5 Yoga Poses to Do with a Bolster for Extra-Strength Stress Relief

Kate Hanley by Kate Hanley | July 2nd, 2009 | 11 Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Yoga

Easy reclined heart opener

One of the great things about yoga is that you don’t need to invest in a bunch of equipment to reap its benefits. As long as you have a yoga mat and some stretchy clothes, and you’re good to go. And yet there is one yoga prop I wish I could magically disperse to every household in America. Heck—the whole world! And that’s the humble yoga bolster.

This here is my beauty. I’m as proud of her and think as fondly of her as my Dad does of his first car. And let me tell you, Dad is STILL talking about that car, even after nearly five decades. (Come to think of it, my Dad bought me this bolster one year for my birthday — what a good Dad he is).

My beloved bolster

My beloved bolster

Why do I love my bolster? Let me count the ways

  1. A bolster supports your body weight so you can experience the benefits of a yoga pose without exerting any effort. By being completely passive, you can also be utterly relaxed. And when you’re in that sweet spot of relaxation, your body is even more receptive to the benefits of whatever pose you’re doing.
  2. Resting on a bolster feels fantastic. Its comfortable support encourages your muscles to release gently and gradually.
  3. Using a bolster gives you a concrete way to give yourself extra TLC when you’re super-tired or feeling a little under the weather. It can also subtly broadcast your need for loving attention — whenever I get mine out, my husband knows it’s time to try a little tenderness.

Here’s a small sampling of the many incredible restorative poses you can do using a bolster. If you don’t have one, or aren’t ready to make the purchase, you can also use a narrow couch cushion, or a stack of firm pillows, or a couple of neatly folded blankets. But the next time someone you love asks what you might like as a gift (and this someone could be yourself), consider asking for a bolster. You’ll have it forever and it will give you unlimited support. What could be a better gift?

Supported Child’s Pose

Supported child's pose

Supported Child's Pose

Sit on the floor with your shins folded underneath you, toes untucked and your knees open wide. Place the bolster on the floor between your thighs as close to your groins 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 stay an equal amount of time.

Benefits: Great for relieving low back tension and opening the hips. Quiets the mind, and makes you feel babied and cared for.

Supported Twist

Supported twist

Supported Twist

Sit on the floor with your shins folded underneath you, then shift your hips to the left and rest them on the floor (so you are in a 50s pinup girl pose with your legs curled around your right side). Place the bolster on the ground by your left hip, perpendicular to your thighs and bring your hands to the floor on either side of the bolster. Use the leverage of your hangs to twist your torso to the left as far as you can, then lean forward until your stomach, ribcage, and head are resting on the bolster. Place your right cheek on the bolster and rest your arms wherever they are comfortable. Stay here and breathe for 2-3 minutes, then repeat to the other side.

Benefits: Massages your abdominal organs, stimulating digestion and detoxification. Wrings tension out of the muscles along your spine.

Easy Reclined Heart Opener

Easy reclined heart opener

Easy reclined heart opener

Sit cross-legged on the floor with the bolster placed directly behind your hips. 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 up to five minutes, breathing deeply and feeling the weight of your spine sinking in to the bolster.

Benefits: Opens the chest, which creates more room for the lungs and deepens the breathing.

Supported Upward Dog

Supported Up Dog

Supported Upward Dog

Come on to hands and knees with the bolster running horizontally beneath you. Extend your legs behind you and lower your hips to rest on the bolster. Bring the tops of your feet to the floor, hip distance apart and press into your palms to lift the spine. Reach your chest forward and feel your shoulder blades moving down on to your back. Look straight ahead. Stay up to one minute.

Benefits: Opens the chest and nourishes the adrenal glands, which tend to get overworked during periods of high stress.

Supported Downward Dog

Supported Down Dog

Supported Downward Dog

Come on to hands and knees with the bolster running vertically underneath you. Press up in to Downward Dog and rest your forehead on the bolster. Stay one to two minutes.

Benefits: Resting the head rests the mind, making it a great remedy for over-thinking, over-stimulation, and insomnia.


  1. Do you know of a yoga DVD for seniors? I am a fan of Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden because they often use props to help those of us who cannot do the poses unassisted. My mother would like to find a DVD that allows her to do yoga in spite of her bad knee. Can you direct us? Thanks.

    Irene Lietz | July 3rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Hi Irene,
    I haven’t checked out this DVD myself, but Lillias–who has been hipping America to yoga’s charms since the 70s–has an AM and PM DVD of yoga for seniors. I’ve met her in person (in the bathroom at a Yoga Journal conference) and she is truly delightful. I’m guessing she’d be a great resource for your Mom. (They sell it on Amazon.)

    Kate Hanley | July 6th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. Kate, Thanks for the Lilias recommendation. I sent that on to my mom, as well as the AM/PM yoga for beginners with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden. She adapted those exercises with me, and even with only a little of the stretch, she felt more energized and moved more freely. I’m just amazed at the power of yoga. Thanks for your help. Irene

    Irene Lietz | July 10th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. love the idea, I have bought yoga bricks for a friend that was extra stiff, but the bolster seems like a good idea for both her and me. What are the dimensions of your bolster? Is it firmer than a firm foam pillow?

    Anne | July 27th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. Hi Anne,
    Yes, my bolster is pretty firm. It’s certainly softer than a foam block, but it has less give than even a firm foam pillow. Its dimensions are 25″ long, 13″ across, and 5-1/2″ tall. Bricks are great too! You are a nice friend. I think you definitely deserve a bolster. :)

    Kate Hanley | July 28th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  6. Does anyone know where I can purchase a bolster like the one used with these poses?

    Terrie | May 17th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. There are several places. I don’t advise cheaping out on one though. My yoga instructor checked out the less expensive ones, and they weren’t very good. Try yogalifestyle.com. That’s where I’m ordering mine next week. There’s round and rectangular- your choice. You can also google yoga bolster and many sites will come up. Hope that helps. Restorative yoga (with bolsters) is amazing!

    Gail | June 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed and informative article. It has given me a lot of inspiration.

    lrowan | July 6th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. Props are excellent and so useful for students with injuries or those of us less flexible in certain poses. I usually would like to use the bolster on my hips & thighs while in Savasana (corpse pose) to add extra weight in this area and release my lower back of any tension. But there are so many ways of using a bolster it is a common prop in Iyengar yoga style.

    Marie the Vinyasa Yoga Flow teacher | July 25th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  10. Thanks for this nice article and the clear illustrations. Yoga has so many benefits for everyone but many of the people who need it most seem unwilling to give it a try. Keep spreading the word!

    Doug the Organic Yoga Mat Guy | August 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
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