Those looking to invest their time into the practice of yoga might be curious as to what that investment entails. Typically, those who dive into yoga do so by attending classes, procuring yoga pants, and pricey yoga mats. However, some might pause when investing in a mat, unsure as to whether it is necessary to have one or not.
Do I need a yoga mat? No. You do not need a mat to practice Yoga. However, yoga mats are designed specifically for the art and do provide a more comfortable and enjoyable yoga experience as they prevent slippage and help to prevent inflammation in poses that require sensitive joints to rest on the ground for prolonged periods of time.
The decision to invest in a yoga mat is a personal choice. Some yogis prefer to practice without. There is no right or wrong, though there are different theories for why to or not to use the western invention of the yoga mat. But before we answer the question in detail, we first need to give you a brief yoga history lesson.
A Brief History of Yoga
The earliest writings of Yoga were transcribed on palm leaves and can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago (though some anthropologists think Yoga may even be 10,000 years old.) Yoga is a Sanskrit word. It is traditionally a Hindu practice or rather a practice of “Sanatan Dharma.”
Pre-classical Yoga, dating back 5,000 years ago, was developed by the Indus-Sarasvati in Northern India. It is mentioned in the oldest sacred texts of the Rig Veda. The Vedas are a collection of texts comprised of songs, chants, and ritual practices. The Bhagavad-Gîtâ, created around 500 B.C.E., is the most legendary of the Yogic scriptures. Yoga was initially taught to instill a form of ritual sacrifice (sacrificing the ego, as it were.)
Classical Yoga brought a more systematic form of Yoga, referred to at the time as Raja Yoga. Patanjali practiced a version of Yoga called the ‘eight-limbed path,’ which strove toward achieving enlightenment. This style of Yoga heavily influenced what would become modern types of Yoga. From the 4th century onward, yoga masters aimed to invigorate the body and extend the lifespan. Around this time, Tantra Yoga emerged, using techniques to help cleanse the body and develop a keen mind-body connection. This would become what western societies know as Hatha Yoga.
These styles of Yoga focused more on meditation and breathing techniques—grounding oneself through ritual movements. There was no need for mats.
Fast forward to the 18th and 19th centuries, where more challenging physical poses (asanas) grew in popularity. It was then that yoga practitioners began to see the need for softer surfaces.
Why is This History Important to Know?
The history of Yoga is important to understand for several reasons, especially if one is a practitioner. But in our case, it’s important to note because yoga mats were not needed in much of Yoga’s history. A yoga mat is a modern invention that is used as a tool to assist you in your yoga practice. It is not a mandate.
Historically speaking, you can guarantee the religious practitioners of Yoga that existed 5,000 years ago did not have a comfy-cozy mat to aid their practice. At most, they would have performed Yoga on hard earth or animal furs or skins. The traditional yoga mats we see today didn’t become popular until after the 1990s.
Why Use a Yoga Mat Then?
The yoga mat was manufactured for the specific purpose of practicing Yoga. There are many reasons why people argue mats are useful and necessary.
Although it might seem wimpy to talk about wanting to be comfortable, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel comfortable while engaging in stretches and poses that aren’t natural.
Yoga mats are made of a distinct semi-sticky texture that allows the ability to press the palms of your hands and souls of your feet into a stretch without fear of slipping. Slipping out of a challenging pose very suddenly could result in minor to serious injuries (like pulled muscles or busted noses.)
Energetic and Spiritual Reasons
Some yogis believe practicing Yoga on the hard ground will permit your body heat and energy to pour into the earth, leaving your body cold and zapping you of energy. Since Yoga is meant to heat your body up, one would suppose allowing that heat to dissipate would not be good practice.
The use of your own personal yoga mat can protect you from germs, especially when practicing in a yoga studio, where fellow yogi’s sweat. You don’t want your bare feet or hands touching sweaty, unsanitary floors. You can also use a yoga mat cleaner to keep your mat fresh.
My Top Recommended Yoga Mats
IUGA Pro Non Slip Yoga Mat– This eco-friendly yoga mat is great for everyday yoga, hot yoga, and everything in between. Odorless and lightweight materials designed by yogis for yogis.
Clever Yoga Mat – This ‘BetterGrip’ non-slip yoga mat is designed to give you the most comfort by providing sufficient padding. Great for beginners!
Affordable Yoga Mat – This non-slip yoga mat is perfect if you are just starting your yoga journey and on a budget. Lightweight and Reversible.
Lululemon Yoga Mat – This yoga mat will last you years and years and works with any and all yoga practices. The perfect all-in-one yoga mat.
Hot Yoga Towel – This microfiber yoga towel is non-slip and can be used by itself or overtop of your yoga mat during hot yoga. Great for travel.
Why Some People Don’t Use Yoga Mats
Some people opt out of buying mats for several reasons:
- Yoga Mats can Be Expensive – Practicing Yoga on your carpet at home is free. Purchasing a yoga mat from bourgie manufacturers like Lululemon can cost you upwards of $50+.
- Desire to Connect to the Earth – Some yogis want to connect with the earth, feel the hard earth between their toes, and feel closer to those O.G yogis from 5,000 years ago who didn’t use Lululemon yoga mats.
- One More Thing to Remember – Some people cut out the mat all together because life is a lot, and they don’t need yet another piece of gym equipment to have to remember. Can’t say we blame them…
Alternatives to Yoga Mats
If you don’t have a yoga mat but want to practice Yoga, there are a myriad of different alternatives to aid you in your practice (beyond just practicing on the hard earth.)
- Carpet or Rug – Rugs and carpets are excellent surfaces for practicing Yoga since they are soft and should inhibit slippage more so than hard-floor surfaces. The downside, of course, is that rugs and carpets can be dirty since they receive high foot traffic. Therefore, be sure to vacuum and/or clean your carpets and rugs regularly if you plan to do child’s pose and bury your face into their fibers.
- Towel – use a good old-fashioned towel! Toss it on the ground and voila: makeshift yoga mat. Downside to the towel? It may slip and slide if it is not laid upon a carpet or rug. On hardwood or tile floors, a towel is liable to slip when transitioning from pose to pose, which could cause potential injury. Or you can use a Yoga Towel.
- Bathmats – Superior even to a towel, most bathmats have grips on the bottom, which will prevent slippage during your practice. The downside of bathmats, however, is that most bathmats are rather small and do not accommodate one’s entire body. You could always use more than one, if you have them on hand!
- Hardwood Floors – This option is not going to be as comfortable as the others. However, a hardwood floor will not slide out from under you like a towel will. The downside is doing any kind of pose that requires your knees or elbows rest for longer periods on the ground will cause pain and inflammation – not ideal when practicing Yoga.
- Yogi Gloves & Socks – If you have slippery surfaces, you can always invest in some yogi gloves and socks that have grips on the bottoms. Of course, if you’re going to invest in gloves and socks, we might argue you go ahead and invest in a yoga mat.
The Key Take Away?
While the yoga mat has become an extremely popular accessory in western culture, to the point where we feel we need one to even practice Yoga, it is not necessary (especially for gentle practices). In fact, some people prefer practicing Yoga without a mat, feeling it frees up their practice.
Ancient yogis who developed the physical ritual most certainly did not have yoga mats. Therefore, we know that a yoga mat is not essential. While yoga mats are great tools on hand, the lack of one should not prevent you from continuing your yoga practice.