From geography to genetics, there isn’t anyone who has quite the life you’ve had. Not even those closest to you — your parents, your children, your twin.
Traveling teaches us this, the humbled value of our unique perspective although the Berber woman of North Africa is not much different than the hoodied woman of the District, both holding long to traditions of a world older than ours. They live among the contrast of 21st century inventions and ruins of failed cities no different than we live among fresh billboards and boarded up buildings. The palm trees of the Mediterranean are like those of the Atlantic. There is the golden arches of McDonald’s, like a symbol of manna reaching down from the skies, everywhere.
So too is the atman, our true self. It resides in and is personified by each of us. Each of us giving it a slightly different definition.
Through travel, we learn to bring home these memories of self and it changes how we choose to act in the next moment of our life, wherever we are now. We begin to see the small town sensibilities of Martha’s Vineyard in an otherwise irritating busy city’s block, and we may actually speak to a passerby rather than averting our attention to the people in our mobile screens.
This kind of yoga, of course, may be practiced without a mat — planting the feet in a sandy beach, or our sitz bones in protest meditation on the porous concrete of our hometown. However with a mat, your asana is elevated, at least 1/8 of an inch off the ground.
To deepen this journey through the layers of difference to the oneness of peace felt in sirsasana as in tadasana, the benefits of a travel yoga mat must then be exponential.
A good travel yoga mat is much more gracious on the shoulders and back than carrying around the steadiness of the Manduka PRO. It could be folded up and stuffed into your “everything” purse, or offer more room for books in that woven yoga bag. The Gaiam No-Slip Yoga Towel is machine washable and a germaphobe’s heaven when laid upon the studios’ mats or the worn carpeting of a hotel room. It soaks in the sweat of a Bikram session better than a bath towel that allows the skin waste to seep through.
And the design of the mat is a lesson in and of itself. This strip of flexible material (sustainable, prayerfully), if kept in sight, calls for asana the way seeing a Fiji commercial invokes our desire to drink. Its function is simple, elegant in its support of our path to peace. And it is a metaphor for our place in this world: small, similar to so many, yet powerful.
The grip is less desirable and the smell could be horrendous, but with use, the travel mat is the most important yoga prop to purchase.
To practice mat mindfulness: When planning to purchase a new mat, before your old mat gets to the point of unusable, donate it to a friend, studio or a nonprofit organization.
DISTRICTiYOGA is a RYT-500 located in Washington, D.C. She often uses “namaste” as the first word uttered to students at the beginning of class, as well as the last. She began mindful yogic studies some 20 years ago in elementary school and began teaching formally in 2008.