The Shakti Mat: At the sharp end

Its fans claim that it can relieve back pain, allergies, insomnia and depression. But as Simon Usborne finds, this new take on the 'bed of nails' is just as painful as you'd expect

It would be churlish not at least to try something that, according to its accompanying literature, can lead to "dramatic improvement in a wide range of conditions such as back pain, neck pain, insomnia, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, weight loss and allergies".

That's a lot of improvement. And so, at home, after a long day at work, and with a strong sense of fatigue and a slightly achy back, I lower my bare torso onto a bed of nails.

And guess what – it bloody hurts. The bed is in fact a thin foam mat large enough to support the back. In place of nails, 230 hard plastic buttons support a total of 6,210 tiny spikes. They couldn't be hammered into wood and don't glint menacingly in the light, but they're really, really sharp. Imagine lying on a table studded with a thousand plastic forks, their prongs sharpened with a file.

But why would you? The Shakti Mat is the brainchild of a bearded young Swedish chap with a ponytail, called Om Mokshananda. Cursory Googling reveals he was a juggler called Jonathan Hellbom before he found himself in the Himalayan foothills and became a monk. He created the Shakti Mat "with a vision of wholeness and love" and "according to ancient Vedic science, where the ultimate goal is the union of mind, body and spirit in order to promote a long, healthy life, filled with joy".

Attempts to learn more about Mokshananda's vision are thwarted when Rose-Marie Sorokin, who has started importing the mats to Britain and selling them at Shaktimat.co.uk, says the monk is "on a retreat and isn't taking any calls or emails". Of course he isn't. Not a problem, though, because Sorokin is herself a pilates and yoga teacher. She discovered the Shakti Mat when a Swedish friend recommended it. "If I've had a busy day I use it for up to an hour and feel very calm and relaxed," she says. "If I have any tension in my neck or back it will just melt away, and often I'll fall asleep."

Back in my sitting room, my flatmate looks on bemused as I groan on the coffee table a few seconds after lowering my back onto the mat with all the enthusiasm of a burns victim getting into a hot bath. "Initially... contact with the plastic points may be experienced as a little painful," the instructions read. "But this will fade and be replaced by a comfortable heat when the circulation of the blood increases." Sorokin reckons this will take three or four minutes. After approximately 35 seconds, the heat has built up, as advertised, but the pain only builds with it and soon becomes unbearable. I can't decide if it would be more comfortable to be lowered into a poultry-plucking machine or throw myself down a slide lined with sandpaper.

In the eyes of all but the 300,000 yoga enthusiasts who have bought the Shakti mat (yours for £63), the contemporary bed of nails is the preserve of macho circus performers, and also physics lecturers: if packed densely enough, individual nails or spikes exert a force on the skin that is small enough not to break it. To ram that theory home, an assistant sometimes applies a sledgehammer to a board placed over the prone participant.

But the bed of nails has a longer history that might help explain why I appear to be torturing myself on my own coffee table. Sami tribespeople in Scandinavia apparently took naps on thorny juniper branches, while acupuncture, that other great spiky tradition, dates back to ancient China. Centuries ago, Hindu ascetics in India developed the traditional nails-in-wood arrangement. A photograph taken in 1907 by the British photographer Herbert Ponting shows a bearded yogi lounging on alarmingly well-spaced nails as if they were the piles of an oligarch's carpet.

Nail mat fans trace the device's resurgence to 1980s Russia, where a rubber mat studded with drawing pins found its way into pharmacies after reports that it relieved pain.

Scientists in Sweden are now examining the reported benefits of the Shakti treatment, but in the meantime there is scant empirical evidence for its effectiveness. Some suggest a release of endorphines triggered by pain leads to a feeling of well-being that may then lead to other benefits.

Whatever, it still hurts. I try adopting some of the other suggested positions. I lie on my front. Ow! I stick my face on it. Ow! Giving my bare bottom the nail treatment (I'm nothing if not game) triggers nothing more spiritual than a string of curses.

It may well be, I conclude, that beds of nails aren't meant for me. My only other brush with yoga, during a surfing trip to Brazil, ended when miscommunication led to a painfully stifled giggling fit. Sitting cross-legged in a beachside gazebo, the group's earnest instructor, whose forestial eyebrows were distracting enough, invited us to "feel the energy from the earth. Feeeeel it come through the floor and touch your cocks [he meant coccyx] and travel up your colon [spinal column, presumably]."

As I retreat to the soft embrace of my bedsheets, my back still hot and smarting, I fear that, in my case at least, Om Mokshananda's vision may also be lost in translation.

Arts and Entertainment
tv'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there