Q: Are those tiger skins real?
A: We’re assuming you’re talking about the pelts in the guru portraits that adorn our studio walls. Surprisingly (or not), we get questions/comments about these all the time. While the story behind the specific skin/s that Bikram Choudhury and Bishnu Ghosh are sitting on is hard to trace, it’s interesting to note that, historically (before companies were making yoga mats from more “PC” materials), postures were often practised on animal skins.
Well, for starters, tiger (and other animal) skins were large enough for practical usage, yet easy to transport when rolled up. When a yogi wanted to use his/her tiger skin, it naturally unrolled flat without curling up on the ends. The fur on one side provided insulation and just the right amount of padding for protection without being too “spongy,” while the leathery side provided a nice, non-slip surface on which to execute tricky asanas.
While other animal skins (like deer skins) were also used by yogis in bygone times, tiger skins were thought to possess special mystical “powers” (Bengal tiger strength!). Additionally, practising yoga on such a surface may have symbolized mastery over one’s own lower animal nature through spiritual training.
One last point: in the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna gives Prince Arjuna specific instructions on the type of surface he should use to practise yoga: “The place where he sits should be firm, neither too high nor too low, and situated in a clean spot. He should first cover it with sacred grass, then with a deer skin; then lay a cloth over these.”
Today, we’re lucky to have options when it comes to yoga mats – many are made with materials that are environmentally friendly and perfectly suited to a sweaty Bikram Yoga practice. Take the time to choose your yoga mat carefully and it may become as special to you as the tiger skins that were handed down from guru to disciple in ancient India were to them.