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The Story of the Yoga Mat

2019-06-02

The Story of the Yoga Mat

Rajvi H Mehta, Iyengar Yogashraya, Mumbai – rajvihm@gmail.com


 According to a 2016 Yoga Journal report, 36.7 million people practise yoga in the US, up from 20.4 million in 2012. The “yoga market” is now worth $16bn in the US and $80bn globally. For most of us, the words yoga and industry do not go together. Yoga is a personal practice for the evolution of oneself and definitely not a business or industry. However, we cannot deny the figures which have been derived by Yoga Journal. About 60% of the ‘business’ is from yoga accessories and one of the major ‘accessory’ is the manufacture and sale of yoga mats. How and where did these mats come into picture? They were definitely not used by our ancient saints and sages!


If we look at the ancient impressions of rishis and munis practicing yoga then they are depicted to be practicing on animal skins. Till the 1970s too, people sat on a ‘dari’ or chattai to do yoga. However, today all over the world, people are seen practicing yoga on rubber yoga mats. Whose idea was it to use these mats? When and how did people switch from using the daris to these ‘specialised’ yoga mats?


The credit for the creation of the yoga mats too goes to none other than the genius of legendary Guruji ,Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. He too like the other yoga practitioners of the time practiced on the floor or used a blanket to sit on. In the 1960s, when he went to Europe, he found that his feet were slipping while doing the backward bending asanas because they had wooden flooring unlike the Cudappah stone used on Indian floors.


A problem that he had not anticipated! His eyes and mind were eager to find a solution. Then, one day while in Germany, he found a green rubber mat kept underneath the carpets to prevent them from slipping. He thought, “Could these mats be used to prevent from slipping So, he removed the mat and tried it. And, as he anticipated, the feet did not slip on this mat! He called these green rubber mats as‘sticky mats’ and the students in UK procured the first set of mats from the German supplier who made the rubber mats. They were then called as the green mats or the sticky mats. The trend of using mats under the carpets was dying down and the company too was to close down. But, the use of these rubber mats for yoga revived these mats. Later, came in similar blue mats which were still made in Germany. And Germany was the main manufacturer of the yoga mats. Although, Iyengar Yoga practitioners in the UK, Europe and USA started using these yoga mats, students in Mumbai and Pune did not as they were not available in India and they did not need them. Their feet did not slip on the flooring they used! However, international students who came to Pune to learn from the source started leaving their mats behind and the originator of yoga mats had them in his own Institute.


The last 20 years has seen many countries manufacturing and exporting these mats viz., Germany, USA and now China. These mats are no longer called sticky mats but ‘Yoga’ mats and even sold as branded mats by large sporting goods companies like Nike and Reebok making the manufacturing of yoga mats a billion dollar ‘industry’. Once Guruji BKS Iyengar was asked as to why did he not ‘patent’ the props that he created; not even the mats. He replied, “did the Rishi munis patent their knowledge? “ He felt that if his knowledge helped the people then it should be provided to them and there was no question of patenting such ideas. And, thus the yoga mats became universal.


Yoga mats are now used all over the world. Even, our Prime Minister performedasanas on the International Day of Yoga on these yoga mats. Interestingly, we are still not making enough of these mats in India. A substantial part of the demand for Yoga mats in India are met through imports. While we have the Make in India programme, isn’t it time that India takes the lead in the manufacturing of yoga mats when the subject itself is Indian and the person who discovered these mats is an Indian?


Maybe it is time to formally credit BKS Iyengar for the creation of this unique Yoga accessory in his birth centenary year. Something to think about!



  • Rajvi H Mehta, IyengarYogashraya


(The views expressed are that of the author, and not a reflection of the policies or programmes of the Ministry of AYUSH)