The $1,000 yoga mat is here, and it's not a joke, says Cedric Yau, founder of BallerYoga, a yoga mat company targeted at "Athletes who have Everything and Desire Nothing" that launched last week.
What Can a $1,000 Yoga Mat Do for You?
So assuming these mats are real and we're not in some meditation-induced dream state right now, we wanted to know, what CAN a $1,000 yoga mat do? Drive you to yoga class? Unroll itself? Do the poses for you?
Nope. BallerYoga mats, which are now available for sale at BallerYoga.com, are made out of the same kind of premium leather (Horween Trademarked "Tanned In Tack" Football Leather) used to make NFL footballs, which is, of course, pricey. The color and the familiar white lacing make the mats resemble giant footballs. And BallerYoga's most expensive model is "as big as a doorframe" (80" x 26"), meant to comfortably fit the largest athletes (6'8" is the height of Dan McGwire, the tallest NFL quarterback in history, Yau notes). They also "smell great, unlike synthetic mats that stink," the company claims on its website. But Yau, 37, who manages a data analytics company that works exclusively for a multibillion dollar hedge fund client in NYC, says the mats' real value, in addition to their quality and size, lies in their grip.
"The number one thing is that they're non-slip," says Yau, who has been practicing yoga for about eight years. "I was in Bali on a yoga retreat when I got the idea [for BallerYoga], and the mats were cheap and slippery. My hands kept sliding in Downward-Facing Dog and Wheel Pose. I did a survey of all the top yoga mats out there, and I couldn’t find one that was really grippy when wet and dry," says Yau, whose website boasts that "nothing beats the grip and control of leather."
But wouldn't leather be MORE slippery than a rubber yoga mat, rather than less? Yau says leather is usually sealed with a top coat, which football leather does not have. "Until fully saturated, the leather will pull and absorb surface water from the skin," he explains. The downside of this is that BallerYoga's Official Red mats bleed when wet or exposed to heat and humidity, so the color can come off on damp clothing but will not permanently stain it, he says. For this reason, Yau highly recommends their Natural Sand/Silver color over the Official Red color, because these mats use a minimal amount of light dye, which actually makes the leather grippier due to less dye being added, he says.
The mats, which start at $495 for a 69.5" x 24" mat, are getting a lot of media attention due to their exorbitant cost (we first read about them last week in the Washington Post), but if the $1,000 price tag has a bit of "shock value" to it, all the better. "Props to the marketing guys for that," he says, noting that BallerYoga's social media engagement has more than doubled since last week, and one customer even bought two mats -- one in each color in matching sizes.
What About Ahimsa?
But how do you reconcile a leather yoga mat with that pesky principle of ahimsa -- you know, "do no harm?" And the fact that many yogis are vegans?
"I like to say, brahmacharya [the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist principle of celibacy], how is that working out for you? We [yogis] pick and choose," Yau says. "In India, a lot of people still wear leather shoes. There is a notion that through ahimsa we don’t consume the animal for its meat, that would be wasteful. A long-lasting product like a yoga mat might be OK -- this is just my interpretation."
Who Would Buy a $1,000 Yoga Mat?
Yau makes a few good arguments for the necessity for a $1,000 yoga mat, especially when it comes to marketing. BallerYoga mats are meant to appeal mostly to men (particularly the kind of man who would use a term like "baller"), and while men still make up a relatively small percentage of yogis, this demographic is growing. They also target athletes, another growing demographic of yogis. They also arguably make sense in the high-end, luxury yoga market (think expensive retreats in Bali that attract hedge fund types).
"More men are doing yoga. There wasn't really anybody pursuing the male yoga market," Yau says. "More athletes are also getting into to yoga -- the Seattle Seahawks, the L.A. Rams, etc. For professional athletes, it is a way to bring something familiar to the yoga practice. And for yogis who love football, the BallerYoga mat is a symbol that represents the connection of two worlds they already inhabit."
Gwen Lawrence, the yoga coach for the New York Giants who has also worked with many other athletes and celebrities, joked, "Now I think I heard it all," when we told her about the existence of a $1,000 leather yoga mat. But she thinks the brand could appeal to some of the athletes she works with. "For the name alone and exclusivity of it, even though it is not worth it, I think there is a market for it," she says, noting that the high price point could be a turn-off for some, but others love the "baller" life. However, the mats don't really jibe with the notion of yoga as anti-consumerism, she adds. "It is sort of against the whole idea of yoga as greed-less," she says. She's also concerned that the mats would get slippery and smelly with sweat and be hard to clean (Yau recommends Leather Cleaner Honey to clean the mats).
And what about the ladies? How would they feel about seeking their soul's purpose on a mat that says BALLER in all caps, or even practicing next to a BALLER? "I think it's funny," Lawrence says, adding that pretty much nothing offends her. Yau says the term can apply to women, too. "Female athletes can be [a] Baller. These days, I see Baller refer more to people who play ball sports as well as the lifestyle of one who has succeeded playing ball," he argues, as opposed to the word having any sexual connotation.
But ultimately, unlike those cute tops and derriere-flattering leggings, this yoga product is for the guys. "We're giving guys permission to go to class without feeling girlie -- that's been a huge detractor," says Yau. "If we bring more guys into yoga, it's a good thing."