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June 11, 2018

Eye pillows have a reputation for being the new age version of snake oil: a little bit of flax, and a lot of money. Yet they may be one of our most powerful healing tools, especially when it comes to a balanced nervous system. Your vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves that originates in the brain, travels down the back of the neck and into the chest and heart, and then moves down into the abdomen and digestive tract.

Light pressure on the eyeballs lowers heart rate, sometimes by quite a bit, by eliciting what’s called the oculocardiac reflex. It also stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve has an extensive resume: It regulates heart rate and digestion, and it’s the primary medium through which our belly brain regulates mood. It’s the main communicator to our rest-and-digest system, which helps us to relax more deeply. It also elicits our tend-and-befriend system, enabling us to reach out and connect with others. This is a critical factor in long-term stress resilience and, research shows, in happiness.

When to use an eye pillow:

  • Put one over your eyes or on your forehead when you lay down to sleep. This will help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep throughout the night.
  • When you feel an acute headache or the beginning of a migriane
  • Use one at the end of your yoga practice during savasana for ultra relaxation.
  • Anytime you feel anxious, depressed, or stressed and can use a quick pick-me-up or more grounding.

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