Posted by: Yoga in Borve | October 3, 2014

‘Do I need to get a mat?’

This is the first of a new series of posts in which I’ll try to answer Frequently Asked Questions from my yoga classes.

The shortest answer to the title question is ‘no’. It’s certainly possible to get by without a mat.  You can practise yoga at home on your bedside rug or living room carpet.  If you go to a weekly class, many leisure centres and studios provide mats.

Cooper and Norris have even argued that over-dependence on sticky mats – the non-slip mats most commonly used for yoga in this country – is ‘pernicious’.  They are focusing on anatomical effects in their article, though they also mention the yoga mat is a psychological prop.

Ten Minutes Yoga

A short home practice, no mat needed

It’s certainly possible to kid yourself that if you only had the right mat/more space/more time/your own personal studio, you’d be doing an hour’s yoga early every morning.  I’ve been doing yoga for decades, but only recently noticed how I justified doing no yoga when I needed it the most.  Any time I was away from home for several days, sleeping on sofa beds and driving long distances, I assumed it wasn’t possible to do yoga because I was too busy, there was no space, and I didn’t have a mat.  By the time I got home, I’d have a crick in my neck, aching shoulders and a dodgy back, and it would take the best part of a week to unravel all the knots.

These days, when I’m travelling, I remind myself there’s lots of yoga you can do without a mat or much time. And I periodically teach my classes short, simple routines you can do in a small space with no mat.

In fact, it can be nice to do yoga without a mat. Even though I’ve got plenty mats to choose from, I sometimes do yoga on the sitting room rug next to the stove, or in the garden.

bridge on the bridgeYoga in Borve garden

On the other hand, there are several good reasons for buying your own mat. There are eleventy-million different kinds of yoga mat out there and I’ll write another post reviewing some of them soon.  For now, three key reasons to get a mat:

1) A psychological prop is by no means always a bad thing! Having your own mat can foster your sense of commitment to yoga practice.  It can create a special yoga space wherever you happen to be.  It can get you started: years ago, when I did less yoga and was very busy and tired, I often found having my own mat could eeeease me sneakily into a yoga session.  I would think ‘I’m way too tired, so I’ll just roll out my mat and lie down on it for 5 minutes’.  Once I’d done that, I’d think, ‘actually, it would be nice to stretch my hips and hamstrings a wee bit…’ then ‘hmmm, maybe a dog pose would feel good’…and so on.  Whether it was 5 minutes, fifteen or forty, I’d done yoga and I felt physically and emotionally better for it.

2) It’s hygienic. I had my own mat for years but rarely bothered to take it to any yoga or other fitness classes I went to.  Occasionally I’d find myself sweating face down on a very smelly mat and it would cross my mind ‘ugh, has this EVER been cleaned?’ but I never gave it more than a passing thought.  The more venues I work in, the more I use their equipment, and the more I own myself (what a palaver it is machine-washing and air-drying 14 yoga mats!  You’re lucky if your yoga teacher does it annually), the more conscious I’ve become of the hygiene issue.  Sure, you’re unlikely to die from a manky mat.  Or get a face verruca.   But.  If you have your own mat, you know exactly whose face, feet and sweat has been on it, and when it was last washed.

3) It’s kind to your yoga teacher. Okay, I can’t really get away with calling that a ‘key reason’!  But when I mentioned on my training course I was planning to provide mats for my students, the tutors said ‘why would you want to do that? It’s a hassle and people can buy their own’.  I was taken aback, but stuck to my plan, since I live somewhere you can’t just pop down to the supermarket to buy a cheap yoga mat – and some companies won’t deliver here at all.  Now I’ve been teaching 18 months I see what the tutors meant.  I absolutely love teaching yoga and I love my classes.  But it takes time and hard work hefting bags of equipment in and out of the house, the car, and venues.  My back is quite often grumbling about it as I drive home.

So, to sum up… No, you don’t have to get a mat. Not having a mat isn’t an excuse for not doing yoga.  You can do shoulder rolls and a spinal twist in your office chair.  Wrist and ankle exercises while you watch telly.  Do Tadasana in a supermarket queue and no-one will notice (look closely next time you see me in the Co-op).  Also, I wouldn’t recommend rushing to buy a mat if you are new to yoga.  See if you like it and whether you’ll be going to classes regularly.  But if you do enjoy yoga and plan to go to a class most weeks and maybe even try a few yoga poses at home – sure, get your own mat – and remember to take it with you to class!  And if you want to develop a regular home practice, plus go on yoga workshops or holidays, yes – I’d definitely recommend getting your own mat.

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