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Should You Practice without a Yoga Mat?

If you’ve ever looked around a yoga class and noticed people practicing without a mat, you might have wondered if that was a more authentic way to practice or if they just forgot to bring their sticky rectangle. The truth is, there is nothing more advanced about not using a yoga mat, but there are a number of reasons why you might want to give yours up.

While the straight lines of one’s mat can be a way to gauge alignment in certain poses, in others they can be restrictive. In Shadow Yoga, for example, the movements are often in circular or non-linear flows. You want these movements to be fluid, and if you have a mat bunching up under your feet, you don’t get that experience.

There are also those who believe the stickiness of yoga mats might contribute to more wear and tear on the joints. If you’ve ever done downward dog on sand or grass, you know that keeping your hands and feet from slipping takes more muscle strength than it does on a mat. This bit of instability forces you into isometric contraction, and without it, it’s much easier to crank yourself deep into a posture, and possibly into your joints. Ultimately, you want a balance between strength and flexibility in your poses, and sometimes a mat can be a stand-in for that strength.

But don’t feel obligated to toss your mat into the back of your closet just yet. For many of us, the design, color and thickness of that 2' X 6' piece of rubber is not only a reflection of our personality, but the area it defines is also the physical representation of our sacred space. We assign meaning to the simple act of unrolling then stepping onto our mat, and that meaning can heighten the benefits of our whole practice.

Like everything in yoga, when it comes to using a mat or not, the key is doing what’s best for your individual body. In other words, if your body is more tender, or you have a thing about personal space or germs, or maybe just like the feel of a mat under your feet, then by all means keep using it. But if you want to venture into a practice that might be a bit more free flowing, and possibly more challenging, then maybe it’s time to ditch your mat.