Posted by: Trudy Prevost | September 16, 2016

The History of Yoga Mats

18894_1119158214766051_3937253603860798807_nRainbow Yoga in Calibishi

Anywhere you travel in the world it is hard to picture practicing yoga without a mat.

We can now find yoga mats on the remotest of beaches; amongst the trees of forests and in remote valleys.

exhaulted lungeRainbow Yoga in the Forest

As practitioners yoga mats prevent us from slipping; cushion our bodies and help us find positions and movements. As we walk onto our mat we enter a safe space where we can escape from the busy often hectic pace of our lives.

As yoga teachers we use yoga mats to help our students fine tune positioning; transition to the next move; and keep their practice within a designated space in group classes.

To some teachers a folded or rolled mat is a valuable piece of equipment that can be utilized to assist our students to find the optimum positioning or release more into their poses.

You may find it shocking to learn yoga mats were only invented in the 1970’s!

Yes yoga does predate yoga mats!!!! Yoga was actually practiced for 1000s of years without mats!

In fact practice without a yoga mat is actually a different practice! To promote Functional Fitness we need to add an occasional practice without a mat.

When I started practicing yoga we used a very thin cotton ‘yoga mat’ futon or a small carpet.

Most of the yoga studios I saw in Canada  in those days were covered in wall to wall carpeting and we just put a towel or cloth down.

When I travelled through the Caribbean in 1980/81/82 most of the Caribbean Yoga Studios had wooden floors. We used the distribution of weight into our feet; the muscles in our legs and our core to prevent slippage.

Then in the 1970’s it was Angela Farmer a Yoga Teacher who had a medical condition caused by surgery in her youth that prevented the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands from sweating who first thought of using carpet backing as a yoga mat to prevent slippage.

There was such an immediate demand her father began selling these type of yoga mats but the carpet backing did not last long under vigorous yoga practice.

Gradually longer lasting sticky mats were designed specifically for yoga. These mats were made from PVC’s – they smelled strongly of chemicals and had to be aired for days when new but they provided a grip that had never been experienced by yoga practitioners before.

Over the years much less toxic yoga mats were designed and now even a ‘budget’ mat does not contain PVCs.

To add to their popularity they became much more affordable – in Dominica a yoga mat cost $160 EC in the 1990’s but now they are easily available at a range of places at $30 and $40 dollars EC – in North America a budget yoga mat can be purchased for $10/$20 US.

In the last 20 years many styles of eco mats made totally of natural products have been designed – a natural evolution for a mindful lifestyle if you can afford it as they range in price from $50 US to $100 US.

Personally I believe the evolution of yoga mats has dramatically changed the practice of yoga and I write further on this in my blog post Practice without a Mat.

Oh by the way – if your mat does wear out there are many innovative ways to Recycle Your Mat.

Did you know that at first Iyengar was against the idea of yoga mats but …. he ended up using one …. sometimes we need to just accept change and be aware of how to mitigate the effects of that change.

Do you practice at a gym or studio where mats are used by many? Be aware! Many teachers do not Wash the Mats after every use and this is an invitation for trouble!

childrens-yoga-e2A Rainbow Yoga Session in Dominica in the 1990’s – we used thin foam mats (totally uneco) covered with a cloth or slippery gym mats to lie, sit and kneel on but we used the grip of our feet on the floor and the strength in our legs to practice standing poses.

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  1. […] have thought up a multitude of ways to recycle an old yoga mat even though The History of Yoga Mats is short […]


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