You've just brought home your first bolster and you're sure your newest toy is going to become your best friend on the planet. You probably already know draping your body over your bolster can restore calm after a tension-filled day. That's what restorative yoga is all about. What you might not realize is that your bolster is also an effective tool for stretching your back. With the help of your new prop, you can increase flexibility along the length of your spine.
Warm up with five to seven minutes of general cardio activity. Walk, jog or march in place to increase circulation and raise your core body temperature. Progress to a dynamic stretch, for example, pelvic tilts or single-knee lifts with a trunk rotation, to warm up your back more specifically. Aim for smooth, continuous, flowing movement.
Use your bolster to lightly stretch the lower back. Sit cross-legged on the floor, facing a low stationary surface, such as a couch or chair. Place one end of the bolster in your lap and lean the other end against the supportive surface. Wrap your arms around the bolster, lean into it slowly, and keep your back relatively straight. As you hinge forward from your hips, turn your head to the side and rest your cheek comfortably on the bolster. Keep your buttocks on the floor as you relax your upper body into the bolster, lengthening the lower back.
Place the bolster on the floor in preparation for a supported back-bend. Lie on your back with the bolster under your middle-to-lower back, perpendicular to your torso. Your hips and the back of your head should rest lightly on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you and relax and lengthen the back of your neck by dropping your chin slightly. Cross your arms at your chest or rest them on the floor in a relaxed, wide "V." Breathe evenly and let your body sink into the floor. Your chest should feel open and your rib cage should expand easily when you inhale. If your neck feels pinched, your back hurts or breathing is difficult, support the base of your head with a rolled-up towel or adjust the position of the bolster, moving it to a higher or lower point along your spine until you feel more comfortable.
Use a small, sturdy stool or crate for a more extreme -- and luxurious -- stretch. Place the bolster on top of the stool or crate. Crouch with your back to the bolster and carefully arch your back over the top of it. The bolster should lie underneath -- and support -- the small of your back. Relax your neck, shoulders and upper back, lowering your head toward the floor behind the stool. Extend your arms overhead and your legs in front of you, soles of your feet flat on the floor. Breathe evenly and draw the tops of your shoulders closer to the stool to further open up your chest and increase length in your upper back.
Wrap up your routine. While lying face-up on the floor, slide the bolster under your slightly-bent knees, perpendicular to the line of your body. If you'd like, place rolled-up towels under your middle-to-lower back, head or neck for additional support. Rest your arms along your sides and close your eyes. Let go of any tension that might have settled in your back throughout the day, allow yourself to relax and hold the position for at least five minutes. When you feel ready, slowly roll to one side, push the bolster out from under your legs and carry on with your day.
Items you will need
- Stationary couch or chair
- Rolled-up towel
- Small, sturdy stool or crate
- Hold stretches for up to 30 seconds, repeating one to four times.
- If your back is particularly stiff, start with something smaller than your bolster. Work with a rolled-up blanket until you can handle the larger size of your bolster.
- Move into and out of stretches slowly and deliberately. Avoid sudden jarring movements.
- Never force or bounce a stretch, which can lead to tightening or injury. Only push to the point of mild to moderate tension.
- If you have a chronic back condition, speak to your doctor or physical therapist about the advisability of specific stretches.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Teaching Restorative Yoga
- Yoga Journal; Asana; Barbara Benagh
- Yoga for Pain Relief; Kelly McGonigal
- Yoga Journal: Sequences for Scoliosis
- Yoga Journal: Watch Your Back