Yin Yoga with your bolster
I love practicing yoga with my bolster. It can really help to assist deepening into some postures, especially yin yoga or restorative yoga. This sequence is a yin practice that uses the bolster to help assist with postures that you might find useful after a run or brisk walk.
Use the bolster under the back of the knees to provide support for the legs as you fold forward over the thighs from the crease of the hips. If you have very flexible hamstrings you may be able to do this with a rolled blanket as support rather than the bolster. Stay for 3-5 minutes. To come up, remove the bolster and slowly unfold and take the hands back behind you, windscreen wiper the legs side to side.
Take the legs out wide, legs may be straight or some may need a gentle bend in the knees. Feet can be soft. If you want to strengthen the stretch you can fold forward at the crease of the hips onto the bolster – depending on how far forward you come the bolster may be on its tall end or lower. Stay 3-5 minutes. To come out, unfold and use the hands under the thighs to bend the knees and bring the legs in towards each other. Take the hands back behind you and windscreen wiper the legs side to side.
Dragons (including pulling the Dragon’s Tail)
This time the bolster can be used as a support under the back thigh to enable you to stay in the posture for a bit longer. From all fours take a large step forward with the right leg, place a blanket under the left knee, perhaps moving the left knee back a bit. You can then place a bolster under the left thigh for support. Take hands or forearms onto two blocks to move into Dragon Flying Low and stay for 3-5 minutes. Then take hands up onto left thigh. Reach back with left hand as you take the left heel up towards your bum. Hold for 5-10 full breaths if no discomfort in the knee to possibly feel a strong stretch into front of left thigh (Pulling the Dragon’s Tail). Release and step right foot back to all fours. Take the knees wide and take as many breaths as you need resting in wide knee childs’ pose before moving to Dragons on the other side.
From child’s pose at the end of your Dragon sequence, lower yourself down onto your belly and lay out completely flat. You can extend one leg and then the other back behind you to create some space for the spine and pelvis. Wiggle the upper body forward out from the pelvis and then when ready take the hands out towards the edges of your mat, fingers turned our slightly to lift up elbows from the mat. You may place your bolster under the rib cage to provide support so you can experience the full compression into the spine of the Seal pose without requiring the muscular effort into the arms. If you find this compression too strong, you can bring elbows to the floor and come into Sphinx posture instead. Stay 3-5 minutes. To come out, remove the bolster, turn the fingers in towards each other and bend the elbows to lower the upper body to the ground, extending through the spine as you do so. Lie here in this neutralising posture for at least one minute.
For those without any knee issues, you can choose to add a further back bend and stretch for the front of the thighs, hip flexors and psoas muscles by coming into Saddle pose. You may need to use some blocks to build up the height and angle of your bolster to reduce the amount of back bend and / or stretch into the front of the legs. Once you have arranged your bolster on the bricks, you can sit with bent knees at the end of the bolster onto the feet (or you may sit with the feet on the outside of the thighs depending on which version you find better for your knees). Take the hands back behind you and walk slowly back to recline back onto the bolster. You may keep the arms alongside the body, palms turned to face up, or you can take hands to opposite elbows and then take arms up overhead for a stronger stretch. Stay 3-5 minutes. To come out, you will need to take the arms back alongside the body, and slowly roll off to one side. Rest on one side with knees bent for around one minute.
Tiger in the Tree
Place the bolster in front of you, separate the knees wide and come into a wide knee childs pose position, this time using the bolster to support the upper body and head as you fold forward from the crease of the hips. Stay for 5 minutes, turning the head at intervals or half way through if you are resting your head on one side. To come out, press down into the hands and come back to an upright position.
Sitting at the end of the bolster with right hip placed against the end of the bolster, knees bent and off to the side, inhale and on the exhale, take each hand to either side of the bolster. Work with the breath (maybe 3-5 breaths or as many as you need) and inhale tall and exhale begin to twist so that after these breaths the upper body is turned to face over the bolster (around in a 90 degree angle away from the knees). Once you feel you cannot twist any further, then begin to fold forward over the bolster. Depending on how intense this twist feels, you may have the head facing the same way as the knees (perhaps starting with this) or turned to face the opposite way from the knees (more intense). Stay 3-5 minutes. To come out, ensure head is facing in the same direction as the knees and then pressing down into the hands to push yourself slow up and gradually turning upper body to face back in the same direction as the knees. You may have a little counter-twist in the opposite direction. Repeat on the other side when ready.
Placing the bolster under the back of the knees, recline back, with feet wide apart, arms away from the body, palms facing up (or hands can be resting on the belly), shoulders away from ears. Let the whole body settle down into the mat, noticing any areas of resistance or tension and seeing if you can release these over the course of a few breaths. Stay here for at least 5-10 minutes. To come out, take a big stretch, bend the knees and bring the feet on top of the bolster. Roll onto your right side and take a few moments there to finish your practice before coming up to an upright seated position.