Yoga and the yoga mat have become an inseparable duo, to the point that many think you cannot practice yoga asanas (poses) without one. Well, did you know that the yoga mat was not a common prop until the 1980's? It is easy to get caught up in the hot new trends and brands. But, what if I said you don’t need a yoga mat to practice yoga and the mat actually changes the way we all practice?
The yoga mat was not a common tool in yoga until Anglea Farmer. Anglea created the yoga mat to help her from sliding on the floor after a surgery that left her unable to sweat from her hands and feet. Which left her to struggle for stability in her practice. Her first attempt at finding something to help her practice safely was a foam mattress found at a local market. The first class she took it to made that teacher mad, and it was thrown out. She even tried adding water from a cup and her own spit to her feet to keep from sliding. Still, this angered her teacher. After trying several different types of materials to increase her grip and prevent falling it wasn't until she was teaching in Germany in 1967 that she came across the material that solved her issues, carpet underlay. This became the inspiration for what we now know as the yoga mat and was a hit in her classes. Her father visited the manufacturer and soon the first yoga mat business was started.
Read more about her story: https://angela-victor.com/discovery-yoga-mat
The yoga mat has since changed the way the majority of yogis practice. Practicing without a mat made the student use their strength to control their movements and maintain stability. Adding a mat to our daily practice takes some of that way by holding us in place. This creates more stability putting the focus on flexibility and mobility rather than strength. While this is not necessarily a bad thing one can see how it has shifted the focus and the way we practice yoga.
The yoga mat was created as the solution to a medical condition and one woman's determination to not give up on her practice. While a yoga mat is helpful to one's practice it is not a necessary element. Anyone can practice yoga, mat or no mat.
Word of Advice for first time yoga mat buyers: If you are looking for your first mat, don't be too intimidated by this purchase. My piece of advice is skip over the thick cushy mats that look so inviting. These types of mats have too much stretch and cushion creating an unstable base for your practice. You will find yourself sliding and the mat moving under your hands and feet. Instead look for a thinner, denser mat that will create just enough stick to give you the stability you need. You can check out some of my recommendations in the article here.