We dared our health and fitness writer Larissa Yu to try out these scary-looking (and scarily-popular) spiky Shakti mats to see if they lived up to the hype. This is what she found:
“Like most people my first reaction to the Shakti Mat was, ‘That looks so painful! WHY would anybody lie on a cactus-like mat?? How is that relaxing?’
Well, after becoming a Shakti-convert in just over a week, I’m here to tell you that both those statements are true: yes, it’s painful (initially), but it’s also deeply relaxing.
THE ROAD TEST
* Let me preface this by saying I’m not a sadist and I have a self-confessed low-pain threshold *
As a long-term sufferer of various aches and pains, I routinely drop a tonne of money on massages and chiropractors. I’m always seeking new self-management (aka cheaper) solutions. I’m also a workaholic, highly-strung and an insomniac: so safe to say I have to work hard at relaxation.
I had dismissed the Shakti as just another gimmicky infomercial but when friends in the health industry started raving about it, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
Shakti Mats are padded foam mats with short spiky plastic discs which claim to promote relaxation (helping you sleep better) and an energy boost by increasing circulation and stimulating acupressure points.
The science behind it is loosely based on acupuncture, the spikes supposedly help release endorphins (the ‘happiness’ drug) and oyxtocin (the ‘love’ drug) to calm and relax you. Improved blood flow can also ease soreness, tension and stiffness of muscles after exercise.
The mats come in 3 levels (Light, Original, Advanced) the only difference being the number of spiky points – the less points to support your body weight, the more intense the sensation. I seriously considered the Light but my pride made me get the Original lol. I was drawn to the sexy new limited edition Shakti in sleek black and gold… cos Fashion.
Day 1: I could only lie on it for maybe 30 seconds against bare skin, it was definitely painful and I kept worrying the points would pierce my skin and I’d bleed (didn’t happen). To start off, it’s less intense if you lay the mat on your bed rather than a hard surface. I had mine on top of a thick yoga mat on the floor. Also try laying a thin towel over it or wearing an old t-shirt. To start, I found it more bearable to only have half your back on it at any one time eg. just head, shoulders, upper back on it first and then do the mid-lower back and top of hips afterwards.
Day 3: I was lying on it for 15 minutes with my whole back. I felt weirdly calm and serene afterwards, almost like I’d meditated. It must do something as I had the best sleep ever that night. I recommend having your knees bent up, feet flat on the floor as it helps control how much weight you put on the spikes. Like all kinds of discomfort, if you lean into the pain and focus on deep-breathing through it you’ll feel your muscles relax and let go, which is so satisfying.
Day 6: I had a warm shower, hopped on the Shakti and actually fell asleep for 20 minutes!
At first it will feel like torture, but if you persevere it will really help you unwind. After a week of using it daily, I gradually built up my time tolerance and was having deeper better-quality sleep each night. I felt more calm and relaxed during the day, not sure if that was due to the mat itself or the fact that using it regularly forced me to stop, slow down and consciously focus on my breath more. Either way, it works! It’s affordable (AU$69.00) and rolls up small & light which is great for travel – I’m sold.
Remember, start slow and stick with it. If you can only handle it for 10 seconds in the beginning, just do that. The next day try for 15 seconds, etc. To experience benefits, the key is regular daily usage. Take your time and build up to the recommended 20-30 minutes at your own pace. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to use it and like most exercise, doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Eventually you’ll come to like the ‘good pain’ and will find yourself leaning into the pain points as you know they will release.
There are some cute accessories like the neck pillow and footpads, but you can make do without them. I use my mat with a rolled-up towel underneath it to simulate a raised pillow and I put my feet directly on the mat with a cushion underneath.
And, lastly, I use my mat at night to relax before bed but it’s also great for a mental jump-start in the morning. I sometimes do a quick round of Sun Salutations at home then lie on the Shakti for 10 mins of meditative breathing before I shower for work. The combo works.
Want to try a Shakti? Check them out here.
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