meditation cushions | eco yoga props | floor seating | body friendly office | organic bedding

Pillow Therapy

Applying ancient yoga principles to
enhance the sleep experience

kapok pillows, buckwheat pillows, body pillows. eye pillows

It's sort of a standing joke--sometimes people cheer when it's time for the last part of the yoga workout--Shavasana--that is--laying down to relax, breath and let the mind release. There usually is no pillow and very little padding. This is a chance to feel the body in a natural setting, without the furniture which surrounds us in everyday life, pushing us this way and that way.

One way to integrate yoga into everyday life is to design one's resting and sleeping environment around yogic principles. These minimalist principles are not what modern bedding designers use. Actually, modern bedding is over-designed. It is a case of taking technology too far.

The current trend is to make you feel no 'pressure points'. In other words, numb your body so you are not aware of gravity or anything touching you. For decades the bedding industry has been claiming that is what creates the best sleep. First it was waterbeds and now it is memory foam.

But this reasoning is counter to yogic principles. In yoga 'Sensory Awareness" is everything. The sleep surfaces and gravity can be used as a tool for getting in touch with the body and creating a biofeedback system to put the body in a natural relaxation response.

How can you be aware of the sensations of breathing when you feel no pressure points? How can you feel the weight of the body sinking into the ground when you can't feel the weight of the body OR the ground because you are on a surface that takes the pressure points away?

Rather, use gravity to FEEL the pressure points. Then relax INTO the pressure points so your body is completely relaxed like a cat sprawled out in the sun. Then the pressure points are evened out and Wa LaĦ--no longer there except when you need them.

With a little thought, the bed and pillows can become powerful tools for deep relaxation and a more effective sleep experience.

Here are the principles

1--Spine neutral

Keep the natural curve of spine including neck in the same position it would be in if you were standing upright. There should be no pressure on vertebral disks. This Rule Number One is broken in just about every pillow and bedding commercial where the pillow pushes the head up cutting off airflow through the throat.

2--Open air passages

Make sure the area around the nose is clear. During side sleeping, if a pillow sinks in it can hamper airflow through the nose. A firm buckwheat pillow works best.

3--Widen and expand lungs and diaphram to optimize circulation and breathing.. Flat firm sleep surfaces and props as shown for the shoulders and hips.

5--Change Positions. It's a good idea to rotate your body to different positions when you feel like it so circulation is better distributed.

Remember to Breath through your nose. This sometimes has to be a conscious CHOICE that turns into a HABIT. You may need a yoga teacher or bodywork therapist to help train you in this.

The 'relaxation response' is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress... and the opposite of the fight or flight response. Part of the Relaxation Response is when pulse and heart rate slow down, muscle tension decreases and the brain gets quiet and the chatter stops. This approach to the sleep environment promotes the Relaxation Response by at least two main factor's.

1--The breathing and circulation enhancment

2--The biofeedback system of FEELING and then RELEASING each part of your body.

Another important way to promote the Relaxation Response in your bedroom is to create a sanctuary from electromagnetic fields that keep our bodies in a state of tension. Stay tuned for more on this in another article.

Side Sleeping

Most people sleep on their sides most of the time and believe the bed should sink in to accomodate for the hips and shoulders. This is considered a great position in yoga and by chiropractors alike. I have always felt that it might be the ultimate position because it feels to me like the craniosacral fluid would move freely and be kind of pumped by the breathing action.

When laying on a firm surface that doesn't sink in, there is a different approach to establishing spine neutral--as illustrated by the photos. The head pillow should prop the head so it is not pushed up or leaning down. This opens the air passage in the throat. And pillows can be used to open the lungs and hips. Most people who try this feel an immediate wave of relaxatioon.

Back Sleeping

Every time I go to the acupuncture clinic my therapist says, "oh yea, you don't like pillows" and moves the pillow off the table. That pillow pushes my head, neck and shoulders forward and out of alignment. I am the only patient who doesn't want it. I've talked with fellow body workers who agree, the way most people use them--PILLOWS ARE NOT GOOD FOR YOU. They push us out of alignment, cut off circulation to the head, and block air from entering the lungs. They can possibly cause or contribute to sleep apnea and snoring, which are problems related to lack of oxygen. So why in the world do people use them?

My theory is: people are 'front loaded' -- meaning the muscles in front of the body are tighter and causing the body to hunch forward. So when a person who is tight in the front lays on his or her back and a firm surface, those tight muscles are being stretched. The firm surface doesn't allow the back to sink in and bow. It meets resistance and it must stretch, and that stretch is what is perceived as uncomfortable. So a pillow which pushes the head, neck, and shoulders forward and out of alignment further bows the back, and could be perceived as 'comfortable' because there is no stretching and realigning going on.

What I have just said is way understated. This is a PREVAILING CULTURAL NORM and even health care practitioners and the medical community are unaware of what normal human alignment is. So how did 'front loading' become the norm? Probably due to a prevailing cultural lifestyle of sitting. The interplay of waking activities and sleep ergonomics is very well illustrated by this brave soul who tried out my ideas and reported on his blog. Basically he describes the reason most people feel discomfort when first trying out the radical new concepts of The Chair Free Lifestyle and some tips for getting through the initial transitional phase.

"...Once I began changing my life into that of one primarily standing up I noticed my bed became increasingly uncomfortable. My neck, most of all, felt atrocious, as I wanted it to align with my back, but my heavier torso sunk into the mattress while my head was elevated, so not even ditching pillows helped any. Sleeping on my side made me feel like everything was out of whack too. Given my bad experiences with the floor in the past I was hesitant to try it again, but one aggravating night pushed me to try it once more. I slept wonderfully: Without pillows my body felt in harmony when laying flat down, and on my side I found I only need my arm or hand underneath my head for everything to feel perfect. I've never enjoyed sleeping on anything less than a hard surface since then.

Succinctly, depending on the structure of your body as determined by your lifestyle will determine how you respond to a particular surface, and an unhealthy structure may be the cause of discomfort when trying to sleep on a hard surface since the body tries to adjust one way there while one's everyday posture makes it adjust otherwise. People, then, might be only evaluating negatively the transitional phase in adjusting to sleeping on the floor, and give up on the practice before they have adapted or otherwise keep their body in a state of flux by constantly changing posture.

In my own life I think this points out the essential changes I've made to my life that makes sleeping on the floor wonderful whereas it was unacceptable in the past. Nowadays much of my waking life is spent standing up. While trying to conduct my studies one day I was enormously frustrated with how bad my neck felt and how restless my legs were, as I was sitting down, and then spontaneously set up boxes in the laundry room to make a stand-up desk. It took weeks to adjust to -- my feet and legs hurt often in adapting -- but it's been consistently great since then. The posture of my standing up was so comfortable that I rarely sat down from then on and even converted my computer area to a stand-up desk. Combined with standing up my entire shifts at work (I work in a restaurant), I virtually don't sit down anymore except for meals and reading.

I think that in choosing to stand up I've altered my body into a state that it holds comfortably when laying on a hard surface, which a soft surface disrupts. The floor was probably uncomfortable before because I was sitting down all the time with my reading and studying, so my body had adapted into a certain structure consequently and felt the pain of trying to adjust to another when sleeping on the floor. The bed probably only catered to my bad posture, which is probably why it was comfortable back then, only becoming uncomfortable when I started standing up. Finally, I never adjusted to sleeping on the floor back then probably because I was undoing all the transitional work my body was doing by switching from bad sitting posture to laying on a hard surface, so my body was always experiencing the discomfort of trying to adjust one way and then another.

I theorize that my comfort in sleeping on the floor has to do with daily posture because there was positively no transition period the second time I took to it. I just hopped out of the bed, laid some blankets on the floor, and felt comfortable since then. The transition pain was felt in the form of my standing up, where my feet, hips, and lower back hurt for about two weeks in trying to get used to it, but now have strengthened to the point that I can stand up literally all day without discomfort. Once my body adapted to my standing posture, there was nothing to change in laying on the floor and therefore no pain."

Read Full Account Here


Buckwheat rectangular pillow folded in half puts the neck in 'spine neutral' and leaves plenty of room around the nose for breathing. Knees are slightly askew from each other instead of on top of each other. This evens the hips so they are not pressing into the firm surface and lower back is in 'spine neutral''. Upper arm to the side keeps the chest and lungs open. One nice thing about this arrangment is so little propping is used to reach a comfortable and constructive rejuvenating position.


Side sleeping with buckwheat pillow for head and Organic Kapok Body Pillow for arms and legs. Needless to say, this position is at least as relaxing as it looks.


Side sleeping with buckwheat pillow for head and Organic Kapok Pillows for arms and legs. Just one of several combinations that would work. These smaller pillows have the advantage of being easier to move around in bed than the larger kapok body pillow.


Side sleeping with buckwheat pillow for head Eco Block for arms and Eco Backrest™ pillow for legs. Just one of several combinations that would work. These smaller pillows have the advantage of being easier to move around in bed than the larger kapok body pillow.


This photo shows a destructive way to use a head pillow. The pillow pushes the neck out of alignment and air passage in throat is cut off. For people with sinus problems who need their head up high, a better solution is Inverted Bed Therapy where the entire front of the bed is propped up so the body is still in alignment. More on this in an upcoming article.


This is a constructive way to use the
kapok head pillow--not for the head at all. In this case there is no need for a head pillow, but putting it under the knees maintains the curve of the lower back--or the 'spine neutral' effect. Notice here there is no head pillow whatsoever. A head pillow is not always useful, depending on several factors. The purpose of a head pillow should be to support the neck and not the head, so the neck is in 'spine neutral'.


Buckwheat pillows work well for back sleeping without pushing the neck and head up. Air through throat is not compromised and neck gets a gentle stretch like a massage for decompressing the vertebrae and balancing the craniosacral points. The best position in this case is the lowest one with the cylindrical buckwheat pillow. The middle photo shows the Eco Backrest™ pillow.


Buckwheat rectangular pillow used here for stomach sleeping. This position can be useful but should only be used with care so the neck isn't twisted. The idea is to have the pillow support the front of the neck and hang the head over the pillow and turn slightly to one side. You can play with this when you want the relaxing effect of laying on the stomach. This can be a very calming way to relax before turning over to fall asleep.


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and Platform Couch

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