Yoga Musings

Slippery Yoga Mats: Part Deux

Almost every time I teach yoga, at least one student says, “My yoga mat is too slippery!” This can be a real problem, especially for newer students, as well as for those who practice hot yoga, strenuous or vigorous forms of flow, or Ashtanga. I’ve made a number of mat recommendations in the past, but non-slip yoga mats and Yogitoes don’t work for everyone. Today, I want to say a few more things about slippery yoga mats, perhaps some things that will be surprising to a lot of people.

Although it is true that a slippery yoga mat is difficult to practice on, especially one with sweat all over it, the main reason students slide around on their yoga mat has nothing to do with the mat. More often than not, it’s the student, not the mat, which is ultimately the cause for slippage. Most students slide around on the mat because they haven’t yet built up the strength and flexibility necessary to hold the postures steady, or because they simply don’t know how to engage the right muscles. I’ll give a few examples.

Down-Dog:This is the pose most people have trouble with in terms of sliding. Part of the problem, in addition to the mat’s being slippery, is that the student is usually applying too much forward pressure into his hands and too much backward pressure into his feet. Obviously, if you do this on a slippery surface, your hands will move forward and your feet will move backward. In the Platonic Form of the Down-Dog, though, your feet should actually feel like they are sliding foward, and your hands should subtly feel like they are sliding backwards. You can work towards this by engaging the Bandhas, actively using your leg muscles (especially the quads), lifting off the wrists (instead of collapsing into them) and extending out of the shoulders (instead of dropping into them). It helps a lot if you can get your heels to the floor. It’s also tremendously helpful if your hamstrings are open enough so that you can draw more weight into your legs.

One of my teachers had us do the following exercise to teach us how to engage properly in Down-Dog. He had come into Down-Dog on blankets, with one blanket under our hands and one under our feet. (No yoga mat involved in this). Since the blankets are in contact with the smooth floor, they will slide if you do not engage the legs, core, arms, etc. in the proper way. It’s incredibly difficult to hold Down-Dog like this, but it is very instructive. In your actual Down-Dog on the yoga mat, you probably don’t need this level of engagement in your muscles, but something like it is important so that your Down-Dog is a solid posture with a strong base, not a floppy, slippery posture. IMPORTANT: I recommend doing this exercise only with the supervision of a yoga instructor, since you can actually really hurt yourself.

Warrior II: This is another pose that people often slide around in. Usually, it’s the front foot in Warrior II that starts to slide away. Most students immediately blame the yoga mat, but, in reality, their foot is sliding because they are not doing Warrior II properly. The front foot should almost feel as if it is pulling towards the back of the mat. In fact, the pressure of your front foot should be straight down (i.e. perpendicular to the floor), and likewise with your back foot. Ideally, you should be able to do Warrior II on ice, barefoot, and not slide at all. Of course, you need a considerable degree of flexibility in order to be able to get your front leg down to a 90-degree angle, which is crucial if there’s any hope of your applying true downward (i.e. straight down) pressure in your front foot.

To teach us proper muscular engagement in Warrior II, my teacher also had us do this posture on blankets. One blanket under the front foot, and one under the back foot. (Again, no yoga mat here, and the blankets are directly on the floor.) If you are not doing the pose properly, your feet will slide and you’ll have to come out of the posture pretty quickly. IMPORTANT: I recommend doing this exercise only with the supervision of a yoga instructor, since you can actually really hurt yourself.

So, to sum up, slipping on the yoga mat is caused first and foremost by how you practice your postures. Of course, newer students may not be able to get into the poses deep enough to be able to hold them steady, and even more experienced students may tire and start to slip. Also, faster flow classes do not usually allow the time for you to set your poses, so to speak, so there too you may need to use a non-slip mat or Yogitoes. But there’s an important lesson to be learned here (a lesson I learned once upon a time when I was a golfer): Before you go and blame your equipment, first look at what you’re doing to contribute to the problem. You might be surprised at what you find.

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14 thoughts on “Slippery Yoga Mats: Part Deux

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I am a new yoga student, and though I’ve never blamed the mat (having started out borrowing one of the ‘super-sticky’ ones and then buying a good one, it had to be me), and rather my sweaty hands and feet, this really helps a lot. The two poses you mentioned are the ones with which I have a lot of problems, so thank you for writing this, I think it will help quite a bit in not sliding around so much!

  2. I am relatively new to yoga (2 months, 3 days a week!) but have noticed in power yoga I’m always sliding in down dog. I’m definitely going to try to engage my muscles more in the way you instructed. Thank you! It was super helpful! I feel like as a new yoga student it’s easy to pick up on the names of things and sort of flow with the class but you don’t necessarily know if you’re doing things right. Apparently the few times I’ve tried headstand prep it was the wrong part of my head – no wonder my neck hurt!

    Anyway, thanks again!

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