Acupressure has long been used to help alleviate a wide range of physical ailments and is performed by highly skilled professionals. Our body has many points of sensitivity that work together and when we are ‘out of balance’ due to illness or injury, acupressure points can help get us feeling better.
The concept of applying pressure to areas of our body for health reasons is something you can do on your own as well. Although professional acupressure will yield the best results, you most likely already unconsciously attempt to provide comforting pressure to point on your head, neck, back, and feet when you feel a headache coming on or have been standing for long periods of time. An acupressure mat is a product that you can use to provide purposeful pressure to your body in the comfort of your own home, and this guide will help you better understand the acupressure mat benefits you can take advantage of.
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What is Acupressure?
Acupressure has been around for thousands of years and is deeply rooted in traditional Eastern medicine that believes in balancing the body with the mind and surrounding environment. It is the practice of applying pressure to points along the channels of your body that allows your life force, called qi- vital energy to your well being, to flow. When disruptions or blockage occurs to this force, then your body and mind are not as readily able to heal. Not be confused with acupuncture, acupressure does not use needles or piece the skin, but the concept behind both applications is the same.
Professional Acupressure therapists use their hands, stretching, and massage to put pressure along these channels to help bring them back into balance. Even if this sounds a bit far fetched, consider how relaxed you feel after a foot or hand rub, or back massage, or how quickly you make a chiropractic appointment when you are not feeling your best; these are all techniques that inadvertently work with these points to help you feel better.
What is an Acupressure Mat?
An acupressure mat consists of a back length mat, and often a neck and head pillow, covered with thousands of small plastic points placed very closely together. It looks a bit like a bed of nails, and if that makes you cringe, remember your basic physics lessons that explain how weight evenly distributes itself over a surface.
These points are typically set on a durable casing that encloses a foam layer to provide a layer of comfort between the hard surface you may place it upon and the pressure points. These mats can be used for your back, legs, feet, head, neck, and basically any other place on your body you can rest against it to provide point stimulation that mimics acupressure therapy.
Some mats boast magnetic power as well, using the idea that magnets used in therapy can help rebalance the body and speed up healing processes. Although there have been many studies in this field, it has not yielded any conclusive results.
Why Should You Consider an Acupressure Mat?
I’ll admit, my first thoughts concerning acupuncture, and even chiropractics were a bit skeptical overall. Luckily I was still young and dumb and this time and I quickly realized that when my body wasn’t feeling ‘up to par’ I found myself getting sick more often or struggling with relaxation. Unfortunately, making time for these types of appointments, and finding the budget to do so, don’t come easy to everyone and so I found myself looking for alternative additions to my regular routines in between these types of appointments.
I first considered an acupressure mat when I started training for a half-marathon. As I challenged myself physically, I found I wanted something more to help me better relax and pinpoint those areas that were feeling the most stress after a workout- and I couldn’t afford to stop by for a massage every few days. I wish I had discovered these mats years ago, as they are for much more than the physically active. Reasons I love them, and why you most likely will as well, include:
- Total body relaxation
- Improved blood flow to recently works muscle groups
- Spinal alignment
- Skin surface stimulation
- Reduction of back and shoulder tension
- Lightweight and easy to travel with
Of course, all this provides a plethora of benefits I’ll describe below, but these are the noticeable effects I feel (and the reasons why) I really enjoy using my mat after a good run, workout, or anytime I am feeling stressed either mentally or physically.
What Does it Feel Like?
The whole bed-of-nails observation isn’t far off. If you have layers on then you don’t get as much stimulation but can feel pressure through your clothing, especially where you have bones close to the surface of your skin. It takes a little bit of use and time to get used to, but it is suggested to use it without layers of clothing on (see directions for use below) to reap the most benefits.
These thousands of points (most mats have over 6000) are situated to stimulate the over 100 pressure points you have in your back, and the many others you have in your feet, neck, head, and legs. These points are very rigid and do not at all give under pressure- which is what you want to ensure points are targeted as you relax upon them.
To me, it feels like little pointy sticks sticking into the surface of the skin. It is not uncomfortable, but a little offsetting when you first lay upon it. After a few minutes, this sensation begins to spread out to more of an overall warm pressure, and if you shift weight it feels like a slight raspy scratch. It does take some getting used to, but once you rise off it your skin tingles and feels refreshed due to the increase of blood flow into those areas. It does not leave any long lasting marks as the redness or pressure points will begin to fade quickly after rising off it.
How to Use One
If your mat comes with a pillow it will not be connected, but rather separate so you can personalize your comfort. It is not suggested that you just jump into the use, but rather ease your body towards a more comfortable experience.
Start by using your mat propped behind you on a sofa or in a chair as you relax. This helps you get comfortable with the mat without first placing all of your body weight on it, all while starting to feel the benefits of the exposure. Wear a cotton shirt at first and spend about 10 to 15 minutes at a time doing this.
Begin to use the mat on a soft surface, such as the bed and couch, and lay your back fully against it. Continue to use a cotton shirt but spend 20 to 45 minutes at a time on it now. As you get more used to it you can remove your shirt to feel it up against your skin without feeling a hard surface beneath you.
Advanced users should spread the mat out on a hard surface to get more direct acupressure benefits. When you first start to use the mat in this manner begin with a cotton shirt on and then ease into using it without any layers. Spend up to 45 minutes at a time doing this.
You can, of course, also use it to lay your legs against, as well as stand upon it to stimulate the many, many points in your feet. Do this barefoot for 5 to 15 minutes at a time to relieve headaches and increase overall blood flow. The pillow can also be placed directly under the lower back, hips, and legs for more targeted use.
Benefits of an Acupressure Mat
There are many, many acupuncture mat benefits, most of which are direct results of the stimulation of the soft tissues and pressure points along your body. Laying prone upon a hard surface is also often a popular way to help elongate and align the spine which also improves body health as it supports the central nervous system.
As your body relaxes, so does your mind. Sore, stiff, and tight muscles can create stress on the body which translates into mental stress. Helping to alleviate your body physically improves mental function. Many people use these mats for meditation as well, stimulating both the mind and body at the same time.
Increases Blood Circulation
Most of the benefits of the mat are caused by the increase of blood circulation caused by the mat. The stimulation of your skin surface via thousands of points allows blood to rush into these areas. This rush of blood allows muscles to relax, your body to fall into a more natural position, and heals injured areas.
The rush of blood described above also helps bring oxygen into areas that have been lacking (which is why many sore muscles occur). As you relax you also begin to breathe more deeply and more slowly, allowing your body to pump oxygenated blood through your body more effectively. This helps with both physical function and brain function. This is especially helpful for recovery after muscle stimulation.
Using the pillow or even standing on the mat with both feet can help reduce and relieve headaches and migraines. This is not only because of increases in circulation but also because direct pressure points that alleviate these symptoms are likely to be stimulated.
Aides in Back Pain
It follows that the relaxation of tightness, increased blood flow, and oxygenation of the blood will help heal the body. The mat focuses many of these benefits directly to the back, allowing back pain to receive direct treatment.
Endorphins are those naturally produced chemicals that deal directly with pain and stress and are considered a ‘feel-good’ effect as they alleviate pain. You can stimulate endorphins through strenuous work (think “runners-high”), as well as activities that trigger feel-good emotions in your brain (consider volunteering for those less fortunate as you). Even some foods trigger their release (mmmm…dark chocolate)! Laying on a mat also helps stimulate these chemicals, and when combined with oxygen-rich blood flow, results are very powerful indeed.
Reduces Neck Pain
Just like you back pain will most likely be reduced, so will any neck pain you feel. Many forms of neck pain are caused by poor daily spinal alignment or sleep posture. Aligning your body and supporting your neck properly begins to help with neck pain. Add in pressure point stimulation and all that entails, and you have a recipe to begin to see neck pain results.
Relieves Muscle Tension
Just about your entire body can begin to see muscle tension relaxation either through direct stimulation or through the rest of the positive effects caused by mat use.
Reduces Sciatica Pain
The sciatic nerve runs along the back of your leg and down to your foot. Bruising this nerve or putting pressure through muscle tension or injury can create a very painful experience. Providing pressure to certain points on the body can help alleviate this tension.
Congestion is caused by your body’s inability to expel the buildup of natural reactions to allergens, illnesses, etc… It often is caused by the swelling of tissues through the sinus cavities. Pressure point stimulation can help alleviate this swelling, as does the increase in blood flow through these areas.
Reduces Digestive Issues
Some digestive issues are due to inflammation, and an increase in blood flow through the body can help alleviate this discomfort. Although many studies are done with acupuncture and digestion problem relief, stimulating similar areas with pressure have also shown promise in treating mild indigestion.
The use of an acupressure mat comes with few side effects, unless you want to count the many benefits it provides! Start slow and allow your body to get used to it but the worst you will experience is some redness on your skin and maybe a slight scratchy feeling until you are more used to the feel. Children under 7 shouldn’t use the mat, and neither should pregnant women (as many pressure points can stimulate body function) or those with high blood pressure unless under supervision by a doctor.
Acupressure is a great way to stimulate specific areas on your body to help provide a healthier mind and body experience. A mat helps provide pressure point use to improve blood flow and whole body relaxation that can lead to a healthier mind and body. These mats are easy to use, easy to store, and very lightweight so you can take it anywhere you go to take advantage of its relaxing properties.
Although it may take a little time to get used to, most users (myself included) agree that it allows a relaxing experience that results in positive muscle stimulation. Reviews stating a better sleep, less tension, and more focus are often noticed almost immediately upon regular use. Personality, I use mine almost daily to help unwind after a run and to allow my body to fall into a more natural position to avoid tight muscles as they cool.
If you have ever used a mat we would love to hear about it below. If you have any questions, feel free to ask as well! And, as always, please share!