Finding Stability in the Midst of Change

by Shawn Radcliffe

When I moved to Canada from the United States, I left behind my favorite yoga mat. It was a Manduka Pro, one of those thick, extra-long ones, with the little frog label on the end.

For any “serious” yoga teacher, a Manduka is a must-have. It’s sturdy, grippy, and oh-so stylish. It’s also very heavy and not worth shipping all the way to Hepworth from Portland, Oregon.

So I gave my mat away to a good friend. It felt a lot like adopting out a beloved pet.

Besides, I figured I could just replace it.

I didn’t though. Six-and-a-half years later, I’m still using one of the yoga mats that my partner Shannon had in her house.

It’s one of those blue, sticky ones. It isn’t quite as sturdy as a Manduka and not nearly as sticky as it probably once was. And instead of a cute little amphibian on it, it has a faded cursive letter B.

The Manduka wasn’t the only thing I left behind when I packed up my life and moved to Canada with my two cats.

I gave away most of my books—“I am not a library, I am not a library,” I told myself.

And my unicycle—let an aspiring bagpiping unicyclist enjoy it.

And the plates, pots, pans, Vitamix super-duper blender, bedsheets and duvet, towels, Japanese-style bed with tatami mats, the $25 banjo my father gave me when I was in university, and all the Ikea furniture that I bought because it was the only stuff that would fit in my tiny apartment.

Downsizing can be a good thing—even if it’s a Manduka that gets downsized.

In letting go of my yoga mat, I also “let go” of my yoga mat.

If you go to a yoga studio, almost everyone has a yoga mat. If you don’t have one of your own, the studio will rent or sell you one. Some studios even clean the rental mat for you (for a nominal fee, of course).

Having learned yoga in this mat-centric environment, the thought of doing asanas without a yoga mat—let alone without my Manduka, with its perfect complexion and sturdy physique—was unimaginable.

My attachment to my yoga mat was so serious that I used to roll it up, strap it to my backpack, and carry it from yoga studio to yoga studio as I made my teaching rounds.

One day a man walked up to me on the street in Portland and asked me where my favorite camping place was. I guess he mistook my Manduka for a common coyboy bedroll.

When I moved to Canada, though, everything changed.

All of a sudden, I had to practice yoga without the mat that had seen me through my 200-hour yoga teacher training, several relationships, and quitting my steady university job to live the “care-free” life of a yoga teacher.

And you know what?

I could still do yoga.

In fact, in many ways my yoga practice improved.

I also wasn’t fixated on only doing yoga if I had my Manduka with me.

I could do yoga on a Bally’s sticky blue mat. Or a red yoga mat ordered from a cereal box.

Or … get this … on no mat at all!

Now I’ll do yoga on our carpet, in the grass outside, and sometimes in the Staples manilla folder aisle (it has a really good balanced energy).

If you come to my classes, you’ll often see me teaching yoga without a mat—just a blanket to cushion the seated and lying-down poses.

Now that I’ve recovered from my Mat Anxiety Trauma (MAT), I realize that yoga isn’t at all about the yoga mat—or the stylish yoga pants or the kale smoothie that you drink after class.

Yoga is like a beautiful gyroscope at the center of my life, spinning, twirling, whirring, and whooshing all the time.

And like a gyroscope, my yoga never loses its position in space.

It is always there, stable and consistent, no matter what changes happen around me.

Shawn’s offerings

Shawn is a yoga teacher and health and science writer. He teaches a dynamic style of Hatha yoga that encourages students to move at their own pace. His classes range from gentle and chair yoga to more vigorous yoga. He also includes a healthy dose of breathing exercises and meditation in each class.

Mindfulness Monday Yoga is an all-levels class combining gentle movements, breathing exercises and meditation to aid you in finding stillness, focus, and clarity. Mondays 9:30 am – 10:45 am at Tone Studio in Owen Sound.

To connect with Shawn:, (519) 935-9905, or