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The First Sticky Yoga Mat: A History

Tapas Original Mats
There was a time when yogis in America practiced on bare floors and bath towels. If you were lucky, your yoga class took place on a hardwood floor, one with a finish that had at least a modicum of friction. Reality was, most of us ended up sliding around on linoleum, wood, concrete or carpet.

Standing poses and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) were an exercise in frustration. No matter how much we might have wanted to open our hearts, expand into the light, etc., we were always holding back, trying to keep from ending up in a heap on the floor.

Hugger Mugger to the Rescue

The first nonskid mats were introduced to the Iyengar Yoga world by Angela Farmer in the mid to late ‘80s. 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 unattractive but functional 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 Yoga Products, 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 yoga mats. All the other mats on the market today are based on Sara’s original design for a yoga mat that could provide a stable, sticky surface.

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. On the downside, most PVC is a petroleum-based product—except for our Eco-Rich mat, which is a hybrid of traditional and vegetable oil-based PVC. Some PVC mats on the market contain toxic heavy metals and phthalates. Hugger Mugger’s Tapas® Mats have never contained these substances.

Eco-friendliness is not simple. 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 Hugger Mugger continues to offer many options. Sustainable options include mats made from PER (Polymer Environmental Resin), TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer), natural rubber, jute and PER, and a combination of vegetable oil- and petroleum-based PVC.

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:

PVC-based mats: Tapas® Original Yoga Mat, Tapas® Ultra Yoga Mat, Ultimate Comfort Yoga Mat, Tapas® Performance Mat

PER-based mats: Tapas® Travel, Nature Collection, Ultra Nature Collection, Gallery Collection, Gallery Collection Ultra

Natural rubber mats:  Para Rubber, Para Rubber XL

TPE mats:  Earth Elements in 3mm and 5mm thicknesses

Natural fiber mat:  Sattva Jute Yoga Mat

Hybrid mat:  Eco-Rich Yoga Mat

Fabric mats: The Yoga Towel and Cotton Yoga Rug

Here’s a post that details how to choose the best yoga mat for your practice.

About Charlotte Bell

Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to schools and to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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