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Happiness Toolkit: Why an Eye Pillow Is Your Stress Rx

Bo Forbes tells us why the humble eye pillow is one of the most powerful tools for healing, health, and happiness—and how to use one.

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Sometimes all it takes is a tiny change (and two minutes) to boost your happiness. In Happiness Toolkit, Bo Forbes offers a taste of her upcoming Yoga Journal LIVE New York 2018 sessions with simple, science-backed tools to find your joy. (Sign up now to practice with her in person!)

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.

One quick way to stimulate your vagus nerve is through this abdominal massage. Another is to use eye pillows, which place light pressure on the eyeballs.

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.
  • 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.


Belly Breathing Meditation to Build Boundaries
A Simple Belly Massage to Stoke Health, Happiness, and Digestion
5 Mindfulness Practices to Rewire Your Brain and Improve Health
2 Restorative Poses That Will Change the Course of Your Day

Want more? Join Bo at Yoga Journal LIVE New York, April 19-22, 2018—YJ’s big event of the year. We’ve lowered prices, developed intensives for yoga teachers, and curated popular educational tracks: Anatomy, Alignment, & Sequencing; Health & Wellness; and Philosophy & Mindfulness. See what else is new and sign up now.

Bo Forbes is a clinical psychologist, a yoga teacher and an integrative yoga therapist whose background includes training in biopsychology, behavioral medicine, sleep disorders and stress management. She is the founder of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, a system that specializes in the therapeutic application of yoga for anxiety, insomnia, depression, immune disorders, chronic pain, physical injuries and athletic performance. Bo conducts teacher trainings and workshops internationally, writes frequently for Yoga Journal, Body + Soul, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and other leading magazines, and is on the advisory board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the Give Back Yoga Foundation. She is part of a research collaborative that investigates the contemplative practice of yoga, and will participate in the Mind and Life Institute’s Summer Research Institute this year. She is also the author of Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Relieve Anxiety and Depression. Learn more at and via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.