I tried a Shakti mat and it wasn't relaxing or fun

Eleanor Black is not a fan of the Shakti mat.
Abigail Dougherty
Eleanor Black is not a fan of the Shakti mat.

My first reaction to lying on a Shakti mat was, what in the flipping hell, guys? Why? Why would I want to spend any of my precious downtime and hard-earned cash on such a jabby, hurty, grump-making product?

A brief backgrounder for those whose Facebook feed has not been inundated with ads: the Shakti acupressure mat is a piece of foam in a fabric slipcover studded with spiky plastic buttons, designed to mimic a bed of nails.

You can stand on it (not horrible), sit on it (unbearable) or lie on it (good lord!), to apply pressure to sore muscles, with the supposed effect of easing tension, aiding sleep and improving circulation.

Shakti spikes. There are 6000 on the original mat.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
Shakti spikes. There are 6000 on the original mat.

I borrowed an "original" green mat with 6000 spikes and used it for a week, lying on it each evening to attack persistent pain in my neck and shoulders.

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In the past year or so I have started to hunch just a little, and am hoping to reverse that trend, thereby avoiding the desk jockey's classic dowager's hump, which is just as nasty as its sexist name.  

Shakti mats await delivery.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
Shakti mats await delivery.

Reviewers adore the Shakti mat, which has a feel-good brand story told by photogenic health nuts. The mats are ethically made in India, by women who are paid fairly and treated well.

They were invented in 2007 by a Swedish yogi, Om Mokshananda, who had reportedly sold them to an almost implausible 10 per cent of his countryfolk by 2009.

A pair of likable besties, Christchurch-based George Lill and Jon Heslop, distribute them in New Zealand and Australia, where the prickly buggers are taking over yoga studios and organic markets. Apparently our Minister for Women Julie-Anne Genter is a fan.

Proponents say a gentle warmth spreads through whatever part of their body rests on the mat. After about 15 minutes, some experience bliss. After 20 minutes they say they get up feeling like they've had a massage, with a deep sense of relaxation - an altered state of consciousness even - and that they can't wait to do it again.

They tell newbies they might even fall asleep and wake up an hour later feeling damn near invincible.

Not me. The first time I used it, I thought the spikes might puncture my skin. My grimace drew sympathy from my children, who ran off in horror, and my dog, who cosied up beside me in solidarity. I endured 10 minutes before getting up and pledging to do better next time.

After that I watched TV to distract myself from the pain, which admittedly rather runs against the intentions of the mat - perhaps Silent Witness is to blame for my failure to reach a state of bliss. By day four, I could manage 20 minutes, but only just.

The worst part came afterwards, when I peeled myself off the mat to inspect my skin's impressive rosy blush and the thousands of indentations left by the spikes. It felt like sunburn, an unpleasant stinging sensation that lingered. Initially, I feared I would be scarred.

Lying on my stomach was far less painful, but I was not sure what exactly I was achieving. I experienced the same uncomfortable heat under the skin, the same impatience to get it over and done with already. As for my one attempt to sit on the thing, let's draw a veil over that.

 

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