Saturday, 27 February 2016

week 7


After nearly a year of living out of suitcases, we moved into our first flat this week. It’s unfurnished and we have literally nothing to put into our new home, which, since I’m a fan of living furniture free (or at least furniture like sofas that take the human movement out of modern life), fills me with joy! Alas we will need to purchase a couple of essentials. Like a bed and something for my mother to sit on when she visits, but I will be enjoying not filling the place with things and having floor space to dance around and the move has inspired this weeks (and next's) movement challenge! Yay! It’s a long read because I felt it needed the Why The Hell!?! explanation before hand, but it’s a brilliant one, because it can be done while you sleep! 

On that note, how many pillows do you like to sleep with?

Pillows are often marketed for their ability to support the head and neck, relieve pain, and align the spine. Do any of these claims sound familiar? Yep, pillows have now become orthotics for the neck. The claims coming from specialty pillow retailers and foot orthotic sellers are almost identical, and both are based on the faulty premise that our bodies require external support to be healthy. 

No one is born needing a pillow to sleep. Our heads and necks are perfectly capable of resting without support. When we are young, our bodies are adaptable and can handle sleeping almost anywhere, but through continued use of pillows over time we become conditioned to feel like we need them. This introduction of pillows to children is largely driven by our culture. Throughout history there have been plenty of cultures that have slept without any support for their heads.
When you lie on your back there should be a space underneath your neck. The neck naturally has a C-shaped curve. A common recommendation is that a pillow should fill up this space to provide “support” for the neck. Saying that this arch in the neck needs support is the same faulty logic that gets applied to the arch of the foot. An arch gets support from its ends, not from propping it up in the middle. Without a pillow, lying flat provides traction to joints and creates space between the bones in the neck. All day while we are upright the force of gravity is compressing these joints. At night we can allow gravity to work in our favor to help lengthen the spine. Propping the head up with pillows takes away that benefit. 

Basically using pillows restrict movement. All tissues in the bodies need movement to remain healthy. We don’t move a great deal when we’re asleep, but movement still occurs as the body adjusts during the night to our sleeping surface. These natural movements are limited when we’re cradled and encased in pillows and to be healthy adaptable beings our bodies should be allowed to respond and adjust to whatever we’re sleeping on. 

It’s fine to use pillows sometimes, or even most of the time. But you should never HAVE TO use them. Sleeping with pillows is comfortable, but realise a large part of this is because we’ve accustomed ourselves to using pillows. A big part of keeping your body healthy is being adaptable, and this means being able to sleep comfortably no matter what your head is resting on.
So my challenge to you is this; Consider working your way down to being able to use a thin, flat pillow or nothing at all. If you would like to give a try, just be careful not to make the switch too quickly. The transition to sleeping without a pillow should be more like a marathon than a sprint. Your body is very resilient, but it will need some time to adapt to no longer using a pillow. The transition to no pillow took me just under 6 months, but it can take much longer. 

Here are some tips from a reformed sleeper (me) to help you on your way:

1. Use a folded towel or blanket as a pillow for the first few weeks. Start with the towel at the same height of your current pillow and gradually reduce the height of the towel by unfolding it. Take as long as you need to do this. If you are a two pillow sleeper then follow the same tip, but start with one pillow and a towel. Continue to reduce the towel height until you are able to lie flat.
2. Make sure to keep your neck aligned as you reduce your pillow, like we do in class in Savasana. If you are lying on your back, make sure that your chin is not pointing up towards the ceiling. For some people, it may be helpful to keep a small hand towel folded in half as a pillow to ensure proper alignment. Feel free to experiment to find out what works best for you.
3. As you decrease the towel height you can put some of those yoga neck and shoulder stretch’s to good use each morning/night.
4. For a while I kept my pillow on the floor or next to me in bed, just in case I woke needing it. A good nights sleep is the main goal ofcourse, adding some neck and shoulder adaptation while you do it is a bonus!

Shout out to Michael Tetley who conducted research on natural sleeping postures and found that nomadic people and forest dwellers sleeping with natural postures suffer from less muscular and skeletal problems compared to people in modern societies thus inspiring a whole host of brilliant movers to promote the above.

Now go, be pillow free! 

p.s. I'm a side sleeper mostly, just like the beauty in the picture, but i've noticed that sleeping without neck support has me sleeping comfortably on my back and front too.

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