If you’re the sort of yogi who goes to a lot of flow classes, you’ve potentially never used a yoga blanket. Maybe you’ve reached the point where you’d like to try yoga for more stress relieving purposes, or you’ve been struggling with some back pain. Props, like yoga blankets, help you as you slow down and go deeper in your practice and help you stay out of pain by customizing the amount of stretch you’re getting.
First, a word about how to fold a yoga blanket. Most people approach a yoga blanket like folding sheets at home, and fold it horizontally first, to get it off the floor. That results in the edges going the wrong way to offer you enough support. The first three folds in a yoga blanket are always in a vertical direction. So, your first vertical fold makes it long and skinny like a yoga mat, your second makes it into a large flat area you could use to pad your knees, and your third vertical fold brings it into a ‘flat fold’ which is a good starting point. Some studios store blankets in this flat fold position or fold it one more time for a double fold.
Option #1 for your back
Sit on yoga blanket. Depending on how much height you need, you could use a flat fold or double fold height. To make your back the most comfortable, you want your knees lower than your hips when sitting cross-legged. For most of us that means using several blankets actually. You want just your sit bones on the blankets, and the backs of your thighs off, making contact with the floor.
Option #2 for your back
Support your knees when sitting cross-legged. When your knees are suspended in the air, it pulls on your groins and hip flexors. Tight hip flexors can contribute to back pain. To help get those hip flexors to relax and get longer, you need some stretch, but the maximum pull just causes muscles to spasm, not relax. Sit on one or two blankets, and then prop your knees with two rolled blankets so that you get a comfortable hip flexor stretch that you can hold for long enough to do a meditation.
Option #3 for your back
Support your hips in asymmetrical poses like pigeon. When doing a one-sided posture like pigeon, frequently you have one side more open than the other. The tighter side might leave you feeling suspended or out of alignment since that area is too rigid to allow you to come into the form of the posture. Putting a blanket under the tight side will support that hip and keep your spine in alignment, preventing overstretching or spasm of your back and hip on that side.
Option #4 for your back
Roll a blanket on the long edge into a narrow roll to use as a chest opener. Most of us carry our head too far forward. We sit in chairs all the time, using our computers and cell phones, and that pulls our gaze down. Our head ends up forward of its correct center of gravity, and we often round our shoulders and collapse our chest as well. A chest opening posture can help correct that misalignment of your thoracic and cervical spine. The roll can be positioned parallel to the long edge of the mat and you can center your spine along it, arms out to the side, palms up. A second blanket (so you end up with a T formation) as a pillow can help also. Another option is to roll the blanket and place it parallel to the short edge of the mat. Position the blanket under your floating ribs and allow your shoulders and head to come to the floor, or maybe another blanket under your head so it’s not too much stretch for your neck. That second choice is a more aggressive chest opener, so choose the one that feels good for your back.
Option #5 for your back
Use a double fold blanket behind your head when laying down in Savasana, or Corpse Pose. Remembering the text neck we previously talked about, think how your body reacts when you bring that C-shaped posture down on to the floor. Using a double fold blanket behind your head like a pillow, will take the strain out of your neck to allow you to fully release and relax in corpse pose.
All these options boil down to using the blanket/s for support. Yoga blankets support you. They relieve tension by reducing pull. Or, sometimes they’re redirecting the pull to an area you want to stretch to correct alignment problems. Correcting your back alignment and practicing with the appropriate amount of stretch, will go a long way to preventing back pain. If you don’t have any yoga blankets in your practice kit, buy four and see what a difference they’ll make for your comfort level when you practice.