What is a Bolster?
A bolster is a large supportive cushion. It is meant to bolster (support, strengthen or prop up) your body. Bolsters are generally soft enough to lay on, but strong enough to support your body weight. They can be rectangular or circular in shape.
When did people start using Bolsters?
B.K.S. Iyengar introduced many of the props we use now to the modern yoga world. In 1976 he created a hard bolster to offer strong support for his students. It is said that his first bolsters were made in a furniture factory, stuffed with cotton, and were very stable.
Since then, there have been many updates and improvements to bolsters. Some of them have been great and some of the updates might not be the best for you.
What is inside a Bolster?
Bolsters are filled with many different materials. Traditionally, yoga bolsters were filled with cotton batting and the best bolsters still are. But many companies try to reduce their costs by using other types of fill like foam or polyester. These fills are harmful to the environment because they never break down and can produce off-gases that could be harmful to you.
Polyester-filled bolsters are generally the cheapest. These bolsters start out great, but within a matter of weeks can begin to soften and feel lumpy as the polyester settles.
Foam bolsters are firm and usually hold their shape well. Depending on the quality of the foam, they can hold up well for a long time. The only real drawback with foam is it's environmental impact.
Some bolsters are filled with kapok, buckwheat hulls, loose fabric scraps, hemp products or even feathers. While these options are better for the environment, they often don't provide the best support.
We still believe that 100% cotton bolsters are the best bolsters for you and the earth! That's why we only fill our bolsters with 100% cotton fill at Love My Mat. No foam or polyester fibres to keep you and the earth as supported as possible.
What's the best Bolster size?
Bolsters range in size from quite small to very large. The size of your bolster is all about personal preference. My personal favourite is our Long & Lean Bolster.
I designed our Long & Lean Bolster to be 4" longer than a traditional bolster and 1.5" narrower to address the needs of western bodies that are often stuck in spinal flexion. The size of our Long & Lean Bolster is 28" long x 8.5" wide x 4.5" deep. We think it's the perfect size for backbends, forward folds and general support.
Traditional Bolsters are 24" x 10" x 5" and are still a great size, especially for Restorative Yoga.
Round Bolsters can range from 4" - 10" in diameter. The most common size being 8" diameter by 24" long.
Restorative Bolsters are generally larger to offer maximum support. These bolsters are usually 12" wide x 28" long x 6" deep.
When to Use a Bolster for Yoga?
Yoga Bolsters are often used in Restorative Yoga or Yin Yoga. But are also used in Hatha Yoga, Flow Yoga and Hot Yoga (if they have vinyl covers). Bolsters are meant to support you during your yoga practice.
My favourite yoga poses with a Bolster include;
- Supported Savasana
- Supported Fish Pose
- Supported Childs Pose
- Supported Legs Up The Wall
See how all these poses start with "supported"? That's why you need a bolster! To feel well supported in yoga poses so that your body can truly relax and release.
What else can I use a Bolster for?
Of course, there are many other uses for bolsters. They can be used while stretching, sitting or laying down. Bolsters can be used as mobility props and recovery tools.
You might see a bolster at your physiotherapist's office to support people's therapy routines.
Massage therapists often use bolsters under the knee of their patients to keep their spine neutral and comfortable while laying on their back or under the ankles when laying on their belly.
A friend of mine used her bolster and strap to help her aging mother in and out of bed.
I used my Long & Lean Bolster to help sleep train me to sleep on my back. I placed the bolster under my knees and the weight & size of it made it near impossible for me to move around or roll to my side while sleeping.
Keep your bolster in your living room as extra seating when you have guests over. Added Bonus? Floor sitting is so good for your body health!
The different Bolsters we make at Love My Mat include:
Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions. Wishing you love & rest,
xo Shelley xo