As a personal growth coach and enthusiast, I’m always on the look-out for new tools to help my clients and myself further improve our health, productivity, and wellbeing.
And even though I don’t hesitate to invest money to live a happier and healthier life, I prefer cost-efficient tools over those that come with a significant financial investment without knowing if it will be worth it.
One of the tools I tested in the past months is an acupressure mat, also known as yantra mat or bed of nails.
When I first came across these mats, I hesitated to give it a try as they don’t look particularly comfortable:
Admittedly, that’s not the type of mat you want to snuggle in, but that’s not its purpose anyway. At first sight, an acupressure mat looks like a bed of nails, not giving you a sense of relaxation as it's meant to.
Through its plastic spikes, the mat stimulates blood flow, supports muscle regeneration, relieves pain, and can even improve your sleep quality.
Most mats have between 4,000 and 9,000 spikes — the more, the merrier because more ends mean that more acupressure points on your body can be stimulated.
This activation of the different points creates a soothing massage while stimulating your nervous system and boosts blood flow plus lymphatic circulation.
The mat is meant to ease your body into a more relaxed state and promote stress reduction. Apart from that, acupressure mats are mainly known for treating tension and pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. However, it’s also used to treat inflammation, headache, and migraines.
Additionally, producers of acupressure mats promise that the mat helps calm down and find your inner balance. For me, this was one of the primary claims that convinced me to give it a try.
Another argument is that you can give yourself a satisfying treatment without leaving the house or spending lots of money on massages and spa visits.
The most common way to use the mat is by laying on your back, but you can also treat other parts of your body: You can press your arms against it, lay on your belly, or stand on it.
As a digital entrepreneur, I spend most of my time sitting in front of my screens. And even though I exercise at least three times per week, my overall lifestyle is relatively inactive due to my job.
That’s why I’m always on the lookout for new, straightforward ways to further enhance my physical health and take care of my body.
At the cost of less than $50, I didn’t have much to lose and decided to try whether an acupressure mat could be one of the small yet effective ways to improve my health, mindfulness, and wellbeing.
After more than 50 sessions on my mat, I can happily report that the mat was not a mis-purchase but rather a big win for various areas of my life.
The mat helps me eliminate muscle stiffness in the morning and took my daily meditation practice to a whole new level. Laying on thousands of spikes forces you to be more mindful, no matter how stressed you were before.
Acupressure vs. Acupuncture
Acupressure is the forerunner of acupuncture. It was already practiced thousands of years ago as a relaxation tool in ancient China.
While acupuncture is practiced with needles, acupressure is merely applied through pressure. That’s why it can easily be practiced without the help of an additional person. That’s barely possible for acupuncture sessions.
According to traditional Chinese medicine life force, also called qi, flows through our bodies in energy gates named meridians.
In total, twelve such meridians run each side of your body and each meridian corresponds to an internal organ.
If one of these meridians is blocked, we experience pain or even sickness. By applying pressure on certain points of these meridians, ancient healers tried to release these blockages.
By massaging these so-called acupressure points or using an acupressure mat, you can stimulate blood flow and release physical but also mental blockages.
Through acupressure, you stimulate blood flow and activate the self-regulating forces of the body.
In ancient China, acupressure massages were traditionally used to help reduce pain and improve sleep quality.
During an acupressure massage, the masseur applies physical pressure through his hand, elbow, or with the help of devices, aiming to clear blockages.
The main benefit of a simple acupressure mat like mine is that you can use it without anyone's help. The mat is commonly made of a foam pad in a cotton cover, so there’s not much you can mess up and all you need to do to experience its benefits is lying on the mat.
Even though the usage of an acupressure mat is quite simple, getting used to it might take some persistence.
That being said, particularly the first sessions, can feel widely different for each person.
While I didn’t find the first sessions particularly relaxing and even a little painful, my boyfriend and brother didn’t sense any pain at all and found it more relaxing than I did.
Whether you feel comfortable on the mat right from the beginning highly depends on your pain tolerance level.
For me, the first encounters with the spikes were more uncomfortable and painful than relaxing.
However, the good news is that you can start by wearing clothes, which will make getting used to the spikes much easier.
When I first started using my mat, I kept track of each session to see whether it would really influence my life in any positive way. Here’s the documentation of my first eight sessions:
Your First Sessions
Even though there’s not much you can mess up when using an acupressure mat, you shouldn’t use it if you have lots of birthmarks, sore skin, or scars.
If none of these apply to you, there’s not much you can do wrong when using an acupressure mat. All you need to do is sit down, strip down, and lay back on your mat. I usually undress from the waist up unless I’m wearing a sheer shirt and don’t want to sense the spikes too much.
In general, direct skin-to-mat contact is said to offer the best results, but you can wear a shirt to build tolerance when you’re first starting to use the mat.
When I used the mat for the first time, I found it unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I didn’t find the stabbing of the spikes relaxing but rather painful. And I think that’s why most people try the mat once and never touch it again.
But the gist is to make it through these first painful seconds or minutes so that you can later experience the many benefits.
As mentioned above, my boyfriend and brother both had a different experience: They found the mat less painful right from the beginning. There obviously are no general rules on how it might feel for you and the only way to find out is by trying it.
When getting started, allow yourself to take some more time so that your body can adjust to the spikes slowly. It took me more than five sessions to get used to the mat and the spikes, but once I did, I started to feel more relaxed at the end of each session.
The less you move on your mat, the less painful the first sessions will be. The more you move, the more you sense the individual spikes.
After ten days of using the mat daily, I even started to do some light stretching exercises for my legs and hips. When doing so, the sense of the spikes is much more intense, but the relaxation effect is also stronger.
Most producers recommend using the mat for at least 15-20 minutes per day to boost blood flow, release endorphins, and relieve pain.
Most of my sessions are still shorter than that and I still experience the benefits. Particularly at the beginning, I couldn’t use it for such a long time and preferred a few shorter sessions throughout the day.
This was easier to incorporate into my daily schedule as I’m working from home and mostly used it during breaks or as part of my morning and evening routine.
Two other recommendations are not to exceed more than 40 minutes in a single session and space the sessions out so that your skin can recover properly.
How to Incorporate Acupressure Sessions Into Your Daily Life
I mostly use my mat during my morning routine or throughout the day during the following situations:
- I lie on the mat when practicing my daily morning meditation.
- I either sit on my mat or put it on my back when I read books.
- I stand on the mat when working from my standing desk.
- And I lie on the mat when talking to friends and family on the phone.
For me, these appear to be the easiest ways to incorporate the usage of the mat into my daily life. I would find it hard to lie on the mat for 20 minutes without doing anything.
These four practices, however, helped me to make acupressure an add on for my daily routines, making it easier to build that new habit.
My favorite way to use it is during my morning meditation. I’m meditating with guided meditations and often found my mind wandering before using the mat.
But when meditating while laying on my mat, I can’t really think of anything as I’m sensing the spikes and listening to the meditation. This gives me a sense of total relaxation and mental clarity.
Additionally, the mat helps me to fight stiffness, particularly in the morning.
I often feel pretty stiff when waking up and it usually took me one to two hours or an extended yoga session to feel more relaxed physically. By using the mat, I feel more relaxed and flexible in just 10–15 minutes.
I mostly still practice yoga before meditating and using the mat, but I feel much more energized, relaxed, and flexible when I do both rather than just doing yoga.
Other recommended ways to use the mat are while brushing your teeth or getting ready for the day. Using the mat first thing in the morning can help you feel more energized and awake due to your skin's stimulation.
However, I personally didn’t like using the mat first thing in the morning as I experienced more pain than relaxation when I used it before being fully awake and present.
I generally prefer using the mat on my back and laying on it instead of standing. Yet many people report the contrary and prefer standing on it as it helps them feel grounded and let go of tension.
But you can also put the mat under your feet when you’re doing office work and sitting on a chair, or even sit on the mat.
You can even stand on your mat while cooking, ironing, or completing other necessary activities. There are endless possibilities to use the mat in your daily life so that it doesn’t cost you any extra time or effort but fits your current lifestyle.
Which Mat to Choose
I’m using a mat from Wild Monkey, which came with an additional neck cushion, a massage ball, and a bag to transport the mat:
Wild Monkey is a brand dedicated to helping people reach their full potential through products and information related to bio-hacking. You can follow the brand on Instagram to learn even more about acupressure and how to unleash your full potential.
What I’d recommend when buying your mat is making sure you get the neck cushion as well. I barely use the mat without the neck cushion and sometimes even use the pillow only. I put it under my thighs when sitting on the couch and reading a book. I feel that it is more effective than the mat when you’re not fully laying on it.
If you don’t get the cushion, you can also roll up a towel and place it under your neck to make sure the spikes reach your neck and shoulders when laying on it.
The last thing I’d be careful about when purchasing a mat is that it’s easy to clean. As you’ll likely often use it on the floor, you’ll need to clean it now and then.
How you feel using the mat and which benefits you might experience is highly individual.
After using my mat for a few weeks, I read various reviews on the internet and found many diverse opinions. Some people find it painful, others find it boring. Some people love standing on the mat, others enjoy laying on it.
Each body is different and so is the encounter with tools like acupressure and how they feel for you.
When I decided to purchase an acupressure mat, I had three expectations: I hoped it’d help me feel more relaxed, more energized, and recover faster after intense workouts.
But surprisingly, the most convincing reason I’ll keep using the mat daily is the mental clarity I gain during the sessions. It helps me feel more calm, relaxed, and energized, which is a weird but satisfying combination.
When laying or standing on the mat, I can’t think much. I just sense the spikes, do what I intended to do (meditation, stretching, phone calls, repetitive tasks on my laptop,…).
Acupressure mats are certainly no magic cure, but they can improve your mental and physical well-being in a relatively short time.
What I found most challenging is to take the time to use your mat at all.
I know that 20 minutes might sound like a lot of time for most busy people. But if you use it during your daily practices, it becomes a relatively simple, but also time and cost-efficient way of improving your wellbeing.
- Low cost and durable materials
- Easy to use and no preparation time needed
- You can use it while doing other things (meditating, phone calls, reading, watching tv,…), which makes it easy to incorporate into your daily life
- Easy to clean
- Once you got used to the mat, you’ll feel more relaxed after each single session
- It’s a simple and cost-efficient way to do something good for your body and your mind
- Even though most mats come with a bag, I wouldn’t take mine with me on travels because it takes up too much space
- It takes endurance to make it through the first few sessions and get used to the spikes, which might make it hard for pain-sensitive people to get used to the mat at all
- Even after +50 sessions on my back, I still have a stinging feeling for a few minutes after almost every session. You quickly get used to it, but I can imagine that it might feel uncomfortable for those who’re sensitive to pain
- Even though there are no officially reported side effects of acupressure mats, sensible people might face black and blue marks because of the pressure on the back and the intensity of the spikes
- An acupressure mat is no quick fix — you’ll only see long-term benefits if you use it consistently
I don’t see the mat as a substitute for medical treatments, workouts, or other routines that help me support my health and wellbeing but as a distinct daily companion.
For me, it’s a tool similar to meditation: Simple, easy, yet effective.
And what I appreciate most is that you don’t need any preparation time to get started. You can roll out your mat at any time of the day and experience its benefits within just a few minutes of laying on it.
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