“I Slept On A Yoga Mat For 7 Days — Here’s What Happened To My Body”
Ever heard of the wonderful things that happen to your body when you sleep on a hard surface? I have. I stumbled across a Women’s Health US while browsing things for my Women’s Health SA guinea pigs to test – so you guys don’t have to. But I feared the team would be scandalised, so I skimmed it and moved on to something tamer – like a million squats every day for 30 days…
But then, through an accident caused by pure unadulterated laziness, I ended up testing the theory myself. I spent a night in a tent on a yoga mat. Because, honestly, it was holidays, I was camping and… beer. Plus: It was late and all we had was a whistley old foot pump. I’d blow up that damn mattress the next day.
The next day came – but I didn’t inflate the mattress. In fact, it didn’t get used for the entire seven days I was away. Here’s why.
Day 1: “Seriously – I woke up like this”
The next day, I woke up and I felt… different. In a couple of pretty significant ways. (And, no, it wasn’t just because I was in my happy “camping” place, as a colleague suggested. I’m like a 98-year-old getting off a water bed after a night on a blow-up mattress. Truth.)
First off, my eyes flew open at 5am. I was awake. Not staring through soup, not incoherently swear-mumbling about turning 40, not reaching out a shaky hand for caffeine – I can be dramatic like that.
Then I stood up. And guys, get this: I just stood up. I felt nothing. Zero stiffness. No weird neck thing. No cajoling my spine back into position 17 times before brunch. I stood up and walk-cartwheeled to the ablution block.
Where I spied myself in the mirror. I looked different too. Like, where’d the eye bags go? Seriously – where!? I stared myself down in that ablution block glass for a shamefully long time verifying this. Science – had to. People came and went, and still that face remained – quite frankly – pretty, for someone whose hair was screaming the opposite.
I felt younger. And (even better, blush) I looked younger. After one night on the ground. What the hell crazy voodoo was this?
Days 2-7: This is not a trick
I packed away the pump, gave my mattress the finger and hit the mat every night for the rest of my trip. And you know what? Nothing changed. In fact, it got better. I continued to rise with the birds and stare, wild-haired and lovingly, at myself in the ablution block mirror. I had more energy. I felt younger. Ten years younger – easy.
Obviously sleeping half a centimetre from the ground doesn’t feel as delicious as a bed, but you get used to it. And when I got back to my flat I was tempted to take the yoga mat up with me. But the queen-size went psst, and I figured I was ready for it. A treat. As I dissolved into the softness of sponge and five pillows, I smiled.
And then I woke up. Not smiling.
The spell was broken. I was tired, stiff, irritable. And… Eye bags!? An ou vrou again. How?
Beds bring bad things to backs, and other body parts
On my return to work – and the article I’d scanned and prematurely discarded – it started to make more sense. According to movement specialist Katy Bowman, who’s put out several books on pain relief and proper body alignment, there is something to be said for what I inadvertently did.
“We live an over-cushioned life,” Bowman says. “We sit in chairs at work, on couches in front of the TV and we sleep on thick mattresses at night.” All this cushiness, she argues, makes us soft.
Sleeping without a mattress, on the floor, as Bowman has done for years, has legit benefits. “You’ll sleep better, achieve a deeper quality of sleep and wake up feeling good,” she says. Really good.
What about “special” beds, you ask?
Those super-pricey, memory-foam mattresses are movement restrictors, Bowman says. “They lock you into one position. This prohibits the natural turning your body undergoes overnight. The aches and pains most people suffer after waking up are due to not moving for hours,” she says.
“By sleeping without a mattress, you’ll strengthen tiny muscles that build over time. You’re putting pressure on your body parts. It’s like a massage all night.” Bowman calls this “dynamic rest” and I call it the first “real” rest my body has had in a very long time.
If you don’t believe me, try it.