When I first started taking yoga, I borrowed a mat from the studio. Why invest in a mat if I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with it?
It was one of those extra thick, Pilates-style mats which I now know made the balancing postures even more difficult than the thinner sticky mats. That Christmas, my husband bought me a yoga mat – basic industrial blue, the last one I would have ever chosen.
But on that ugly mat, I began to fall in love with practicing yoga. Eventually, I bought my own mat, chosen solely for color and a cool hippie design stenciled on it. It was a dark beautiful eggplant color.
As it wore with use, I kept it rolled in my car “just in case” I’d need it after I bought my new, lighter, spongy lavender mat. Then I began to see physical results from my months of regular yoga, and I realized it might be time to spend a little more money and buy a more serious mat that wouldn’t show wear and tear, wouldn’t send little foam flecks like sparks from under my toes when I rolled over them between urdhva mukha and adho mukha.
About a hundred bucks later, I had my current salmon-colored mat with a microfiber mat-sized towel for those hot, sweaty practices. I keep my “newer old” lavender mat rolled up in the trunk, too! And now, I even have a super thin travel weight yoga mat to whip out at any hotel, beach, or home visit.
But none of this is what I mean. Yoga can be done with or without a mat, on almost any surface. But many of us hold onto our yoga mats like a lifeline.
Why? Because of what our yoga mats are really made of.
My yoga mat is made of the tentative trepidation with which I first stepped onto it that day when the only other two ladies in class were tan, taut, and physically perfect.
It holds the quivers of my first weak chaturangas and the hot breath of what I didn’t even know yet was ujjayi pranayama.
It held me up when child’s pose brought me to tears, buckling under the weight of my dad’s dementia.
It bears the crescent grips of my fingernails as I fought to raise myself up into bridge and free myself from the heavy anxiety of knowing the cell phone in my car might be buzzing with bad news again.
It has silently observed the friends I've made simply by their silent nearness in practice. It has absorbed every single intention I have offered up during a practice, which means it has been a silent witness to my first yoga teacher’s dying Greyhound, another teacher’s emotional abuse by business associates, another’s grad student angst, another’s lost dog the week before her wedding.
My mat has been under my arm and under my feet when my mind was full of my sisters sending their children to college, my neighbor’s entire family being stricken with cancer, the lump I felt on my rib.
My yoga mat has soaked up the gratitude I have poured out in my yoga practice, for a life so abundantly blessed. For a husband who works so hard so that I can play this instrument called yoga, among other things. For the continued endurance of the sick twins of one of my yoga-mates, and the Rottweiller at our practice who will only move in for a hug after she hears the word Namaste. For the teacher who reminded me that we are all just beginners.
It has stayed rolled in its bag but was still present when three of us decided to share a cup of tea and tears instead of asanas one day. It is the vessel which contains so many of my prayers, my hopes, my goals, my pain.
I have relaxed in bliss on my yoga mat. I have banged my head in frustration on it – wiped my brow, fallen on my knees. Curled into a fetal ball on it, as we all do sometimes whether by design or out of necessity. It pushes me; I push back. My sweat, spit, pulled hair and chipped nail polish are all part of my yoga mat.
Sure, I can wash it…and I do, from time to time. But thankfully, my yoga mat will always be made of the fabric that it helps create: the drinking in, the letting go, the reaching out and holding on. It feels my weight, heavy some days, light as air others, steady at times, slippery and shaky.
I have made a fool of it, and I have glorified it. It is my magic carpet and my oxygen tank, my magic mirror and my security blanket. It’s like those old Levi’s...the more I beat up on it, the better we work together. All of me, poured out and broken, rolled up and carried away: that’s what my yoga mat is made of.