When it comes to weird and wonderful wellness trends, TikTok has tried them all. While some are bordering on dangerous or boast no credibility, others are rooted in traditions that existed long before computers, let alone the Internet. Case in point: acupressure mats. The hashtag has 3 million views on the app as content creators extol the virtues of this wellness tool.
Acupressure, much like its sister acupuncture, is rooted in a healing modality that dates back at least 2,000 years. Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM) originated in China and incorporates a number of different approaches to health and wellness. Many elements have become popular in the West — just look at the gua sha — as more people look beyond mainstream Western medicine for answers. Both acupressure and acupuncture work on the idea that we have two life forces, our blood and Qi (pronounced Chee). “If either are in excess, deficient, or get stuck, our body becomes unbalanced and illness or pain happens,” explains TCM practitioner Chantal Nogbou. “Our life forces nourish us and keep us well in mind, body. and spirit.”
The Difference between Acupuncture and Acupressure
It comes down to the application. “While acupressure treatment uses the same points on the body as acupuncture, acupressure generally involves your fingers or hands to apply pressure,” explains Nogbou. The acupressure mat, a soft foam mat fitted with small plastic spikes, stimulates these energy centers in the body. “Acupressure stimulates the body’s circulatory, lymphatic, and hormonal systems. It also helps the function of the immune system and the body’s natural ability to heal itself,” Nogbou adds.
The experience is designed to be relaxing and excellent at combating stress and anxiety but the benefits are more wide reaching than this. “It can improve sleep, relax muscles and joints, reduce digestive issues, minimize headaches, and even alleviate chronic pain,” adds Nogbou.
Meet the Experts
Chantal Nogbou is a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner.
I was intrigued. I had great success with acupuncture a few years ago during a stressful period when I was struggling to sleep. I’m not averse to what some call “woo woo”; I practice yoga regularly and have been known to keep crystals on my bedside table. I gave it a go for two weeks, using the mat daily, to see what the fuss was all about. In particular, whether it could help ease my anxiety and relieve tension in my neck and shoulders.
Trying Out the Acupressure Mat
So, I reached for the Light Shakti Mat, and tried it out for the first time. I laid the mat on top of my bed as it’s less intense than placing it straight on a hard surface like the floor. While you can start wearing a t-shirt, as I am using the ‘light’ mat I just wore a sports bra. I follow the instructions to place it between the bottom of the back and lower neck. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t feel comfortable. As I first lie down, I wonder how I will get through the 20 minutes, and I wriggle a bit to see whether I can find a way to make it more bearable. However, once I stay still, relax into it and breathe, things get a lot easier. My back starts to get a little hot (this is the blood rushing to the area) and I notice how I can feel more intensity in different areas at different points. After around five minutes, I am no longer in any noticeable pain. The rest of the time goes relatively quickly and I am no longer confused as to why some people fall asleep on the mat. Getting off the mat isn’t an easy task and I notice my back is red all over. Afterwards, I feel relaxed and refreshed.
The next time I try it, I know what I am getting myself into and breathe deeply through the first five minutes knowing that the longer I am on the mat, the easier it becomes. I get in a routine of using the mat as a mid-afternoon work break, when my energy is normally slumping around the 4 p.m. mark. After sitting at my desk all day, it’s a great antidote to being hunched over a laptop. I also find it’s a great opportunity to have some time away from the screen with my eyes shut. Over the two weeks I find I feel calmer and more energized after allowing me to power through a couple more hours of work at a time of day which I always associated with not being very productive. As the first week passes, I find it becomes less uncomfortable and look forward to my time on the mat.
One afternoon when my body is feeling particularly achy and stiff , I notice just how much better I feel after using the mat. It’s hard to explain but I feel lighter and more flexible. One afternoon when I had some light pain in my lower back, I noticed a release after using the mat. The pain doesn’t disappear completely but it softens. As I move into the second week, I try the acupressure mat flat on the floor to see if it makes a difference. Lying down on the mat feels much more intense, much like the first time I tried the mat again. However, as time passed, I once again got used to it.
The Bottom Line
On finishing the two-week experiment I have become quite attached to my mat. I found it most helpful for releasing tension in my body, especially on days I felt tight or stiff. While it’s hard to measure stress levels as they are so multifactorial, I know after using the mat I always feel a little less anxious and a lot less frazzled. The added energy it gives me was also really beneficial. Perhaps this could be achieved by any type of 20-minute relaxation exercise, but either way I know I will be sticking to using my mat moving forward.
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