The benefits of practising yoga on natural materials.
The Bhagavad Gita says of yoga…
Shuchau deshe pratishthaapya sthiramaasanamaatmanah;
Naatyucchritam naatineecham chailaajinakushottaram.
6/11. In a clean spot, having established a firm seat of his own, neither too high nor too low, made of a deer or tiger skin…seated in an easy posture…..placing the right palm on the left, holding the throat and head in the same line…facing the east or the north, the eyes fixed on the tip of the nose…
In ancient yogic texts, including detailed paintings, the deer or tiger skin (both were animals commonly found living near ashrams) is seen as an essential item in a yogi’s kit. Seated in lengthy contemplation on a forest floor, the yogi could find peace as the pungent odour of the tiger skin was likely to deter snakes and other creepy crawlies! So the tradition of having a dedicated space and surface on which to practise yoga and meditation is nothing new. Many yogis know well the comfort and joy of having a great yoga kit – high quality items that are reliable and a pleasure to use. The props themselves are reason enough to keep me coming back to my practice. But with tiger skins a rare commodity these days, we all have to make do with rubber and rope.
However, as a ‘greenie’, I’m increasingly concerned that too little thought is given to the kit we purchase to facilitate our yoga practice. If you’ve got a mat at home right now, chances are it’s made of synthetic rubber, PVC, TPE, EVA or some combination of acronyms. These are not biodegradable substances and I’m betting yours features a distinct, plasticky smell. Not enticing. Still, at least your mat is not a single-use item like drinking straws, plastic cutlery or styrofoam coffee cups. You’re getting many years of repeated use out of it ….right?
This week’s post is in part a response to my concern for the impact humans have on the environment; to ask readers to stop and question their consumption of yoga-related accoutrements, make better purchases and spread the word* about the earth-friendly alternatives available to us. It all started when a friend of mine pointed to my 100% recycled cork, fabulously stylish yoga blocks and asked quizzically “What are those?”. I laughed out loud! She’s known me a long time, we’ve practised yoga together and yet she’d never seen a yoga block other than the purple chunks of light-weight synthetic foam seen everywhere from Kmart and Lorna Jane to gyms and yoga studios. These innocent-looking little buggers are everywhere and they are not biodegradable. Worse, many of them are so cheaply produced that they don’t even do the job they’re sold for – they should offer a steadying, stabilising surface for your hands, to allow you to deepen, develop and assist your practice. Good blocks are heavy and solid enough to stay put! One studio I worked at was kitted out with such cheap blocks (and mats too…oh dear) that they couldn’t be used in their tallest position – they’d wobble out from under you. I stopped working there.
I don’t moonlight as an eco-warrior. You won’t see me wreaking Gaia’s vengeance on capitalism. Before I learned about Jade Yoga mats, I too owned $5.00 shockers from Kmart and quickly had to repurpose them as insulation under my heavy industrial sewing machines. That seemed the best use for these ‘crap mats’ after realising they were as smooth as a slippery dip when my palms got even a little bit sweaty. If you find your mat is predictably slippery, it’s highly likely that you’re not practising at your best. Sensing that you are slipping, your body will constantly adjust the push and pull of your muscles, tendons and ligaments to keep you from falling. Your position is probably out of correct alignment as a result. It affects your confidence too. When you know you’re gonna slip, you’re not even gonna try going deeper into that lunge. Some reviewers say Jade 100% natural rubber mats have saved their practice from this kind of frustration and I agree!
So we all know natural rubber is a sticky white sap ‘tapped’ from a tree, right? The rubber tree is native to India and lots of other hot and tropical places too. So when the mats themselves are made using a sustainably sourced, natural material and with natural colourings, they can go back to the earth when they have done their time. They really are ‘Nature’s best yoga mat’ as the website claims. I plan to use my mat until it wears thin or falls to pieces. I’ll then desiccate it for composting. Until then, I will enjoy its exceptionally good grip. The Jade mats are as high-performing as you can get – super spongy, firm, heavy or light-weight and satisfyingly solid. On a Jade mat, you immediately notice the incredible grip. It’s like no other mat I’ve seen, featuring a cross-hatched finish (on both sides) that pushes back against the ridges and wrinkles of your fingers and palms. You can surge into your practice safely, without fear of a slip.
As an added, guilt-free bonus, Jade Yoga off-set the production of their mats. What they take from Mother Earth they give back by planting a tree for a mat. To date, nearly 1.3 million trees have been planted to match their sales. But my favourite thing on their websites isn’t their mats, it’s their conscious advertising. You’ll see no predictable, bikini-clad, waif-thin blonde models on their Instagram or sales pages. Jade market their product for its quality – not who looks hot sitting spread-eagled on it. Instead of style over substance or a ‘sex sells’ mentality, Jade market to a diverse range of consumers by promoting the diversity of the people who buy their mats – dancers, adventurers, mums, sportswomen and men, business people, artists and creatives. Even a few yoga teachers!
I am glad my much-loved, lusciously spongy, burnt orange Jade yoga mat will actively degrade right from under me. It has already begun to after two years of regular use. I don’t want the bloody thing to last forever – hopefully not even beyond my lifetime. I made a conscious decision to spend the extra cash and put the earth before convenience and I haven’t regretted that one bit. I am also mindful of the wisdom of the ancient yogis – seat yourself as close as possible to the earth. I have no desire to practice on an animal skin but I think natural rubber may be the next best thing to it. If you’re in need of a new yoga mat that will take you places you’ve never been to before (they have a travel-weight mat, too!) head to their sales page for a look*.
So coming back to those special little cork blocks my friend admired, I can say they work very nicely with my natural rubber mat. The foam alternative just wouldn’t do. Cork is renewable, recycled and, if sourced well, it is somewhat sustainable. The blocks are as solid as bricks, offering firmness far and above the rubber ones. They are solid and reliable, yet oh-so beautiful. Another option (for those who prefer the Scandinavian aesthetic) are the solid wood re-purposed timber blocks often found on eco-sensitive yoga prop websites. I prefer the soft texture of the cork, myself and I think they’re a little bit lighter to carry around to classes. These happy little guys are also available from Jade Yoga but I got mine from Stretch Now.
*not sponsored, just passionate!