known as zabutons. The zabuton goes under the zafu and provides support for the feet, ankles, and lower legs during seated meditation.
Different Shapes for Different Purposes
You’ll need to choose your yoga pillow, or pillows, based on what you need during your practice. If you need bolsters to modify yoga poses for your active or restorative practice, look for rectangular or round bolsters. For beginner and intermediate yogis and yoginis, rectangular bolsters are usually sufficient. Round bolsters can be used to modify a range of poses, too, but if you’re planning to use them for seated poses, know that they can be less stable due to being thinner and, of course, cylindrical.
While traditional zafu and zabuton cushions are used for seated meditation practice, many yogis in the West find that a rectangular or round bolster, or combination of the two, stacked on top of a zabuton can be just as supportive and effective for seated meditation poses. And, of course, pranayama cushions can be invaluable for deepening your pranayama practice.
If you plan to travel with your bolster, even if it’s just to take it with you to the yoga studio down the road, you may want a smaller, “junior” size or even a travel size or style. Pillows with synthetic fillings tend to be lighter, but pillows with buckwheat or other natural filling materials may conform more readily to your body during practice.
Trying Different Yoga Bolsters
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to experiment with different types and sizes of yoga bolsters to figure out which ones you want to buy for your home practice. Most yoga studios make a variety of blankets, cushions, blocks, bolsters, straps, and other props available for students, so by attending classes, you can get the chance to try different yoga bolsters and choose the size, shape, and filling materials that work best for you. Don’t be afraid to discuss your quest for the perfect bolster with your teacher — he or she might be willing to give advice about what bolster will work best for your body and needs, or help you identify different types of bolsters in the supply closet so you know what you’re trying out.
Yoga bolsters and cushions can really help you get more out of your yoga practice. Take care to choose the right support for your body, so you can focus on relaxing into your poses and finishing your practice feeling strong and refreshed.