“I will never let someone do a Shoulderstand without a few blankets. I’m very into alignment these days.” – Annie Carpenter-
When I first reacquainted myself with yoga in the early 2000’s, I didn’t own a single yoga prop – not even a mat. And since I was practicing in my gym, I didn’t yet own a single pair of yoga pants. Fast forward almost 20 years and, now, I own literally innumerable pairs of yoga pants, and probably most of the yoga props available in the marketplace, from super grippy yoga mats, socks, and grips to tune-up balls, blocks, dharma wheels and of course, blankets.
So yes, I love to prop to up my practice. But of all the gear, my yoga blankets are by far the most loved.
Why? Blankets are soft, supportive, and can be folded and rolled into virtually any shape to accommodate my practice. I BYOB(blanket) to studios that are prop-less because, well, I just love life more with a blanket beneath me.
Before I start to enumerate the ways the blanket can be incorporated into any practice, I just want to go over some simple guidelines for folding and rolling your blanket:
- First, open up the blanket completely. Then fold it by taking the fringed ends together. This is the starting position for all other folds/rolls.
- To make a “long roll”, roll the blanket from the long non-fringed end and you’ve made a long noodle-like roll.
- To make a “short roll”, roll the blanket from the short end (perpendicular to the fringes) and you’ve made a short burrito-like roll.
- To make a medium rectangular shape, go back to the starting position in the first bullet and simply make another perpendicular fold. This is usually how blankets come off the shelf in most studios.
- From this last shape, you can fold the blanket up in any way you like to get it to a flat shape of any height you need. And, of course, you can use multiple blankets to add additional height.
So, how can you use a blanket?
Mostly, as a support to bring the floor closer to you or to lift you higher from the floor. Sounds simple, and it is, but it allows for so many possibilities.
In seated poses:
Blankets can be placed under your sit bones to allow the pelvis to tip forward slightly so that the lower back (or lumbar) can rest in a neutral position – with a slight inward (lordotic) curve. This will allow you to stack your spine in a neutral position and allow it to lengthen rather than round forward to compensate for the pelvis rolling backward.
- Although sukhasana (sitting with crossed legs) is literally translated as “easy seat”, tighter hips can make this position difficult to sustain. Raising the hips relative to the knees will allow the hip flexors to relax and knees to release toward the mat. One or more blankets can be folded and stacked as high as desired underneath your seat so that the knees are at the same height as the hips. The same principles apply when sitting with legs in butterfly (badhakonasana); sitting on the edge of a folded blanket will help tilt the pelvis forward to make it easier for the hips to release.
- In seated forward folds, ideally, the folding takes place at your hips and not your waist. By using the blanket under the sit bones, the slight forward position of the pelvis will lengthen the lower spine and allow the forward motion to come more easily from the hips. You’re already starting with the pelvis and sacrum in a forward tilt so continuing the forward motion to any degree will feel more easeful than starting from a rounded lower back. Just one blanket folded in a rectangle to your desired height will make a pronounced difference.
For tighter ankles:
A short blanket roll under the heels can assist in poses that require deep ankle flexion by decreasing the sharp bend of the ankle joint while in the pose. Ankle flexion is highly dependent on the size and shape of your bones.
- In malasana (deep squat), placing a blanket roll under the heels can allow your hips to release into a lower squat. The raised heels allow you to sit deeper without having to flex the ankle into an extreme position that might be uncomfortable or even impossible for you due to your personal anatomy. The raised heels also bring your knees a little more forward in your squat providing more balance to let you bring your torso more upright without falling backward.
- In Down Dog, most people find it difficult to bring their heels down toward the mat while maintaining a long spine. Placing a blanket roll under the heels will bring the ground up to meet your heels and allow you to find more length in your legs as you simultaneously lengthen your torso and release your heels. While touching the mat with your heels is not necessary, the blanket will also give you a better foundation under your feet so that you can feel more balanced between your hands and feet.
For tighter calves:
Sometimes, it’s not just tight hamstrings, but also tight calves that can make it difficult to do poses requiring straight legs. A blanket roll is a perfect tool to help stretch out your calves.
- A great way to stretch tight or overworked calves is to do what some of my teachers refer to as a “calf mash”. Kneel on your knees and place a short blanket roll in the crease behind your knees. Once the blanket is in place, sit back on the blanket so that the your calves are being “mashed” or massaged by the blanket. You can control the deepness of the stretch and target the area being massaged by moving the blanket higher or lower along your lower leg or by unrolling the blanket a bit as needed.
- Another nice way to stretch the calves is to place the blanket roll under your toes (heels on mat) while in tadasana and then fold forward into uttanasana. You can unroll the blanket as much or as little as you need and bend the knees as needed to get the degree of stretch you want.
Supine backbends can require a little more strength in the back body to lift against the force of gravity, particularly if you’re not using your arms to help you lift. Wheel also can stress your wrists if you (like many others) can’t easily extend your hands back at a 90 degree angle to your forearm. A blanket offers an easeful way to approach some backbends by providing soft support.
- In Bow Pose (danurasana), lying on top of a short blanket roll can provide the needed support to experience a deeper stretch. If you place the roll horizontally under you a little above your navel, it will pitch your body back toward your legs so that when you hold your feet or ankles and lift into your backbend, your thighs will descend toward the mat, and you’ll lift higher in your torso and feel more of a stretch through your chest and upper body. If you then move the blanket below your navel, it pitches you forward toward your chest. In this version, your chest will descend while your legs lift higher as you move into your bow, allowing more of a stretch through your hip flexors and quads. Which one feels better to you? This might give you some information about which part of your back body is stronger or more open. Try doing a bow unsupported afterward and see if the pose feels different from your usual pose.
- If you find that Wheel Pose is a strain on your wrists, try moving the pose to the wall with a blanket roll under your hands to make the angle of your wrists more accessible. Put the blanket roll on your mat against the wall and lie on your back with your head toward the wall at least a palm’s distance from the wall. Place your hands shoulders width apart on top of the blanket roll with your fingers falling around and down the part of the roll that’s away from the wall. Then press up into your wheel or just lift enough to place your crown on the mat. I know some people like to use blocks against the wall in this pose, but I find a blanket more comfortable, because my hands can’t get enough traction on blocks and the blanket also molds better to my hands.
Blankets are the perfect support for hip openers. They provide soft support for some vulnerable areas (groins and knees) and they release and self-adjust in the pose as your body starts to relax into gravity
- Supta badhakonasana (reclined pose with legs in butterfly) can be heavenly, but not if the hips are tighter and the knees aren’t able to relax toward the mat. Again, you can place blocks under your knees or thighs, but I find blocks to be sharp and unyielding. For me, the blanket is much more forgiving while still supportive. Take your blanket and make a long blanket roll (see the top of the article), wrap the center of the roll over your ankles, then bring the ends of the roll toward your open bent legs and drape one end under each knee, pooling the blanket ends at whatever height works for you to support your knees.
- If you find it difficult bringing your hips down completely to the mat in Pigeon Pose, a blanket roll placed horizontally can fill the gap between your groin area and the mat with cushiony support. Or, if you find that you tend to lean your pelvis toward the side of the bent leg, you can place a blanket folded into a square or rectangle of your desired height under that hip to level it off with the hip of the extended leg.
The most practical use I make of my blanket in arm balancing is as a crash pad. By placing a folded blanket in front of my mat directly under my face, I remove some of the fear of hurting myself in a face plant if I lose my balance.
Blankets can keep you warm, help you feel more grounded, or keep your spine in a neutral position when lying in savasana.
- Cover yourself completely with an open blanket if you find your body temperature tends to drop when you’re at rest on the ground.
- If you feel vulnerable or need a little grounding as you rest, fold the blanket into a narrow rectangle (1 horizontal fold from the way it typically comes off the shelf) and place it over your belly/pelvic area.
- If you have a strong lumbar curve, placing a short blanket roll under your knees in savasana can keep your spine in a more neutral position. Conversely, if like me, you have a flatter lumbar, taking the blanket and making a very small roll with one end and placing that roll under your lumbar can help maintain the integrity of your natural lumbar curve.
- That same small partial roll under your neck to support the natural curve of your cervical spine can also help you get a deeper release, especially if your shoulders tend to roll forward.
These are just a few ways to play with your yoga blanket. Try experimenting with your own variations. Remember, blankets can be used in any shape or configuration to lift you up, balance or support you or bring the ground up to meet you. Be creative, explore and have fun!
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement in 2017, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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