Explainer: Help! I hate practicing on carpet, but I want a home practice. What can I do?

A view of my mat folded over to show the LifeBoard base layer

This post is for the yogi who wants to build a home practice but can’t stand practicing on carpet. So often in yoga, there’s no easy answer to the “how can I . . . ?” question. In this case, I think there is a relatively straightforward answer to the question, “How can I make practicing on carpet feel better?”

Answer: Buy two pieces of interlocking plastic called the LifeBoard.

I heard about this product — which is made specifically for yoga and Pilates — through someone’s comment posted last year on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page (a great Facebook yoga page to “like,” by the way).

I’ve been using this board for a few months now, and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say it has eliminated my complaints about practicing on carpet — in particular, the inevitable hills and valleys you get on the mat when you’re not practicing on a hardwood or cork floor. Do I still prefer to practice on beautiful hardwood floors? Absolutely. But that’s become merely an aesthetic consideration.

Here’s how the two pieces of the board look from the underside (in case you’re wondering, that’s our brown couch peeking through the middle):

LifeBoard -- two pieces upright, view from the underside

The way you hook them together is to hold on to the handles of the boards with the undersides facing you, and draw the boards away from you as you interlock the jagged edges in the center.

Then you lay that on the floor. I set my black mat on top of the board, and drape my Mysore rug on top of that. The completed board is just big enough for my mat:

LifeBoard -- with my mat and rug on top (you see a sliver of the board extend beyond the mat)

Now, if you have one of those extra wide John Friend Manduka mats (not sure what the fate of those mats will be, by the way), this would probably not work. Ditto for anyone with an extra long mat.

Here are the board’s specs from the LifeBoard website:

  • Non-skid top surface prevents yoga mat from slipping on the LifeBoard yoga floor
  • Cleated bottom surface prevents the LifeBoard yoga floor from slipping on carpet
  • Made of recyclable high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and shipped in boxes made of 100% recycled material. The black LifeBoard uses 50% recycled material.
  • Several dollars from each purchase goes to a nonprofit organization called Skyline Center in Clinton, IA. They provide rehabilitation services and work programs for disabled adults. They do the shipping and handling for us.
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • 73” L x 28 3/4” W x 5/8” H (assembled) – just a little larger than a standard yoga mat
  • Lightweight – approximately 8.5 lbs per panel, 17 lbs total

In an Ashtanga primary series practice, I don’t think there are many considerations that need to be taken into account, except that I’d imagine newer practitioners need to be extra careful in garbha pindasana rolls and in chakrasana. In second series, you’re over the edge of the board in parsva dhanurasana, and in nakrasana you’re jumping off the board, but neither of those situations seems to be a problem.

The other part of the equation for not minding practicing on carpet, of course, is tristana — the focus on the pose, the breath/bandhas and the dristi. With that level of focus, your surroundings sort of melt away anyway, right?

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Explainer: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I’m just getting started in yoga?

Especially because I teach an introductory Ashtanga yoga class and an introductory vinyasa-flow class, I am constantly thinking about how to make this practice accessible. How do you explain ujjayi breathing? Energy locks? The fine-tuning of proprioceptive awareness?

Sometimes, though, what students need to know is much simpler than that. For instance: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I am just getting started in yoga and don’t know how frequently I will get to classes?

I’m tempted to answer, “Absolutely, yes!” and then end this blog post. I usually like getting into nuances and gray areas, but in this case, it’s a pretty clear-cut answer to me. Buy your own yoga mat rather than use the free or rented ones provided by your studio or gym, OK?

But I guess I should say a little more before I put this topic to bed. Here are three reasons to buy your own mat, even if you are only starting to check out yoga classes and aren’t sure you’ll be all that serious about it:

You get to keep it personal
A yoga mat takes a lot of abuse and it is — if not by design then at least by function — deeply personal. Yoga mats take skids (when yogis don’t quite achieve lift-off during those jump-throughs), sweat (self explanatory) and tears (yoga can make us emotional, and tears happen). Practicing on your own mat is just more personal, no matter how many times you make it to the mat.

It’s more hygenic, period.
Even if a studio tries (emphasis on “tries”) to clean their mats well between students, you’re opening yourself up to less-than-hygenic practicing conditions. When you release your forehead into the mat for child’s pose, it’s nice to be able to fully melt into the mat and not worry about cleanliness. And if it’s flu season? Eek. (I was working at a hospital during the 2009 spread of the H1N1 flu, and it changed the way I see hygenic — or lack thereof — practices around me.)

You don’t have to invest a lot of money to get a starter mat
What I tell students who are starting yoga but only practice once or twice a week at the most is to check out their local T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or other similar discount shops. A couple weeks ago when I was at T.J. Maxx, I saw yoga mats for $9.99. Will they be the best mats, quality-wise? No — but neither will the ones you rent or borrow from a yoga studio or gym’s stash. Trust me, that starter mat you pick up will last you long enough to justify the $10 you spent.

If you have flexibility in your budget, then you have what can seem like a dizzying array of choices, including David Swenson’s Gecko mat, the Manduka line, Jade mats, the Saka premium black mat, products from Gaiam and so many more. Mats in this range of quality can cost up to $104. Figure out what’s important to you. Is it whether the mat is produced in an eco-friendly way? Is it how thick and supportive it is (some yogis I know have complained of too much support, for example)? Is it how the material feels? If you’re practicing around yogis with some mats that seem intriguing to you, ask them what drew them to that mat, and if you could feel the material. Step on it, try a down dog, try floating through. It’s a quick way of test driving some of the options without having to pull out your credit card. I’ve found that, much like smartphones, people love talking about their yoga mat and all the reasons they decided on that particular model.

I use a Mysore rug over a regular yoga mat. A high percentage of my yogi friends use thin towel-like options, such as the Yogitoes brand. More on that in another post — I’ve got work to do! In the meantime, happy mat-hunting, if you’re ready to take the plunge.

(Photo credit: Yoga Time by mosabuam via Flickr Creative Commons)

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.