File this under “over-the-top yoga marketing that makes you go hmmmm.” ~ Mary Beth Ray

Via Recovering Yogi
on Nov 15, 2011
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 Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on November 9, 2011. 


File this under “over-the-top yoga marketing that makes you go hmmmm.”

By Mary Beth Ray

I saw this news headline the other day:

Manduka and John Friend Unveil
The John Friend Collection by Manduka

I have a Manduka mat, and I thought “Oh jeez, is this Anusara ‘inner body bright’ bug going to infect Manduka, too?!?”

The press release begins: “Yoga industry pioneers partner to create innovative line of yoga accessories, inspired by 40 years of practice.” Bleck. My left eyebrow raised as I read on.

Some key points I want to highlight from the press release (in case you don’t have the time or inclination to read it yourself):

  • The mats will be 6 inches wider, which “allows for a deeper expression of movement and a better connection between body, mat and heart.”
  • “Available in the rich, purple hue Magic that is embraced by John Friend’s 600,000 students for its spiritual energy, the John Friend PROlite is a heartfelt expression of beauty and purpose.”
  • And John Friend says, “I am honored to collaborate with such an authentic company to bring an amazing new line of gear to the yoga community, deepening the connection between heart and mat, and inspiring students of any level to enjoy more energetic freedom during their practice.”

Oh, and they also released a video.

Did you watch it? “Everything about this mat will lead to the very essence of your heart…” Uh, reeeally? One of the comments below the video echoed my thoughts: “People. It’s just a yoga mat…and really, are you going to be the one who shows up for a packed class with a gigantic mat, bigger than everyone else’s?”

As I roll my eyes I think: yeah, well, with a potential market of 600,000 students (who apparently are enamored with the color purple) it makes sense that Manduka (and Mr. “let’s serve people” John Friend) would do this (at $95 a pop). And I can certainly understand how a good mat makes your practice more stable; that’s why I do love Manduka, but I don’t think I need 6 extra inches to “allow for a deeper expression of movement” — or maybe I’m wrong and size does matter here, which, if you’re broad shouldered, sure, makes sense you might want a wider mat to move at all, let alone deeper. They already make extra long mats for tall folks, so maybe extra width is a design alternative whose time has come. But in this context, with the flowery Anusara language wrapped around it, it’s just very funny to me (well, honestly it’s rather annoying, and, well, rather American to super-size your yoga class real estate).

I guess that’s just marketing fluff though, written to appeal to a certain (Anusara) demographic. Manduka mats are supposed to last a lifetime, and I already own a wonderful, regular ol’ 24” wide ProLite Manduka that I do love. (Hmmm, perhaps there is some validity to this connection between heart and mat?) Personally I’m not going to be in the market for a new mat anytime soon. I’m assuming, then, that all this marketing is meant to lure all those “other” mat users over to the Anusara Koolaid…err I mean Kula, away from Gaiam, Hugger Mugger, Tapas, Barefoot, Jade, and Prana.

But wait…Prana?

Hold on a sec, John Friend must be on a personal mission to transform the universal size of all mats (which apparently makes them “better”) one company at a time ‘cuz uh, yeah, he already designed “the best mat ever”… with Prana, two years ago. It is called the “Revolution”. Check it out here. The Revolution is apparently great for that all important “personal space” (or my all-time favorite “partner work” …ugh).

So now if you read the Manduka press release again, it seems all the more inauthentic with phrases like: “This is the first time…” and “This mat is a revolution in…” Whoa. <snap>

Yeah, okay, whatever, I really do think it’s great that everyone has the freedom to choose the mat that works best for their body (or one that they can afford, frankly). And I’m glad I invested in my virtually indestructible Manduka a few years ago (which, alas, is just plain purple, not officially “Magic” :-<) but I suppose if we all had 30-inch mats in a packed class then we could have them touching (or even overlapping) and honestly still have plenty of “personal space” to practice (unless when teachers insist on making you do that Wild Thing pose). Hey, on that note, why not just design a room-size mat that is custom-fit to each yoga room so everyone can really “enjoy more energetic freedom” and not worry about their pinky fingers falling off the mat in cobra?

PS Stay tuned: “The John Friend Collection by Manduka will expand in 2012 to include towels, bags and other innovative gear.”

 About Mary Beth Ray

 MB gets up before the crack of dawn to practice in a sweaty Mysore room in San Francisco, loving every moment of it, even when she hates it. She then trots off to earn a living by the good fortune of having a regular 9-5 corporate job, where she knows a thing or two about the business of book publishing. By night (and some weekends), she spreads the gospel of yoga one firmly grounded asana at a time to “all levels,” whatever that means.



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66 Responses to “File this under “over-the-top yoga marketing that makes you go hmmmm.” ~ Mary Beth Ray”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  2. Glad to see you posted this here! A great perspective!

  3. macpanther says:

    I have a Manduka mat because I was wearing out a cheap mat very quickly, and I did not think that was good for the environment. When I purchased the mat, I wrote the company to see what length I would need for my height. They recommended to purchase the 85" long mat and to cut it. I never cut it. The length can be problematic in some crowded classes, especially with 300 other people in a room with John Friend in Montclair, NJ last month.

    When I first got the Manduka, it outgassed something fierce. It was a pre-eco.

    For optimal alignment in some poses, my hands are on the edge of the mat. I would like the width of the new John Friend Manduka.

    For a while, I had Prana Revolution mat envy. I liked that it was wider and thinner than my Manduka, and just as sticky. We like to do "wild thing" in Anusara, and the transition to the pose is much easier with a wider mat.

    I would love one of these new mats. I might even buy the travel mat in the line, were I to travel more.

    When my teacher first told me about John Friend, I was a little hesitant about the glowing way in which people spoke about him. Having taken weekend workshops with him twice, I feel he is down-to-earth and authentic. Moreover, I need look no further than the teachers he certifies and inspires to judge that. It pains me that bloggers for Recovering Yogi seem particularly dedicated to criticizing John Friend. I thought muditha, "delight in the joy of others," was a yogic virtue. I hear nothing but openness to other styles in the halls of Anusara. Of course, I hear an insistence on its three jewels, the Universal Principles of Alignment, positive philosophy rooted in Tantra, and its emphasis on kula, community. But I don't hear trash talk about other styles, only what "good" may be found in them.

    These are interesting choices. For my part, I am more accepting of the incorporation of Anusara as alignment with the structure of the American scene, than of conceding to the cynicism that is rampant in American culture.

    • Mary Beth says:

      Hi MacPanther – so <ahem>, have you read the mission of Recovering Yogi? It’s really not just about criticizing John Friend (though he and Anusara do provide a lot of fodder), you could say it’s about breaking through the “avidya” (to throw a yogic concept back ‘atcha ;->). To be absolutely clear, I am not saying that having or even creating and selling a larger, wider mat is an issue. I think it's truly a great option for any yogi who needs or wants it!! What I am pointing out (presumably with a little humor) is the fact that JF (and Manduka) could not just say something straight up like "hey, we've designed (another) version of a wider mat for anyone who would feel more comfortable practicing on one made by Manduka." Just as long as JF doesn’t try to patent the 30” mat, I think we’ll all get past this little example of over-the-top marketing/Anusara language.

      I have no problem with the “three jewels” as you call them, except for the fact that they are not unique to Anusara, they are only rebranded concepts from the hallowed halls of pretty much any/all yoga.

      Om Shanti macpanther, Om Shanti

    • Well said MacPanther. Having practiced with John Friend several times (and with other Anusara teachers for years), I couldn't agree more with your sentiments about his down-to-earthedness and his authenticity. Thank you for speaking your truth. Peace.

  4. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Not cynicism, but healthy skepticism .. and also a bit of a long-overdue backlash against commercialized yoga …

  5. Jason says:

    Hey, grifters are going to grift. It's what they do. And John Friend is a grifter.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Richard Hudak Of course yoga should be procrustean. Who needs guys with wide shoulders in class anyway?
    4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Rick O'Connell If it makes someone more comfortable in their practice why not use a wider mat. You must have something better to write about than this …
    7 minutes ago · LikeUnlike
    Patrick Robert Like it or not more men are practicing, and a wider mat just makes sense. How much wider can it be? I would use a wider mat. I can think of more annoying things to breathe through in class (i.e. lateness, jingling keys…..) What I like to call annoysana lol
    2 minutes ago · LikeUnlike
    Elephant Yoga I agree, Rick. I like wider, as a big guy.

  7. […] line. Seriously? Is this necessary? Isn’t muditha that much easier? Here’s my reply on elephant journal. I have a Manduka mat because I was wearing out a cheap mat very quickly, and I did not think that […]

  8. B says:

    Can’t we let those that flourish do so. What you put out you get back. We all have our own karma and dharma. Sit down and meditate for a minute and maybe you’ll realize in the grander scheme of things, this is not what we are all doing our work for.

  9. elephantjournal says:

    Elephant Yoga I have the same. I like the length, and width…not sure if anyone else gets claustrophobic with others' arms and legs sticking into where I'm practicing, but the width/length helps a bit with that. I avoid even my favorite yoga teachers' classes due to overcrowding—some of these classes, the little mats are fit like tetris cubes! Too much!

    Elephant Yoga This post above must be Waylon – the 'normal' size mat suits my elfy self just fine. 😛 –Tanya

    Rick O'Connell There's got to be something more important to write about than one mans effort to make us more comfortable and expansive in our practice… I hope this isn't a precursor of where elephant is going…

    Rick, we're always about dialogue. Cynicism is welcome. Your comments make it a conversation. ~ Waylon

  10. jenifer says:

    Just to let you know, Jade Harmony will make mats to order in length, width, and thickness, and they have done this for my clients for YEARS (since 2002). All you have to do is ask, and you get your choice of color, too.

    One of my fellas had tight shoulders, so the wider mat made it easier for him to “open his heart” — no, i mean, externally rotate his shoulders in downward dog (and yes, it is an external rotation, then an internal one at the forearm and wrist), and overall simply have a better position for his neck and shoulders. He was also quite tall, so they made an extra-long mat for him. He also got to choose the color. He liked red. It’s a nice shade of red, I have to say.

    The jade harmony mats also last longer, in my experience. I have eco manduka mats for my studio — because they were available in NZ and the Jades are not (i’d have to order them through Oz and pay tariffs twice!), and they have had just 11 months of about 2.25 hrs of use a day (the typical use for an single astangi), and are already showing wear.

    My former Jade Harmonies (couldn’t move them), withstand astangi-styled practices (2.25 hrs) daily (assuming the astangi isn’t doing moon days, i guess) without any appearance of wear and tear for three years. Then i had to leave them at that studio (i didn’t own that studio — or I would have brought them with me).

    So, I’m just saying if you’re in the market for a mat that is sized to fit and the color you like, just contact Jade Harmony. They are friendly people.

    Btw, I am not affiliated with Jade Harmony in any way. I’d love to import their mats to NZ, but since they have an agreement with their Oz distributor, that’s not allowed. I have found a locally produced-ish (company in Oz, product made in Taiwan) eco-mat that is jute and natural rubber (so fully compostable). . . that I might try out as they are less expensive (since they are more “local-ish”) but I’m not sure how the wear and tear is, and I’m not sure if they cut to size. I’ll have to ask. The ladies who run the company are awesome. 😀

    • macpanther says:

      Some of those who practice and teach Anusara in my kula have Jade mats and I have had Jade envy, too.

      • Monica says:

        The jade mats are great at first then they get floppy and slide around in a weird stretchy way…I went through 2 Jade mats that lost their grip to the floor in less than a year, before i decided to get my Manduka black mat 5 years ago and I haven't needed another mat since. From the look and feel of it, I never will!

  11. Chas says:

    So much hate. So little understanding. And so you know, melting your heart is not easy. And it IS simple. Just takes a lot of practice.

  12. Abby Tucker says:

    Let's elevate the conversation. This isn't a marketing ploy. This really is about what is in the Highest service to yoga students in their bodies, minds, and hearts. Here is why.

    The wider dimensions of the new John Friend Collection mats serve a need by giving students the space they need to create the alignment principles that we use in Anusara. Students are instructed to take a wider hand stance than you find instructed in other systems in order to better stabilize the shoulderblades onto the back. A more narrow handwidth pulls the armbones & shoulderblades off the back. As a result the front body and heart cave in and the upper back pushes–not good for backbends and armbalancs

    So, this wider mat very much serves the asana practice as it relates to the body, but also serves opening up our mindset as well. When we practice on a yoga mat, our minds narrow to the width of the mat in terms of where we think we can go. A wider mat gives a mental feeling of having more space and being able to expand through our practice. Why not no mat? Because then the mind can scatter. We create an expansive container.

  13. Abby Tucker says:

    Finally, it IS in service of the heart. When our bodies get aligned, we can turn our minds towards our Highest nature. So, when John Friend says "this mat will lead to the very essense of your heart," it is not fluff. What we do on our mat (& how we do it) are towards one grand purpose–the recognition of and delight in our own Divine essence. John Friend will always expand the boundaries if it is ultimately serving that Highest purpose of doing yoga . He is unwavering on this, and THAT is why he has 600,000 students, not because he markets things for his own gain.

    • macpanther says:

      Abby, I really appreciate these insightful comments of yours. They are consistent with my experience. I am a sociologist. We are the academy's skeptics, and many of us are cynics. We are the toughest crowd. None of us are sheep. But we are empiricists. Empirically, Anusara just works for me. To say it serves me is even more precise. So many students of the style have stories about healing from injury. It is the one style I was able to practice while waiting (for Spring Break) to have surgery on an umbilical hernia, and I was back on my mat in five weeks afterwards. The challenge of a positive philosophy has made me more mindful and a better, more resilient person. My kula has my back and I have theirs.

    • Louise Brooks says:

      @Abby – "Finally, it IS in service of the heart. When our bodies get aligned, we can turn our minds towards our Highest nature. "

      Nonsense really. The John Friend/Manduka alliance is just more slickster advertising. Whether its deodorant, a new car, kitchen gadget, or yoga mat, they all promise to change our lives. JF needs to get over himself. Its a yoga mat for pete's sake.

    • It can't be said better than that. Thanks Abby!

  14. Carol Horton says:

    As far as I'm concerned, when a yoga teacher markets a product as something that will "lead to the very essence of your heart" – and this in a consumer culture where people are constantly being told in all sorts of overt and subliminal ways that they need to buy something in order to be happier and better human beings – he or she is making a very bad choice.

    • macpanther says:

      Just as Lance Armstrong said "It's not about the bike," it is not about the mat. It is about a collaboration between a teacher committed to a more freeing alignment, and a company committed to making durable green products for yoga.

      • Vision_Quest2 says:

        Granted I myself need a wider mat. I also need one less slippery. My mat is eco. But I appreciate that whatever it is that is being hawked by Friend, is not a Jade.
        I won't be buying this mat since it is rather above my price range. But never underestimate how a latex allergy can be worsened if the way you practice, pulverizes a rubber mat in short order.

      • Louise Brooks says:

        Stop drinking the kool-aid. Its marketing, nothing more and nothing less.

  15. Jenifer says:

    truly, a mat isn't necessary to practice yoga.

    the first 18 years of my practice, i didn't have, own, or use a yoga mat. There was no need for one. I practiced iyengar, kripalu, and power vinyasa styles.

    for the past 11 years, I have not used a yoga mat at home. I had a yoga mat because the studios utilized them to help people create their individual spaces. So, I would take it to classes and workshops, because it was necessary in those spaces (due to the culture of those spaces).

    Having my own studio, I know the value of having a space demarcated for the students. Likewise, I use the mat as a teaching tool (eg, to widen the shoulders for better "heart opening" in downward dog, place the pinky finger on the edge of the mat; to have a balanced downward dog stance, hands at the front of the mat, feet near the back, heels lifting is ok).

    But, the mat does not "make" the practice. The practice is "made" inside the person — whether it is anusara, iyengar, sivananda, satyananda, and whatever other style you can think of — including the fluid, unnamed/branded creative styles of your every-day, average teacher out there in the gyms, wellness centers, senior centers, schools, studios, and church halls.

    Yoga is yoga.

    Yoga mats are not yoga. They facilitate yoga, they do not make yoga yoga.

  16. Manduka says:

    Yes, it&sup1;s a wider mat. But it&sup1;s something we feel really passionate about. When you make yoga mats for a living, details like an additional 1/16th" of cushioning or non-toxic foam agents make you really excited. An extra 6 inches to your mat? For some, that can entirely shift your practice. And when you have a really good mat, your practice isn&sup1;t about the mat at all. You can just go inside and work it out. We try and make gear with the most heart and soul, the most eco-responsibility, inspired by and with the input of this awesome community. We have nothing but gratitude for all of the support and love we receive from teachers and students around the globe.

  17. Rachel says:

    who knew a yoga mat could spark such controversy!
    we all need to stop taking things so personally and let all yoga mats be free to be themselves, big, small, wide, think, thin, yellow, orange, blue, rainbow, eco, non-eco, one love for all yoga mats 😉

  18. liz bragdon says:

    you don’t even need an effing mat to do yoga. and if you think a mat is going to get you closer to your heart, you have no idea what yoga is. or where your heart is. period. i never post on this stuff, but i’ve about had enough of this bologna.

  19. I think this is a fine time to introduce you all to Plank! The Plank yoga brand combines cheeky Brit humor with a line of practical yet irresistibly stylish yoga mats and accessories designer to appeal to the devout yogi and everyone in between.

    Plank is deliberate in it’s design to motivate fans and customers to shift the idea of what a yoga mat is, as you’ll see and enjoy with the Signature Photo Mat Series; a collection of commissioned, art-quality images hand rendered onto eco-friendly, fully sustainable natural rubber.

    So go ahead and take a peek here. You know you want to…

    Inhale. Exhale. Enjoy.Plank it

  20. Laurie says:

    I love everything about this article!!

  21. liz bragdon says:

    pinky fingers??? really??? and a mat as necessary to open your mind? or to focus it? holy crap! i thought you were supposed to use your own mind for that stuff? poor patanjali. clearly, he suffered from being born before the the mat industry took off and john friend showed up to help him keep his pinkies and his mind on the expanding space of his cosmic mat-self. clearly he missed out on the Truth: an expensive, wide-ass mat is your teacher. Bow to the Marketing Gods, slave. Forget liberation. Forget where the teacher truly dwells. So sad.

    • macpanther says:

      Chuang-Tzu said "When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten." Who am I to say what is the right balance of effort and ease of another person?

      One of my Anusara teachers, said "The pose is in the toes," and did a whole class what could be afforded by extending the fourth and pinky toes. It has even helped my balance in inversions. Later, in taking a class on anatomy, I learned why this works. The divine is in the details.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I keep my pinky fingers off the mat at times (and I am a large-framed woman) … but I do my own fusion yoga style (at home and in an occasional freeform class) that necessitates more Anusara-like (I guess) placement of hands, fingers spread, in chaturanga …

      I'm not about to get this Manduka. It is overkill. I am in mat heaven, relatively speaking, with the more modest one I own, pinkies or no pinkies …

  22. macpanther says:

    I just watched the video again. It ends with John Friend saying "I'm proud to say that everything about this mat will lead to the very essence of your heart." If he were saying that about an SUV, I would worry.

    Regardless of style, the idea of a mat can transcend the physical object. "On and off the mat," we say of our practices. "I need to get back on my mat." "Shepherd your gaze to the confines of your mat." A lot happens on a mat. People have an intimate relationship with their mat. They have elaborate rationales for having a particular mat, or a particular color. They make of them birthday presents to themselves. They obsess about what mat to get and whether to have gotten one was the right decision. "Had I known that Manduka was coming out with an eco mat…" Ad infinitum. Mat envy, mat obsession, mat pride, all of this precedes and will succeed John Friend and Anusara.

  23. […] I’m enticed to buy something every time I open an email. Maybe I’m especially susceptible to marketing ploys. After all, I’ll freely admit how much I love to shop. I realize this isn’t exactly a […]

  24. Ben_Ralston says:

    Reminds me very, very much of the whole Toesox thing (

    One of the things I love most about yoga is that I don't need anything at all to do it. Just me, the earth beneath me, and the air that I breathe.

    Sorry to say it, but my discern-ometer is ding-dinging. Many people have a lot invested in you all buying 95 dollar Yoga mats. They may be great mats. But you don't *need* them.
    They want you to *feel* that you need them – hence lines like 'this mat will open your heart' (or whatever).

    Finally, a great teacher transmits the ultimate truth to his students: that they are already free.
    John Friend's message that our hearts need another 6 inches (haha) makes me think that he is probably not a great teacher.

    • macpanther says:

      Indeed, one of the things I hear regularly from Anusara teachers, paraphrasing Douglas Brooks, is that we are free beings seeking an embodied experience. I hear both that the answers lie within and that we don't go it alone. To say that a mat may lead to a better experience is partly to acknowledge that matter matters as much as spirit.

      Some may decide it is their path to eschew dualisms such as the ones that separates commerce and a spiritual path, individual and universal, or matter and spirit. I think that may be particularly difficult for Westerners to take such paths.

  25. macpanther says:

    As we debate the finer points of the collaboration between John Friend and Manduka, and the Anusara path, what to me is the truly interesting discussion is languishing for comment.

    I heard on NPR this morning (a podcast that downloads automagically to my iPod based on the keyword "yoga") that Lululemon is asking on its bags "Who is John Galt?" If that isn't humor fodder, I don't know what is.

  26. […] Asked ‘Who Is John Galt?’ Posted on November 18, 2011 While we engage in a very welcome and enlivening debate over on elephant journal, about the new mat collaboration between John Friend and Manduka, and the finer points of Anusara […]

  27. craigholliday says:

    When i was in india we practiced on a concrete roof with no mats, i'm not that tough anymore

  28. And the press release, written by a PR agent and
    approved copywriter, has done it’s job. What a wonderful dance of dialogue!

  29. macpanther says:

    This past weekend, while I was working on urdhva danurasana (upward-facing bow pose or "wheel"), I discovered greater freedom and less exertion taking my hands so wide off my standard Manduka that only the index fingers, their knuckles, and the thumbs were on the mat.

    I'm getting similar results in down dog, and cobra.

    Now I think I would like a 30-inch wide mat.

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