It's pretty ironic that during one of the most stressful and hectic times in recent history that it's also risky to get services like massages, acupuncture, facials or other luxuries that can help you unwind and destress. Since you can't go to your favorite spa or other happy place at the moment, why not find ways to DIY the experience at home?
If you're intrigued by acupuncture -- the ancient practice of inserting the end of a thin needle into your body to relieve pain, reduce stress and provide other health benefits -- but want to try a less invasive method, acupressure could be the answer. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of using needles in targeted points on the body, you apply pressure to the area to get a similar effect.
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Acupressure mats are one way you can try acupressure or warm up to acupuncture without committing to having to deal with real needles. They're inexpensive, you can order them online and you don't need anyone else to help you insert needles like in acupuncture, making it appropriate for social distancing and easy to do at home.
But before you try acupressure mats, you'll have to get used to the idea of lying on a mat of small spikes. Those spikes look intimidating, but are less painful than they seem. If you're still with me, keep reading to find out more about how the mats work, if there is any solid evidence on the benefits, plus how to use them.
Acupressure mats are lined with grids of plastic spikes that apply pressure to your body.Amazon/ProSource Fit
What are acupressure mats and how do they work?
Acupressure mats are meant to work similarly to acupuncture, which is supposed to help balance the body, relieve pain, stress and more. I talked to Kat Pither, the founder of Yogi Bare, a company that makes acupressure mats, to get more insight on how they work.
"If acupuncture is 'puncturing' pressure points with fine needles, then acupressure is applying pressure non-invasively. Acupressure restores balance to the body's energy flow (qi) by manipulating the body's meridians. Stimulating energy, vitality and a sense of well-being in the body," Pither says.
Acupressure mats kind of look like short yoga mats that have plastic spikes covering the surface that are designed to apply pressure at points throughout your body. Some of them also include a pillow that allows you to apply the pressure to your neck as you lie on the mat. And that's exactly how they work -- you simply lie on the mat for about 20-30 minutes for each acupressure session.
According to the Yogi Bare site, if you can handle the mat directly on your skin that's great -- but if not, you can wear clothes while using it and place it on a soft surface.
The plastic spikes on the mat may look uncomfortable, but they should not be painful. "The gentle, painless pressure of the mat allows the body to relax and release endorphins, creating a life force within the body," Pither says.
Acupressure mat benefits
Some of the potential benefits of using acupressure mats include reduced anxiety, pain, better sleep and relief from migraines. But most of the evidence on these claims is anecdotal and not super solid when it comes to research. Although there is plenty of research to back the benefits of acupuncture, there's not as much information out there about acupressure mats.
A 2019 systemic and meta analysis of research found that acupressure and acupuncture were helpful for pain management in cancer patients. The study did say that there needs to be more research before we can really understand if and how acupressure works.
How to use an acupressure mat
Acupressure mats are pretty simple to use. You simply set them up on a bed, couch or floor and lie on them. Some people incorporate them into their meditation practice or use them when they have a headache or back pain. For more ideas on how to use them, keep reading for a few suggestions from Pither.
Again, there's not much solid scientific evidence that acupressure can relieve stress or soothe pain, but many people find that it is helpful for those conditions.
As a complement to a meditation/yoga practice
Pither suggests adding an acupressure mat into your meditation or (restorative) yoga practice. "For an extra treat and to really melt into your relaxation, light a candle, position your legs up the wall and drop a few essential oils on to the mat – our favorite is geranium for anxiety," Pither says.ProsourceFit
To boost your energy
"For energy, we love the sensation of the mat on our feet to stimulate the reflexology points and nerve endings resulting in an energy boost. Perfect for tired sore legs or lethargy, " Pither says. The idea behind reflexology is similar to acupressure, except in reflexology you focus on specific points in the hands or feet. The idea is that certain pressure points in your feet are connected to certain organs or systems in the body, which you can apply pressure to in order to help you relax, sleep better or relieve pain.
For better sleep and back pain
"For sleep and back pain, lie on the mat and position the pillow in the neck crevice behind the head. Allow your shoulder blades to drop down your back towards your tailbone and melt into the mat. Enjoy the feelings of the muscles in the back being stimulated and releasing," Pither says.
Acupressure mats to try
Want to see if acupressure works for you? Check out these mats to get started.
This acupressure mat set from Walmart.com comes with a pillow so you can apply the acupressure points to your neck as you lie on the mat. It comes in six colors and is a great deal for a set under $20.
The Yogi Bare acupressure mat is ideal if you don't have a ton of space since the mat folds up easily in half, snaps together, and has a convenient handle. You can purchase a matching pillow separately.
This acupressure mat and pillow set comes with a travel bag making it easy to bring along with you on future travel. The products are made with eco-friendly materials and the set comes with a three-year warranty.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.