The other day in a yoga class, I overheard some students remarking on a certain teacher’s fastidiousness when it comes to the way the mats are organized in the room. (To be clear: not the way the mats are organized on the shelf, or in the corner, but the way they are arranged on the floor for class.) The students sort of laughed about how obsessive-compulsive it all seemed, rolling and unrolling the mats just so, making sure edges were aligned, rows were straight, etc… It made me smile.
Because OF COURSE it matters the way the mats are organized! If you do yoga then you know that EVERY LITTLE THING matters. Yes, even your toes! All you need to do is try Ardha Chandrasana with a floppy foot then again with an energetic foot to see how small gestures have big impact.
Here are five reasons why you should care about aligning your mat:
1. It’s practical
When the mats are aligned, you maximize the real estate of the classroom, ensuring there is enough space to accommodate all of the students. It is much easier squeezing in late yogis when there is a clear grid than when mats are arrayed n’importe comment.* Just as in stadiums and theaters, defined sightlines mean that students are more or less equal in their view of the teacher, and that the teacher can not only see all of the students, but can pass around them unimpeded and efficiently.
* It is also best to start the mats close to the front of the room so that latecomers can easily squeeze into the back row without disturbing everyone.
2. It’s pretty
It just looks better when the mats line up corner to corner, row by row!
3. It’s clean
One of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Niyamas are standards of self-discipline, of which Shaucha is Number One! It means Purity or Cleanliness, and it’s a quality that is meant to be cultivated both internally and externally, on the yoga mat and off. Practiced internally, Shaucha is a tool for developing more clarity and compassion by replacing negative thoughts or feelings with ones of benevolence. Think about how you talk to yourself during a long virasana, for example, or where you mind wanders when someone’s sweat drips onto your hand… Externally, Shaucha asks us to be hygienic about our person (washing our bodies, our clothes, our food, practicing kriyas) and clean in our environments (organized, free of clutter.) Aligning the mats is simply another way of honoring this idea, of assimilating it into your everyday life, and of promoting an unsullied sense of goodwill toward yourself and others.
4. It keeps the energy moving
When mats form a an orthogonal grid, Shakti -- the Sanskrit word for the energy of the universe; the energy you are generating as a result of your effort in class; the energy pin-balling around the room from students to student, and from teacher to student; the energy embodied and shared by the teacher; the energy inherent in the room itself -- can circulate freely. If you’re familiar with Feng Shui, it’s a little bit like the idea of Qi which needs space to openly flow.
5. It creates bonds
Yoga is about relationships -- the one you have with yourself, with others -- and you remind yourself of this by being in relationship with your yoga mat (making shapes on it) and, extending beyond the mat’s borders, by positioning your little rectangle of a mat in relationship with the other little rectangles in the room. This organization, like aligning your wrists with your shoulders in plank, develops and sustains harmony, and is the means by which you embody Shri, “the certain prospect of creating value and maintaining worth, and the ultimate claim that hope will always fill the future with possibilities yet undreamt.” (Douglas Brooks, Poised for Grace.)
And who doesn’t want a future filled with possibilities yet undreamt?