DISCLAIMER: Normally I don't write about the physical aspects of a yoga practice for the one reason is that its so individual and what is good for one person is not good for another. What you are about to read is information. You and your teacher should decide if it's applicable to you or not. Don't have a teacher? You can find one here
You're not going to believe this.
I still can't believe that in 11 years of practicing I never put these pieces together.
Ok it's not the most shocking news ever (unless you practice yoga everyday)
The sticky mat is a prop.
I know. Mind blowing;)
Why you say? It is a prop because it stops your feet from sliding out during standing postures.
In fact the reason a sticky mat was invented in the first place was because the inventor, Angela Farmer, had a medical condition where she didn't sweat. Yeah.....didn't sweat. So she invented a sticky mat.....I don't blame her I would too. It's a crazy story,
"Those of you who can remember the days before color television will also remember what it was like to do yoga without a sticky mat… slippery. “My feet would slide apart and I had to tense my legs to keep from falling,” yoga teacher Angela Farmer recalls. “I was desperate to find something that would give me traction.” So Farmer tried doing yoga on blankets, bulky foam mattresses, and even spat on her dry footsoles to keep from slipping, but nothing really worked.
One day while traveling in Germany, Farmer spotted a roll of matting at a local market. She squeezed the material between her fingers. It was thin, dense, and sticky. It was carpet padding. She bought a length of it and took it to yoga class. “It was heaven,” Farmer recalls. She was able to grip the floor without straining. Farmer took this miraculous mat home to London, where other yogis took interest. Soon Farmer began toting rolls of carpet padding home every time she traveled to Germany. Richard Farmer, Angela’s father, saw an opportunity. He contacted the padding manufacturer and soon became the first retailer of “sticky” mats, calling his new product “The Original Molivos Mat” in honor of his daughter, who led yoga workshops in Molivos, Greece. Export duties and international shipping costs made these European mats expensive in North America. Enter Sara Chambers, of Hugger Mugger, who decided to manufacture her own. With a chemist’s help, she designed the first sticky mat specifically for yoga." - yogajournal.com
I don't know about you but I don't have that problem. It's kind of the opposite for me. I need to control the amount I sweat.
As I mentioned above that difference right there between me and Angela Farmer is a great example of why a yoga practice is so individual and why I prefer Mysore Style Yoga instead of group classes.
Don't believe that the sticky mat is a prop? I'll give you a little experiment to try I learned from Certified Ashtanga Teacher Mark Darby at the end of this post to try. Then we'll see. (Mischievous laugh)
To Prop or Not to Prop?
Let's talk about props for a second ok?
It's always a hot topic in the Ashtanga community because when you go to Mysore India to practice at the source, KPJAYI, you quickly learn that there are no props in the shala. There is no closet full of little foam blocks or cushions. Well actually that's not totally true. There is one prop. I mean literally one. Pretty funny. Definitely necessary.
Compare that to your local shala or studio where it's almost expected to have props. I don't even want to get into the whole debate because opinions differ so widely so let's just say that if you decide to use a prop in your practice that the end result should be that it benefits you.
Agreed? Good. Let's keep going.
So what happens when you use a prop and you don't need it?
What Are You Becoming? A Sitting Ninja or Pashasana Ninja?
Let's use the example of another prop we use and the effects that it has on our bodies.
In the West we are always trying to make our lives easier. More comfortable. Softer beds, softer couches, less walking……you know what I mean right?
We don't want to sit on the floor so we've got chairs everywhere. You literally can't get away from them and if you do sit on the floor people look at you weird.
In the book Move Your DNA, Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement - by Katy Bowman, MS, she talks about how our modern lifestyle has turned us into “Sitting Ninjas”.
We’re getting really good at sitting in chairs because that’s all we do all day. This excessive sitting in chairs leads to physical consequences .
Tight hips, shortened psoas and weak glutes to name a few.
There are also huge mental consequences as well but I'll get to those in another post.
What happens if you remove the chair?
Well when I was in India that was one of the first things I noticed.
Way less chairs. Way less props. What does a person do if they don't have a chair? They sit on the ground or squat. What is the result?
Do you sit in a chair? Or on the floor?
I work from my laptop at home and about two years ago I got rid of my chair and started sitting on the floor. At first it was really hard because my body wasn’t used to it but now its actually pretty comfortable. (I posted a pic of my office and the new rugs on Instagram the other day if you want to see it click here). I never use a chair unless I have to. As I’m working I will switch from crosslegged positions, to half lotus, to pashasana.
Is A Sticky Mat Helping or Hurting Your Practice?
Let's apply the same logic to the sticky mat.
It hasn't been around that long. Roughly since 1982. How long has yoga been around? Yeah. A LOT longer.
How did people practice before the sticky mat? According to AG Mohan's book, Krishnamacharya , his life and teachings, Krishnamacharya taught standing postures on the floor then they used a blanket or rug for seated postures.
I asked Mark Darby what they did in the early years of with Pattahbi Jois.
"We practiced on the mat that was on the floor in the old shala. No sticky mats back then or any decent cotton mats. The Indians used small towels to catch the sweat. Eventually we found loose weave mats that would stretch and fall apart fairly quickly. After a few years we found mats made from leftover silk that was matted together. Once we started to sweat these were good. Actually it was a great benifits as we had to grip the floor so as not to slide. Something that you don't have to do with sticky mats." - Certified Ashtanga Teacher Mark Darby
Then along came Angela Farmer and the yoga mat industry was born. Her father was the first to start making the sticky mats and then Hugger Mugger shortly after. Now we have companies that promote the gripiness or stickiness as a "feature".
Is it beneficial? or is stopping you from building the strength you need for a strong foundation?
This is not the first time this has been pointed out.
"During her adjustment clinic in Los Angeles last week, Nancy (Gilgoff) made no ifs, ands or buts about it: According to her, you should be laying that yoga rug down on your sticky mat before you say the opening chant. And leave it there.
But back to the rug. According to Nancy, you shouldn’t be taking time out in the middle of your practice to roll it out, or squirt it with water or anything else that draws away your focus and your breath. And being able to stay balanced on the rug is the point, and will help you build strength."
Whether you decide to ditch the prop or not is going to be an individual choice. I had been practicing years before I even knew that it could be an issue. I used to put my mysore rug down after standing postures mostly because I was sweating so much and the mat just got so slippery. Then we did this exercise I was telling you about in a workshop with Mark and Shankara Darby.
What you do is take a soft blanket. Usually they have them in yoga shalas to put on people if they are cold during rest.
Next you set it on the floor which is usually a wood floor so the blankets slides around easily on it. Then you make a little fold in the middle.
So it kind of sticks up like a ridge through the center. Now this your new yoga mat and your job is to not let the fold smoothen out (when the ends of blanket move away from each other) as you do the standing postures.
Its the complete opposite of sticky mat and makes a pattern very visible.
It shows you the pattern of how much are you relying on the stickiness of your mat to stop your feet from sliding apart. Or the other way of looking at it - how little you are using other muscles to keep them together.
After I did this exercise I decided to try starting my practice with my Mysore rug down first. It's hard! (Not nearly as hard as the blanket because the rugs have some texture to them)
It's kind of like when you first start sitting on the floor. Its hard and uncomfortable. But you get used to it and since then I have started to notice the strength in my practice.
I feel stronger in three asanas that have always been really challenging for me. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and Navasana. Everyone knows those postures because we all want them to be over as quick as possible the thing is that we need to build that strength. We might not want to but it's necessary for the later postures.
What is the solution to the sticky mat? Just put a rug over it. When you start to use a rug in your practice you will save money, get stronger and stop polluting the environment. Read the post here
Before you go I want to tell you about that prop at KPJAYI.
One day on my first trip I was practicing and I heard this BOOM. It was like a churchbell except it was someone's head hitting the cement floor in dropbacks.
I thought. Wow. Someone is going the hospital. Then I heard it again.
Later I found out it was my friend Ian. He said it that it didn't actually hurt that bad but what happens if you have that issue of coming in a little shallow on the dropbacks then you get to use a pillow so your head doesn't smack the floor.
See what I mean? Now THAT is a prop that is necessary.
Love to hear your thoughts....Comment Below.