What Are Acupressure Mats, and Are They Really Worth the Hype?
Beauty and wellness trends regularly cycle through the social media sphere, and some are more unusual than others. As for the latest unexpected product to garner significant attention? Acupressure mats. You lay down on these spiky massagers, which allegedly offer a slew of body-relaxing benefits. To learn more about the buzzy, seemingly painful mats, we tapped two acupuncturists for their insight—ahead, they explain whether or not acupressure mats are truly worth the hype.
What are acupressure mats?
You'll notice that these mats are covered in small, spiky nodes, but what might look like a torture device to some is ultimately a soothing wellness tool, says acupuncturist Paul Kempisty. "When you lay or sit on them, your weight and any additional wriggling motion help to massage and stimulate your body against the mat's irregular, bumpy surface," he explains. "Most people have seen or at least heard of the traditional bed of nails used by Indian ascetics as a tool to help transcend the limitations of body consciousness; acupressure mats are kind of like a milder version of this. They might be relatively irritating and potentially unpleasant initially, but they quickly becoming comfortable and invigorating once your skin and nerves become accustomed to the sensation."
How do they work?
The spiky protrusions might seem haphazardly strewn about the mat, but acupuncturist Angela Chau Gray says that they each have a purpose: They work to stimulate different hot spots throughout the body, effectively promoting circulation and activating the various meridian channels that run from head to toe. By energizing these channels, the mats trigger a state of release, which can greatly benefit both our physical and emotional health. "There is an old saying in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), 'Where there is flow there is no pain, where there is no flow there is pain,'" Gray, the co-founder of YINA, shares. "This is one of the foundational principles in TCM. You want to make sure the circulation in your body is flowing smoothly at all times. Pain is often caused by stagnation. The acupressure mats help stimulate and drive more circulation throughout the body."
Of course, in order to benefit from acupressure mats, you must first acclimate to laying on spikes. "The desensitizing process of using these tools is part of how they work to relieve mild aches and pains," Kempisty, who is also an herbalist and the founder of Peekay's Herbs, says. As soothing as acupressure mats can be, Kempisty notes that there's a time and a place for their use—namely, within the superficial tissues. "They can be quite good at achieving some relief and invigorate the muscles and skin, but for real injuries and pain scenarios, there's no substitute for a real acupressure or massage therapist or an acupuncturist working their magic on your body," he adds.
Who should consider using them?
If you feel tense, Kempisty and Gray both agree that acupressure mats can be beneficial. "The mat helps release tension from holding certain postures for long periods of time, as well as muscle adhesions from sports activities," Gray explains, noting that she recommends starting with two sessions a week that are about 10 to 20 minutes in length. That said, if you have ultra-sensitive skin, or have active rashes, infections, or open wounds, you should steer clear until symptoms subside. Additionally, Gray advises pregnant or elderly people and children to check in with a doctor before partaking.
Are they worth the hype?
According to Gray, acupressure mats are a useful add-on tool to have in your self-care toolbox. "They can complement body gua sha, cupping, and massage," she explains. But they will only live up to the hype if you are consistent with your routine, she adds. "I'm all for promoting increased circulation throughout the body," Gray says. "That said, this mat does not replace a treatment from a trained and licensed acupuncturist. There is so much more you can treat with acupuncture points. Definitely see a professional TCM practitioner for more guidance." And if you are interested in giving these mats a try? See a few high-quality picks, below.