Ever Wondered Where Yoga Mats Came From? Here’s Yoga Mat History 101
Things in the Yoga world have not always been as easy as they are now. Back in the olden days of Yoga in the U.S., practitioners had to deal not only with the challenges inherent in practice, but also the added difficulty of sliding around on a variety of different types of floors. I liken it to how our parents had to walk miles to school in rain and snow, uphill both directions. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration—as were our parents’ stories—but Yoga practice was far more challenging before the advent of the sticky mat.
Standing poses were an exercise in frustration. No matter how much we might have wanted to expand into these naturally expansive poses, we were always holding back, just trying to keep from ending up in unintended splits. Dog Pose was another major challenge, especially for those of us with dry hands.
The first sticky mats were introduced to the Iyengar Yoga world by Angela Farmer. These mats were cut from European carpet underlay. They were a godsend to those of us who’d been struggling against slick floors. Before long these institutional-green mats were in every class and workshop I attended around the country. But because these mats were not made to withstand human body chemistry and lots of movement, their surface began peeling under our hands and feet within a few months.
That’s when Sara Chambers, founder of Hugger Mugger, decided to develop a sturdier, stickier yoga mat. In 1990, she worked with a U.S.-based company to develop the Tapas® Mat, the first-ever nonskid mat designed specifically for yoga. The same U.S. company still makes our Tapas® Original and Tapas® Ultra mats.
Most Yoga mats on the market are made from PVC. On the upside, PVC is incredibly durable. I still have a few Tapas® Original Mats from the first batch Hugger Mugger sold in 1990, and they haven’t peeled or worn through. They’re not as sticky as they were in their prime, but they are still quite functional. On the downside, most PVC is a petroleum-based product—except for our Eco-Rich mat, which is made from a vegetable oil-based PVC. Some PVC mats on the market contain toxic heavy metals and phthalates. We are happy to say that our mats have never contained these substances.
Eco-friendliness is not simple. While we advocate and sell many eco-friendly mat options, they are more likely to need replacement sooner than PVC mats. The balance for each Yogi is to decide whether buying biodegradable, sustainable mats is more or less eco-friendly than buying a mat that you may never have to replace. This, of course, is a question that each of us answers for ourselves. It is why we continue to offer many options.
Any mat will last longer if it is cared for. Depending on what mats are made from, the care can be quite different. Here’s a list of all our mats:
Rubber mats: Para Rubber
Natural fiber mat: Sattva Jute mat
Hybrid mat: Eco-Rich
For more information on our mats, read “What's that oily film on my new mat, and how do I wash it off?”
You can find quick information about all our mats all in one place by looking at our Mat Guide.