Last year, I stayed at Austrian hotels twice to do yoga (see my post on my yoga website here). In both hotels, on the bed, were small rustly pillows. When I asked what they were, I was told they contained buckwheat, and Austrians believe they aid sleep. I googled buckwheat pillows and found that they’re more a Japanese thing. The Japanese call then sobakawa; they are believed to provide better support than normal pillows, plus they keep the head cool as air can flow between the triangular hulls. (In the photo above (of hotel Grafenast in Pill) the buckwheat pillow is shaped into a triangle).
Pillows in the Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine it is better to have a ‘cool’ head. The head tends to be hot rather than cool, according to TCM, as factors such as stress and age cause yin and yang to separate, and yang, because it’s heat rises. This can cause illnesses such as migraines and hypertension. So to keep the head cool, hollow bamboo or even ceramic pillows were used. These were popular in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), but in Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) they were used less. The Wellcome Institute has a short and informative slideshow of the history of Chinese pillows.
I was in need of a new pillow: my old one was 10 years old, thin and lumpy. I ordered one on the internet, the size of a normal pillow rather than the dinky or long thin ones in the Austrian hotels. Compared to my old pillow, the new one was bound to be an improvement. I particularly feel the benefit in the support it gives my neck. However, it’s not soft, which I don’t mind, but puts some people off. My boyfriend doesn’t like it. As a Tibetan nomad he slept on folded up boots, but he’s definitely a double bed, feather pillows and duvet man now. Also, the rustling can take a bit of time to get used to — the other morning I woke up convinced there was a fly near my head.