My Buddy the Bolster

Relaxing isn’t something that comes easy to me. I’m one of those people who travels much of the time at 100 mph and is always on the go. Even when my body isn’t, my mind is.

Recently, however, I have worked on relaxing in savasana for at least 5 minutes after my morning yoga and have been maintaining a consistent morning and evening meditation practice, even if it is only for 5 or 10 minutes a sitting.

After the very active week of yoga I decided this week I would begin by joining the meditative and restorative yoga class. I thought it would be yoga, but slower. I was quite mistaken.

Taking place again in the loft with its colourful mood lighting, I found a spot and noticed that other people who were already set up had a whole manner of props. Was I meant to be bringing these with me? I wondered. I asked the guy next to me if I needed these things and he told me, most definitely and to go into the back room where I could get them. I sighed relief that they were provided, making my way to the back room to get a bolster, block and blanket (why did they all begin with B?).

I’ve never used yoga props before, well except for a flat block to sit on in padmasana when I first started practising. In my usual, ‘I know best’ way, I assumed I wouldn’t need the block, so when the girl next to me realised they had all gone, I gave her mine.

I hadn’t realised the teacher was in the room because there were so many people milling about. She told us we would need a block, bolster, eye-pillow and blanket. Were we going to be sleeping? I went back to the room to collect an eye pillow and the teacher said she had another block by her mat that I could use.

We finally settled down on our mats in savasana and I hooked my knees over the bolster, just following what everyone else was doing really. I placed the eye pillow over my eyes. It smelt of lavender and was filled with beads which made it heavy, but not uncomfortably so, just enough to allow it to nestle softly into your eyelids. It was actually too far down because I realised it was actually restricting the breathing through my nose. I moved it up slightly and wondered what to do next.

The teacher explained that the class was about being supported and instructed us to lie back and take deep breaths in through the nose, sighing out through the mouth. She continued talking about mindfulness and asked us to bring out focus back to the breath each time our mind wandered. After the day I had it felt good to relax. She guided us through our senses, which was surprisingly eye opening (oh the puns!)

The eye pillow, when lying back, was great because it blocked out the lighting, but difficult to keep on when we turned on our sides!

We moved through various lying postures and in each remained there for what seemed like forever; perhaps just 5 minutes in some, but longer in others. Rather than pushing yourself into postures, the idea was to get comfortable and be supported by the bolster; relaxing into it. I found this difficult at first because the bolster isn’t some squishy pillow its like a 3ft long pillow that is soft but very firm.

I was suddenly struck by the thought that this is the most supported I’ve felt in a long time. Yes, by a fabric bolster. Seriously? I felt tears prick into my eyes but took a deep breath in, let it go and relaxed some more. Now was not the time. I tried to be in the moment and enjoy being relaxed and supported, even if it was just a bolster!

We moved into side and back bends, again very gently laying with the bolster supporting us and continuously breathing and focusing on the present moment. The hip opening exercises were so good. Usually when you practice baddha konasana to open the hips, its quite a difficult pose to remain in. In this practice the bolster lay across the lap with you over it, which meant as you relaxed you fell into the bolster, and because we remained there for several minutes, the body relaxed far more than it would in a usual yoga practice just holding for 15 breaths. Each posture had variations with the position of the bolster, all focused around what felt most comfortable for your own body. The real key being in relaxation rather than pushing yourself in the postures and being uncomfortable.

We finished the restorative practice laying down again with the bolster supporting the back and covered in a blanket. It was difficult not to let the arms drop down to the floor which made it feel uncomfortable because you were higher up. The teacher did this ‘wrap’ where you placed your hands across your chest and she, in one swift magician movement, tucked in the blanket which you grabbed under your shoulders, thereby creating a wrap that supported your arms. Well I never knew! It was like a limbo land; somewhere between sleeping and awake, drifting on a cloud of relaxation.

Finally we sat up for 10 minutes of meditation, with a mudra where the hands were placed together, middle fingers pointing upwards and the thumbs to the chest, fingers clasped. It felt odd at first but it was actually quite interesting; the focus it offered. We moved to practising alternate nostril breathing, but not in the literal sense; we were to visualise a triangle (where you would usually place the fingers), from the base of the nose up to the top of the eyebrow centre, down the right side of the nose and across again. I was amazed at how uplifting it felt to do this practice without actually doing it, just visualising breathing in through the left nostril, breathing out through the right. We did this several times before drawing in the breath and holding at the eyebrow centre. I felt as though my soul had lifted up and was suspended in that centre of the body, just delicately fluttering there and waiting to be slowly flown back down again as we breathed out. Although I have experienced this feeling before, as though the soul is lifting out of you, in meditation, this was different. It was more pronounced but much gentler and softer, like a feather floating.

Lesson 4

Softness, gentleness and being supported is not weak. There is great power and strength in relaxation. Allowing the body and mind to be restored.