Yoga People: James Armitage, Founder of Liforme Yoga

Interviews With Yoga's Most Interesting People

James Armitage
James Armitage. Photo Courtesy of Liforme

 Tell us a bit about your professional background before starting Liforme.

I was an entertainment lawyer for more than 10 years. I was fortunate to work closely with some very talented and interesting personalities, helping them with career-shaping deals and plenty of exciting projects along the way.

That was a pretty creative environment as far as lawyering goes, and I'm grateful for the experiences I had.

It also helped to give me a good "business" grounding, and my experience has allowed Liforme to save quite a bit of money on legal fees along the way!  

What’s your yoga background?
I took my first yoga class in 1996 when I was 18. It was an Iyengar class, and I went with my mum. I found it so calming that I actually fell into a deep sleep in the savasana at the end and started snoring. (I have learnt since not do that.) Yoga gradually became an important part of my life, helping me to preserve and heal my body as well as keep my head in check. These days, I try to do at least some asana practice every day, but that could be just 10 minutes, and a fuller practice 3 or 4 times per week. I worked out, through many years of trial and error, that my own body likes a bit of other movement practice and exercise too, so I intermix my yoga practice with a few other things including Pilates and resistance training and more active sports.

What was the inspiration for your mat?  
It all started with the initial concept of putting markings on the mat to help yogis (including myself) see where they were in certain postures. In my case, it was mostly about alignment to avoid injuries. It was a simple enough idea that actually occurred to me during an Ashtanga led class in 2007.

But when it came to the execution of this idea, I discovered that there were a lot of variables. One thing led to another, months of research turned into years and several trips to the Far East (where in my opinion the best materials for yoga mats are to be found, and where we were able to innovate). During these trips, initially on my vacation time whilst still holding down the lawyer gig, I learnt a huge amount about the materials and production processes and certain new things started to emerge as focal points for the product. In the end there are probably more than twenty details about the Liforme mat that I consider important and that set it apart from "normal" mats. Apart from executing the alignment guide concept, the most important things became providing a stable and grippy practicing surface, whilst using genuinely eco-friendly and non-harmful materials.  

Describe the experience of getting this company off the ground.
Exhilarating. Exhausting. Humbling. Inspiring.  

Tell us about the ecological benefits of your mat and the manufacturing process.  
It's quite a long story, actually, but I'll summarize. The bulk of the Liforme Yoga Mat is made from natural rubber, which is a naturally sustainable material because after rubber trees are tapped for their sap, they then produce more of it for several cycles.

So it's a regenerative crop. Natural rubber is an amazing material to use for the base layer of our mat as we were able to carefully control the density of the rubber and ensure the right balance between soft cushioning and firm stability. It also has a good weight, which stops the mat flapping around, so helps to keep the yogi grounded and provides a stable base for their practice. However, in our opinion, natural rubber is not the best material to actually practice on, because it gets slippery when wet and we also don't think it's the most hygienic option (but that's a whole other story!).

The top surface of our mat (which is where the really detailed engineering takes place) is not only biodegradable, non-toxic, and hygienic, but it's also made in a safe and responsible way.

Our manufacturer uses very sophisticated techniques to ensure that none of the solvent used to make this material escapes into the environment. Solvents are used in the production of synthetic rubber materials and they can be harmful to the environment if not handled in the right way. So it's very important to vet the production processes closely rather than just buy your materials from the cheapest supplier.  Our top surface material is a specially engineered version of polyurethane, so it's from the same family of materials as food wrap, for example, and it's genuinely safe for the user to practice on. I would honestly go so far as to say it's a "beautiful" material, and we worked really hard with some really clever experts to get it right for yoga. In our opinion, the materials we use for our mat are far superior in terms of their eco-credentials than the typical materials used by so many other yoga mat companies. 

What has the response been to the product and how does that make you feel?
The reaction has been amazing. Within a year and a half, we shipped mats from our own brand new website to yogis in more than 50 countries and 48 U.S. states, which certainly exceeded my expectations. We've had many letters from initial yogi customers proclaiming how the mat has transformed their practice and other glowing praise for the product.

How does that make me feel? Like all the crazy hard work was worth it! For me personally, it really was all about creating something useful and I think we've achieved that with the mat. And I've had the pleasure and good fortune of getting to know so many interesting new people along the way, from the many wonderful yoga teachers to the super brainy chemical engineers we've worked with. Meeting interesting people is always the best part.

How have you used social media to get the word out about your products?
Social media has definitely been key for us in getting Liforme off the ground. Instagram has been a particularly useful channel for us, because our mat with its AlignForMe design is quite visually distinctive, so it's easy for people to recognize it in the photos. But mostly because there is a wonderful community of like-minded supportive yogis out there on Instagram (and on Facebook and other social media too) who are willing to help support other people, companies, and products they believe in. I have been humbled by the generosity of many of these people, online and offline and I very much doubt we would have been able, as a small company, to get Liforme off the ground without this crucial support. I'm so grateful to all those people that helped (and still help) us with the Liforme mission.

I know there is a big debate at the moment about Instagram and "yoga selfies" and what's right or wrong about all of that, but for me it's hard not to be moved by the amount of genuine altruistic behavior out there among the Insta-yogi community in particular. I think it's no coincidence that yoga has brought a nice dimension to these modern social interactions through our phones and laptops that are becoming such a big part of life now. I see a lot more good there than in other areas in which social media is being used (or abused).

What’s coming up for Liforme?
Lots. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you and that wouldn't be very yogic of me, would it? Only kidding, we are working on more products but we never rush - some of these other products I've already been working on for 5+ years in the background, and of course I'm very excited about them. When the time is right we will share them with the world. Please do watch this space! Oh, we do have a new "travel version" of our mat available. It's much lighter and more portable, but we've still packed in as many of the benefits of our signature Liforme Yoga Mat as possible.

Rapid Fire Round!

When did you know you were hooked on yoga?  
For me, yoga never really felt like something I was hooked on, but I knew it was a wonderful discipline and practice from the first time I encountered it. And I've really never had any doubts about that since.

Favorite and/or least favorite pose and why.
I know it gets a little too much "coverage" these days, but I think my favorite pose is ado mukha vrksasana (handstand)!  I love inversions and my body needs them often, and although I do think headstands are really important too, I think the free hanging neck in a handstand is a good thing, especially for me with with spinal compression issues. My least favorite pose (one that should be my favorite because I need to work on it!) is probably pashimottanasana (seated forward fold). It may seem simple to some, but for me with my impossibly short hamstrings (no matter how much I have tried to elongate them over 20 years of yoga practice) and lower back disc problems, this is a killer pose. But I am slowly progressing with it. Really slowly. Maybe I'll achieve a complete "fold" before I am 100 years old. That would be nice.

What other kinds of exercise do you do?
So many other kinds. I love swimming (although in the sea rather than pools, so not very often given that I live in central London), surfing (ditto on the sea thing), Pilates, skiing. I also started doing a bit of Capoeira a while ago and it's amazing but pretty challenging (my wife is from Brazil so I'm probably subconsciously trying to impress her family or something).

Give us your elevator pitch describing Liforme.  
"We believe in challenging the norm and pushing boundaries, removing obstacles and creating better things, being eco-friendly and socially just.  Liforme products are designed by Yogis, for Yogis."  OK, so those words are taken verbatim from our website, but they're my words, they're important, and they sum up perfectly what Liforme is all about. And that is never going to change.  

What do you feel passionate about?
My amazing wife Nanda, travel, food, animals, and kind and real people.

What’s in your smoothie?
Ideally different ingredients every day!  

What’s your (real or imagined) karaoke jam?
I'm a terrible singer, so you'd better hope it's only in my imagination!  Last time I did karaoke was in Japan at about 4 am with a bunch of random locals while trying to stay awake after a night out before heading to the famous tuna auction at the Tsukiji fish market at about 5 am. Guess we had a lot of fun, because by the time we actually got to the market we had totally missed the tuna auction! What's my jam? Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine, or pretty much anything from that rock/grunge early 90s era which was the most formative for me in terms of music (and I still think it was a very cool period in time generally with a definite hint of social revolution in the air)!

What’s your dream travel destination (carbon footprint no object)? 
Somewhere I haven't been yet. If the carbon footprint (and the expense) really is no object, then I'd definitely love to go to another planet. Seriously.

What’s your spirit animal and why?
A monkey. Because that's what Nanda calls me. I am not entirely sure why!   

What color is your yoga mat?
I have a Liforme mat in every color and swap them around. Come on, I own the company, I have to get some perks, right?! 

Crunchy or smooth?
Crunchy, without a doubt!  

Might as well face that you’re addicted to ___________.
Love. That would make a great song title, don't you think!?

Ask yourself one question.
What is your five-year plan?  

Now answer it.
Sorry, I don't understand the question.