Just Say No to Yoga Mats?

Photo by RiaPereira

Ever been impinged by your yoga mat? Maybe during yoga class you moved from a high lunge to a standing forward fold and your foot placement wasn’t exact causing the mat to bunch up underneath. Or, worse still, your mat smells funky from that hot class you took a few days ago and you get an odorous whiff every time you inhale into upward facing dog. A small but passionate set of yoga practitioners have just the solution. They say, “No more!” to yoga mats and are tossing them aside.

“The ecstasy of yoga can’t be contained by a mat,” said Dana Flynn, a director of Laughing Lotus, a yoga studio in New York and San Francisco. Many teachers in her studios encourage yoga students to practice without a mat. But there’s more to it. It seems there’s an underlying feeling that the mat is seen as a status symbol and a way to mark your territory to these particular yoga practitioners. It’s also viewed as unhygienic and bad for the environment.

Who can argue with that? Most mats are made of a synthetic plastic-type product and while more and more “green” mats are being made available, the cost of producing and shipping the mats does have some impact on the environment. And, using studio mats after they’ve been used by other people always seems a little germy, even though any reputable yoga studio will let you know the mats are cleaned between classes.

But have you ever practiced without a mat? It’s a bit strange.

There is a certain comfort level to being on your mat, when in an unfamiliar space. It’s a rectangular area of space that is all yours which is nice in an environment where space is minimal and class attendance is high. The mat is a boundary, a sort of marker, to your neighbor that can be crossed but there is an unspoken understanding it’s by invitation only or sometimes, by accident, if space is tight. So, there is a bit of a territorial feel but I’m not so sure that is a bad thing. I don’t know about you, but there are times when that little bit of mat cushion is welcome, like when I’m in sirsasana (head stand) or any time I’m going for a forearm balance. Then there’s also the big looming question of, “What if you show up with no mat and the floor is dirty?” Yuck.

I can get on board with the “idea” of practicing without a mat, especially when I hear it put like this by Alex Schatzberg of Yoga Vida, a studio in Greenwich Village. “The idea of practicing without a mat is idyllic in that the yoga practice in its essence requires nothing at all except your body.”

Yes, I agree…totally…at home, on my clean floor, by myself, in my own practice.

I have to admit, though, I have discovered through teaching yoga at outdoor yoga events and in regular classes at a park, it’s often easier to trade the mat in for a big blanket or toss it aside completely than it is to try to use it. There’s a sense of freedom that comes from being outside doing yoga and a synthetic mat with some stickiness simply doesn’t fit. Plus, if the ground is even a little bit uneven, the mat tends to bunch up and protrude in odd places.