Pillow Talk

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient ~ by Elyse Shafarman

Re: “I enjoyed reading your website and was wondering if you have any specific pillow recommendations for side and back sleeping?” Yes, I do, although my suggestion is on the, “It depends…” side, remembering that the Alexander Technique does not advocate perfect positions, it advocates helpful “Directions” to coordinate our movement.

There are a lot of schools of thought about sleeping positions, some erring on the side of really heavy propping, and others on the side of no propping, (e.g. Your Pillow is an Orthotic). As a rule of thumb, for side sleeping, if you are a pillow user, generally a large firm stack of pillows to build up the distance between your ear and shoulder is comfortable. Your head may be surprisingly high. There’s no virtue in less pillows (unless, less is more comfortable). For back sleeping, try a small firm pillow propped under the head & upper shoulders, and maybe a pillow under the knees. I also recommend sleeping half on your belly, half on your side with one knee bent, in “1/2 frog” with no pillows (illustration pending). I’ve seen some research that side sleeping is better for the brain and may even reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. So if side sleeping is comfortable for you, there’s no reason to try back sleeping. My personal preference is less propping/no pillows. My belief is that this encourages movement during the night so that I don’t feel stiff when I wake up. However, everyone is so different, what’s comfortable for me may not be the best practice for you.

Also, the state of your mind before sleep has a lot to do with how comfortably you sleep. Thinking through your Alexander Technique Directions in bed can be a good way of easing into restful slumber – pillow or no pillow. The directions are, “Allow my neck to be free, to allow my head to release forward and up, to allow my back to lengthen and widen.” I also recommend trying a  body scan meditation before bed.

As soon as I get done grading papers and have some time, I’ll flesh out this blog with illustrations to better answer your questions.

This is the sort of question that is best dealt with in person. If you’d like to come in for a lesson (assuming you are in the Bay Area), contact me. You can also look through the American Society of Alexander Technique Teacher’s directory to find a teacher near you.

ZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Sweet Dreams!

1 reply
  1. Ann Grogan says:

    I’ve found your advice that pillows are highly individual, is correct for me. I do sleep on my side with a pillow between my knees. I saw the position recommended for a low back spasm that I suffered, on a Kaiser doctor’s webspage and tried it. I am sleeping that way to this day I had to try harder to find the right pillow however. I now love my goosedown pillow because I can squish it way down then pull it up under the side of my head (forehead level) and into my hollowed out neck to provide neck support as I sleep on my side. I do toss and turn each night side to side and only wish I could remain “knocked out” all night but perhaps your comment is well taken that turning a bit keeps the body flexing as a beneficial result! Thanks!

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