When you lie down at the end of a yoga class, what is going on in your mind? Do you manage to get into a state of total relaxation? An eye pillow can assist to get to that place, and become a trigger to remind your body to return to that relaxed state.
Whether in the relaxation pose at the end of a general yoga class, or in a restorative yoga class, when you lie down in shavasana (the resting pose, lying on the floor) is the time you get to absorb the benefits of the poses done during class and it is your chance to really relax and work towards pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses.
What does that mean? Simply to let go of busy thoughts, worries, plans, stories about the past and future - and go within to a still place of calm. Usually this is achieved by keeping attention on the breath, often after being led on a journey through the body to relax each part, and perhaps paying attention to your different physical senses. These are things we know how to do, but in our busy lives we don’t have the time or get the opportunity to do so.
Research abounds that shows that relaxation practices like yoga have tangible benefits such as lowering cortisol, promoting good digestion, helping to support the immune system. This leads to better stress management, better health, more even moods and responses to everyday events.
Using an eye pillow can enhance these benefits. The light pressure from an eye pillow stimulates the vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate and our digestive system.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body; the vagus originates in the brainstem and travels down the body, through the neck and into the chest, lungs and heart before moving down to the abdomen and digestive organs. The vagus nerve has several important functions, including the regulation of the nervous system. It forms part of the involuntary nervous system and keeps our heart rate constant, controls food digestion and it is the pathway by which our “gut feelings” travel to our brain. It is the communicator to our parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system), which needs to kick in to action to take us out of fight or flight mode. Activation of the rest and digest system allows us to relax and also helps us to connect to other people.
Using an eye pillow during shavasana will deepen your relaxation. Just allow your eye pillow to rest lightly over your forehead and eyes down to your upper cheeks.
You can also use an eye pillow when you go to bed to help you get to sleep more quickly. If you wake during the night, use your eye pillow to help you get back to sleep.
Everybody needs to unplug from everyday worries, plans and stresses and take time to restore a sense of equilibrium. To give ourselves time to simply breathe!
Our attention is too often on the past or future, not the present. The present is the only moment we can control and guarantee – the most precious moment of all for ourselves and for those around us. We should savour it, value it, use it!
Any time you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, lie down and put your eye pillow in place and take some deep breaths to help you relax and feel more grounded. Making each exhalation slightly longer than the inhalation will assist with relaxation.
Just as stress can be triggered by a small reminder of a previous stressful experience, relaxation can be triggered by a small reminder of a relaxing experience, such as by putting your eye pillow in place.
Please note, if you are purchasing an eye pillow, make sure it has a good filling and the filling hasn't been skimped on. It needs to have flaxseeds or other seeds along with your favourite herbs to give it substance and it should be approximately half full of the filling. To get the effects mentioned, there needs to be some gentle pressure from the pillow.