Written by Ana Davis
In the days when I used to juggle a demanding television production career with part-time yoga teaching, every Friday afternoon I would struggle through Sydney’s rush hour traffic to prepare to teach my beginners class. One time I arrived at the yoga studio with 30 minutes to spare before class began. I gratefully collapsed, exhausted onto a bolster into a supported child pose and promptly fell asleep – half an hour later I awoke, refreshed and ready to teach my class!
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to fall asleep in a supported yoga position like this to receive the rejuvenating benefits. Taking just 5 or 10 minutes out of your busy day for a short, ‘restorative yoga break’ can help you deal with mounting stress by offering you the chance to regain mental perspective and rest your body deeply.
In the previous newsletter we looked at the ‘panacea for all ills’, Viparita Karani, or ‘legs up the wall’. This pose is a definite winner when it comes to beating stress and anxiety. The following two supported versions of Balasana, pose of the child, are also wonderful for calming your mind and nerves.
Supported Adho Mukha Virasana (Supported forward hero pose)
Sit with your buttocks resting on your heels, big toes touching, knees as wide apart as your mat and a bolster between your legs. Walk your hands forward, keeping the front of your body long, and rest your torso along the bolster. Let your elbows drop into the mat and turn your head to the side, resting on one cheek. If you have a sore or tight neck, you may find it more comfortable to interlace your hands and rest your forehead on the backs of your hands, or roll a blanket up to support your forehead. If your bottom doesn’t easily touch down on your heels, place a folded blanket or another bolster between the buttocks and heels. Take a few sighing, ‘falling out’ breaths through your mouth, relaxing your jaw and throat. Let the forearms merge into the floor as you soften and let go of tension in the shoulders.
This pose is deeply nurturing as you allow your body to surrender into the soft support of the bolster. I liken it to cuddling a big teddy bear! It helps relieve tightness in the lower back and can alleviate menstrual cramps.
Double bolster supported Balasana (Childs pose)
This variation of childs pose can also double as a prone Savasana, corpse pose. For those who like to sleep on their tummies, this is the next best thing, as you feel the whole front of your body supported by the bolsters.
Place one bolster on top of another with the top one a few inches back from the bottom one. Lie face down on the bolsters with the legs bent up like a frog and the forearms roughly at right angles from the body. Ideally, you’re positioned so that the forehead can rest comfortably on the bottom bolster. Otherwise, you may prefer to turn your head slightly to one side. If you are working on a hard surface, it’s a good idea to place some thin-fold blankets underneath the upper and lower limbs.
Close your eyes and let your mind draw inwards as you take some releasing exhalations. Relax the hips and sacrum completely as you feel the arms and legs sink heavy into the floor. As you spend time here you can direct the breath to the back of the body – breathing open the back lungs and kidneys.
Whenever I see my students slowly and blissfully emerge from this soothing pose, I am reminded just how profoundly calming this pose is. It provides a gentle massage for the internal organs from the bolsters beneath you as you breathe into them. It also helps relieve lower back pain and tension.
American born yoga teacher Donna Farhi describes it as “creating a deep feeling of safety and security, much as child would feel pressed close to the mother”.