photo: yoga mats for haiti causes cynical internet buzz

Photo by James Fallows, via

The above photo (taken outside of a San Francisco yoga studio) has turned up on Boing Boing, Gawker and HuffPo today ~ and sensitive yogis, do not read the comment sections! Most of the mainstream buzz is loaded with mockery and derision, as the general public takes on the misguided intentions of yogis who might want to help out Haitians by donating their old yoga mats.

It’s just a photo and we don’t know the whole story… perhaps the studio is hooked up with Yoga 4 Trauma‘s Project Haiti initiative, which has a cohesive and long-term plan to offer therapeutic yoga to survivors and responders. Perhaps somebody has come up with a way to transform bacteria-ridden old yoga mats into inflatable hospitals.

But at first glance, I’m reminded of an excellent blog post by La Gitane over at Yoga Gypsy in response to a recent article about “disaster do-gooders” sometimes doing more harm than good. As she points out, “As yogis and yoginis, we are particularly likely to want to reach out in tragic situations, to be proactive, to DO something that we feel can alleviate the suffering we see.”

Is shipping yoga mats to Haiti a thoughtful response to suffering? Or is it simply a self-serving act to get rid of unwanted items in our yoga rooms? As we’ve all been told countless times, the most effective way to support the efforts in Haiti is to send cold hard cash to reputed aid organizations (Red Cross, Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity). How much impact could a used yoga mat campaign have on a country in need of rebuilding and healing?

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  1. A bit of internet browsing reveals that this was part of a drive organised by JADE yoga mats to collect old mats for Haiti.

    I have to say, as someone who has actually slept on a yoga mat – my personal opinion is that JADE is misguided on this one, if their intention (as stated in the response letter on Gawker from the studio in question) is really to donate old mats as bedding. Certainly if there just happened to be hundreds of mats lying around, people would find uses for them – but to actually spend time and resources collecting, shipping and distributing them? In my opinion this stings a bit of a) a publicity stunt and b) mistaking “giving away stuff you don’t need” for “aid”.

    I certainly agree with the Yoga for Trauma folks that creating safe spaces and activities for children is a high priority in an emergency environment. Organisations like Plan International and Save the Children (my sister is working for them and probably heading to Haiti in a month or so) work hard to create child-friendly spaces that allow children the right to play even in a disaster environment. Such spaces are also valuable grounds for identifying children’s needs in terms of post-trauma healing and allowing children to express themselves through games, art and more. Whether or not collecting old yoga mats will be a good contribution to this, well, if it were me, I would give cash to the professionals and let them decide. I do think that yoga for children can be a highly effective (not to mention fun) activity, and I can hope that the organisers of such activities will recognise the unique psycho-social needs of children suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and emotional trauma, and involve child counsellors in their activities.

    One of the most critical things (beyond basic needs) in an emergency situation is giving people back their dignity – stripped away by disaster. Being given a used Yoga mat to sleep on – especially with the rainy season around the corner – well, that’s pretty humiliating in my opinion. The odd perception that those vague, dark spaces on the map labelled “poor countries” are an appropriate dumping ground for our unwanted, expired or destroyed material goods – well, I think I covered that in my post.

    Thanks for this great post and the exploration of an important issue.

  2. I had read somewhere that hospitals and care facilities were actually using yoga mats as sleeping pads in their grossly under-supplied centers. I could see the practicality of that…portable, washable, cleaner than the floor, and at least a little definition of personal space. Obviously a cot or a bed would be a better option…but as we’ve witnessed over the weeks, care workers are doing the best they can with what they have at their disposal at the time. If a yoga mat can give comfort to someone who might not otherwise have any other option, what’s so bad about that?

  3. Gotta say, when I read that up there the first thing I thought of was John Travolta showing up in Haiti with a bunch of scientology ministers. But, I don’t know, maybe they’ll be useful. I’d say, though, that if the yoga community doesn’t want to look like a bunch of new age Marie Antoinettes saying “let them eat yoga” they need to do a better job of being clear and specific about how they’re going to be used than that sidewalk sign…

  4. While I’m quite sure the intention is good in itself I cannot possibly imagine what the yoga mats could possibly be used for.

    To me this is just an example of a way in which people can feel they are doing something worthwhile without having to make much effort or think too much.

    And once again it just makes the yoga community look like dumbasses….again, which just upsets me.

  5. I agree with LaGitane. 100%.

  6. Ya. I think weird. Maybe they should tweak the campaign…give $5 for every yoga mat collected. I think Jade is well intentioned.

  7. Millions have lost everything in the quake – homes, food, jobs! For the next 12 months, the World Food Programme says 2 million people will need critical food assistance! If you want to help and learn more about the crisis response, go to:> or you can text FRIENDS to 90999 to make a $5 donation.

  8. While well intentioned it seems a bit off base since it does not take into account what the folks there need most. Rather it comes at it from the place of where can I most easily give up my old yoga mat.

    Better to do a donation class and raise money to send to relief organizations. We did that and raised a small sum to help in that effort

  9. (Thirty-five years ago, Garrett Morris, on SNL. Yoga mats for Haiti? Here’s the original.)

    Hello. I’m Mark Mbutu from the newly emerging African nation of Namibia, a former German colony located in southwest Africa. Namibia is an undeveloped nation, and we are appealing to you as world citizens.

    We need your fondue sets.

    Many people in the United States received these fondue sets as gifts for anniversaries, birthdays and housewarmings, and often put them up on a shelf and forget about them. There are thousands of Namibian housewives who could cheer up an otherwise dull dinner party with one of these sets. Oh, please think, please give, please send. We already have enough of the little Sterno cans for underneath the sets from when the Germans were here, so only send the fondue pots themselves, and the long forks if you have them.

  10. I know a hipster skateboarder dude who recently spent hours rolling pennies (into those little paper cylinders) donated for Haiti. I said, “Pennies? That’s a lot effort for so little cash.” He explained that young guys, teens and 20s, have little money to spare, but want to help–and that every bit helps.

    He was right. Pennies, added up into dollars, are infinitely more useful than yoga mats! Sending used yoga mats (nonbiodegradable and probably unclean) would be laughable.

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