No matter how good of a person I think I am, the forces beyond my control have started punishing me with lower back tension. Sometimes it's just a mild tightness, but occasionally it's a full-on painful spasm that makes it difficult for me to sit comfortably (and generally move around) for several days. I can't tell if it's my sleep position or this wicked WFH lifestyle or the mere fact I'm getting older, but it's become a worrisome issue for me — but at least I'm not the only one experiencing this common body ailment.
In an effort to regulate my back pain better and as a preventative measure, I decided to test drive the $65 Acupressure Mat Set from WTHN, an NYC-based acupuncture studio and a holistic healing brand rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine after seeing its stats. It's currently ranking a 4.5 out of 5 stars and 51 reviews, and WTHN co-founder Dr. Shari Auth, Chief Healing Officer, told Refinery29 that "the Acu Mat has been a huge hit" and has sold out over four times since it debuted in the peak-covid era of August 2020. "It's a gender crossover product for us, which is super exciting. You know, wellness tends to be dominated by women, both by consumers and practitioners, and this product really [found its way into] men's health. I think it really speaks to people wanting to take control of their own health and looking for more home solutions." And, NBD, but Dr. Auth mentions the acu mat is also "loved by celebrities and influencers including Kourtney Kardashian, Sophia Roe, Tinx, and more." (Celebrities...they're just like me?)
Cory Stieg, in an R29 acupressure mat story back in 2017, wrote about the alleged benefits: "Some acupressure mat brands insist that using the mats can help you sleep, relieve muscle tension, and even reduce stress and anxiety. Others swear that using the mats regularly can cure all sorts of medical ailments, like headaches, high blood pressure, and constipation. Why stop there: The mats can also apparently relieve chronic neck and back pain, reduce the appearance of cellulite, and cure muscle aches." And in a 2021 review of the Shakti Mat (a similar product), R29 writer Jessica Morgan wrote, "Each time I lay on it I would get an overwhelming feeling of relaxation and tiredness. And guess what? My lower back pain is now nonexistent."
Settling into the acu mat (especially for the first few times) is a strange sensation. I'm not going to lie, it hurts like hell. I usually lay my mat on top of my bed as the softness is a bit gentler than pressing my body against the mat on hardwood floors. I alternate having the pillow on my lower back and under my neck, depending on what I'm looking to loosen up. And — I know this is absolutely counterintuitive — but I actually sometimes scroll through TikTok as a way to distract myself from the initial pain (I'm slowly trying to not do that). But the entire process pretty much rolls the same way each time: My backside throbs intensely as the rush of blood makes its way up and down my spine and I just have to close my eyes and breathe through it. At some point though (maybe around 5-7 minutes for me), as all the reviewers attest, my muscles settle and start melting into the spikes (as long as I don't squirm too much) and my back gets that super warm and toasty, similar to the way a deep-tissue massage can often feel. Afterward, I feel euphoric, limber, and way more flexible as my body's been warmed up from all that blood-pumpin' frenzy. My backside also turns pink from the indentations, which is very satisfying for me to see — I'm constantly impressing myself with the psychological-versus-physiological pain I'm able to endure.
When I ask how WTHN's acu mat differs from others in the marketplace, Dr. Auth mentions that this set is specifically designed for multiple uses, customer education, and easy storage: The $65 set includes the mat, a pillow, a carrying case, and a detailed how-to Guide that includes instructional videos. "WTHN is committed to educating our clients on the best ways to get results for their health and explaining the history as well as the science behind TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine]," Dr. Auth says. (While I've mostly been using this for my back, the guide walks users through all the different body parts you can use this mat for, including using the pillow as lumbar support for your WFH chair or as a foot stimulator.) "In addition, we offer the Acu Mat in a variety of bundles with other TCM products like herbal supplements, rose quartz eye mask, our custom sound therapy — and all of our products are priced accessibly," Dr. Auth says of WTHN's full lineup.
While the cadence will differ for everyone, Dr. Auth assures me this mat is completely safe to use many times a day when I ask if it's possible to "overdo" it: "I'm sure I could invent some way to overuse it, but it's hardly a concern. You know, it's so healthy for you. Your body wants circulation and that's what the mat does," Dr. Auth says. "I put my feet on it to help wake me up, I use it sometimes post-workout, and then I like using it at night to wind down. Some days I use it three times a day." She also assures that there has never been a case of anyone bleeding from the spikes, either — that it's designed to not puncture skin and not dull over time (Dr. Auth just recommends you wipe down the mat once in a while, and a simple cleansing wipe or a wet paper towel suffices). I personally have found myself using the acu mat every other night for 20 minutes at a time, with my eyes closed listening to a podcast or music, and getting into a peaceful state of mind before dozing off to sleep.
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