You’re at home, wanting to practice yoga, and you wonder: Is a yoga mat really necessary to practice on carpet? Moreover, is a yoga mat essential at all? Yoga mats do have their purposes, but the practice of yoga far predates the use of a yoga mat, begging the question of its necessity.
Is a yoga mat necessary on carpet? No, a yoga mat is not necessary on carpet. A yoga mat’s primary purpose is to provide a sticky surface to prevent hands and feet from slipping while practicing poses.
The physical practice of yoga, the asanas, or poses, has been much longer than the yoga mat. In fact, until the 1970s, no one used what today we call a yoga mat. Yogis practiced on the floor or a yoga rug. The yoga mat we consider today to be a staple of standard yoga practice is essentially a prop created by and for a yogi with a medical condition. Read more about that here.
The Benefits of Using a Yoga Mat
The original intended purpose of a yoga mat was to serve as a prop for a woman with a medical condition with which she could not sweat. The mat provided the stickiness she needed in her hands and feet to practice certain poses without sliding.
The evolution and variation in yoga mats have continued through the decades, and now mats serve more than just their intended purpose. Some such purposes include the following:
A Yoga Mat Defines Your Space
When practicing in a crowded yoga studio, the yoga mat serves as your personal temporary space, the confines within which your personal practice takes place.
Yogis tend to keep to their own mats in a group setting. Unrolling your mat can help give the sense of having arrived at your practice, allowing you to mindfully shift from whatever you were experiencing before your practice to the present moment.
This setting of boundaries can help inform your practice, guiding you through your poses from the back of the mat to the top, providing a compass for your practice, helping with alignment, and intention. A bonus is that you need not worry about coming into contact with the bodily fluids (such as sweat) of other yogis—your mat, your sweat, your germs.
A Yoga Mat Provides Cushion for the Joints and Comfort
Yoga mats come in varying degrees of thickness, as well as materials. For those who need additional support for the joints, a thicker yoga mat might be just what one needs to access many poses that might otherwise be unavailable. The yoga mat provides a soft place to land in case of a fall and provides added comfort in relaxing poses such as savasana and other poses in a yin yoga class, for example.
A Yoga Mat Helps Prevent Slippage in Many Poses
As previously stated, a yoga mat helps prevent the hands and feet from slipping while practicing. In many poses, such as Downward Dog, where the hands and feet are planted firmly on the earth (or ground, floor, carpet, mat), it may be challenging to maintain such a pose if the hands and feet do not have enough traction to prevent slipping away from one another.
This slippage can compromise the integrity of a pose and cause you to fall out of proper alignment, which can, in turn, risk injury. Having a sticky mat beneath you can help you root firmly into the earth and better ground your practice.
The Benefits of Using Carpet for Yoga
That being said, when practicing from the comfort of your own home, on your own carpet, a mat is not truly necessary. To offer a contrarian view on the points outlined above, the very carpet of your living room may provide the same benefits as a mat on a hard surface.
- You don’t really need to define your space for the same reasons when you practice at home as you do in a studio. Therefore, you don’t really need a mat to delineate your space from others in this sense.
- Carpet is cushion. The carpet may provide a cushion for the joints in place of a mat, depending on the carpet’s thickness and type. Additionally, carpet may also cushion a fall and be just as relaxing to move into savasana on.
- Carpet can prevent slips. The carpet may be enough to prevent slippage in many poses, depending on the type of carpet. You may find that you don’t really slip on the carpet at all. Of course, if you do, you may want to use that mat after all.
Carpet vs. Yoga Mats
There are several reasons you may want to use your carpet for practice rather than your yoga mat:
- Ditching the mat can actually increase active flexibility or mobility while building strength. This is because, without the sticky mat, as our hands and/or feet want to naturally slide away from each other in poses such as Downward Dog or Warrior II, we engage our muscles in an isometric contraction to energetically pull them closer together, thereby building strength by working harder.
- When using a rug, it is actually easier to keep clean. You can simply wash it as you would towels and blankets.
- A rug is more sustainable for the planet and your pocket. Yoga rugs are generally made of natural fibers such as 100% cotton, and they are handmade by craftspeople rather than in large factories. This is better for the planet than the PVC sticky mats. Also, your rug won’t wear out like a mat will, so you won’t need to replace it as often.
- Using a rug honors tradition. This leads to our next point.
Rugs vs. Yoga Mats
While yoga is an ancient practice, the use of mats is relatively modern. Before the yoga mat became commonplace in the 1980s, yoga used to be practiced on animal skins, rugs, towels, or just floors. In fact, yoga rugs were more commonplace than anything in the decades leading up to the introduction of the yoga mat. If you look back on old yoga videos, you will see this is true.
In certain yoga practices today, such as Ashtanga and Kundalini, many yogis choose to practice on rugs or sheepskin rather than mats, and others prefer blankets.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: whether you have a yoga mat should not determine if you practice. Yoga is above all else, a spiritual practice. For many, it is a physical practice, and for more, it is the unity of mind, body, and spirit.
That being said, a rectangular piece of material, while in many cases adding beneficial support to your practice, should not be the basis of your practice. If you feel comfortable practicing without a mat or on a carpet, then, by all means, exercise the freedom of choice to do so. You need not let the boundaries of a mat confine the free spirit of your practice. Your practice is just that: your practice.