I have practiced yoga on and off since I was a teenager, but in recent years, more off than on. Recently, when friends, colleagues, and family all seemed to be pointing out with greater frequency that I seemed particularly stressed (read: a total pain in the ass to be around), I made a commitment to switch that back to “on.” It’s been pretty great. I’m happier. The more I practice, the more centered I feel, physically, mentally, emotionally. And, the less of a total pain in the ass I am.
Yoga isn’t about the accessories, and I loathe the idea that you have to have just the right gear, just the right teacher, just the right whatever to practice. You don’t. But a good mat can really help. So when I got back into the groove of regular practice, I checked out a bunch of different mats — from the ultra-thick black ones, to the “towel” kind folks like to use with “hot yoga,” to the thin cheap synthetic ones. I have a stack of 8 of them sitting in the corner in this room, as I type this review.
But I’ve found my favorite now — the just-released Revolution “eco” mat by PrAna.
It’s sticky enough to help grip your fingers, palms, soles, and toes when you’re doing balance poses — and, truly, every pose involves some element of balance. It’s 30″ wide, much wider than standard mats. A better fit for taller yoga students like myself. It’s lightweight enough that I can carry it comfortably on my back in the cool little carrying sack they sell. It’s thick enough that I don’t feel the need to add extra cushioning during practice on poses that can be hard on the bones. It’s made of all-natural materials, so I’m not investing in future landfill cruft. The sticky part took a little getting used to in poses where I tend to drag the tops of my feet accross the mat in transition from one asana to the other, but now that I’ve been with it for a few weeks — I don’t know, it’s like sleeping in a nice new bed, or moving into an awesome new home. It’s familiar now, and just feels like an extension of my body.
I recently met PrAna creative David Kennedy, a friendly surfer who pops a mean Adho Mukha Svanasana. We practiced together (it was one of the most enjoyable BB review demos I can recall). I asked him to talk with us about some of the engineering considerations that went into the mat’s design.
His reply follows, after the jump.
While working out the design in the lab (read: yoga studio), we were faced with two major challenges. First, almost all eco materials had failed when it came to the issue of gluing, most glues are toxic. Second, as with most eco-initiatives, there is a significant hurtle to creating the best performing product, yet crafting it mindfully.
Beginning with the eco-movement that progressed mats away from PVC, we chose Natural Rubber as a base layer. Natural rubber is a specialty rubber product developed with the most advanced raw materials and chemistries. It is strong, resilient and does not contain plasticizers or VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) making it the eco- friendly choice for this application. On the other hand, PVC itself does not biodegrade, and it remains on the shelf, in the environment, or in the landfill. When burned in a landfill, PVC releases dioxin, hydrochloric acid, and other toxins. It is extremely difficult to recycle, which is why so little of it is recaptured.
With our base material in place, next we challenged the construction by asking ‘how do we do more with less?’. After quite a bit of eco-engineering, we eventually identified two key factors to accomplish this; using Vulcanization to bond the materials instead of toxic glues, and implementing a dual scrim to stabilize the mat and limit surface stretch.
To clarify further, vulcanization is the process of curing natural rubber with heat and pressure, to produce saturated double bonds which increase strength, resiliency and durability. Although vulcanization is a 19th century invention, the history of curing rubber dates back to prehistoric times through the inventive prowess of the ancient Aztecs. Because it requires great heat, the process was named after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. The other vital performance element, the scrim, is a thin sheet of light-weight, woven cotton. When applied within the rubber layers, the scrim limits stretching and provides a strong, stable practice surface. The dual scrim also promotes surface integrity by helping the mat to lay flat and eliminate bunching as you shift weight during poses.
Enough marketing engineerese. Here’s my verdict: within a couple days of using the loaner mat I received for the review, I made plans to buy several for yoga-practicing friends. I really like it.
* The phrase “Attention-Conservation” was stolen from Bruce Sterling.