“A tiger’s skin brings success in all things; a deer skin is for mastery over location; a mat of cloth destroys illness; one made of cane increases prosperity; a silk mat is nourishing and a woollen one alleviates suffering.”
We might have Angela Farmer’s clever use of carpet padding (in 1967) to thank for the sticky mats that don the floor of yoga classes today, but this detailed prescription for their use appeared in the 15thC Puraścaraṇacandrikā. In fact, yoga mats have been prescribed as far back as the Bhagavadgītā (2nd – 3rd century CE), which advised yoga was practiced on a steady seat that was not too high nor too low, and was covered with cloth, antelope skin or grass.
The yoga mats we use today certainly make supine, seated and restorative poses a lot more comfortable, but do we really need to use a mat every time we practice?
This year, more often than not, I have found myself practising without a mat. Truth be told, this has a lot to do with my growing interest in Qigong, which is dominated by standing ‘forms’ that wake up, move and balance the flow of chi (a bit like energy, or prana) around the body, a love of contemporary dance and my enthusiasm for practicing outdoors (whatever the weather!).
So, this spring I’ve been practising my downward dogs beside the Thames, taking time out for a standing meditation in my little London garden and creating various dance-inspired qigong forms to the amusement of oncoming dog walkers and joggers. And I have loved it, with a strong sense of liberation that comes with letting go of the rules, letting my intuition lead me into different shapes and listening to where my body needs to go to open, release tension, ground and centre.
If the idea of taking your practice ‘off the mat’ sounds like fun, then there are 6 spaces left to join the mini retreat on Sunday 8 September in beautiful Hambleden village. Hambleden is just an hour from London and the location for numerous films including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 101 Dalmatians.
This day will follow a similar format to recent day retreats in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, exploring elements of the yoga practice that we don’t have time for in weekly classes – including a bit of ‘off the mat’ practice, along with more familiar postures and breath work. The day costs £74pp and includes all teas, lunch, homemade cakes, a guided walk and two lovely long yoga practices. Please click here for more details and contact me to book.
In the meantime, I promise that we will be sticking to conventional mat use in all classes – though you are welcome to bring along a cane, silk or woollen mat should you choose!