Learning through experience. There really is no other way.
As I waited in the lobby of KPJAYI waiting to practice for my first time I read the sign.
"All students must have 1 cotton mat and 1 cotton towel. "
Ok the rug I had. I had it for years. But the towel? What was that for? Aren't they the same thing? I'd already been practicing 9 or 10 years but the differentiation wasn't clear to me. Then not until Feb 21st 2017 did I understand the Microfiber difference.
I had to write this post to clear up some of the confusion for visitors that come to this site when it comes to Yoga Towels, Yoga Rugs and the Microfiber Yoga Towels.
Since we sell both sell both Yoga Towels and Yoga Rugs but definitely not Microfiber Yoga Towels this will help clear up the confusion.
Let's look at Yoga Towels First.
In Ashtanga a Yoga Towel isn't used to put on your mat. We use a towel for managing some of the body sweat in certain postures.
The truth is you don't need a Yoga Towel. Any towel will work. This last trip to India I used dish towels which I wouldn't do again for reason's I'll explain in a second.
First let's look at some of the instances you might use a towel in Ashtanga Yoga. And also when not to.
Here's a pic of Guruji helping Fiona Stang in Supta Vajrasana. You can also flip the rug up and over your legs but it helps so that the teacher has a bit of traction.
BTW notice this pic of the old shala where everyone is using a yoga rug? I wrote a whole post why here
Binds Like Marichiasana C, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Pashasana
Some people use it to wrap around their legs so the arm doesn't slip. Eventually you want to do it without but in the meantime it will help keep the arm in place.
Some People use in Bakasana like Fiona is doing here. Same goes in that you want to eventually use your own strength.
Then the other place you see people using a Yoga Towel is in backbending. This is the place I use it for a couple reasons.
What I do wrap it around my waist then as I'm waiting and sweating I can dry my hands off for catching.
The other reason is for the teacher assisting me. I'm usually soaked in sweat at this point so it provides something dry and clean for the teacher to hold on to as they help me.
Then when Im finished with the backbending and forward fold I can wipe up any sweat around my mat for the next person. In Mysore there is usually someone standing right behind you waiting for your spot so they appreciate not stepping on your sweat and it's also safer for the teachers and assistants walking around.
The Teacher's Yoga Towel
The other use and probably the most common is not for your sweat but for your student's.
Ashtanga Teacher's use a towel to wrap around their waists so they can wipe their hands as they adjust and help their students.
Here's Derick assisting Olivia in half backs.
Here's Natalia helping a student in Parsvakonasana B
And most famously our teacher Sharath Jois on tour in the USA with a towel wrapped around his waist.
Some people sweat more than others and when you are teaching there will be times you have to get in there to help someone really sweaty and then get to the next person.
Having the towel to wipe your hands helps get the first person's sweat off and not transferred on on to the person you are helping next.
Word of caution.
Don't skip the work by using a towel in your practice.
It might be necessary just like extra grip on a yoga mat for some postures to start but eventually you want to have the strength to hold it on your own. Don't turn it into another prop . Makes things too complicated.
I wrote a post about how I removed extra grip in my practice to build strength. You can read that here
You also don't want to keep stopping, taking breaks to wipe yourself down. Leave the sweat on your body and keep going. I'm as guilty as anyone of taking the "sweat break" but as my friend Johnny Haag told me once.
Better to use that breath for the next posture
Do you need an Ekaminhale Yoga Towel?
As I said earlier no.
Any towel will do the job.
The reason you would want to get an Ekaminhale Yoga Towels is because of how we make them and because they cost more. What?
Those dish towels I used in Mysore? Do I know where they are? Probably being used as cleaning rags.
I didn't value them because they were cheap and I didn't care. Even just writing this I feel some guilt about that. As a company and as a person we are moving towards the Wabi Sabi approach to our purchasing and products.
Microfiber Yoga Towel Vs Yoga Rug
Man made microfiber (plastic) yoga towel.
or Organic Cotton Mysore Rug.
Two different materials to create the same product. One of natural materials and one of chemical.
Both used to lay on your mat when you start sweating.
(There are people than don't use anything but a yoga mat. I won't get into why this is a bad idea in this post but you can read about here. )
What is commonly referred to as a the Yoga Towel is the Microfiber Yoga Towel. These types of towels are a relatively new invention that came about mostly because companies wanted to mass produce while reducing costs plus provide some type of "new feature" like "extra grip" etc.
It seemed like a good idea to move away from the original yoga towel, the mysore rug, since the rugs took time to make, were heavier and well seemed more like yoga than fitness.
The initial and pervasive misconception that the yoga practice is some kind of "fitness" activity has led to many wrong turns.
More profitable, lightweight, inexpensive, factory made, synthetic yoga towels began to get mass produced and in almost all circles (including Ashtanga) the Mysore rug began to fade into memory.
When it came to performance there was a valid argument. The towels were lighter. Some people complained of Ashtanga toe with the rugs plus the rugs took longer to make.
My own experience in practice resulted in a different conclusion. I don't get Ashtanga toe with my rugs (probably because of the quality of the cotton) and the heaviness is a benefit because it stays in place better.
Still in a world obsessed with making things easier and more comfortable a huge majority either didn't care or took the easy way.
But now none of that really matters.
With this recent news that synthetic materials are having a devastating effect on our oceans the choice for what we use to do our yoga practice on has never been more clear.
A waterproof jacket that we may run through the washing machine once in awhile is still not the greatest but yoga clothing and towels that are washed not just weekly but daily is another. Most of us had no idea until now but we can begin to make a change starting today. Switching to natural fabrics is one step in the direction that has proven time and time again to be right one.