What's a Bolster Got To Do With It?
What is a bolster?
We are glad you asked!
With the recent statistics on how yoga has taken (for awhile now) the USA by storm -- ya'll know that 300 million people are practicing yoga, men practicing yoga has jumped 150% in the last 4 years.
And one of our favorites -- Only 12% of yoga practitioners claim to be advanced yogis. We love this!
And you want to know WHY people are flocking to yoga? 61% say to improve their flexibility. 56% participate to relieve stress. 52% say they are looking to get stronger (mentally and physically). 49% say they want to become healthier and fitter. (PR NEWS)
We knew this yoga was powerful, but we didn't know that it could turn 100% into 218%! (Please, tell us you got that joke. If you didn't there is a 50% chance it was not funny, and a 50% chance you need to do yoga for cognitive function improvement). (What about that one? Too mean?)
Soooo, we know YOGA has benefits, but ...
What's a bolster got to do with it?
Bolsters are a yoga prop. Props ... they can prop up the body or a body part. They can prop a practice. They can prop you up. There are many yoga props and your couch, chair, and hairpin can be a yoga prop. (I know you are wondering on that last one ... but that will be the next company).
Bolsters used to be called “pillows” as a prop and they have been around for a long time, even before yoga took the west by storm. But they HAVE NOT BEEN AROUND FOR 5000 YEARS. ( We really don't want to be a part of the incredible dis-information that yoga postures are a 5,000 year old practice.) Yoga pillows were used for pranayama (breathing practices) and relaxation in India and different sizes and shapes were used for sitting meditation. Now the actual sitting on SOMETHING as a prop, that is probably over 5000 years ago. And we do have this:
So maybe we take it back. Bolsters have been around for 5,000 years!
Bolsters got a big boost when the great yoga master, B.K.S. Iyengar started experimenting with them in Pune, where he lived and taught yoga in India. In 1976, it is told by those who were there that after much trial and error, Mr. Iyengar finally created a bolster he loved. It was a hard bolster, which offered strong support for both beginner and experienced yogis. They were stable - the density of stuffed cotton ensured that. (Yoga Journal)
And so the world the bolsters supported grew.
Bolsters weren’t just for meditation practice anymore. Mr. Iyengar taught so much yoga posture practice, bolsters started being used in the yoga classes (and the medical therapeutic classes). (Following from one of the all time great BKS Iyengar sequences, "Yoga For Emotional Stability" which heavily relies on bolsters.
In the yoga world, this style of bolster used in all these yoga classes was called a “Pune style” bolster. Inner Space Yoga bolsters keep the same basic idea behind Pune style bolsters. It's substantial. It's heavy. The ends are NOT going to wing up when you put weight on it (a real sign yogis, that you would be better off with a folded towels than a bolster like that).
We use ALL cotton batting.
We HAND roll our bolsters. None of our bolsters have zippers – they are drawstring only. We have so many reasons for the details, and you can go here to find out more. We make our bolsters firm. We know how a body relaxes with the right support and we know how the body can strengthen with the right support and load.
Why does this matter?
For many reasons. If you are like the 218% of people who have come to yoga, then you are looking for flexibility, strength, relaxation and fitness. You are looking to feel better, balanced. Everything is better when it is balanced. Here are the main reasons people come to yoga and a few ways bolsters help.
There are endless ways to use bolsters to help you build strength. Here is just one way that shows how the bolster can support the torso and help give feedback to your core, without your core muscles wearing out, while at the same time helping build the arm and shoulder strength needed to hold the chataruangu (yoga pushup). (Shown here- a Round Bolster. Buy Yours Now.)
Flexibility & Stretching:
Bolsters help prop the body, so using all kinds of combination of leverage, traction, and resistance. But an Inner Space bolster does this with such evenhanded density and give that it almost maps to the body. For example, you can't forward fold but want to gain flexibility in the hamstrings and back legs for this great pose, you can start here. (Shown is a Oval. Buy Yours Now.)
Or your front thighs need some stretching (and hey all you chair sitters, car drivers, couch slouchers out there - we GUARANTEE you need some stretching), the bolster helps with one of the more intense running stretches against the wall.
This "works" because unlike going against the wall or holding your ankle in the air, the even pressure of the bolster against the shin is the perfect resistance and the tightest part of thigh muscle fibers don't take all the pull -- the stretch is even throughout.
This is just a little taste. Check our our How To Use pages for more on each bolster.
RELAXATION: The mind relaxes when the body relaxes. This is an important connection and once you realize that, you start getting the depth that working with the body can help with anxiety, stress and related mind taking charge. The classic yoga texts refer to relaxation of effort, effort that becomes effortless, continuous effort and endless relaxation. (YS 2:47) We are not saying NEVER PUSH. We are saying that balancing ease with effort is the way to go. You may have to get familiar with the body in a certain position before you can access ease.
Bolsters help with this. They aid the body to maintain a posture without excessive effort. When the nerves aren’t firing like a drunk sailor in fight or flight mode, you might just sense the stillness that is available. It is always there for you, so don’t worry if you don’t notice it yet. (Shown here the flat and eye pillows. Buy an Eye Pillow Now)>
And this is IMPORTANT. Breaking the stress cycle is one of the best things you can do not only for yourself, but for the space around you (and the people in it). We did a post about the effects of stress on the body here and how Inner Space Yoga Supplies can help. One of the sneaky things about stress is that do not have to be in meltdown mode for the pervasive, corrosive processes to take a toll.
INNER VISION: this one is like spirituality, but not really. You can read a little more about what we mean and how bolsters aid in this here.
BOLSTERS TO THE RESCUE
And one of the great things about all this? There is a solution. The really, really good news is that you don’t have to practice a lot of yoga to reap benefits. While the studies are not conclusive, anecdotally, some studies indicate even 2 minutes provides benefits. And studies have shown that 20 minutes can reduce stress.
So what are you waiting for? Buy your bolster NOW.
Do you need help picking your first bolster? Check our HOW TO PICK YOUR FIRST BOLSTER.
Here is a two- minute practice you can do with an Inner Space Bolster. Practice it and let us know what you think.
First, lay over your bolster like this. You can put a folded towel or t shirt under your head if the neck feels even the least little strain. In this practice, let comfort and ease be your guide, not effort. (Atlas bolster shown here.) Buy and Atlas Now!
You can either bend your knees or straighten the legs. For extra fast chill, put a bolster under the knees.
Allow the arms to rest on the floor or fold your hands and place them on your belly. Lengthen the back of the neck by bringing the tip of your chin towards your chest. This does not need to be a dramatic action. You may feel the immediate opening in the back of your throat when you inhale.
Just rest here and with your awareness light and open, notice your breath as it comes through the nostrils. Notice the belly rise and then the chest. After a few rounds of noticing this, you may want to deepen your inhale and with attention as light as a feather and as constant as gravity, just notice the expansion of the belly and how the breath can lift the chest - and easier action to get as the chest is opened and supported by the bolster. As the breath leaves the body, and with the same light, constant attention, notice the the leveling of the chest, the softening of the belly. You may even notice a tiny movements in the notch of your throat and the dip at the bottom of your throat. This small and short awareness of breath will reap benefits.
So what are you waiting for? Want some help picking your first bolster? Go Here.