Grounding is the practice of consciously and deliberately connecting to the earth and to one’s own body for self-regulation of states of activation. Extreme trauma and stress can throw the nervous system into states of, on one extreme, hyperaraousal and on the other, numbness and immobility. Grounding helps train the nervous system to calm down, re-balance and re-learn how to function normally. Grounding is a healing tool that is often used within the context of a therapeutic session (self-therapy or with a therapist).
Having some objects on hand that apply pressure and weight to the body can really help enhance the felt sense of grounding. A heavy pillow is nice because it conforms to the body, which can feel comforting. Also, it offers a lot of sensory stimulation – you can pick it up and feel the texture of the contents, and hear the sounds the contents make when moved around. Patting and handling the pillow make it change shapes. All of this can help bring the attention into the body and into the moment.
Since I made my therapy pillow, I have used it when really activated – in other words, when triggered and feeling panicked and terrified. It has worked well to calm me in those moments. I have also brought it with me to therapy. Holding it on my lap during a therapy session really adds a helpful calming effect which is especially nice to have when bringing up really difficult issues and memories.
1. Obtain a Small Pillow Case.
I went to a thrift store and found a couple of nice place mats (pictured above) measuring 14 x 20 inches. These place mats with a lining are nice because they are the right size to fit on my lap and not too labor intensive (you only have to sew one inch or so of the seam where you opened it to put the contents in). You can also use a standard pillow case (20×26 inches) but it can be pricey to buy enough stuff to fill a standard pillow case – although it’s not really a big deal if the contents are all on one end – it still works. If you have a travel pillow or decorative pillow, you can empty it and fill it with your contents. If you don’t have anything on hand you could buy a travel pillow case – this one on Etsy is $9 and measures 12 x 16 inches (pictured below). Also, if you’re OK with some sewing, you may want to just get some cloth and create a pillow out of it – then you can customize the size, making it so it fits on your lap nicely and applies pressure to both of your thighs.
2. Obtain the Pillow Contents/Stuffing.
A therapy pillow can be made with any of the following contents:
- beans – pinto beans, mung beans, kidney beans, soy beans, black beans etc.
- split peas
- buckwheat hulls
- dried corn
- grains like buckwheat, millet, barley
- small smooth pebbles
- sand – sand can seep out the pillow seams though so you may want a plastic bag directly around the sand
Things that probably would work and could be experimented with (I’m not sure how they would turn out):
- millet hulls
- rice hulls
For my therapy pillow I bought 8 pounds of green lentils. Lentils are $1.69 per pound both at Whole Foods aka Greenlife Grocery and at Earthfare (in Asheville, NC). That comes to $13.52. To be honest I wanted 16 pounds of lentils, which would easily fit in the pillow and provide a lot more pressure, but it just seemed kind of expensive at the time. I may add some more in the future. After all, if you think about it, compared to a typical session with a therapist ($100), lentils are not really that expensive if they have a significant therapeutic value (for me personally it turns out the pillow is hugely helpful).
In terms of price, probably the cheapest filling is sand, but any kind of fine sand might escape the pillow. Lowe’s has a larger particle size sand that could work called AKASHA 4-lb Kalahari Decorative Sand for $3.98. There are much cheaper landscaping pebbles out there, like “pea gravel” but they are probably full of dirt and dust (a 50 pound bag of Pea Pebbles costs $3.58 at Home Depot). Perusing the Landscape Rocks and Decorative Rocks at either Lowe’s or Home Depot could result in a pretty inexpensive – and heavy – grounding pillow. I might try the Akasha Decorative Sand for my next pillow… My only concern is sand or pebbles could to too heavy by volume.
3. Prepare your Pillow Case
You will need:
– sewing machine or needle and thread
– scissors or seam ripper
If using a pillowcase, sew together the open end until you have a one inch opening – or whatever size opening will fit your funnel. You could also add your contents and then sew it, the problem is the contents could shift and get in the way of your sewing machine and also make the pillow too heavy to move easily through the machine. It’s probably a lot easier just to use the funnel method.
If using a place mat, use a small scissors or seam ripper to open up a hole for the funnel – open the existing seam anywhere you want, here I am cutting the seam near one corner…
4. Fill Your Pillow.
You will need:
– something to pour lentils with – cup, bowl, large liquid measuring cup
Put the funnel in the hole and pour your contents in!
to the very last lentil…
Feel the weight and make sure you like how it feels on your lap.
I found that 8 pounds works on my lap but not on my feet. It works on one foot. I’m pretty sure 16 pounds would be enough to apply pressure to both of my feet.
For now, I’m content to just use it on my lap.
It would be great to have another, 16 pound, pillow for my feet at some point.
As you can see, the pillow doesn’t look full, but still works fine:
6. Sew it Up
If you are happy with the weight, sew up your pillow and then…
7. Remember to Use It!
If you are activated, remember you have a therapy pillow and go get the dang thing and use it! Lol. I sometimes forget the resources I have.
Here is boyfriend demonstrating Lentil Therapy Pillow:
Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer in Asheville, North Carolina currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.