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'Bolster Yoga - Support Yourself' by Sally Lander


Original illustration by Jon Lander from Yoga with your Slippers On.


Bol'ster noun, verb: Middle English, from Old English.  First known use: before 12th century.   A long firm pillow or cushion, usually shaped like a tube; anything resembling this in form or in use as a support.

To help someone to feel better and more positive. To improve something. Support, aid, maintain, boost, strengthen, assist, prop, reinforce, hold up, cushion, brace, shore up, augment, buttress, buoy up, hearten, sustain, fortify. In our Bolster Lessons at least half the time is spent lying on the bolsters.  We use them for twists, childs, forward bends, back bends, supported shoulderstands, side bends, sitting and lying.  Even in ¾ hour it is easily possible to build up a dependent relationship with a bolster, so watch out.  I only bring them in once or twice a term in the general classes, to reduce the risk of addiction. We also use them for standing, moving, strength things, they make a fascinating change of base and surprising results. You can make your own temporary bolster by rolling up a throw, some blankets, or a single duvet, maybe even tying it into the bolster shape, but you do get the best result from a true yoga bolster, one which has dedicated its existence to your relaxation and fortification.

Not the victim of a strange garden accident, but Rose doing Little Mermaid Twist. This is very relaxing, but also a wonderful lengthening twist. RESTORATIVE YOGA - it's a subset of bolster yoga.


It can be like floating.


It's about being supported, learning to support yourself, letting yourself be supported. In a class it can be about learning to ask for support.


It can just be a lovely rest.


Or it can be an unbearable faff, drive you crazy, it can make you feel uncomfortably vulnerable, it can bore you solid, it can make your body feel rigid and uncared for.


I first tried Restorative Yoga in a one-day workshop. Oh, I had been looking forward to it. Relaxing, calming, reinvigorating, transformative, I don't even remember what I was promised. I left feeling absolutely furious, terribly tense, stiff as a board. But I learned a lot. 


I felt criticised and attacked by the teacher's helpers, people I had not even been introduced to, who kept picking up a bit of my body and sticking a blanket under it.

I had not realised I had signed up to be fussed and faffed over.

I hated being lifted up out of the stretches I love and am used to.

I wasn't able to admit it then, but I now realise I felt vulnerable, being placed into held and often open postures in a large hall full of people I didn't know.

I didn't understand what the day was going to involve and I couldn't see the point of it, but I do now.


You lie still for 10 - 15 minutes or so in a series of floor variations of yoga poses. You use enormous quantities of cushions, blankets, bolsters and other props to get yourself propped in total comfort, slightly above your full ranges of motion, so that you feel no stretches. You relax, and you might want to use music so that your mind can be supported and rest into the music in the same way your body is resting into its supports.


The preparation in particular is utterly daft, as so many of the best yoga things are. Yoga belts are used, and I find myself saying: 'Tie your legs together by dropping the belt over your bent knees' 'Now, for the second pose, tie your legs together in the NORMAL way'.


Last time we tried it a couple of the students got themselves settled immediately and listened to the protracted rustling of the others sorting out their cushions, covers, bolsters, blocks, eye bags, sand bags. Afterwards one of them said 'It was rather nice, like a family of small woodland creatures nesting in the autumn leaves...'.


After a Restorative Yoga classes some students sent reports on their experience: 


'Discovering Restorative Yoga has been a brilliant bonus to me. In life, I find it hard to make sure that I look after myself and will often "make do" rather than really get myself comfortable or warm enough or rested enough. So, the whole process of getting myself really comfortable and supported is a bit of a novelty and it is only because I have been told to do it that I bother! I have been doing it at home and finding it very helpful when I am tired or stressed. I put a timer on so I get the full ten minutes but no music. The restorative poses allow me a much deeper sense of relaxation than the usual shivasana we do at the end of the class. I guess it must be the support and cushions. I have discovered that I feel more energised doing restorative yoga than if I go to bed and have a nap!'

Ellie Thomas



'I found the restorative session unexpectedly healing. Try as I might I couldn't settle properly in the first part with what I think of as the frogs-legs-on-your-back-with-sumptuous-cushioning effect thing. You can't fool your body can you? I had tense muscles and a neck ache / headache but the music was delightful. When I spread my arms out really wide a change started to occur. I don't normally 'do' wide arms. I realised my jaw and larynx were very tight so let the tension go with each breath, and the music was the rest of my undoing against the fight. It resonated with me and I was completely unaware that tears were forming behind my eyelids until I opened my eyes. I felt safe. I could b-r-e-a-t-h-e. As I drove away I was alert but calm and as always I felt more relaxed in body and mind the next day.

What the restorative session provided for me was your very thoughtful environment, and safe space for me to be able to relax and allow healing processes to happen. The way you make things easy for the body, mind and spirit / emotions to interact, not least with the tone of your voice and the music is very special. I was quite astounded (again) at how it works.' Jenny Blake But, as for me on that first day, it might not work for you. Here is Nina Lübbren's experience: 'I did feel stiff after the class and not as 'exercised' and 'stretched' as I usually feel so for me it was not that great. I don't think lying still in one position is very good for my body... '

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