I recently heard a comedian joking about his lack of experience with yoga. He said something along the lines of, “everyone else around me was warming up with handstands and intense stretches, and I was still trying to figure out which side of my yoga mat touched the floor last time!”
That gave me a good chuckle, but on the serious side, for all you germophobes who really do feel grossed-out thinking about that, here’s an easy way to setup and rollup your mat without the top of it ever touching the ground:
Step 1: Wash both sides of your yoga mat with soap and water. Dish soap is fine, hand soap is fine; just pick something without a fragrance. Really scrub. It’s the agitation that removes bacteria and viruses more so than the actual cleaner here. Wipe the mat off, shower with it, do whatever you need to do to make it feel clean. Dry your mat in the sunshine, or place a clean towel atop it and roll it up tight. Step on it, squat on it, find crow pose on it. This squishes the water into the towel, and then you can simply hang it over a towel bar in your bathroom and it should be dry by the end of the day.
Step 2: Decide which side you want to practice on. Most mats don’t have an obvious front side, but some have graphics or different color patterns. Do you want to show off your mat’s lovely tree graphics? Does part of the design line up perfectly with the location of your ideal hand and foot placement for downward dog? Maybe the stripes are distracting and make your yoga neighbor dizzy. Perhaps you want to hide a corporate logo or the fact that you bought your mat in a Reebok boxed set at Target (hey, I’m not judging…the Reebok mat I bought 15 years ago has lasted longer than those of some of the “nicer” brands. Plus it came with an amazing meditation/chill-out CD that I still use to this day. Strap and block included! Best purchase ever!) Anyway, the decision is yours. We will call this the “good” side for the rest of the article. Make your choice carefully : )
Step 3: Lay your sparkling clean mat on the ground with the good side face-up. Fold it in half widthwise. Then start rolling from the fold out to the loose ends. That’s it…your rolled-up easy to carry yoga mat! When you want to practice again, simply put your rolled mat on the floor and give it a nudge. It will start to unroll to its halfway point, and then you simply take the fold out of it, and presto, clean yoga mat surface!
Step 4: Optionally start a debate in your mind about the risks and benefits of mat folding with respect to the alternative of having your face touch where someone else’s sweaty feet have been. I know some people are worried about having folds in their mat…is it going to wear down the material? Will it leave a dent through half my mat? Does it mess up my prana? My experience is that the fold doesn’t impact the mat to a great extent. I bicycle commuted from Oakland to Hayward for months on end with my mat folded to fit in my panniers (wouldn’t fit well on the rack if rolled), and my yoga mat is just fine. I’ve rolled, I’ve folded, I’ve crumpled…that yoga mat is still going strong! If you are too worried about the possible stress that could build up along the fold to stick with this method, you can always do what one of my yoga friends calls “psychological cleaning” of your yoga mat. This is quite easily done by grabbing whatever little spray bottle is in the yoga studio, and squirting the contents onto the top of your mat. Then flip your mat over, spray down the bottom side, and then roll up your mat while whistling to yourself and picturing pretty rainbows. Yay, your mat is now “clean!” “Yep, no other feet have touched my mat, it’s sooooo clean!” Not disinfected. Or sprayed with a solution that kills viruses. But it’s totally clean!
Step 5: Inhale. Exhale.
Dr. Sandy Baird, the author of this article, is both a yoga student and a yoga teacher. Most days she can trust her body’s innate immune system and filter out the distraction of the possibility of downward dogging in a stranger’s sweat or practicing cobra on a questionable mat. But in the midst of a sweaty-bhakti-torturous-challenging-transformative-vinyasa-flow class or even (let’s face it) on the carpets at Bikram, she has been known to have solid grossed-out moments just like everyone else. She is grateful for hand soap and warm showers. And her thoughts are balanced and relieved by the fact that both her 9-month old baby and her two pit-bull doggies do much grosser things than practicing yoga on a dirty mat.
Photo attribution: By Peacelovetomare (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons