Don’t unroll that yoga mat just yet! In addition to spreading out your mat as you usually do, there are fun and therapeutic ways to use the firm stickiness of a rolled-up yoga mat in your practice.
Starting with the feet, let’s work up through the body, using an evenly rolled sticky mat to maximize the benefits of your postures. You can practice all nine adaptations as a sequence by itself, or insert a few of your favorites into your regular yoga practice.
1. Heel Raises, Chair Pose, and Half Forward Fold
Place the balls of your feet on the roll, spread your toes, and then lift your heels, coming to balance on the balls of your feet. Lower your heels, and repeat 10 times in sync with your breath (inhale: rise; exhale: lower). The roll will make balancing extra challenging, so most people will need to do this in front of a wall. Depending on the thickness of your mat, you may also need to unroll it a bit to ensure that it’s at a height that works for you.
After you complete the heel raises, proceed to practicing a shallow utkatasana (chair pose) with the balls of your feet still on the roll. Hold for three breaths.
Then move into ardha uttanasana (half forward fold), hinging at your hips (coming forward halfway or less) with arms reaching straight forward or outstretched to the sides like wings, knees slightly bent. Stay for three breaths.
A new experience for your feet, calves, and hamstrings!
2. Staff Pose and Seated Forward Fold
Place your rolled mat under your knees in dandasana (staff pose) to ease tight hamstrings, and in paschimottanasana (seated forward fold) so you can cultivate the anterior pelvic tilt that’s needed to safely hinge forward.
3. Thunderbolt Pose
Wedge the roll behind your knees in vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) and hold for about 10 breaths, helping to release hamstring and soleus (calf) tightness. You’ll see how much easier it is to sit on your heels after taking out the roll! (Note: This variation may not be advised following a knee replacement or other knee surgery. Check with your doctor or physical/occupational therapist to find out what poses and movements are right for you.)
4. Child's Pose
In vajrasana, place the roll in the hip crease and round forward toward balasana (child’s pose). The pressure the roll creates on the abdomen can help with constipation and sluggish digestion. Take 10 breaths around the abdominal compression, expanding the breath into the sides and back of the body.
5. Seated Forward Folds
Use your rolled mat as a sitting prop to angle your pelvis forward in poses such as janu sirsasana (head-to-knee pose) or upavistha konasana (seated, wide-legged forward fold).
6. Supported Chest Opener
For a supported-rest position, lie with your head on a folded blanket and the roll placed horizontally under the bottom edge of your shoulder blades. This will open the chest and can soften the breathless, tight bracing of the rib cage that may occur when we’re under stress. Proceed with 12 rounds of dirga (three-part) breath (inhale: expand the belly, then the rib cage, then the chest; exhale: relax the chest, then the rib cage, then the belly).
7. Scapular Protraction and Retraction, Followed by a Supported Backbend
Lie on the rolled mat so it’s vertical to your spine and the bottom edge is at the T8 vertebra (located mid spine, near the bottom of the shoulder blades)—the mat will extend beyond your head. Reach your arms straight up toward the sky (not back behind you) and then protract and retract your shoulder blades 10 or more times to aid with shoulder mobility.
Then open your arms to a T, hands resting on the floor with palms up to help open tight shoulders and pectorals for at least five breaths.
8. Neck Release in Constructive Rest Pose
Lie in constructive rest pose with your arms alongside your body and your palms facing up with the rolled mat under your neck. The bottom of the roll should be right above C7 (the large vertebra at the base of the neck) so that the throat is open and the back of the head hovers above the floor. This will release some of that “forward head” tension we create with our daily activities (texting, driving, computer work…). Remain there for five minutes and then take the roll out slowly to avoid shocking those relaxed neck muscles.
In savasana, place the rolled mat under your knees; the support will help to ease any tension along the spine. Stay for five to ten minutes, allowing the abdomen to rise and fall as you breathe, and allowing tension to “roll” away.
These new uses for a rolled-up mat may have you thinking twice before discarding your old mat—keep it so that you can add these options to your practice!