Practicing yoga without a mat is like jumping into a pool with your clothes on — it's spontaneous, refreshing, and fun every now and then but gets uncomfortable quickly.
Sometimes it has to happen, though — and for me, that moment was in the midst of my recent move. I was stressed and stiff after a day of heavy lifting. When I couldn't locate my boxed-up mat, I resorted to a quick flow on the hardwood floor.
Instead of feeling relieved, though, I just seemed to irritate my achy joints more.
That's because I wasn't careful when pressing on joints that aren't usually weight bearing, Alice Trieu, a certified-yoga instructor affiliated with the yoga streaming platform Practyce, says — that's the most important part of practicing yoga on hard surfaces.
"Definitely, no jumping back into Plank or Chaturanga. Avoid force or impact across the top and bottom of the metatarsals of the foot by stepping back to Plank and Chaturanga — and flip the feet from Downward to Upward Facing Dog," she adds.
Since every practice, person, and environment is different, listening to your body can be the most telling guide to feeling good.
Trieu points out that a grass-based flow could feel great for some and could cause rashes for others. The beach is better for soft landings, but you run the risk of getting sand in your face (not fun!). Hardwood and other rigid surfaces, like pavement, can make lying on your stomach uncomfortable (especially for your hip bones!) and can be tough on knee joints while kneeling, too.
Clearly, though, mats aren't necessary for a successful flow — in fact, Trieu says that the instability of different surfaces can teach the body to turn on different muscles to stay balanced.
Making a mat-less flow work for you could be as simple as practicing on a towel, rug, or anything that offers some cushion and grip, Trieu says — opting for a standing sequence or chair yoga is always an option, too.
Yes, mat-less flows have some downsides — but if it means getting out of doing Chaturanga (my least favorite pose!), it may have to become a consistent part of my fitness routine.