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Choosing a Bed

August, 2014

Students often ask me if there is a particular mattress that is in line with the Gokhale Method. While I do have a few suggestions, the most important part of lying down is how you do it. Stretchlying on your back or side to put some extra length in your back is key to navigating beds with any extra firmness or softness. Elongating the spine will also help mitigate the distortions caused by twisting and moving around in your sleep. If you learn how to use your body well, you will develop the ability to sleep and be comfortable on most surfaces.

While I do not endorse any particular brand or product, there are certain things to look for when purchasing a new mattress. What you most want from a bed is support and comfort—some structural element from the mattress to help you maintain your stretch, and some degree of softness that will cushion your contours. If you have any inflammation, disc degeneration, nerve compression or back discomfort, we favor a medium firm, high spring count mattress with a small amount of topper. The research shows that this is the most satisfactory for back pain. Here is why:

Firmness

When stretchlying on the back, if a mattress is too soft there will be too much sagging where your body is heavier, namely your hips, which will cause a sway. A high spring count will provide a structured even surface for your body to retain a stretch throughout the night.


You can lay comfortably on any surface if you have good structure.

Softness

Especially in stretchlying on the side, you want enough give to accommodate the discrepancy between a narrow waist and wider hips in women, or between narrow hips and broad shoulders in men. Some beds come with a pillow top, or you can place a soft topper on your medium firm mattress. 


If your bed does not accomodate your curves well,
you can use a small pillow or flannel sheet to support your waist,
thus preventing any distortion to your spine.

High Quality

When choosing your bed, make sure the quality is there. High quality beds usually have a higher spring count and keep their original shape for many years. In less expensive, lower quality beds, the springs may start to protrude and/or the mattress may begin to sag after a few months.

A firm foam mattress works well but some foams vary in quality depending on where in the original manufacturing block (cube) they were cut from. If the foam is too soft you will get a sagging effect. Be wary of beds that are overly conforming. These types of mattresses allow your whole body to sink and curve your shoulders forward when you are lying on your back.


You can lay comfortably on any surface if you have good structure. 

Travel Beds

If you are traveling or camping, I would go for an airbed or a Thermarest® pad. Airbeds provide a bit less leverage for lengthening your back in stretchlying. But as you get more proficient at stretchlying techniques, you are less dependent on the amount of firmness in your sleep surface. Thermarest pads, with their self-inflating cells, are surprisingly comfortable considering how little space they can pack into.

The bottom line is that if you are in pain, choose a bed with more structure. Otherwise, with your stretchlying skill set, you will be perfectly comfortable sleeping through the night on most sleeping surfaces.


Best,
Esther

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Comments

Esther - I'm having trouble deciding what mattress to buy as several brands seem fine in the showroom when I tried them out.

 

I know you don't endorse products but I wonder which brand do you sleep on.  Thanks.

 

Hazel

My mattress is a Naturally Englander Laytex for what it's worth. It was bought decades ago (!) - they do last well. I must say that I often find the beds in various hotels / Airbnb's I sleep on even more comfortable than my own...

It's not quite accurate that I don't endorse products - I've never accepted a financial inducement to endorse a product, but I'll endorse anything I truly thnk is good!

An additonal tidbit: The last time I was in a large department store I tested and liked Sealy / Simmons Posturpedic beds. Of course they keep changing their names and products, so I don't know if this little piece of info is still useful. Best of luck!

Hello Esther

I am wondering if you have ever tried sleeping in a hammock.  I am a plumbing contractor and my work involves lots of movement and being able to get into some tight places.  For many years I would wake up with low back pain (we have a latex matress). I had heard many others talk about the virtues of sleeping in a hammock and about a year ago I tried it out while on a camping trip and was amazed at the restful night's sleep I experienced.

For over a year now I have slept almost every night in a hammock.  I feel like the even, continous support i get is unmatched by any bed I have ever tried. I now wake up with no low back pain at all. 

When I think about the millions of people around the world that sleep and nap in hammocks I wonder why it has never caught on here in the states.

While I'm sure it's not for everbody, perhaps others might give it a shot to see if it helps relieve their back pain.

 

I have to agree. I slept in hammocks for many years and wish I could still. Hopefully will have the space again. No bed is as comfortable, not just for spine but shoulders, arems, legs, even hands: on a flat bed if I roll onto an arm or hand I wake in pain, in a hammock it is no problem. The best is a Yucatan hammock—it's made from small threads that weave back and forth in diagonal, zigzag, often bright multicolored patterns, where you sleep sideways and there is no spreader so it packs away into a small bundle—though rope hammocks, generally on wooden spreaders, which also weave back and forth, but with not so many strands or crossings, kind of like a chain link fence, are ok too; or camping hammocks that use a similar chain-link pattern to the rope hammock though without spreaders, and are between the two in scale of weave and cord, but often kind of small in size, may work. I do not think the kind which are a length of canvas fabric, nor rope hammocks that are knotted, nor those composed on right angles, will give the conforming support. The key is the way the strands can shift and adjust to hold you. With enough of them moving freely you can lie in any position, even on your side or face.

I have slept on some random hammocks and wasn't charmed. I'll be on the lookout to give them another try. I tried arranging myself diagonally because I was told that's the way you get a straight line for your body. Couldn't quite make that work. Comments?

Hi Esther

I think the type of hammoock you sleep on is very important.  I agree with Antonio that the Yucatan (or Mayan) string hammock is superior to most others. I purchased one from Seaside Hammocks in Florida and I am extremely happy with it. The people there are knowledgeable about what they sell.

When I think about the fact that close to a third of my life is spent sleeping I want to be comfortable.  I am convinced that my circulation has improved by sleeping in a hammock.  I used to experience occasional numbness in my arms while sleeping in a regular bed....this no longer happens.

About sleeping diagonally.....that is the way to do it.  Once you get in you need to move around to find the "sweet spot".  when you have found it you'll know it.

A nearly endless resource where any question can be answered is hammockforums.net. Great people there with answers to any question a person might have about hammocks.

 

 

 

I think I need a new mattress and have heard from a number of people who have back pain that Tempur-Pedic mattresses are great. I've never tried one and am wondering if they are "overly conforming" as you discuss above, or if you have any opinion of them? Thank you....

Temperpedic mattresses accommodate strong curves in side sleeping. They don't work as well for sleeping on the back - the heavier parts of you (torso, bottom) will sink in more causing postural distortion. If the torso sinks in extra, the shoulders end up protruding forward; if the bottom sinks in this can result in a sway. 

I have also had students complain about the company's return policy - to return their mattress because the material had settled they had to demonstrate that the center point of the mattress had settled more than an inch; it was not enough that the depressions that each of them had formed off-center had sunk more than an inch!

I'm wondering if you have any recommendations as to what to look for in a pillow. It's so common to wake up with a stiff, achy neck that sometimes leads to a headache. There are so many kinds of pillows out there, including some marketed as specifically beneficial for neck alignment. Given the variety of proportions (length of neck, width of shoulders, etc.) are there any criteria you recommend?

I'm not very particular about pillows. We have very ordinary pillows at our studio purchased for $5-$10 that we use to teach stretchlying - students often ask what brand of pillow we use, thinking the pillow is what is making them feel so comfortable. I inform them that we have a motley collection of ver ordinary pillows and that I believe it's the stretchlying that's making them comfortable.

Having said that, I think a medium firm pillow that you can bunch up to conform to your head and neck contours is easiest to work with. If you're sleeping on your side, a small second pillow (or folded towel / blanket), is a good addition. I dislike cervical rolls and pillows except in cases of extreme cervical curves because they add curve to the neck, whereas I am trying to help people flatten / elongate their necks. 

I sleep on a Select Comfort (the air bed) and love it.  I have had the bed for 19 years, and expect to have it as long as I'm alive.  I don't have to get a new bed, because it's air, if it needs "firming up" I just add air to it.  It is adjustable, which I only adjust about 1-2 times a year.  Once you get it dialed in to your preference, you are set.  I agree it is a bit more difficult to get the traction in stretchlying position, but keep working it and it will come. I recommend to people thy buy the basic "no frills" model.  The add ons are quite expensive;  it isn't a cheap bed, but worth it.