Tag Archives: Yoga

5 simple steps to #yoga practice at home.

Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation – why is home practice so difficult? With a little more time and effort between classes you could develop your practice and begin to understand and enjoy some of the more intangible benefits that yoga has to offer. These five simple steps will help to capture the enthusiasm from class and bring it home into your private practice. It’s really very simple and the only question is what path you might take between steps four and five.

  • Place
  • Plan
  • Time
  • Sit
  • Lie

MMChairWindow1. Make space – a corner will do, somewhere you can put your mat down and shut the door. In this space, create a sense of the sacred. Use a windowsill, shelf or side table and make a shrine – a tea light, a statue, a flower in a vase – any objects which bring focus to the mind and humility to our intentions. This space reminds and encourages us to do better, to go deeper, and the people around you will appreciate and respect it too. (Saucha – Cleanliness.)

2. Have a plan. Even if your plan is to go with the flow you’ll find it helpful to have structure to act as a reminder once you’re ‘in the zone’. If you want a sequence, write it down. Preparation is an important part of the process. (Santosha – Contentment.)

3. Use a timer.
To build up your strength and stamina by holding poses, staying in inversions, and for recuperative poses, in home practice the timer is our teacher and our best friend. For Savasana, Pranayama and meditation, a timer can help you to release more and in the end, you won’t need it. If you use a phone or tablet, use it to store your practice notes, make use of the timer, but always put it in flight mode. (Tapas – Discipline.)


4. Always begin by sitting for a few moments. This quiet time prepares the brain and the body: it instills the essence of yoga practice from the outset and reconnects the brain with the body. (Svadhaya – Self Study.)

01 Savasana knees supported5. Always finish with Savasana. The healing benefits of your practice need to percolate through all the cells of the body and this takes time. Offer up the fruits of your labour (however bitter!) to a higher self. Lie flat, a blanket for the head and/or a chair for the legs, if necessary. Set your timer and if you fall asleep, so be it. (Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to a higher being.)

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Praise in a #Yoga class: is it Satya?

satya3Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. It also refers to a virtue, to being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action. In Yoga, satya is one of the five yamas. It is the virtuous restraint from falsehood and, crucially, the distortion of reality in one’s expressions and actions.

A student recently asked me why I didn’t give positive feedback to individuals in class. It’s a question that comes up from time to time. Speaking as a school teacher, she said she spent her working life encouraging and praising pupils for effort and achievement. Why is there no praise in a Yoga class?

There is a stock answer: when I say to a yoga student, “Well done”, I am giving myself a pat on the back. I am saying, “Look! My teaching is so excellent, and this student is living proof!” Is that Satya?

alignment1What about all the lessons that student has not learned, the basic actions avoided and evaded even after months and years of practice? Shoulders back, lift your chest – do I still need to say this every time? Clearly yes – I have not taught them this lesson yet. That these actions are not coming tells me their mind is elsewhere or their ego is still in the driving seat, and I have not dealt with those issues. That is the reality, the Satya in this situation. To say “Well done” is to distort reality for both of us.

How many of us experience moments of dread when the teacher moves on to our ‘worst’ pose, the one we love to hate? Somehow we struggle through, cling on and breathe a sigh of relief when they move to the next pose. And then when we are practicing, when we see the results begin to come, is there a part of us that looks forward to showing off our new-found skills and achievements in class, anticipating admiring glances from our fellows and praise from the teacher? Is this Satya?

satya12Some students just seem to flow into the  most demanding of poses – deep twists, spring up into handstands but how is their practice in, say, Savasana for instance?

And is it so very wrong to quietly say, “Well done” to someone who has been struggling and finally gets up into Urdhva Dhanurasana? When I’m immersed in my teaching, sometimes the words just pop out of my mouth! But what if a student is unlikely ever to achieve that pose? Maybe there’s an injury, a difficulty that precludes them from the final pose – is their effort any the less because of that?

satya11Saying, “Well done” to someone in a Yoga class is the quickest way to stunt their progress. When someone is praised, in that moment, the learning stops: out come the laurels and the ego, effort ceases and is replaced by laziness, apathy and then disillusion. The brain takes over and their experience of yoga narrows down to a few postures they can use to demonstrate their experience and ability. Satya includes the reality of our inexperience, our inability too.

In Iyengar Yoga the challenge is to learn the essence of the pose, not just its technique or shape. If it was all about form and beauty, Yoga would be an Olympic sport, like gymnastics. When Mrs. Urdhva Dhanurasana finally lifts up from the floor, to say “Well done” creates a distortion of reality: the discipline and effort are gone and the student gets mentally ‘stuck’, believing that’s all they have to do. Their practice will suffer because getting into the pose is only the beginning. My teaching therefore is at fault. That is Satya!satya9


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Ten thoughts for ten days.

Take each of these quotes from BKS Iyengar and think about it for a day. Live with it, play with it, daydream with it. I’ve put some of my thoughts beneath each one. Let me know what they mean to you…..

1. ‘Giving does not impoverish. With-holding does not enrich.’

Money is energy – it can only flow smoothly through an open purse.

2. ‘Health is not a commodity to be bargained for. It has to be earned through sweat.’

Taking care of yourself can be demanding.

happyandunselfish3. ‘Regular practice of yoga can help you face the turmoil of life with steadiness and stability.’

What are the two key words in this quote?

4. ‘Unless people learn to differentiate between the essentials and non-essentials, peace will always elude them’.

Look to Nature for examples of what’s essential. Peace, and the lack of it, is determined by the degree to which we cling to everything else. 

5. ‘Self-culture begins only when you are completely engrossed in what you are doing’.

Commit to something, for its own sake, and the doing becomes its own reward.

6. ‘Fear and fatigue block the mind. Confront both squarely, then courage and confidence will flow into you’.

Feel the fear. Do you need to rest first, or do it anyway?

7. ‘Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you’.

Details matter, and perfection is in the detail.

8. ‘Persistent practice alone is the key to yoga’.

Nothing comes from nothing.

9. ‘The ocean is the self, the waves are the thoughts. The self is silent – the thoughts make noise.’

Make space every day for stillness.

10. ‘If you are happy, pleasant, and unselfish in your behavior towards others, obstacles will shrink. If you are miserly with your emotions and judgmental in your mind, obstacles will grow.’

One of the hardest to master – I find Facebook is a good place to practice this one!

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Rachel’s Yoga Weekend Jan 2017


Lifting the elbows/arms up.


Keeping them up and moving the thoracic in.


Baddakonasana: 5 blocks, a brick.


Heels up on the brick, toes splayed.


Belt to each knee round the opposite thigh, tighten evenly.


Wedge another brick under each femur head, on a block if necessary.


Hold a looped belt under the outer edges of the feet.


Sit for 10 minutes. To feel the effect in the pelvis and hips, walk slowly round the room when you come out.


Chair uttanasana.


Using a strap on the door handles to create a sling at home.


Side ribs up….


…and thoracic in.


Side ribs up to encourage forward extension.


Sacrum in and up…..


…thoracic in.


Look from the backs of the eyes.

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Iyengar Yoga Home Practice Sheets

These yoga routines are designed to be simple, effective and easy to use. You may need some equipment, but most can be substituted with things you have at home. Beginners can try any of the first seven sequences. The Level 1 and Level 2 sequences are for more experienced students.

Staying in the poses is part of the process, to observe the way the body adjusts, learn how to release pain and tension, and allow the body and mind to relax. So it’s helpful to have a timer for these sequences. If you use your phone put it in flight mode.

If you have any questions or comments, please use the box below.

With best wishes, Hannah.



Filed under Beginners etc., Breathing, Iyengar, Lifestyle Changes, Pain, Relaxation, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic

Iyengar and Ashtanga Yoga.

Men & Yoga7
The philosophy behind Yoga is vast. It’s practically impossible for a Western person to embrace the beauty and subtlety of it all in just a single lifetime. If you practice yoga regularly, you may have had glimpses of your own inner potential, your natural spirituality. In order to explore that potential further, it’s useful to have a framework, or a map to guide you.

People usually start coming to yoga classes for reasons of fitness, health, flexibility but they find there’s another benefit, one that can’t be described, only experienced. When they come out of a class, everything is the same but something is different. The discomfort and stress in our brains is diminished, mental noise and emotional instability have been replaced by a quiet stability. What is it about yoga, specifically, that does that? And how does that lead to spiritual transformation?

Most of life is an accident that happens to us. We all have commitments, family issues and financial constraints, health problems. Things happen to us, some good, some bad, and we live with the imprint of these accidents for the rest of our lives. For richer or poorer, no one is immune. At times life is extremely uncomfortable, painful and stressful.

BKS Iyengar famously said that, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” In this quote, he’s talking not just about the body, but the mind and the emotions too.

He also said that health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. “When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” How can both those statements be true?

hall-of-positivityFirst we must cure what we can and the framework for this is found in the first two of the eight limbs of yoga: the Yamas and Niyamas. The first sets out a series of restraints in order that we might do the minimum amount of damage to others and to ourselves. Then we are encouraged observe and discipline ourselves. The reasoning behind this is very sensible – social justice is better for everybody and natural law encourages us to create a climate around ourselves that is comfortable for us and for others. And self discipline is the key.

Having put our house in order, the third limb suggests we focus on what we can do to counteract the natural physical, mental and emotional stresses of life through Asana practice. Asana means “seat”. When we practice we are developing our inner climate, one which is comfortable and supportive for the spirit. Sometimes the practice is for the body, sometimes for the brain, or the emotions, or the mind. We practice so that somewhere within any one of the asanas, we can find a moment of equilibrium. The asana needs to be physically comfortable, and with skilful teaching (as you find in RIMYI), if we ‘cannot do’ we find a method or a prop to provide that stability so that we can ‘go inside’.

Eight LimbsWith these first three basic steps, we can cure what need not be endured. The reason we continue to practice is that life goes on, some problems come and go, but some stay and must be endured. We do everything we can to create a harmonious, balanced, protected and receptive climate within and around the physical body from which we can access the spiritual body. It’s not dependent on how many postures you can do or how ‘well’ you can do them. But can you use them to create the freedom from physical and mental distractions and go further, spiritually? How do you do that?

The bridge between this external work and our spiritual world is Pranayama, the fourth limb, simply described as conscious breathing. The link between the body, the mind and the spirit is our Consciousness. Through the asana practice, we learn to read the body and the brain, like a textbook. We stay in the pose and use our intelligence and our breathing to explore further and further. And this is where the Western depiction of yoga loses its way. We improve and evolve, not by ability but by education, by becoming cultured in our practice. Like seasoned wood, which does not change with external conditions, we need to season our consciousness so it is not disturbed by external fluctuations.

And the next step towards this is withdrawal of the senses, Pratyahara,  the fifth limb, when the asana practice has settled the body, the brain and the mind, and our consciousness is free to explore our inner landscape. Look at the chart above – you’ll notice the figure is lying down for this stage and then sitting up for the 6th and 7th stages of focus and meditation. We’re entering the realms of prana, energy, nadis and chakras, concepts that are relatively inaccessible to the Western mind, because they exist in many dimensions, and we don’t have a deep familiarity with philosophy.

So first we have to learn to walk. “Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it … Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.” BKS Iyengar.

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From #YOGA to Integral Consciousness.

BKS Iyengar said, “Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization.”

Ancient YogaThe purpose of yoga is to develop our self-awareness and lead us towards spiritual transformation, using the body as a microcosm, a map if you like, of previous incarnations, each of which have left their imprint: karma. Our yogic purpose is to access as many of these imprints as possible, using the asanas to break our resistance, face our fears, and transform ourselves. The body is simply a vehicle. It’s the mind that is the target and it’s very tricky, because it’s always moving, or getting stuck. 

‘Dis-ease’ in the human system manifests as changes in our emotional state, a negative mental attitude, physiological changes, altered breathing patterns or a combination of these. One fundamental Ayurvedic understanding is that an imbalance in any of these dimensions leads to dis-ease in others. What manifests in one dimension may have a root cause in another. Yoga practice is recommended in Ayurvedic medicine as a preventive and as a treatment, from a psycho-spiritual perspective. Thus yoga treats all the dimensions of the human system.

But how does this lead to human evolution, self-realisation, and spiritual transformation?

To begin to answer that massive question, we might consider what Jean Gebser called the Four Structures of Consciousness, which he suggests have evolved in our brains since Australopithecus roamed eastern Africa about 4 million years ago. Gebser’s major thesis was that just like any natural organism, human consciousness is and always has been, in transition, something that BKS Iyengar obviously understood.

The Heart has its reasonsIn the first transformation, the brain of Australopithecus evolved what Gebser called an Archaic Structure of Consciousness, almost completely instinctual with minimal self-awareness. We feel it when we are ‘at one with Nature’. The human being was totally immersed in the world unable to extricate him/herself from that world: they identified completely with that world and had no ego. (Think of a plant or a tree.) Today this manifests in our behaviour as the impulse towards self-transcendence, the need to remove the distinction between subject and object through ecstatic experiences or drug-induced states. Young people often seek this experience during their teenage years.

The second ‘cognitive style’, which Gebser called the Magical Structure, evolved through the era of Homo Erectus, about 1.9 million years ago until as recently as 70,000 years ago. It still pre-dates what we know as the Ego, and it operates at the archetypal level, what we call gut instinct. Today it’s active when we fall in love, when we’re spellbound, or in sympathy with someone or something. In the negative sense, it manifests as temporarily losing one’s judgment, or even one’s humanity, under the hypnotic influence of a large crowd. (Sounds familiar?) Gebser suggests it’s also the cognitive basis for magic, some inward yogic paths, and the cultivation of paranormal powers.

Buddha2The third transformation of the brain Gebser called Mythical. By this point, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon people had evolved a degree of self-awareness and ego, similar to that of a child. The Mythical consciousness is active today when we “immerse ourselves in the imagery of the mind*”, when we express to our thoughts and feelings through poetry and art. Symbols & myths, feeling & intuition – these were the contributing factors used by our brains in the creation of sacred texts and ancient writings. We often use symbols and imagery for comfort and support, in times of stress.

These first three transformations involve structural changes in both mind and body and as we evolve, each ‘mutation’ continues to operate to some degree within us.

In the past 1-2,000 years we have evolved a fourth: the Mental. This operates in the domain of the rational mind which has now become acutely self-conscious, with a well-developed Ego. This cognitive style is based on the principle of duality – subject/object, black/white, yours/mine, either/or. And it’s proving extremely unhelpful to mankind and to the planet. Duality gives us only two choices and our fear of making the wrong choice or being told we’re ‘running away from the problem’ is exploited all the time by individuals and organisations whose sole purpose is the getting of power and money.

Your Magic Zone

Julian Lennon

Fortunately, evidence suggests there are millions of individuals who question and reject this approach. In his book ‘The Ever Present Origin”, Gebser suggests we could be witnessing the emergence of a fifth structure – Integral Consciousness. It might be wishful thinking but if he’s right, it could be the antidote to the excessive egoism of Mental Consciousness, along with its denial of our Spiritual reality and our Natural origins.

Integral Consciousness transcends the ego and restores the balance between the various structures of consciousness. It can be difficult to imagine but John Lennon wrote a song that describes what that might look like.

Yoga and other spiritual traditions contain within them many values and elements that could help us. The central principle is the ability to focus and discipline the mind in order for transformation to begin and continue. So when you unroll your mat, you’re becoming part of the solution. Discipline and humility are the key.

*With thanks to Georg Feuerestein PhD and his excellent book The Yoga Tradition.
**For a classic guide to integrating yoga into your daily life: The Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar.

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From #YOGA to Self-realisation.

Self-Discipline for Westerners.

As an Iyengar Yoga teacher, I’m at odds with Western depictions of what yoga is and what it’s about. To start with, there’s a fundamental issue I want to explore and that is our skewed Western view of the purpose of humility and respect.

At RIMYI, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, we hear the phrase, “You people” used to describe “us Westerners”, when one of us has behaved like an idiot in class. It’s true – when we arrive most of us just don’t get it, and the learning curve is very steep.

20161110_091700_resized_1Take the crazy traffic as an example. The rule seems to be: keep moving, don’t waver and pedestrians, never step backwards – someone could easily be squeezing through the gap behind you. No one stops at roundabouts with the “After you” attitude of the Western give way system. Anyone who wavers causes problems for everyone else and I’ve seen dogs, cattle, pigs, hand carts loaded with all sorts, street sweepers (women in lovely saris with a long wispy broom) wandering up and down the roads quite safely while lorries, cars, motor bikes and scooters, often with several people on them (including children and babies), are doing things you’d get arrested for in the West. It might seem undisciplined and dangerous but if anyone causes an accident he/she will gather an angry crowd in seconds for displaying such stupidity and endangering the lives of others.

The practice hall in the Institute is a sacred place where for over 40 years Iyengar Yoga teaching has been developed, practiced and freely given. All the yoga props you see around the world today – wall ropes, bricks, belts, the trestler etc– and their therapeutic use in yoga, originated here, from hours of experimentation and refinement carried out in this room and in the small library below by BKS Iyengar, his family and his team of senior teachers. Why? Because in the beginning, Yoga is about healing, and they wanted to “help people who could not do”.


Today, the city of Pune and it’s 2.5 million inhabitants (about the size of Greater Manchester) has five or six generations of Iyengar Yoga students and teachers. The daily classes in the two practice rooms are filled to capacity. The queues for registration in May each year are legendary. The rigour and discipline in class are eye-watering to soft Westerners, poses often performed completely without props, except for a sticky mat. (The Seniors use bolsters and belts to ‘help them do’, to sit straight, or to raise their arms.) The classes are strong, quick and detailed; every instruction is delivered from ‘a very straight bat’. The locals love it, and their love and respect for the Iyengars and their teachers is clearly evident. In the world-famous Medical classes, Iyengar Yoga and props come together and are used with years of skill and experience, providing relief and respite to those who need help.

But some of the Westerners don’t seem to get it. During general classes, if you make a mistake, the length of the tirade will depend on your ability to explain what you were doing and why: in other words, your level of stupidity in not acting on instructions. In taking it upon ourselves to do something different, are we suggesting we know better? We are teachers – we go back to our countries and pass these instructions and our attitude on to others. To bear the Iyengar name, our teaching must be of the highest quality to instruct our students safely and appropriately. And as a student, we must truly know ourselves, and as we develop, we need teachers to show us our blind spots. This isn’t always comfortable, but Geetaji’s lesson to me changed my lazy chatush padasana and I am grateful for it!

20161107_091241_resized_1Indian culture is rich with gods and rituals. Humility, homage, respect are naturally and unselfconsciously displayed by people here. Discipline doesn’t need to be rigorously applied – the Institute isn’t festooned with notices telling us what we can and cannot do – because if you behave with humility, pay attention and show respect, there’s not a lot of need for reminders. But Western stupidity knows no bounds, apparently. Last week a group of Westerners ate a picnic in the practice hall between classes. That’s as bad as bringing your shoes into the Institute. Self-discipline and appropriate behaviour grow naturally from humility and respect. ‘It’s a cultural thing,’ someone once said. If you haven’t grown up embedded within that culture, your understanding of it will only ever be sketchy.

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Iyengar Yoga home practice sheets.

These yoga routines are designed to be simple and easy to use. You may need some equipment, but most can be substituted with things you have at home. The first six sheets are suitable for all levels. The last two are suitable for more experienced students.
If you have any questions or comments, please use the box below.
With best wishes, Hannah.


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A Smoothie – the best breakfast.

For a morning kick start and smooth ride through your day, put these into your blender:

200ml milk ( a mix of soya & coconut is my favourite, but use goat, cow, etc)

1 chopped banana

2 tsp Green Lightning  with power-packed superfoods and oceanic algae like spirulina, chlorella, and Pacific kelp, Green Lightning delivers energizing, purifying nutrients for vibrant, exhilarating health and vitality. Algae are nature’s superfood indeed.

2 tbsp live yoghurt (soya, goat, cow, etc)

Add a handful of fresh or frozen berries – raspberries, blueberries, etc. (Frozen gives a very cool smoothie, both temperature and colour!)

Now whizz with abandon, and drink BOTH glasses or you won’t make it to lunchtime. (If you have teenage daughters, make double the quantity. Trust me …. I’m a yoga teacher….)

If you refuse to be levered out of your toast-and-marmalade habit, at least get some Sun Chlorella. You’ll be so glad you did.


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Granola – the staff of life.

  • Download the recipe HERE.

This is a modification of a great recipe served at the sumptuous brunch on one of our yoga holidays in Portugal. It was meant for the few wheat-free guests, but quickly became a favourite with everybody. It will set you up for the day, and is a great alternative for a tea-time snack. I have modified it to lower the GI, and make it more sustaining by improving the protein content. The quinoa and oats are a great blend. Buy organic nuts – you really can taste the difference. The muscovado is important for the trace elements in the molasses. (You could use a tablespoon of molasses melted into the hot water instead. It makes the granola much darker.) The goji berries are a beautiful colour, and either prunes or apricots have a low GI. Simply snip them into small pieces with kitchen scissors. If you like a toasted flavour, put it under a grill for a few minutes, but don’t leave it – you’ll burn your nuts and have to start all over again!

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* 20 Ways to recycle your old yoga mat.

We have wooden floors at home. They look lovely, but bath mats and rugs are lethal! I have cured the problem using several old yoga mats as thin, soft underlay for the rugs. Old mats are also useful when cut to fit the footwell in the car, for keeping your car floor mud and dust free.

Thanks to the team at Yogamatters for these other ideas:

 1. Donate to homeless shelters for extra padding to sleep on

2. Donate to an animal rescue centre such as RSPCA. Most

of these places need soft, durable mats, rugs, towels, & blankets to line


3. Use it on the beach instead of a towel

4. Or as a draught excluder – plug up draughty windows and doors to save

energy and keep warm

5. A door stop – cut bits out and fold over to fit the gap under your door

6. Old mats can be used for pet’s beds – they insulate from a cold

hard floor and protect the floor from any straying paws

7. You could make waterproof cushions for outdoor events: easy to store,

lightweight, washable, reusable, and comfortable. Cut the mat into

equal pieces to make the top and bottom (the size of a newspaper laid

flat). Next, punch holes every 2 inches all the way around (both top and

bottom). Then, take a couple of newspapers and lay them between the

top and bottom. Use string, twine, ribbon, etc. to lace the holes and tie

off. To re-stuff, untie and add new newspaper

8. Cut to fit wardrobe floors or place by the front door as a place for

muddy shoes

9. Cat scratching post – roll the mat up tightly and fasten with string. You

can also use a section as a protective pad for your floor by the cat’s

litter box

10. Play time – use a sharp knife or scissors to cut out shapes, letters,

numbers, etc. Great for children to play and learn with. Cut holes to

create masks, hats, costumes and props…the possibilities are endless!

11. If going on a car journey with your dog, roll an old yoga mat out over

the back seat. This ensures that your dog is comfy and can practice

the original Downward Dog without scratching your seats!

12. Get rid of weeds in your garden without using chemicals. Just place the

mat over a section of your garden and the mat combined with the sun’s

heat will smother weeds and their seeds. When it’s time to sew new

seeds just remove the mat and move it to another spot in your garden

13. If you are camping in bad weather, you can use the mat as a door mat

outside your tent. It’s a great way to take your shoes off and kneel

down to get into your tent without getting muddy

14. Or Place it under your sleeping bag for extra padding when camping

15. Make garden knee pads – cut the mat into even sections and bind the

ends with string or twine

16. When doing DIY, use an old mat to keep materials from sliding on your

workbench while using power tools on them

17. Cut it up and decorate as you like to make original eco-friendly mouse


18. Cut into strips and use for drainage in flower pots

19. Use it in your car as a sunscreen when it’s really hot

20. Keeping an old mat in the car is great for those spur of the moment

picnics, keeping groceries from sliding around in the boot!


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