The rise of the yoga mat came in 1968 when renowned yoga teacher Angela Farmer ran into a piece of underlay from a carpet factory, which serendipitously became the solution to her medical condition of not being able to sweat from her hands and feet that often interfered with her practice. Soon, her relieving underlay became popular amongst many of her students, eventually making her the first yoga mat retailer.
Who would have expected that this specific therapeutic intervention would later become part of the status quo surrounding yoga, at least in the Western part of our world? This is something that quickly makes us think whether or not this object was merely a trend that overstayed its welcome tricking us into thinking that we need it when we actually do not, or if it is truly something essential to our practice. Surely, you will end up listening to countless answers to this puzzling statement; but in this article we will allow you to make up your own mind giving you both sides of the coin: the pros and cons of yoga mats.
For many, just as for Angela Farmer, mats allow them to have a good grip while either maintaining a pose and/or transitioning in between poses; whether the cause of this problem is a medical condition, unsuitable flooring for yoga or a simple preference it is one of the pluses offered by this accessory.
Another important benefit is cushioning. Pulling off a Sirsasana or “head stand” with a headrest is not the same as doing one without any and this applies to other simpler poses. Feeling comfortable while doing yoga is amongst this practice’s most basic elements and a cozy surface is always essential. Hygiene is also another factor many take into account when deciding to use the yoga mat. It is clear that most people do not like practicing yoga on a surface where other individuals have spent the last hour or so rubbing their sweaty bodies against; and that is entirely understandable. The mat aids with solving this problem by simultaneously having the added advantage of delineating our own personal space during over-crowded lessons.
There is an elementary reason why yoga mats seem to be counterproductive at times, and that is the argument of strength vs. flexibility. When surfaces on which we practice are stable, for example, yoga requires more strength than flexibility; if the surfaces on which we practice yoga are unstable however, then many postures end up requiring more flexibility than strength. With most yoga mats being quite stretchable, this characteristic often presents a problem. By leaning your weight onto the flexible mat rather than using your muscles to stop yourself from slipping, you are continuously altering poses and straining parts of your body that are not supposed to be placed under such tension; something that could later on result on knee or hip issues amongst others.
An additional problem revolving yoga mats is the weak connection your feet, hands, and at times body as with the actual ground, making it harder for you to connect with the ground; which will be proved by how much harder it is to find equilibrium when attempting balancing poses such as Vrksasana or “tree pose,” Vasisthasana or “side plank pose” and so on. Lastly, when speaking about a practice that seeks harmony, connection and union within and without ourselves some criticize the fact of practitioners candidly seeking to delimitate their own practice space; seeming quite ironic and paradoxical.
Overall, choosing whether or not to include a yoga mat as the side-kick to your practice will depend on your own needs and circumstances; simply try it with and without, see what works best for you and be conscious of the factors that pushed you into making that final decision.