If a person says they’re heading off to practice yoga, you may automatically picture him or her wearing tight fitting workout gear with a rolled up yoga mat in tow.
Why? Is the mat required by the yoga instructor? Does it help to achieve poses? Who started using yoga mats anyway?
A brief history of the yoga mat in an article by Collin Hall states that the yoga mat was invented to aid a person’s medical condition and happened to catch on.
He credits yoga instructor Angela Farmer as the first to use a yoga mat in 1968 in London, England.
Earlier in her life, Farmer underwent a medical procedure which disabled her from sweating from her hands and feet. Getting a good grip on the floor, therefore, resulted in some difficulty. In an attempt to solve her problem, she purchased a piece of material from a carpet factory she found while working in Munich, Germany.
The carpet material successfully fixed her issue. Additionally, the students she instructed in London became interested in her new tool. To satisfy the students’ desire for a yoga mat just like their instructor’s, Farmer’s father partnered with the German carpet factory to make more mats. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hall goes on to mention that the grip yoga mats provide average users with can hinder the body’s movement: the relationship between strength and flexibility becomes unbalanced. When hands and feet are placed in a fixed position (strongly reinforced by the yoga mat), there is less movement the body undergoes. This emphasizes the need to be flexible, creating a ‘tendency to wedge oneself into postures.” There is then less of a need to use the body’s strength in order to hold positions.
Yet, the yoga mat, Hall continues, provides a way to show one’s personality. One can choose a solid color or a fun pattern that reflects character. One can make a statement by choosing a mat that was made in an environmentally friendly way. One can choose an expensive brand name yoga mat that markets itself as the best of the best, or the most basic yoga mat that was on sale.
Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer.
Having a piece of personality on the floor also builds a personal boundary. One marks their own space, a space that he or she is only allowed to enter. It creates a comfort zone, or it creates a boundary that blocks out others.
Reflecting on my own yoga practice, I can imagine myself not using a mat. I have yet to try it, but I can picture myself feeling liberated from a rectangular space that confines me. I can connect with the floor below me, and focus on my strength rather than my flexibility. However, the mat helps me mark my movements and reminds me to not spread myself out so far while changing my positions. In classes, mostly everyone else uses a yoga mat, and it’s more comfortable to practice on rather than a hard surface.
Reaching a state of mindfulness through yoga can only be done when you feel most comfortable. If you force yourself to take part in an activity that hinders you in anyway, there is no point, for you will be distracted from being mindful.
Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer. Mindfully acknowledge your sense of touch as you go about your movements to get the best feel for the method you would like to stick with. Go between the two as many times as you need to discover your partiality.
Whether you choose to always use a mat, never use a mat, or alternate between the two, the choice is ultimately yours. Enjoy the practice of yoga and the mindfulness that follows.