Longevity Live Partner Content. Take any yoga class, and the studio will most likely offer yoga bolsters, cushions, and pillows to assist your restorative poses or help you achieve a comfortable position for deep breathing exercises. But now that you’ve felt for yourself how great a restorative fish pose can feel when supported by firm yoga bolsters, how do you choose the best cushions for your own home practice? Here’s what you need to know.
There Are Four Basic Types of Yoga Bolsters
Yoga bolsters and pillows come in four basic flavors: rectangular, round, pranayama, and meditation. Round and rectangular bolsters typically come in two sizes, large and small, with the small bolsters being several inches shorter than the long bolsters.
Pranayama yoga bolsters look similar to rectangular bolsters — they’re rectangular, but they tend to be longer and thinner. These bolsters are used to open up the spine in a reclining position during pranayama practice. Meditation cushions, like the small, round zafu and the large, flat zabuton that goes under it, are intended to support the spine during seated meditation practices.
Different Sizes and Shapes Suit Different Poses and Practices
Different types of bolsters are suitable for different people and practices. Small or junior-sized rectangular or round bolsters are suited for children and petite adults, for example, while rectangular and round bolsters, in general, are suitable for supporting the body in most restorative poses.
Rectangular bolsters are flatter and more stable for restorative poses, and they’re large enough to support the entire torso of the average practitioner. Round bolsters are more appropriate for supporting poses that encourage a bend in the body, like side bends and back bends. They can also be placed between the legs to relieve tension during seated meditation practices, or under the knees during savasana.
Meditation cushions are designed to provide support for the entire body during seated meditation. This is why most people use a zafu/zabuton combination. The zafu provides firm support for the spine and torso. The zabuton, on the other hand, provides support for the legs, feet, and ankles in positions like lotus, half-lotus, easy pose, or hero pose. You may be able to use a folded zabuton to provide support in some yoga poses. That said, a bolster will typically be firmer and more fully stuffed.
Firmness and Filling Varies
Most companies that make and sell yoga bolsters offer different firmness levels, typically a maximum and a normal or minimum level of support. Unlike other pillows, yoga bolsters are packed firmly to offer support that allows your body to relax into the bolster. They also keep supported areas lifted off the floor. Softer bolsters are appropriate for more restorative practices and poses. Firmer bolsters, on the other hand, are best if you follow a more active practice, or you’re a larger practitioner.
You can also choose from different filling materials. The filling material you choose might make a noticeable difference in how functional and supportive your bolster is. If you want a light but firm bolster that’s easy to carry, try one with a synthetic filling. This can be a poly-fill wrapped around foam, or even a natural cotton filling. If you want a bolster that will conform to the shape of your body, grab one filled with buckwheat hulls or flaxseed. It’s more sustainable and it might offer optimum support. That said, it’ll be heavier, and you probably won’t want to drag it to the studio with you.
Try Different Bolsters
You might want multiple bolsters for your home practice. Or maybe you’re looking for the perfect bolster that will support all of your poses. Fortunately, you’ll have the chance to try differently shaped and sized bolsters in most yoga studios. Teachers often offer a range of props to their students. Tell your yoga teacher you’re trying different bolsters in order to choose which kind(s) to buy for your home practice. They can give you advice and maybe offer you different kinds of bolsters to try from the supply closet.
The Bottom Line
A yoga bolster can really transform your practice. It can make it easier for your body to get into restorative poses and active poses alike. Take care when choosing the right bolsters for your home practice. These cushions will be a central part of your practice for years to come.