Yoga Mats—A Short History of the Prop Yogis Use Most

yoga mats

Did you know that yoga mats have a history? Of course, everything has a history, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. But if you’ve ever wondered how modern yogis ended up practicing on “sticky” yoga mats, read on.

Types of Yoga Mats

Today, there are many types and brands of “sticky” yoga mats. They come in various thicknesses and are manufactured from different materials. There are extra-long mats for tall yogis and extra-thick mats for those who like more padding. There are mats in solid colors, mats with amazing artistic designs, and of course, all kinds of slings and bags for carrying yoga mats to and from class.

Ancient Yogis Did Not Use Mats

I’m sure you didn’t think ancient yogic sages practiced on brightly-colored sticky mats. Of course, they did not use mats at all. In fact, they did very few physical (asana) practices, so the bare earth did just find as a surface for practice. So when and why did yoga mats come into being?

Modern Yoga and Modern Mats

According to Yoga Journal, Angela Farmer, a yoga teacher from London, was the first yogi to use a mat. She didn’t like the fact that her hands and feet would slip when she practiced, so she looked for a solution. She found the solution in Germany when she came across a roll of matting at a market. It was the type of matting usually used under carpets to keep them from skidding. This happened in 1982. Yes, as recently as 35 years ago, the yoga mats we know today did not exist.

Angela Farmer brought her idea of using a mat for yoga practice back to London, where other yogis began to catch on. Eventually, someone decided to market the idea, and the manufacturing of yoga mats began. Hugger Mugger is the company credited with making the first mass-produced yoga mat, a product the company released in the early 1990s.

This has me wondering. I took my first yoga class in 1987. I don’t remember what I practiced on, but I guess it wasn’t a “mass-produced yoga mat.” I didn’t own a yoga mat until the early 2000s. (Before that, I used whatever was available where I was practicing.)

Alternatives to Yoga Mats

In the Asthanga tradition, many yogis practice on rugs instead of mats. In Kundalini Yoga, rugs are also typically used, specifically sheepskin (or synthetic sheepskin rugs). Some yogis practice on blankets—the same blankets you’ve probably sat on or snuggled under in savasana.

I’ve heard of a few ingenious DIY yoga mats, including one created from beach towels and non-stick shelf liner! And of course, there are Yoga Paws that you wear on your hands and feet so you can basically do yoga anywhere (like in the park with your favorite yoga app).

Favorite Yoga Mats

Most yogis I know have a favorite mat or manufacturer. I personally like Aurorae mats. They’re eco-friendly, and mine has an image of a yogi in down dog front and center. Aside from looking nice, the image actually helps me with alignment some poses!

No matter what kind of mat (or mat alternative) you practice on, your yoga mat is likely your most important prop. If you’re like me, you have more than one, and once you’ve broken them in, they’re as hard to let go of as a favorite pair of jeans. I’ve got three in my home studio, one in my car that travels with me to classes and on vacation, and one in my office for those quick daytime yoga breaks with my Track Yoga app.

So what about you? What’s your yoga mat story?

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Maria Kuzmiak

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