Staying True to a Tradition and Open to Change
I am not a gadget girl. I like to keep things simple, pure, and basic, especially when it comes to my Yoga practice. So, when I first heard about SmartMat, my initial reaction was that it wasn’t for me. But I’m an open-minded person; so I decided to learn more about what this mat could do before I passed my final judgment. After all, I see questioning my assumptions and keeping a “beginner’s mind” as part of my Yoga practice, and as a teacher I always want to learn more about things that could potentially support my students as well.
To me, intention is everything. So, when I started to do a little more research on SmartMat, I wanted to know how much they knew about Yoga, not just as a business or an industry, but as a practice. Did they know what it was like to get on the mat and connect with the body? Did they understand that for many people their Yoga practice wasn’t just exercise, but a spiritual practice, perhaps the only time of their week where they felt deeply connected and in touch with their sense of self? Were they considering these things as they launched into this new idea of Yoga-Tech?
I met the CEO of SmartMat, Neyma Jahan, because he was a student in one of my weekly yoga classes – a restorative candlelight class to be exact. What I immediately liked about his approach to this innovation of a responsive Yoga mat was that he was taking the perspective of the end-user very seriously. Being a student himself, he knew the physical practice of Yoga was being held in a much larger container of a life philosophy, and he held that with reverence. He also asked a lot of questions about Yoga – questions about alignment of poses; questions about different styles of Yoga; questions about the history and philosophy of Yoga, and on and on. He was curious, willing to learn, and not one to make assumptions. He did his homework, and that to me is always a good sign.
Now, I realize not everyone vets their consumer decisions the same way I do. But it’s important to me that if a company wants to create a transformative innovation in a wellness-based industry, especially one based on an ancient spiritual practice, I want them to understand what that practice is really about, and I want them to show a certain amount of respect and humility. SmartMat passed this test.
So now, I wanted to answer the “so what?” question. It’s great that a company acts with integrity, but do I really need this product? What added value is this going to bring to me or my students? Or is this just another gimmicky thing somebody wants me to buy?
To answer these questions, I put on my teacher hat and thought about what kinds of things I want the student to experience during their practice and whether or not SmartMat could help them do that. Here’s the list I came up with:
– Presence: One of the reasons Yoga is so fantastic is it gives us a template for learning how to get out of our heads and back into our body. We put our physical bodies in certain positions, with a kind of deliberateness and are asked to breath and feel. I call this presencing. As a teacher, I also know that people arrive at presencing in different ways. Some need visual cues that they can then imitate to get into their own body. Some need audio instruction. Others still need touch. In a class environment where I can’t always get around to support everyone fully in every posture, is it possible that the added guidance of SmartMat could help a student come into a deeper place of presence within themselves? Certainly. Ok, one down. Three to go.
– Self-Responsibility –Taking responsibility for our practice on the mat is a great practice for learning how to take responsibility for our lives off the mat as well. In Yoga, we might refer to this as practicing discipline or tapas. Through the discipline comes the freedom. Line up the body in an optimal way, and the energy flows more freely inside. Is it possible that having customized guidance for your body from a Yoga mat could be helpful in developing greater ownership of one’s personal practice? Not only is it possible, it’s quite likely. SmartMat presences you real-time to what’s happening inside your body, empowering you to create a more deliberate relationship with your practice. Ok. I can’t argue with that. Next.
– Mindfulness: Sometimes it’s easy to “space out” during Yoga practice. You might drift off and start looking out the window or travel away with some random thought in your head. I find this type of behavior often happens more with long-time students. They are used to the poses and are more likely to go on “automatic pilot.” Is it possible that SmartMat (with the added metrics it provides) could encourage a person to stay present in the now instead of drifting off? Again, highly likely. People like to learn about themselves. They like to know how they’re performing, and SmartMat helps them do that real-time, encouraging them to stay alert and be an active participant in the practice. If there’s a mat that can help them stay more focused, more in their body, and more in the present moment, then I think that’s an added value for sure.
– Commitment to Excellence: Lastly, I want my students to stay committed to their potential. I want them to be accepting and proud of where they’re at, but I also want them to celebrate the on-going possibility for further evolution in their practice and life. If there’s a way for them to have more support in striving to find their place of personal excellence and not engage in some arbitrary competition with others, would I support that? Absolutely. SmartMat allows a person to have one benchmark to work towards – their own personal best. And when one can be pleased and present with where they are at and yet still motivated to keep evolving, well, to me, that place is Yoga.
So, SmartMat also passed my “So what?” test as well. But what really became the thing that allowed me, a self proclaimed Yoga purist, to embrace this new innovative Yoga-Tech was actually quite simple. And it’s basically this: Who am I to say what’s yogic to do with one’s practice and what’s not? Yoga is at once universal, and extremely personal. And in my professional and personal opinion, if there is a tool that helps a person get in better touch with themselves; motivates them to get on the mat more; and improves their well-being, mindfulness, and health…then why would I want to stand in the way of that? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t. I’d welcome it. After all, if I really want to keep myself true and pure to the Yoga principles, then there’s room for us all in the studio.
So keep practicing, yogis. And always honor your truth.