A well-placed yoga bolster can help you relax into pigeon pose or open up your chest for pranayama practice. You might start your search for the perfect bolster with every intention of buying the same one your teacher gingerly placed under your body during class. But then you realize that there are several sizes and shapes of bolster, as well as different firmness levels and filling materials. Which one is right for you?
Get the Right Size and Shape
Yoga bolsters come in four basic styles: meditation cushions, pranayama cushions, and rectangular or round yoga bolsters. Round and rectangular bolsters are used during yoga practice to support the body as it slowly eases into a pose. They’re typically used in restorative poses, like pigeon pose and forward bends, but they can also be used in active poses, when you need help to open up into a backbend, for example.
Round and rectangular cushions are available in long and short lengths, with the longer ones being about 24 to 28 inches and the short ones being about 22 inches. Large bolsters are 10 to 12 inches thick, and small bolsters are seven or eight inches thick. Pranayama bolsters are thinnest, at about six inches thick. A zafu, or round meditation cushion, is about six to eight inches thick, while a zabuton, the large, flat pillow that goes under it, is about three inches thick.
When it comes to choosing the right size, consider your own height and size — smaller rectangular or round bolsters are more appropriate for petite adults and children, while the regular sizes should be good for most adults. Thickness can also be a concern — you want your body to be able to relax into the bolster, and you want to be held up off the floor in most cases, but you don’t want to be in an unnatural position. If you’re not sure what firmness level would work best for your practice, talk to your yoga teacher, but in general, firmer yoga pillows offer more support for seated and active poses, while softer yoga pillows offer more support for restorative poses.
And, of course, if you want to pursue home pranayama practice or seated meditation, you should purchase the correct supportive bolsters for these practices. You can use a zafu and zabuton with a range of seated meditation poses, including hero pose, lotus, half lotus, and easy pose. If you need to create more space between your hips and the zabuton, simply turn the zafu on its side.
Choose Sustainable or Synthetic
Just like most things, yoga bolsters are made with both synthetic and all-natural, sustainable materials. Most yogis and yoginis want to purchase yoga bolsters that are sustainably made, but different filling materials will function differently, so that’s something to keep in mind. Bolsters filled with synthetic foam and polyfill batting hold their shape better, and bounce back more readily from the squashing and squeezing they tend to go through during use. Synthetic materials like polyester are also lighter, so these bolsters are easier to carry with you to class or bring along during travel.
Many all-natural and organic yoga pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls or flaxseed. These cushions tend to mold more effectively to the contours of the body, so they can offer more support for restorative poses and seated meditation. However, these kinds of filling materials tend to be heavier than polyester foam and filling. Bolsters filled with cotton batting are a good compromise — organic cotton is more sustainable than conventionally grown cotton or synthetic fabrics and offers much of the resilience of synthetic fillings, as well as being lighter weight than other natural fillings, like buckwheat hulls.
If you’re still not sure what kind of yoga bolster or bolsters to buy, talk to your yoga teacher or local yoga studio. Most studios offer equipment for student use, including bolsters of various shapes and sizes. Your teacher can help you try different things during class, or make recommendations based on your physical needs for your practice.
Yoga bolsters are among the best props you can own to enhance your home practice. They can help you relax fully into restorative poses, achieve deeper backbends, and leave you feeling as refreshed and relaxed after practicing at home as you do after practicing in class. The right bolster will help you get everything you need and want out of your home yoga practice.