Ask the Yogi: Yoga Mat Etiquette

Q: Is it alright to step on someone’s mat when walking through the yoga studio?

Yoga Mat Etiquette-yoga class

A: This is a topic that needs to be discussed largely because it is not often discussed. The answer lies in how we regard our personal space and personal property.

One could easily say that in a yoga studio, none of the space belongs to the yoga students. They are just borrowing it during the class. The mat in question might even be one that is on loan from the yoga studio, so it is not the property of the person using it. In this scenario it seems that no one should mind if we walk on the yoga mats the same way we walk across the studio floor.

That however is not how most people perceive the situation. Yes, the studio floor belongs to the yoga studio, but we are in a sense renting that space during the yoga class. We are temporarily laying claim to that piece of yoga land and will likely feel somewhat infringed upon if someone encroaches our space. All you ever have to do to see this in action is observe the way students typically set up their mats in a yoga class. Most who attend with frequency will put their mats in the same area each time. If someone new sets up in their space they may not say anything, but there will be signs that their ‘feathers’ have been ruffled. I have even witnessed verbal debates among students vying for ‘their’ space. So, in a very intangible way, the floor is ‘owned’ by the students who lay claim to it.

Now let’s add to that the yoga mat. Yoga mats are our own personal space that we bring with us in order to make the space we are borrowing better. Yoga mats give us better traction, more cushion, and a cleaner surface than most yoga floors. That last part is the hinge piece on our topic. That our own personal mat brought from home and maintained in a clean and pristine condition offers us a cleaner surface than a yoga floor goes without saying. Especially if we use mat cleaners regularly. Yet, we also perceive a much used and not so clean personal mat or a borrowed and who knows how it is maintained yoga mat as cleaner than the yoga studio floor when this may or may not be the truth. Here we cross over into the ritualistic area of the topic.

Some items take on a mythical property based on how they are used. This can be both positive and negative. In a study asking people if they would use a brand new, perfectly sanitized and clean fly swatter to stir the soup they were about to eat the answer was an unequivocal NO. It does not matter that the fly swatter is clean and has never encountered a fly. In our minds the fly swatter is tinged by its primary function and it does not matter if it has ever performed that function. In an inverse way to this, our yoga mats are given priority clean status, even if they are not clean. So, in a way the yoga mat becomes our magic carpet to transport us into yoga bliss and away from that dirty floor.

feet on mat
Now we enter into the picture the human foot. Here, once again it is not a matter of whether that foot is manicured, polished, fluffed and clean. It like the fly swatter is assigned a lowlier place on the totem pole of perceived acceptance. It also does not matter that our own feet may have been sullied by the yoga floor prior to stepping on our mat. Our feet, our mat, our yoga space – they all hold a special place in the no ‘cooties’ part of our mind.

This means that in a very intangible, but none the less real way, walking on someone’s yoga mat is invading their space, putting germs on their mat and messing with their boundaries. Try to avoid it if you can.

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