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acupressure mat
Gaiam/Sofia Kraushaar

Laying on a bed of plastic spikes kinda sounds like torture. But what if we told you that doing this for just 15 minutes per day could actually help alleviate stress, soothe sore muscles and melt away tension? That’s the idea behind acupressure mats, the latest wellness trend that treats discomfort with, well, more discomfort. Learn more about the health benefits of acupressure and how best to use your mat below.

RELATED: The 6 Best Acupressure Points for Anxiety

What is an acupressure mat?

An acupressure mat is a soft, foam mat that’s embedded with hundreds of plastic spikes. It’s intended to be laid on, sat on or walked on for 15 to 30 minutes daily. The mat can be used on different parts of the body, starting from the soles of the feet all the way up to the back of the neck, including the chest, hamstrings, outer thighs and lower back.

How does it work?

Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM an herbalist, acupuncturist and founder of Vie Healing explains: “The tiny tips on the mats stimulate pressure points. When pressure points are stimulated, they send signals to the reflex centers of the brain to send the proper signals throughout the body to regulate blood flow, which in turn is relaxing and regulating.”

As you might have guessed, acupressure is similar in principle to acupuncture, the ancient healing practice that uses thin needles to target and treat various ailments. While a qualified acupuncturist is required to apply needles in the correct spots (they focus on specific meridiens in the body, in addition to various nerves, muscles and connective tissue), you can easily and safely practice acupressure at home.

What issues can acupressure address?

A study from Oxford University shows that acupressure can help treat pain and fatigue, but the practice has also been used for centuries to reduce stress and anxiety, help with circulation and insomnia.

But the spikes are so uncomfortable!

Well, that’s kind of the point. Some users liken using the mat to the feeling of a deep tissue massage. But over time, your body will acclimate to the sensation, making it less painful to rest atop your acupressure mat. If you’re still a bit wary about the pain during the first few uses, wear thin clothing or “place a thin flat sheet over it, but nothing thicker than that,” suggests Dan.

What time of day is best for using this mat?

Dr. Nigma Talib, a naturopathic doctor, recommends using your acupressure mat in the evening, especially if you’re using it to improve your sleep quality. “When you relax the muscles and calm the nervous system it lowers cortisol, which is a stress hormone and when this hormone is too high one cannot sleep well,” she explains. “Lowering this in the evening will benefit more sound and calming sleep.”

More benefits: Acupressure mats are portable, relatively inexpensive and easy to use almost anywhere; the floor, the couch, the bed, and so on. So long as you’ve got a flat surface and enough room to lie down, your mat is a go. Hell, you could even place your mat on an office chair and reap the benefits of acupressure while you work (though I personally love placing the mat under my feet while I’m WFH).

Is there any mental component to using an acupressure mat?

While you could scroll through Instagram or answer emails while lounging on your acupressure mat, that won’t help you achieve your most relaxed state. “I always recommend you visualize the most calming place you have been to, like a forest, mountain or ocean,” says Dr. Nigma. “Visualizing and even listening to sounds or music that can recreate the calming experience can help immensely.” And don’t forget to breathe!

RELATED: How to Give Yourself a 2-Minute, Stress-Relieving Acupressure Massage

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