With all the gear we review here at DigitalReviews, it is easy to forget that it is an unnatural lifestyle that us mere humans are not evolved for. Yours truly has had to come to terms with the aches and pains of aging, and bad posture just makes everything that much worse.
We are happy to try out our "personal masseuse" with compliments from Shakti Mat, let's see what this can do for my less than robust body.
Shakti, a word derived from Śakti meaning "power, ability, strength, effort, energy, capability", represents the primordial cosmic energy and the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. It is an entirely appropriate name for a product that is aimed to improve overall health and healing, support deep sleep, healthy circulation, muscle recovery, relief from pain or discomfort, relaxation and general vitality.
At the heart of the Shakti Mat principles is acupressure, an alternative medicine technique similar in principle to acupuncture. It is based on the concept of life energy which flows through "meridians" in the body. In treatment, physical pressure is applied to acupuncture points with the aim of clearing blockages in these meridians.
I will have to admit that I have a long history with acupressure, recalling a time as a child I would wear acupressure sandals which absolutely felt like corporal punishment until I got used to it. I did wear them until we eventually ran out of them after moving countries, and I wore the last pair down to just "normal sandals" status.
The Shakti Mat measures 740 x 400mm, and the manufacturer states there are 6000 spikes spread over the original version which is what I have. The mat itself is really just a fabric sleeve, with the spike disks spread evenly across the top surface, and a piece of foam in the middle. The idea is that the disks are flexible against the mat, and the mat flexible against whatever you put it against, and therefore adjusts to your unique body shape to be in contact with your body as you lie on it. Of course I did my due diligence, there are 230 disks on the mat, 27 spikes per disk, giving a grand total of 6210 spikes.
The spikes themselves are little triangles, not dissimilar to a porcelain ginger grater but more pronounced. If you put a finger to the tip it certainly feels like it can cut through your skin easily. The disks are made from ABS plastics which is the same type of plastic that LEGO is made out of, it will certainly take the pain of stepping on one inadvertently to new level.
We are all different, and our sensitivity to pain can vary greatly. Whilst I have a relatively high pain threshold, it is nothing compared to the two women I have witnessed giving b irth with no drug assistance. Personally it took very little for me to get used to lying on the Shakti Mat, muscle memory I guess or I am very well adjusted to long knives in my back.
You would be forgiven to have some trepidation lying down on what is sometimes referred to as the "modern day bed of nails". The answer lies in physics - your weight is distributed throughout all the little spikes that your body is in contact with, rather than concentrated on an individual spike. This is no different to bridges, building or aircraft design, where any single input is spread across multiple load paths to reduce the impact of single point application of force.
Whilst it is recommended to go bare skin for maximum results, I opt to fall inline with the n00bs and keep a t-shirt on. Getting on and off the Shakti Mat is probably the most "dangerous" part of the process. I find that by sitting on the edge of the mat and slowly lowering myself onto it works best. For me the first minute tends to be uncomfortable and prickly, with a little wriggling and readjusting to get just the right coverage. After that I am supposed to feel a tingling sensation as blood rushes to the stimulated areas and warms the muscles. I seem to skip that phase, and vary between a dull background sensation where I notice the spikes in some areas of my body and something that transcends it.
The FAQs says the "process can lead to feelings of bliss, and a state of such deep relaxation you may even nod off to sleep." I could see myself nodding off to sleep, afterall I have been known to fall asleep during a deep tissue massage session.
But does it work as advertised? Namely "used to support deep sleep, healthy circulation, muscle recovery, relief from pain or discomfort, relaxation and general vitality." Well last week I ran into my recurring problem of my left flank causing issues, probably general inflammatory and lack of self care since I have not had an appointment with my chiropractor for a long time.
Day one it was spasming and I mostly buried my head in the sand and put up with it.
Day two I was starting to be in a fair bit of pain and ignoring it was not going to change anything, plus I was committed to helping to setup for the school Fete involving heavily lifting. I broke out the Shakti Mat and made sure the spikes are on contact with the problem area. 20 minutes later when I finished my session, I was getting movement back immediately and the spasms diminished to a large extent.
Day three I threw myself onto the mat once more for another 15 minutes and I was pretty much ready to go. I was limber enough to spend a few hours setting up fences, trestle tables, moving a small fridge without any discomfort. I did not use the mat on day four but I was still fine to carry my 17 month old daughter for an extended period, go swimming with her and do all the general wrangles expected with a toddler.
Since then I have put myself through daily maintenance doses of using the Shakti Mat, and to be honest, I am a little addicted to the feeling when I peel myself off the mat at the end and jumping into a hot shower. The Shakti Mat can be rolled up to provide treatment to neck and head. If you prefer though, they do offer a separate pillow product. Similarly dedicated foot pads are offered through the shop, or you can just step onto your mat.
Not surprisingly, different parts of my body have different sensitivity levels, so I just adjust the duration and thickness of the material between me and the spikes accordingly.
The Shakti Mat is not recommended for pregnant women without consultation with a medical professional.
Other conditions are also not recommended in conjunction with the Shakti Mat are: coagulation issues, epilepsy, significant skin damage in the area of use, fever or other acute illness, cardiovascular conditions, thrombophlebitis, neuropathy that has resulted in loss of sensation of sensory impairment.
According to the Shakti Mats website, each Shakti Mat is handcrafted in their charity workshop in Varanasi, India. The plastic as mentioned before is ABS that is non-toxic and recyclable. Organic cotton is used for the fabric sleeve with Global Organic Textile Standards approved dyes.
10% of the company's profits are donated directly to charity and chosen through GiveWell's assessments and local community. A list of the company's altruistic acts are detailed here.
I love it!
The Shakti Mat does not replace a full blown massage or chiropractic session but it certainly fills in the gap in between formal sessions. Is it for everyone? Probably not but I would suggest persisting through the initial phase, wear a thicker layer in between your body and the spikes if necessary to begin with. I recall those acupressure sandals from my childhood days and they absolutely murdered me until I got used to them. The kind of pain I was experiencing last week would have normally required a chiropractic session and a few days light duties for me to return to normal, yet two 20 minute sessions on the Shakti Mat had me good enough to go.
The Shakti Mats comes in 3 different flavours - a 8000 spikes "light" version which is a gentler treatment, and a 4000 spikes "advanced" version for those who wants a deeper treatment. A 60 days refund or exchange program is on offer, which makes it a fairly risk free proposition. Additionally if a spike becomes detached, you can contact the company for a replacement spike.
The full range of Shakti Mats products is available here, the mats are AUD$69 each, totally reuseable, is cheaper than a formal session with a treatment provider and requires no appointments.
Many thanks to Shakti Mats for providing the review sample.