History of Yoga

The Sticky Business + History of Yoga Mats

Before the invention of the sticky mat, doing yoga was a slippery proposition.

Those of you who can remember the days before color television will also remember what it was like to do yoga without a sticky mat… slippery. “My feet would slide apart and I had to tense my legs to keep from falling,” yoga teacher Angela Farmer recalls. “I was desperate to find something that would give me traction.” So Farmer tried doing yoga on blankets, bulky foam mattresses, and even spat on her dry footsoles to keep from slipping, but nothing really worked.

One day while traveling in Germany, Farmer spotted a roll of matting at a local market. She squeezed the material between her fingers. It was thin, dense, and sticky. It was carpet padding. She bought a length of it and took it to yoga class. “It was heaven,” Farmer recalls. She was able to grip the floor without straining. Farmer took this miraculous mat home to London, where other yogis took interest. Soon Farmer began toting rolls of carpet padding home every time she traveled to Germany. Richard Farmer, Angela’s father, saw an opportunity. He contacted the padding manufacturer and soon became the first retailer of “sticky” mats, calling his new product “The Original Molivos Mat” in honor of his daughter, who led yoga workshops in Molivos, Greece. Export duties and international shipping costs made these European mats expensive in North America. Enter Sara Chambers, of Hugger Mugger, who decided to manufacture her own. With a chemist’s help, she designed the first sticky mat specifically for yoga. Her “Tapas Mat” was more durable, less expensive, and available in colors.

But the German manufacturers wouldn’t give up. They developed a new line of high-quality mats in three different colors and varied levels of thickness. Their latest import is a thick rubber mat called “The Black Mat,” favored by flow-style yogis for its length, durability, and crumple resistance.

When you thumb through a yoga catalog, you might be surprised or confused by the array of available mats. Ruth Steiger, of Yoga Props, fields mat questions daily. “The first thing I ask people is what style of yoga they do. If they say Ashtanga, I recommend a 4-millimeter mat. If not, I ask what kind of surface they work on,” Steiger says. For those who practice on carpet she recommends a dense mat of medium thickness. This mat also works well on wood floors, giving a solid, grounded feel. “But some people need extra cushioning,” Steiger observes. For them, she recommends the same mat she suggests for Ashtangis because it “pads and cradles the bony places.” But when traveling, an ultra-thin mat might be your best companion. “It folds into the space of a pair of socks,” Steiger explains.

One of the latest sticky mat innovations comes from Malibu, California, yoga teacher Helen Howlett Campanella. Her “Yoga Map Mat” includes an attractive geometric design on its surface, providing cues for alignment and a reference to gauge your progress.