Meet the Artist Behind the World’s First Yoga Mat Gallery

Fumie Mune is the Japanese artist and curator of the Zen Kodo Mat Gallery in central Bangkok. She’s also a yoga teacher.

Inside a townhouse in Thonglor, Bangkok, the world’s first yoga and meditation mat gallery encompasses five floors—a modern show home for a new dimension of customary Zen art.

The theme of the permanent collection, called “Art & Meditation,” features the work of Fumie Mune, a Japanese yoga teacher and Zen artist, and creator of the Zen Kodo mat. Its purpose: To serve as a sanctuary and healing space, offering respite to the bustling city. The Zen Kodo mat is part-art installation, part-meditation tool, designed to help expand consciousness and awareness in day-to-day life. Mune’s eco-friendly handmade product doubles as both yoga and meditation mat, carefully crafted in Zen and Japanese tradition.

The idea for Mune’s all-natural, sustainable mat stemmed from the realization that a large percentage of the world’s 30 million yoga practitioners use mass-produced, chemical-laden mats. Her mats are hand-dyed with Thai herbs like waan phrai and waan krachạb mót lûuk, and more basic herbs like cinnamon and turmeric. The Zen artwork is then painted with butterfly pea flower (blue) and roselle flower (red), with finishing touches in Japanese charcoal ink. The mat itself is made of the earth’s materials to support a grounding, spiritual practice—water hyacinth and jute, which are wild plants that grow in Thailand.

Fumie Mune at work, hand-painting a Zen Kodo mat.

Fumie Mune at work, hand-painting a Zen Kodo mat.

We recently caught up with the artist to learn about her inspiration behind creating the mats and why they’re beneficial to our yoga and meditation practices, and to gain more insight about the history of Zen art.

Tell us about your background as a yoga teacher and your teaching philosophy. 

I started teaching yoga in Bangkok in 2008. I have also been teaching in Japan after the Tsunami in 2011, because I needed to empower Japanese people through yoga. I also lead teacher training programs in English and Japanese both in Bangkok and Tokyo.

I teach from the view of a Japanese woman with a background of practical Zen, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Teaism—also known as Japanese tea ceremony. For a very long time, yoga was limited to male monks who represented our cultural and spiritual backgrounds, and conveyed those teachings to the western hemisphere and the rest of the world.

However, it is the 21st century now, and there are 30 million people who practice yoga and meditation—which originally came from the Orient.  More than 80 percent of them are women.

My teachings include using herbs for when a female or child gets sick, and how a woman can strengthen her love and partnership while also being fully committed to her social and spiritual missions. I help women live more and more brightly every day through practicing yoga and meditation.

My husband Kentaro and I integrated these teachings into a form of yoga we named “Herb Yoga.” We have published four books in Japanese (soon in English) and one DVD in Japan. Herb Yoga has been practiced by more than ten thousand people.

The plant materials that make up the Zen Kodo mat.

The plant materials that make up the Zen Kodo mat.

Why do you think it’s better to meditate on a mat, rather than a cushion?

I do not deny to use cushions for meditation—sometimes I use cushions when needed, to support my posture. For beginners especially, it is recommended to use cushions to support posture and to help keep a relaxed state of mind and body.

However, traditionally, the ideal meditation form is the Buddha’s lotus position. In Lotus Pose, we can unite with the earth’s energy by placing our Root Chakra (First/Muladhara) directly to the floor. Lotus enables you to keep ideal bodily alignment, which helps deepen your meditation. Your Crown Chakra (Seventh/Sahasrara) extends to the sky, aligning all the chakras into one straight line.

In this stressful modern society, many people in Western countries use cushions, beds, or comfortable chairs in order to relax while meditating. This type of meditation is effective to remove stresses. However, there is a risk in this style of meditation to fall asleep while meditating!

The goal of Oriental traditional meditation is to concentrate on the here and now, and contemplate on the visions of one’s ideals. Lotus Pose is most effective for this. This wisdom is inherited from Japan and other Asian countries, and adults will teach their children these things as habits in their daily lives.

For example, traditionally, Japanese people use a tatami mat for sleep, eat, and work in our daily lives. Therefore, we are very used to sitting on the floor in yogic poses like Lotus or Sukhasana (Easy Pose). It is said that the wisdom of yoga, introduced to Japan along with Buddhism 1500 years ago, has naturally melted into Japanese lifestyle.

And why do you recommend the Zen Kodo mat in particular?

The first reason is to help your grounding into the earth’s energy with the mat, which is made up of whole, natural earth materials.

The Zen Kodo Mat Gallery.

The Zen Kodo Mat Gallery.

Second is to help your unity with the Zen teachings (which is said to bring cosmic inspirations) through the Zen art depicted on the mats. Zen is a meditation-oriented lifestyle, and is also a practical system to live with consciousness in every moment of your daily life.
 Any artworks of Zen, such as a garden, a room, or calligraphic works and paintings, are tools to deepen your meditation.

The third reason is to place yourself into a serene space which deepens your meditation and yoga practice. We call this concept of the mat the “mobile zen garden.”

Will you eventually sell your mats to North American vendors?

In the future, yes, if we are able to encounter good partners. Right now, we sell globally online through our website. We deliver our products to North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe, as well.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Photos courtesy of ChoChoGREEN

Andrea Rice is the Practice and Community Editor for Wanderlust Media. She is also a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, mindbodygreen, and a variety of online magazines. Her teaching style is a blend of her love for music and intuitive movement, with emphasis on core strength. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn, and often as a guest teacher for Deep House Yoga. Connect with Andrea on Instagram and Twitter