Use of Mats Discouraged in Ashtanga Yoga Practice

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?

21 thoughts on “Use of Mats Discouraged in Ashtanga Yoga Practice

  1. Mark IS an april fool

    I actually prefer practicing on a bed of nails or a pile of broken glass while my mantra “there is no such thing as pain – it’s all an illusion, it’s all maya” is running through my head.

  2. bhaktiyogin

    Let’s all go back to practicing on tiger skins. There are too many of those pesky animals running around anyway.

  3. elise

    I was skeptical at first, but tried it during an Annie Pace workshop a while back. It was transformative. REALLY learned about engaging, bandhas, jumping, and economy of movement…

  4. suman maheshwari

    boy !!!am i happy ? cant tell how much …i always felt centered when i practised on i know thats the natural way !!!!!!

  5. Unisheep

    I love my mat … and I love my black, thick mat even more than my other mats!!!!!!
    But I do agree that some styles of yoga have gone a BIT far … when you have to make three trips just to get all the props and then lose count on what of how many weird things you have to get …
    DO love the photo of the prop woman … 🙂

  6. Chris and Yoga Boy

    My rug in the living room has always been fine,The one time I did an outside practice in wet grass…what a muddy mess !

  7. Nick

    each to his own…for one thing props in allot of cases help with injuries or help in preventing them and not everyone’s body is the made same, as well sometimes styles of yoga such as Iyengar which use props assist with injuries received from ashtanga yoga practice.

    “a chicken has wings, but that doesn’t mean it can fly.”

  8. marisa

    Who cares what other people do/use in their practice, I say whatever works for them and gets them to practice yoga in the first place. Who are we to pass judgment anyway! Im an ashtangi, and I LOVE my mat, it doesnt make me any less devoted to my practice. Yoga is about feeling good not what other people are doing and what’s the “traditional” way to do the practice. Its all about being flexible and going with the flow. If I don’t have my mat then I practice on whatever i’m standing on!!

  9. Ally

    Interesting opinion, but Krishnamacharya, guruji’s teacher, said for yoga to survive it would have to evolve with the changing needs of its practitioners, and that is happening quite beautifully. Even Guruji adapted Ashtanga over time and based on the needs of his students. If someone needs a prop to make the practice safe, so be it. Yoga is about developing open heart and mind, not “my way or the highway.” We have to stop trying to make yoga dogma. Tim Miller said “there’s no fun in fundamentalism.”

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