I had my YIP class on Saturday. Lovely weather (I challenged the gray skies and they turned to blue...yoga power), devoted students; a delightful practice, all in all. As I was setting up--which involved picking up a few cigarette butts, tossing out a beer can and unrolling my mat--a couple was letting their dog chase a few ducks and take a swim. The woman looked over, saw my mat, and gathered her crew, "Oh look, I'm sure the ladies don't want to watch you and a wet dog while they do yoga." They hustled off.
Boy, I thought, yoga has arrived in Beloit, Wisconsin, if all you need to do is unroll a mat and your intention is immediately recognized. No asana, no chanting, not even students at that point, just sitting cross-legged on a mat in the grass and I might as well be unfurling a giant Om banner.
The ultimate yoga icon: The Mat.
More than Vrksasana or namaste or stretchy white chicks...when people see The Mat, they think of yoga. It delineates your individual space in a crowded class (don't step on any one else's!); its ritual unrolling symbolizes the beginning of practice. The colors and pattern represent your personality--soothing lilac, tropical hibiscus, punchy orange. Its material indicates your politics--eco-friendly, thrify, hedonist. Its carrying case a testament your craft cred(how many knitting patterns are out there for a mat bag?), or busy schedule (peeking out of your bulging backpack like a Frenchman's baguette).
[Maybe that's part of why the free mats at NYC's Yoga on the Great Lawn event were such an affront: crass advertising on that most sacred of rectangles! Treating The Mat like a stupid koozie or bumper sticker or ugly ball cap...the nerve!]
Of course, I kid. But as I mulled over the implications of this floppy piece of cushioning, I came to see it as truly symbolic of one's own practice. Your are your Mat, so to speak. Which begs the question...what if you don't use a mat? Purist? Cheap? Have a carpeted living room? Again, it's a sort of psychological yoga test.
What does your mat say about you...?