Why do we use yoga mats?

We have received a question from a Gotta Joga user, about yoga mats. Our yoga teacher Anu Visuri replied.

Question

“I have some thoughts on yoga mats these days. My old one grew very old at some point and I was thinking of buying a new one to replace it. My basic problem was slipping during practice, but it also had little holes that started to form.

So, I was thinking of buying a non slip mat, like jade harmony. I finally bought it, but during the process of researching I wondered why other people would buy a mat that is slippery. But then I thought that past yogis did not have access to non slip mats. How would they hold the difficult asanas on the floor?

So is this a trend? Did they exercise different muscles by trying not to slip during a downward dog? Or are the mats essential for beginners only, so experienced yogis do not need them?

Some cotton rugs are pretty expensive, too. I think this is a marketing issue though.”

Answer

Thanks for your question!

Yoga mats have indeed not been around a very long time. In the old days, yogis in India practised mainly outdoors on the grass and used rugs, deer skin, or nothing. If they practised indoors, the floor was often a dirt floor or some kind of betong floor. So, they didn’t really have a problem with slipping.

Yoga outdoors

Yoga outdoors

In the West, when yoga was introduced to us, people used towels or rugs on a wooden floor, and thin rubber mats were just an accessory to prevent the towels from slipping on the floor. In the 70’s Angela Farmer, a yoga teacher, who had a medical condition which prevented the soles of her feet and the palms of her hand from sweating, and who was constantly slipping on her yoga towel, introduced the sticky mat which we use today.

The thing is that if your hands and feet don’t sweat at all or just a little, a ‘normal’ yoga mat is great for you. But, if you sweat a lot, they become slippery and your asana practice is a nightmare. Of course, when you are slipping on the mat, you use your muscles more and the practice is harder, but it can be really frustrating and soon you only think about slipping and hoping the teacher won’t keep you in the Down Dog a very long time.

Of course, nowadays, yoga has become a business. The yoga mats are high tech and really expensive. I wouldn’t say that a yoga mat is essential for beginners, but it makes the experience nicer and better. Also, some people need them, because their knees are sensitive or they have an injury, which makes the floor too hard for them. There are people, who don’t use a mat, but they are not always only advanced yogis. Also, the asana practice we do today is somewhat different from the earlier days. It is more dynamic and people sweat more. That’s one reason why the truly sticky mats are so popular.

So, everybody should decide themselves, with or without a mat. 😊 We do recommend mats: if you sweat a lot, it makes sense to invest in a really good mat, like you have. If you don’t sweat a lot, then you are the lucky one and have more choice!

Thank you for practising with Gotta Joga!

 

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