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The philosophy of wiping mats


In my public yoga classes, everyone brings their own mats. In schools, I have to use the school equipment or bring my own. This means lots of cleaning and wiping, particularly over the last two years. Sometimes I have as many as 30 mats to spray, wipe and roll up, so the children help. I see this as part of the yoga class, working together and collaborating so that we can all leave together, rather than sorting their own belongings out and not caring how the equipment gets cleaned and put away.

The children might not realise, but helping clean yoga mats is yoga philosophy in action. Your yoga practice can extend into everything you do. Helping clean the yoga mats can be linked to the Yamas and Niyamas, which are part of the eight limbs of yoga.

One of the Niyamas is Saucha, which translates as Cleanliness, so cleaning the mats of foot sweat and possible virus particles has an obvious link here.

Another Niyama is Tapas, which translates as 'discipline' and can relate to doing a good job of cleaning, having the discipline to stay and help rather than take the easy option of just getting your own things together.

Cleaning mats also relates to the Yamas of Ahimsa, Asteya and Aparigraha.

Ahimsa translates as Non-Violence, but a positive way of expressing this is kindness and compassion, which is encompassed by sharing the workload.

Asteya is Non-Stealing. This is not just of material possessions, but can be interpreted as taking more time than is fair. Leaving other class members to do the clearing up so that you can go early is a type of theft.

Aparigraha is Non-Grasping or Non-Greed. This also means generosity, giving up your time to help someone else.

In the same way, I apply the Yamas and Niyamas when accepting the help of the children. The lovely thing is that it has become a badge of honour to be able to help out. There are only so many mats and so many cloths or towels, and they all want to be involved.

So in consideration of Ahimsa, I am compassionate and think of children's feelings. Only this week, some kids were pushing themselves forwards to be picked to help (I love that they are keen!) but I spotted a quiet, serious girl at the back who has only been attending for a couple of weeks. She seemed to have an air of resignation that because she wasn't being pushy, she wouldn't be noticed. I said she could help that day because she was patiently waiting with her hand up. I was rewarded with the biggest smile that didn't go away even when it was time for her to leave.

In terms of Asteya and Aparigraha, it would be easiest for me to just pick the children who do push forward, and not consider anybody's feelings, as it would get the job done more quickly, take up less of my headspace and I could get packed up and go. So ensuring fairness and being generous with my time and headspace is my way of living by these principles.

I am very grateful for the time that the children give me when cleaning and rolling up mats. It's hard to get a yoga mat to roll up tightly enough to store away, but no child's contribution is unvalued. I can wallop a loosely rolled or cone-shaped mat into shape quite quickly and tell the child what a great job they've done.

I don't talk about yoga philosophy and eight limbs and Yamas and Niyamas. I just say, 'I love it when you all help me. We get it done so much more quickly when we all join in. Thank you so much for helping.'



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