In Iyengar’s first classes in London in 1966, there were no mats..we worked on the floor of school halls, church halls etc.
In my early teens I had double surgery called Sympathectomy first to sever and remove five ganglions of nerves on both sides of my neck [cervical spine] and the following year the same from my lumber spine.
I was literally cut open to the bone on both sides in both places. The doctors said it would cure a circulatory condition caused most likely from the three and a half hours I spent each day in a train going to and from school in London from the country .... and surrounded by business men..all chain smokers. The second-hand smoke causing blockage in the blood flow to my extremities.
Since then I have lived with major loss of feeling in my hands and feet, inability to sweat, sterility... no possibility of ever conceiving ....and inability to adapt to changes of temperature amongst other side-effects..The psychological damage was huge but in those days no attention was paid to any of this.
In the yoga classes my feet slid dangerously on the floor as they were paper dry and I struggled to use every muscle to gain any stability in the Asanas. I dreamed of a ‘magic skin’ that would hold me up and then one day found some foam mattress in a flea market that I brought to class. Iyengar was furious and it was thrown out!
The next day I resorted to a glass of water on a window ledge that I could use to dampen my feet and get some grip on the floor for a short while. Again Iyenger threw it out.
My last attempt was to spit on my hands when I thought he was not looking and moistened the soles of my feet. Of course he saw me...he never missed a thing...and then became really angry!
I told him that my feet kept sliding .
He said, “Tighten your leg muscles more”.
I was too much afraid and in awe of him to even think of mentioning the surgeries.
My first teaching appointment abroad was in Munich and it was there that my dream came true when I discovered some white carpet underlay in the basement of a big store. Purchasing a piece ...I could, for the first time, do the standing poses without sliding....oh Heaven!
Back in London my students all wanted a similar mat, so the next trip to Munich I returned with an armful of the ‘First yoga mats’!!
My father decided to do some research and discovered the manufacturers in a small village in Bavaria. It was run by a family and he traveled out to meet them, became good friends and initiated the first Yoga mat business in UK.
He enjoyed so much this contact with students but soon, due to financial difficulties, he and my mother had to sell their house and move to live with my brother and sister-in-law on Vancouver Island BC Canada, where he continued to ship Yoga Mats across the world.
The little business bloomed and he converted the laundry room into his office with a huge roll of matting hung from the ceiling! Yoga was spreading and he found friends around the world who asked him for mats. I remember him saying, “Angela, there is someone on an ‘oil-rig’. out in the North Sea who wants a mat!” “There is someone in Madagascar who wants an extra long mat”!
One day he was called from California by a woman who asked to hear how he found the makers of the “Molivos mats”. My father had named the mats after the little town on Lesvos where I held my Summer courses and in his sweet and friendly way told her his story ..... only to find in a very short time that she had contacted his friends in Germany and was now importing the matting to sell from her store.
Her advertisements placed the price for mailing separate from the cost of the mat so it looked cheaper.
My father, in his late seventies was undaunted and set off regularly by ferry to Seattle with a pile of mats that he then mailed from the US to keep his price low!
My parents were able to buy a car and also take a wonderful holiday on the profits of this small business.
As his health dwindled my father could not continue and so gave the business to a young woman in Vancouver.
In India many years before this, it had become clear to me that I should not get involved in any business other than my own teaching. So that is why I am not in the Mat business!
Iyengar was against using mats in the early years but later he had heavy black mats brought from Holland and then still later I was told that his studio was supplied with “Molivos mats”. I had to smile at this circle of events. Most likely they have some ‘real modern’ mats now !
Mats or no mats, I bow to Iyengar in gratitude for his passion and teaching all those years ago.
My path has taken a whole other direction since I chose to follow my own Dharma and my practice continues to unfold in its beautiful and organic way, far removed from systems, trainings and authority, which is what I would wish for every student of Yoga
As the Bhagavad Gita tells us...
”it is better to follow your own dharma imperfectly than another’s dharma perfectly. Better to die than follow another’s dharma”
And I would add,
“May we always be grateful to those who shone in their own light and for their inspiration that gives us the courage to set out on our own path, our own dharma.