Until a few years ago, I always used a yoga mat to practice. The more travelling I do and the more outdoor practice I do, the less I like the feel of a synthetic layer between me and the ground (not to mention the lugging around of a heavy roll) and the more I enjoy the texture and simplicity of connecting directly with grass, sand, rock, wood or even concrete as the foundation for my movement.
It’s taken me many years (more than twenty) to develop enough understanding, alignment, bravery and strength for this to be possible. The benefits of this simpler and more natural process have been huge for me.
Firstly, the constant reminder that yoga is like breathing: always there, always accessible, infinitely changing but constant, wherever I find myself. Relinquishing the accoutrements that so often describe a western yogi has freed the spirit of my practice and helped me drop other beliefs and attitudes that I thought I needed and helped expand my capabilities both physically and mentally. However you view the stereotypical coconut-water-swigging, lycra-clad, mat-toting yoga girl, it cannot be denied that yogis come in all forms – like the Buddha – and the more quickly we recognise all of them, from wild and worldly through to quiet and clean-living and all in between, the less we contribute to the contrived view that we must achieve a certain status, appearance or measure in order to qualify as a worthy human being.
The purpose of yoga as described in the Vedas all those thousands of years ago, is the alleviation of suffering which is innate in the human condition. Purposeful awareness of mind and body along with intention allows the divine spirit, consciousness, to express itself through us as clearly as possible in whatever way it wants to – the ultimate freedom. The scope of this expression is as limitless as the universe itself and as such, defies judgement or comparison, in much the same way as you cannot compare a waterfall with a tree or a star with a kitten. We are each unique beings, home to every polarity that exists. Loving all of it/us/them/everyone is a direct (and by no means easy) path to self-acceptance, compassion and empathy.
One of the main pillars of my own practice and a principle I espouse passionately is that when we feel good, we do good. There is no merit in martyrdom and in fact, the only way to power sustainable efforts of good is by prioritising and supporting our own health of mind body and inner spirit. When we act from this place of fullness, our contributions are far-reaching and goodness ripples outwards in ever-increasing circles.
Lara Senegupta, the Founder of Cork Yogis has collaborated with Destiny – a charity in India that rescues young girls and women from forced prostitution. Every mat and mat bag purchased provides education for these women so they can support themselves. She is a yogi and she’s just 25 years old.
Cork Yogis sent me a mat to try in exchange for writing a few words about it and as I’ve said, I’m a fairly hard sell as I’ve tried PVC, TPE and rubber mats, none of which I prefer to carpet or grass but I was intrigued by the natural fibre and definitely wanted to support their mission, so I did.
The cork mat
It’s heavy. Not really built for travelling but the way it effortlessly rolls out and completely flattens itself to the ground with its beautifully curved edges is a joy to behold. I’ve just returned from a retreat in Ibiza where I taught each day on thistle-infested, stony, course grass and had to use my travel mat for fear of ending up a human pin-cushion. Sadly and a little painfully, said thistles poked right through the thin mat at several points (instigating dramatic shrieks) and the wind also flipped the corners of the mat until it was almost in half at times. Had I used the Cork Yogis mat I’ve no doubt its weight and thickness would have prevented these amusing and irritating distractions.
The surface is dry and warm, similar to those retro cork tiles that used to stylishly grace bathroom floors years ago. This is lovely. I often practice with little clothing on and there’s something rather jarring about laying a hot back or front on a cold, sticky mat. As for sweaty skin on unvacuumed carpet…I will say no more. The cork absorbs any moisture beautifully and somehow makes hands and feet grip even more firmly the more dampness is involved. For this reason, Cork Yogis supply a water spray with the mat. Spray where the hands and feet want to go and you’ll be firmly rooted with no slipping.
I’d liken the loveliness of asana practice on this mat to that of being on a sun-warmed lawn, springy, comforting and firm. It’s as cushioned as some of the super-thick mats I’ve tried but without the squishiness that sees fingers and toes sink and slip.
All the pleasing aesthetics aside, I’m taken with Lara’s mission – her yoga if you like – of positive connection across cultures and the strange butterfly effect that has been cleverly created here. Western privilege plus awareness alchemised into life-changing aid empowering women in Yoga’s country of origin. The practice of yoga brings freedom on every level. This functional structure of business meets charity is no exception.
Creating positive transformation is an integral reason for and product of any spiritual practice and while it is often most directly experienced by the practitioner themselves and their immediate circle, it is rarer to be aware of exactly how our self development activities are having a beneficial impact on humans far across the world. In the same way, the work you devote yourself to can become your practice. Both paths – all paths – when walked with awareness and intention, allow us to see the divine spirit in every one of us, our humanness just a shell that seems to differentiate one from another when we are instead, different parts of the same one.