Yoga mats are specially fabricated mats used to prevent hands and feet slipping during asana practice in modern yoga. An early variety made of rubber carpet underlay, pioneered by the yoga teacher Angela Farmer, was called a sticky mat.
Ancient yoga practice in India was originally conducted on kusha grass, on hard earth without any cover, or on a rug of deer or tiger skin, as specified in the Bhagavadgita. Due to the scarcity and cost of such rugs, they are now rarely used even in India.
With yoga's introduction in the West, many practitioners used towels or cotton mats on wooden floors. Rubber mats were introduced as an intermediate material to prevent cotton mats from slipping on wooden floors. Slipping of hands and feet was avoided by squirting a mist of water on the mats.
In 1982, while teaching yoga in Germany, Angela Farmer used carpet underlay cut to towel size during yoga classes; later she returned home to London with the material. Angela's father, Richard Farmer, contacted the German padding manufacturer and became the first retailer of "sticky mats".
Yoga mats are normally around 6 feet (180 cm) long and have a width of 2 feet (61 cm). Yoga mats range in thickness from lightweight 1⁄16 inch (2 mm) to 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) (standard) and up to 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) for either high performance or soft mats for yoga therapy.
Yoga mats are available in many colors and patterns. "Alignment mats" are printed with guides to proper alignment. Some companies print custom images on mats, especially the more expensive ones. Some travel mats can be folded into a small square.
The first commercially produced "sticky" yoga mats were made from PVC; they have a smooth surface, and tend to be cheaper. More recently, some supposedly "eco-friendly" mats are being made from natural jute, organic cotton, and rubber. PVC mats are the spongiest, resulting in more "give" when stepped on; fibre mats such as cotton and jute are the firmest. Jute mats are the roughest; "sticky" PVC mats give good grip, but some of the modern textured mats in other materials also grip well.
Yoga Journal asked five yoga professionals for their views on yoga mats. They varied widely in their brand preferences, some choosing the traditional "sticky" type, but they agreed that mats must not be slippery.
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- Bhagavadgita 6.11: In a clean place he should set up a firm seat for himself, neither too high nor too low, with a cloth, a deerskin and kusha grass on top.
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