By Nicola Lashley
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to try the HoMedics STRETCH Mat. After reading a couple of reviews online I was keen to try it myself, but, (always the sceptic) I wanted to keep an open mind and attempt to integrate the STRETCH Mat into my daily routine.
If you’re interested in STRETCH and looking for an honest review of its performance and practicality, or maybe you’re new and curious about what the STRETCH Mat does, scroll down to find out what happened when I used the HoMedics STRETCH Mat every day for one week.
DISCLAIMER: I should mention that my level of flexibility is above-average but, I’m keen to see if STRETCH could work for any ability so, I got my mum and dad to give it a whirl too!
What is the HoMedics STRETCH Mat? And who can use it?
STRETCH was launched by HoMedics in 2016. Unlike their regular Shiatsu back massagers that work on massaging the body, STRETCH works on energising and improving flexibility through yoga-inspired stretch sequences.
It features four treatments – Flow, Energise, Stretch and Twist, each designed by a HoMedics qualified yoga guru (Namaste!). A collection of air chambers does the hard work, inflating and supporting as your body melts into the mat. Think along the lines of Thai massage or passive Asanas in yoga – instead of having to support your own body through a series of stretches, all you need to do is lie back and let STRETCH move you!
But don’t think that this product is for Yogis alone, you don’t have to take part in an exercise to enjoy the health benefits of a daily limber. You can choose from three levels of intensity, opting for a stretch that will fit your flexibility. All you need is some floor space and a plug socket, it’s as simple as that.
The STRETCH Mat is not a substitute, but rather a compliment to your existing activities – yoga, pilates, dance, sports, you name it. Likewise, it’s also great for those seeking to wind down from the pressures of everyday life and better connect with their mind and body.
The Mat was incredibly easy to set-up. I simply unfolded STRETCH and plugged it into a mains socket, then kept the remote to hand as I lay back. To get my positioning right I followed illustrations on the HoMedics website (see below), and for my first experience, I opted for the ‘Flow’ sequence at a mid-level intensity.
I wondered if STRETCH could cater for my high level of flexibility. As the air chambers began to rise I soon felt a stretch along my lower and upper back that was gentle but, effective – the ideal intensity for first-thing in the morning. The sequence lasted for around 12 minutes, giving a sensation that I’ve not felt before but, would liken to being gently energised out of a nap. By the time it was finished, I immediately wanted another go, my back felt supple and my mind at ease.
But what most impressed me was how well supported my back had felt throughout the sequence. My lower back (in particular) is quite weak, prone to twinges if I’m not careful with it. Not only did I feel supported, I felt a genuine sense of relief each time the air chambers moved me, kickstarting my body’s natural flow of energy.
I decided to up the intensity a little on day 2 and used the mat before my Monday evening yoga class. To help prep my body, I chose the Stretch treatment and tried the highest level of intensity. For me, this was where I felt my personal level of flexibility was challenged – without pain or discomfort. I popped on some relaxing music in the background (the kind I listen to in the morning, or when practising yoga at home) and lit some incense to really get things going. It’s always about the environment, if I feel comfortable in my surroundings I am more likely to switch my mind off. Being able to use the Mat within the comfort of my own room meant that this happened a lot faster.
I may not always be able to fit in the STRETCH before practice, but those twelve minutes allowed me to centre my body, drawing awareness to it and preparing it.
It’s safe to say that after two days I was pleased with my physical response to the mat but, I was curious to find out how STRETCH could be integrated into my evening routine.
I tend to carry all the stress and thoughts of my day with me until the evening when my brain works on overload trying to process it all. This means that unless I meditate, or at least empty my mind before bed, I’m likely to lay awake until the early hours.
But, like the rest of us, I struggle to maintain self-discipline, and sometimes the drive to keep up nightly practice. That was where the STRETCH sequence proved handy. Through the natural rhythm of the air chambers, I was able to practice Ujjayi breath (A breathing technique used in Yoga). My breath naturally synched with the rise and fall of the chambers, and the gentle stretch motion prompted my body to release the tension that I hold in my upper abdominal area. I enjoyed not having to concentrate too much on letting myself go, melting instead into the mat and letting the gentle motion move me into a state of relaxation.
The evenings quickly became my favourite time to use the STRETCH Mat. I could simply unfold it onto my floor, turn off the lights and prepare my body for a restful sleep.
On Day five I convinced my mum and dad (both aged over 60) to give the STRETCH Mat a try. My parents don’t do any exercise and they both suffer from back and shoulder pain. They’re what I’d consider absolute beginners to relaxation techniques and stretching in general.
While I love the sensation of stretching, my parents weren’t overly keen, so they opted for the lowest intensity and the Twist sequence to help ease the strains of their day.
My mum was soon relaxing into the motion of the Air chambers, telling me that she felt as though she was being gently moved into a relaxed state. And my dad? My dad fell into a light doze around six minutes in. But when I did wake him up he felt his shoulders approvingly, telling me that he was surprised at how good his upper body felt.
The HoMedics & Homeditation team were kind enough to give me a sneak preview of the new Guided Homeditation launching at Balance Festival 2018. So, for my last day with the HoMedics STRETCH Mat, I used their brand new guided Homediation track.
If you struggle to quiet the noise of your mind or you’re new to practicing relaxation, guided meditation is a great way to initiate focus, providing gentle support and prompts throughout your practice.
To end my experience with the STRETCH Mat, I finished the way that I started – with the Flow sequence and mid-level intensity. The dulcet tones of the guide lead me through the sequence, drawing my attention to specific parts of the practice and reminding me to release tension.
Set to a background of light rainfall, I found that the track drastically enhanced my experience with STRETCH and I soon found myself slipping into a state of complete relaxation. I listened to the guide, who gently prompted me to make subtle adjustments to my positioning. Prior to this session, I had always kept my legs flat against the floor but, with his recommendation I bent my legs, allowing my knees to rest together which felt wonderful.
I loved the feeling of being immersed in the environment. For me, the guided Homediation track certainly took the sequence up another level by catering to my mind while STRETCH took care of the physical.
Did the HoMedics STRETCH Mat work for me?
Yes. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily STRETCH could be incorporated into my daily routine and practices. My favourite sequence was ‘Flow’ with an intensity level of 2 in the morning and 3 in the evening, depending on how my body was feeling. The three intensity levels were so effective that they were able to cater to my personal level of flexibility, as well as beginners like my mum and dad.
But what I most loved about my time using STRETCH was how quickly I could relax while using it, especially with the addition of the Guided Homeditation track. After a long day of work and deadlines it felt like the perfect tonic to release tension in my mind and body, especially for someone who finds it hard to switch off.
It also has allowed me to be more disciplined with myself. On the days where my body was struggling to unwind, all I had to do was lie back and let STRETCH move me – I began to look forward to my mat time.
To sum things up…
The STRETCH Mat is a great option for those who, like me, are looking for something to aid their weekly practice, energise their body through stretches and help better engage with mind and body. It’s also a way to improve your back flexibility through regular practice.
How easy is it to store the HoMedics STRETCH Mat?
Super easy, this bad boy folds onto itself and can be placed back into its box, which can then be stored beside any wardrobe or cupboard. It may not be the most transportable product, but realistically this mat is intended for use in the comfort of your own home.
What were the main benefits?
– Low-maintenance tension relief, easy to use during at any time of the day.
– Easily incorporated into and around my busy schedule, especially on the days where I found myself out of the house all day.
– An effective method of removing both physical and mental tension for those who don’t practice meditation or can’t get to a class.
(My favourite was the Guided Meditation Track – keep an eye out for that!)
– Accessible and easily used by all abilities and levels.
So, there you have it. That’s what happened when I used the HoMedics STRETCH Mat every day for one week. If you’d like some more information on the STRETCH Mat, or you’re looking to try one for yourself, be sure to check it out the HoMedics website here!
Nicola is an English Literature student based in Kent. Natural health and wellness have been at the centre of her growth since her brother introduced her to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) 4 years ago. Nicola practices yoga and meditation, with her main interest being in Tai Chi – particularly the practice of Qi Gong. As her journey continues, finding every opportunity to combine her learnings into everyday life.