There is a growing movement of ashtangis who are discouraging the use of mats for practicing Ashtanga Yoga. The theory behind the no-mat movement is that props “get in the way of practice” and since mats are props, they create a separation between us and the flow of our practice.
You may have experienced Iyengar classes where the opposite attitude is apparent: use as many props as it takes to mold your body into proper alignment. At various points in the class you are directed to take you two blankets, three belts, one block and chair and re-arrange them to fit the pose.
The many props in Iyengar yoga
A whole industry has sprung up to supply the prop-based yoga practice: bolsters, straps, ropes, calf stretchers, sandbags, gripitz, slings, cushions, eye pillows, head wraps, neti pots and of course mats.
There are stories about how Ashtanga in the olden days was practiced without mats, directly on the floor – and the rougher the floor the better. Weathered yogis relate how they use to practice on packed earth (the dust creating some friction) or even gravel for the most advanced practitioners.
“It makes you feel closer to the earth, and does not bound your space. It is very liberating, and the gravel really toughens you up. I would not go back to mat yoga, it blocks my prana from flowing” commented a teacher who wished to remain anonymous for fear of litigation.
“Gravel? Luxury!” replied another, who would make Keith Richards look like a teenager. “You were lucky to have solid ground to practice on. Back in the day we used to practice in marshland with our heads underwater in downward dog.”
More and more Ashtanga yoga studios are going mat-less: will you be a part of this growing trend?