We often think only of restorative poses when pulling a bolster out for practice, but this useful prop can also help us to learn inversions like sirsasana (headstand).
To build your confidence, begin with head-supported standing poses. The sensation of being upside down while bearing weight on the head can be overwhelming at first. Practicing postures with your head supported by a bolster or a stack of blankets can yield some of the benefits of inverting—such as calming and quieting the mind—while also helping you develop the confidence to start working on full inversions.
The sensation of being upside down while bearing weight on the head can be overwhelming at first.
The key is to make sure your props suit the alignment needs of your pose. Stay curious, keep adapting, and experiment—it will be well worth it when you find the setup that is perfect for you and your pose.
(Downward Facing Dog Pose) With the Head Supported Downward facing dog with the head supported prepares you for the experience of full-body inversions such as headstand, handstand, and shoulderstand, where the head is below the heart and the legs are up.
• From all fours, curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back to come into downward facing dog. Observe how far away your head is from the floor.
• Bring your knees back to the floor and estimate which props you’ll need to fill the space between the floor and your head. It may be a combination of bolster and blanket, just a bolster, just a folded blanket, or even only a foam block. Place the support you choose lengthwise on the mat so that it doesn’t get in the way of your arms’ ability to straighten. The head should make contact with the bolster at the hairline.
• With your props in place, lift your knees away from the floor and again draw your hips up and back until you feel a stretch in your armpits and through your torso.
Because the weight of the pose is now distributed among your hands, feet, and head you are able to spend more time in the pose. Use the sense of ease provided by the bolster’s support to diffuse your attention throughout the pose; notice where the body may be dropping and notice where you might be overworking. Time spent in the pose will help you become more comfortable with the experience of inverting. Try staying for two to three minutes with smooth inhalations and exhalations. Then rest in child’s pose—and while there, support yourself with your nearby prop(s).
(Standing Wide Angle Pose) With the Head Supported In this pose the crown of your head is the point of contact with your support, which will more closely approximate headstand than the downward facing dog modification previously described, where the hairline makes contact instead.
• Begin in tadasana (mountain pose). Place your hands on your hips and move your feet four and a half to five feet apart, keeping the outer edges of the feet parallel. Stand tall. Fold forward until you can place your hands on the floor or on blocks directly under your shoulders.
• On your inhalation, lengthen your spine by drawing your sternum forward while reaching your pubic bone back. Next, keep your legs straight and exhale as you fold deeper, placing the crown of your head on the floor, a folded blanket, or a bolster, depending on your needs.
• Keep your legs engaged as you continue to relax your neck and release your head onto the support. Just as in downward facing dog, be sure that the amount of support is appropriate.
Stay in the pose for two to three minutes with smooth inhalations and exhalations. When you are ready to come out, place your hands under your shoulders and stretch your spine forward. “Heel-toe” your feet a little closer to one another. Then place your hands on your hips and come up with a strong back. Return to tadasana.
(Half Headstand) With a Bolster “Walkway” This approach uses a bolster to add length to your legs and decrease intensity of the stretch in your hamstrings, so it’s easier to focus on maintaining a strong, supportive back body.
• Place the narrow end of your mat at the wall and the bolster lengthwise in the middle of your mat.
• Kneel facing the wall with your knees on either side of the bolster. Interlock your fingers and place your interlaced hands on the mat with your knuckles against the wall and your elbows shoulder-distance apart, creating a stable triangular support.
• Press your wrists and forearms down as you lift your shoulders.
• Relax your neck and release the crown of your head to the floor (which you practiced in prasarita padottanasana). Support the back of your head with the palms of your hands.
• Lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs as you step your feet up onto the bolster and walk your feet toward your face until your hips are over your head. Keep drawing your shoulders away from the floor and firming your upper back away from the wall. Lengthen the sides of your waist, lift your hips up, and engage your quadriceps to draw the fronts of your thighs away from the floor.
Stay for as long as you can press your forearms down and maintain the support of your upper back by firming it away from the wall. Then rest in child’s pose.
, With Support Under the Shins After a long day on your feet, a dynamic yoga practice, or a hot afternoon, it’s nice to refresh your body with a supported savasana (corpse pose).
• Elevate a bolster with two blocks or a couple of folded blankets, and rest your shins on this support so they are parallel to the floor. The elevation of the lower legs will soothe your lumbar spine, while the space between the floor and your feet and thighs allows air to circulate freely around them—creating the conditions for a cooling rest.
Remain here for five to 15 minutes.
Don’t have a bolster but want to try these variations? DIY! Roll up two firm blankets and strap them together.