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Shameem Akthar illustrates how the bolster can be used to prop up your practice

The bolster must be the most inexpensive and most easily available yoga prop. Even advanced students use it to extend the duration of poses or ease entry into new ones.

A bolster can be used when you are fatigued or feel disinclined to do a hardcore practice. It is also the best prop for those with severe or chronic ailments.

Even those with heart problems can negotiate a soothing inverted psychic union pose (viparitakarani) which, when done with a prop, is called the cardiac pose because it helps tone the heart in a gentle way, giving it a soothing anti-gravity effect without the contraindications that may surface while doing it without the bolster. Further, many people unaccustomed to physical exercise can still learn inversions like the shoulder stand (sarvangasana) with the bolster playing a supportive role, somewhat like a float in a swimming pool. Once the legs get used to being thrown up in the air, and the hips and back become acclimatised to this inversion, most people will find they can do the shoulder stand without the bolster. A counter pose to the above mentioned inversions is also negotiated very powerfully with the bolster. If the bolster is placed below the upper back, it can be one of the most soothing ways to stay longer in the fish pose (matsyasana).

The bolster works best with those who are either not strong or flexible to do classic poses. Some poses that the bolster can help you with are the forward bend (paschimottanasana) with the bolster placed on your thighs; the hare pose (shashankasana) or child pose (balasana) with the bolster under your forehead; the pelvic tilt (kandharasana) with the bolster under your hips; and the lying thunderbolt (suptavajrasana) with the bolster under your upper back.

For the bolster to be effective, it should be soft, yet firm. If it sinks too much, it may not be a good prop. So, you can have a made-to-order bolster, requesting the furnishing shop staff to ensure the filling is more because with regular use even a firm one begins to sink.


Hare pose (shashankasana)

Sit on your knees, with the bolster just so it will come under your forehead when you lean forward. Lift your arms overhead, inhaling. Exhaling, draw them down so the forehead rests on the bolster, and your arms are over it, on the ground. If you find this awkward, you can draw your arms alongside the hips, with the palms facing up, the back of your hands resting on the ground to do the balasana.

Avoid if you suffer from knee problems. You can keep the knees apart if feeling stiff but, over time, you can bring them closer. Ensure the hips are resting on the heels. After a few weeks, you may find that you do not need the bolster after all.

Benefits: This pose sends a good gush of blood to the brain, and face, keeping them younger and fit. The spine gets a powerful stretch and the nerves are toned. This pose relieves anger and fear, calms the mind and de-stresses you; keeps the face young and promotes hair growth. The pressure on the stomach will ease gutrelated problems.


Santulana spardha (balancing race)

Place a few non-breakable articles on a plate. Prepare similar plates, as many as there are participants. The participants line up at one end of the room, each holding a plate on the head. No hands are allowed. Let them practise keeping it intact for a while. Then, they line up, and as the whistle goes off begin to walk towards the other end of the room. The one who manages to get there without dropping anything is the winner. If participants find the plate difficult, you could use books instead.

Benefits: This game tests your balance and mental equipoise.

Shameem Akthar is a Mumbai-based yoga acharya. If you have any queries for her, mail us or email at (Please consult your physician before following the advice given here)

Photos: Haresh Patel
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
August 2017