Sunday, December 13, 2009

Would you lie on a bed of 6,210 sharp spikes?

I don't think I'll bother; but an enterprising British journalist describes what it's like.

To devotees of the Vedic tradition of early-Hinduism, lying on spikes was the best way to align the body and mind in perfect harmony.

But, somehow, the idea never really caught on, except among those famously unchatty Indian holy men or fakirs, whose idea of fun is to walk on hot coals, levitate or sit on top of a pole for years on end.

But now, it seems, those mystics have a point after all. Quite a lot of points, in fact. Several thousand years after the first fakirs started impaling themselves, the theory is being hailed as a new form of wholesome relaxation as well as a therapy for insomnia, stress —and back pain.

Just as ancient Chinese acupuncture has enjoyed a renaissance, Indian acupressure (as the science of prickly bedding is known) is on the cusp of a comeback.

. . .

To find out more, I don’t have to visit the dusty Himalayan ashram of some heavily bearded guru. I am in a spiritual healing centre just off the M20 in Kent with yoga teacher Rose-Marie Sorokin.

She is the British distributor of the lightweight, roll-up answer to the fakir’s bed of nails — the Shakti mat.

Rose-Marie unfurls a mat on the floor. It is, essentially, a £60 [about US $97] pillowcase with a thin, 26in length of foam rubber inside to give it shape.

Stuck on the upper side are 230 white plastic discs, each with 27 triangular fangs protruding upwards in an ancient geometrical shape called a yantra. Every one of these 6,210 spikes is pencil-sharp.

Detail view of Shakti mat's spikes

I put my hand on the mat: it is a similar sensation to pressing your hand on a tub of cocktail sticks. This is going to be like bedding down on the floor of a Glasgow pub after an exchange of glassware.

. . .

I lie back and wince. It’s not howling, swearing, finger-in-cardoor, grit-your teeth pain, but it’s certainly extremely uncomfortable.

It’s not remotely relaxing either. It’s like putting on your shoes and discovering gravel wedged in them.

Some bits of my back seem to be more perforated than others, but I can’t wriggle around because all those 6,210 prongs have got their teeth into me. The sore bits are starting to throb.

‘Breathe deeply and stay still,’ says Rose-Marie.

And then the pain is replaced by radiating warmth. It’s like a combination of Deep Heat and a hot lamp.

After a while, it is a glowing, numbing heat, like the early stages of sunburn — when you are still enjoying the after-glow. It is surprisingly calming.

I am not looking forward to sitting up. I have grown rather attached to this mat, so it will be like yanking off a giant plaster.

‘Your blood is rushing to the surface and your body is releasing endorphins that are a natural pain-killer,’ says Rose-Marie, her white jacket and Swedish accent lending an authoritative, clinical feel to the proceedings.

Invented by a Yogi called Om Mokshananda and made by sari-clad women in the holy Indian city of Varanasi, the Shakti mat sounds as quintessentially Indian as the Maharajah of Jaipur. But it’s actually a Swedish creation.

Om turns out to be a 30-year-old former circus performer from Stockholm called Jonathan Hellbom, who went wandering around the Himalayas.

He became a monk, acquired a suitably exotic new name and then, three years ago, had the idea of reinventing the bed of nails for a wider audience who did not want to spend several days hammering away at an old slab of chipboard.

So he came up with the Shakti mat, named after the Hindu goddess of fertility (an odd choice, perhaps, given that fertility is probably the last thing on the minds of most insomniacs with back pain and 6,000 spikes in their flesh).

Om set up the factory and created a distribution network back in Sweden run by his family. In two years, he has sold 400,000 Shakti mats.

. . .

My 20 minutes on the mat is drawing to a close. When I sit up, there is a stinging sensation all over as the 6,210 fangs disengage. My whole back is throbbing and, according to Mark the photographer, it is blushing a deep shade of red from neck to waist. But I certainly feel refreshed and awake.

How come it helps insomnia? ‘It’s all about releasing tension,’ says Rose-Marie. ‘Some people fall asleep while they are lying there.’ I bet they wake up pretty sharpish when they roll over.

There's more at the link, including more pictures.

Despite the journalist's assurances, I somehow suspect I'll pass on this one. Having had major surgery on both my back and my front, the thought of letting 6,210 spikes dig into the affected areas has no attraction for me whatsoever. Vedic it may be, but Posturepedic it ain't!



Mikael said...

I figure it's probably a bit like having a well-needed massage. It hurts at first, then feels relaxing and good.

Anonymous said...

"He became a monk, acquired a suitably exotic new name and then, three years ago, had the idea of reinventing the bed of nails for a wider audience..." Gotta love this crap! If my memory is correct, this stuff was on sale in Russia 15 years ago. And there is a chance it was invented elsewhere before that...

Sam said...

All I can say is that they are great to lie on.

I often fall asleep on mine !

I even made up some Guided Meditations for using on the mat - you can get one for free at

All the best...Sam