Tag Archives: yoga gear

A yoga mat that keeps you grounded

Photo: two yoga mats
The Barefoot Yoga Performance Grip Mat on top of my Manduka eKo mat: a little longer and a little narrower.

In 2007, I was desperate to buy a new yoga mat because my practice had outgrown the entry-level, low-cost one I’d been using. I had my eye on Barefoot Yoga’s Eco mat, an environmentally friendly combination of jute fiber and rubber, because it got a thumbs-up review in the New York Times, For Some Things, It’s O.K. to Be Sticky (Yoga Mats). I visited the online store repeatedly, but it was out of stock for months. Obviously, the NY Times article generated a lot of demand. I eventually ended up getting a Manduka eKo mat, as I reported in On Mats and Towels.

I’ve stayed loyal to Manduka since then. I bought another eKo mat at the end of my yoga teacher training in the summer of 2013 because the eKo mat was falling apart. The rubber surface was coming unstuck from the foundation layer, and the rubber was oxidizing so I no longer had traction, especially when the mat was moist. I hurt myself in a jump-back because my toes did not grip the mat.

Seven years later and still operating, Barefoot Yoga has the original Eco mat in stock, priced at $85. as well as an array of Barefoot Yoga-branded mats, and Prana, Jade, Manduka models. Barefoot Yoga has evidently decided that they are going to commit to earth friendly products.  As they explain on their site:

“Traditional mats can be an excellent surface for yoga practice. However, these mats are made from PVCs (polyvinyl chlorides) that release dioxins and other carcinogens into the atmosphere during manufacturing. Toxic additives migrate into their surroundings in the form of gas and small particles. Thousands and thousands of mats and other products are made with PVC, and none are biodegradable or recyclable. Hence the need for more eco-friendly alternatives.”

But if mats are eco-friendly and biodegradable, they age and wear out. That’s what biodegradable means, breaking down into non-toxic components over time. Sun light accelerates the process for rubber-based mats, as with my Manduka eKo mat. I also have a Jade Harmony mat, a gift from my daughter, that has lost texture and feels like an old, crumbling eraser. So there’s a downside.

Testing a new mat

Why do I mention all this? In early August I got an e-mail from Carolina Mills at Barefoot Yoga Company, Seattle, Washington, asking me to a do a review of one of their mats, either a Hybrid Eco-Lite Mat ($23.95 on sale, $26.95 regular) or a Performance Grip Mat ($59). I chose to test the second one, but I told her that I would not get to it until after I came back from my European trip, say October. Carolina sent me a demo right away.

The mat stats measures 24″ x 72″ x 4mm,  and weighs 5 pounds. It is made of Polymer Environmental Resin (PER). “It does not contain phthalates or heavy metals, and its method of production is completely non-toxic and latex free,” says Barefoot Yoga’s write-up. It comes in three colors, black, charcoal and espresso, a rather somber selection but that may have to do with the manufacturing process.

The mat comes with a lifetime warranty:

Lifetime warranty covers one-time replacement of your Grip Mat due to any defects that arise as a result of normal use of the product.

Considering the mid-range price and eco-friendliness of the mat, these terms are extraordinary.

Initial assessment

Photo: three yoga mags
You have three color choices: black, charcol and coffee, Sorry, no happy pastels. Photo: Courtesy of Barefoot Yoga

First, the mat is exceptionally light and compact, easy to roll up and slide in a bag (none of the struggle as with a traditional sticky mat). I have no problem carrying it around.  As mentioned, the mat comes in one size. In my case, I prefer a wider mat, say 26-27″, but I’ve discovered that I am not as picky as I used to be. However, if Barefoot Yoga wants to cater to male buyers (taller and broader), they might want to offer a selection of wider and longer mats.

Since getting back to my yoga practice, I’ve taken a low-key approach: yin, restorative and nidra yoga mostly, as I try to tame a Type A+ intensity that has predominated in my practice. The Grip Mat was designed for a more active practice so I have not put the mat through a stress test. Its grip should get better as it wears down. I wiped down the mat with a sea salt and water mixture, as suggested on the Barefoot Yoga FAQ page, to speed up the break-in process.

A few days ago, my daughter, Stephanie, told me that while I was traveling, she used my Barefoot Yoga mat for her practice. From the start, she found it had a great surface that kept her from slipping, even though it’s not “sticky”.

If you want cushion for hands, knees and feet, you may want to use a yoga towel or cut-up mat squares for padding. This mat is not a big, flat sponge.  Personally, I appreciate that I don’t feel as if  I am sinking into the mat. I am balance-impaired and have peripheral neuropathy. Too much padding introduces a kind of sensory noise. With the Performance Grip mat, I sense a firmer foundation under my feet, and I can move through my sequences with confidence. In fact, the more I use it, the more it grows on me (or under me).

Since this mat’s strength is durability under heavy use, I will come back later and review it for this characteristic at a later time.

Tools and techniques for dealing with pain

For the past three months, I’ve incorporated a set of tools and techniques into maintaining the subtle balance of my body, and it all started with an unexpected message.

Photo: two yellow balls for yoga therapy
A deceptively useful instrument for dealing with tension

When, I first published the news about my condition of peripheral neuropathy, Jill Miller reached out to me to tell me about her own therapy work with someone who was suffering from a severe case of peripheral neuropathy. I had actually read her two- part interview in The Magazine of Yoga when she was declared “Teacher of 2011”, but it was before I knew that neuropathy would take such a predominate place in my own existence. Actually, there were so many interesting segments in the interview, it was easy to overlook the part in which she discussed the case of Eric who has Charcot Marie Tooth disease, the most common genetic neuropathy. He was severely handicapped, even crippled by the disease. Miller set up a therapy program to reawaken his nervous system. Miller also pointed me to a PowerPoint presentation that she made at the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research in September 2011, sponsored by the International Association of Yoga Therapist (IAYT). My condition was far less severe than Eric’s; he was using high doses of multiple pain medications (including cannibis). After treatment, he reduced his use of pain meds by 70%.

I was intrigued. I was looking for something that would allow me to get from session to session of my massage therapy. I immediately incorporated a couple of routines of yoga poses into my evening restorative routine: bridge pose, dolphin pose (actually I skip them in the evening if I did a class that included them) and leg stretches. Miller’s reclined routines required me to prop up my hips on a yoga block and anchor my feet on a wall. As I’ve employed these routines, I’ve come to appreciate how they opened up my hips, widening and stretching the area between my sit bones.

I then placed an order for self-massage therapy audio CDs for full body and Yoga Tune Up® Balls, which had also been used in Eric’s treatment program. I’ve mainly stuck with the upper body routines and the exercises for the feet and calves. It takes a good slice of time (20-30 minutes) to work through the upper body series and I also needed to do other routines to prepare me for sleep.

Putting the balls to good use

I took the balls and audio recordings with me on my Christmas trip to Florida. I found that they really helped relieve the stress of driving around the Tampa Bay area between family gatherings, beaches and our living quarters. I got home late and was unable to turn off my hyper-alert mind and release the tension that built up between my shoulder blades. I did my Yoga Tune Up® routines and was able to rest.

Even more importantly, the routines have contributed to lessening the low-grade pain and numbness in my feet. On the downside, it’s obvious that Jill M mainly works with women because the balls (made out of a resilient rubber material) are showing signs of wear from bearing my heavier weight. I will have to order a new set of balls soon. I think she should consider making several sets of balls that take into account the user’s weight.

Going back to the extended interview, it helped me appreciate that Jill Miller is firmly grounded in yoga tradition and the new frontiers that are being opened up by practitioners who are not afraid to listen to their bodies. She’s not selling a gimmick or an angle that’s meant to differentiate her products and services in the market place.

In Defense of ToeSox

ToeSox, the athletic apparel company that specializes in socks that fit five toes like a glove and have a sticky sole surface, was pilloried in the blogosphere a few months ago because it used two women au natural to model their merchandise. Kathryn Budig did ads that featured yoga poses. Carrie Macy did Pilates routines. Rarely mentioned was the photographer, Jasper Johal, who has specialized in the human form in various stages of undress — yoga, dance and fashion.

I have to admit that I’ve taken a peek at the ads in Yoga Journal. Of course, I have the excuse that I am an amateur photographer in love with the human body in a state of mindfulness. I was attracted by the challenge of capturing advanced asana without displaying any naughty parts.

For anyone living in a cave during August and September last year, here are a few pointers: Judith Hanson Lasater’s Facebook letter, It’s All Yoga, Baby’s portrayal of the dispute no more sexy yoga ads! and toesoxnudegate: the feminists & kathryn budig speak up, Elephant Journal and  JHN interview, or Yoga Journal’s defense with Naked Truth in response to JHN. Carol Horton’s take,  Naked Yoga Beauties Selling Stuff! Or, the Personal, the Political, and the Commodification of the Body.

I could not do justice to the diverse perspectives that came to bear on the issue, and there were many. But I’d like to come back to one aspect of the debate that did not get highlighted.  Some commentators sneered at ToeSox because this type of sock was not “standard-issue” yoga gear, and was therefore superfluous to the practice. ToeSox is merely exploiting yoga to flog conspicuous consumption and profit off objectifying women.

I started thinking, however, that there could be valid reasons to use grippy sole socks:

  • Modesty: Not everyone has feet that conform to classically shaped feet, or they may be sensitive to ridicule or just have a bad body image. I have seen people in yoga class who insist on keeping their socks on, and slide around on the mat.
  • Skin and nail conditions: Lots of people have reasons to hide their feet because various skin and nail diseases may disfigure their feet. These conditions can be resistant to treatment. Wearing clean socks to class (combined with a fungicide because these socks are not the equivalent of sanitized latex) would shield other yogis from possible infection.
  • Slick surfaces or slippery carpets: it’s a lot easier to fit a pair of socks in your carry-on than a yoga mat, even a travel mat. The ToeSox site points out that Pilates equipment can be slick.
  • Cold feet: poor circulation could make some people to bundle up their extremities (ToeSox also sells grippy gloves). I’ve practiced in a couple of rooms where I wished I’d had a pair of sox because a bad draft made my mat feel as if I’d pulled it out of the refrigerator.
  • Better than sneakers: in some gyms and fitness centers, people practice yoga in their athletic shoes so replacing sneakers with ToeSox is an improvement.

In defense of the company, ToeSox tries to do the right thing, supporting charities like the fight against breast cancer and sanctuaries for hard-to-place dogs and the Green Bus Project (an effort to share yoga and conscious living). The company uses organic cotton to protect the environment.

I guess what I am trying to say is that one of the virtues of a dynamic market economy is that it tends to respond to needs, even the niche demand of people who want to cover their feet (for whatever reason). Who are we to create even more obstacles to a yoga practice?

It’s just money but who’s counting

Photo: a hand mudra during meditation
A classic hand mudra during meditation closes the energy circuits

Whenever the New York Times starts publishing multiple articles on yoga (two articles in less than a week; see the previous two blog entries), it usually portends a major existential crisis for the U.S. yoga community. The attention from major media is another indication that yoga is dipping into the American mainstream and losing its authenticity.

One of the central bugaboos for many commentators is that yoga  now means big bucks. Just look at some of  recent articles: The Future of YogaHow Yoga Sold Out (WSJ’s Speakeasy blog, written by  Stephanie Syman) and YogaDork’s Who Will Save Yoga?. Somewhere in these articles you’ll find a statement like “…yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers.”

These figures comes out of Yoga Journal‘s 2008 Yoga in America study. Journalists love the YJ figures because they come from a reputable source, confirm that yoga has moved beyond niche status, and impute the value of their own reporting on the topic (“My editor did not send me out to write a human interest feature about an ex-hippie.”). Continue reading It’s just money but who’s counting