How to choose a Yoga Mat
When you hear yoga - you hear the word Yoga mat too. The two go together as there is no yoga without a mat! Yoga mat is not an accessory rather a necessity for yoga practitioners and choosing the right one is of utmost importance be it a novice yogi or someone who’s every move is an asana!
Now before you go on your mat-hunt you need to ask yourself what exactly you are looking for in a mat. There is the practicality element and then there is the aesthetic appeal that must be taken into consideration. In order to determine whether you favor the practical aspect or the style element, ask yourself the below
Practical side of things:
- Quality and Durability.
It should be able to withstand the wear and tear that comes with the daily practice in different environments (some yogis don’t limit themselves to the studio setting but explore other environments as well)
- The thickness of the mat
It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin – standard thickness 1/8 of an inch but go up to ¼ of an inch.
There is a common misconception that the thicker the mat the better the support.
While a thick mat provides support but makes it difficult to transition from one pose to another- the necessary sliding movement is prevented by too much cushioning. However, for people with injuries, for example, if you have knee issues, you might want a thicker mat to pad your knees.
- The length of the mat
Most mats are of standard size but for people who are taller or who are of broad built need more space and length. Standard length is 68 inches but may not be long enough for you if you are taller. In that case, get a customized mat if possible or go for a longer length.
- Material of the mat
There is an emerging trend for eco-friendly and natural yoga mats e.g. Cork, yarn, Jute and natural rubber, PVCs and plastics are a No-No these days primarily because PVC gets worn out fast, it may be a carcinogen. It is also hard to recycle. Also people can get allergic reactions to the plastic.
- The grip of the mat
Many practitioners want mats with a strong grip on the surface its placed on because the last thing you want is the mat slipping away while you are in a pose.
The mat should be able to glue itself to the surface and should foldout flat. If the mat does not regain its flat position and curls around the edges, then you should pass on this one!
- Feel of the mat
While it may sound fancy, but a jute mat is not everyone’s cup of tea. For some it may be the best while others may find the texture too hard for their skin especially in asanas where you must be on your knees or forearms. Without sufficient traction and grip, you'll slide during poses and risk injury. From completely smooth PVC mats to rough jute mats, there's a texture out there that will suit your needs. To prevent slipping, avoid PVC mats, and look for rubber, cotton, or jute yoga mats. The added grip from the raised textures of these types of mats will help keep your poses secure no matter how sweaty you get. For smoothness and additional comfort, PVC and foam mats are your best bets. Just be aware that these mats may not offer adequate grip when wet. Choose a mat that you feel comfortable using day in and day out
- Easy to carry-
Mobility is essential, so carrying the mat around shouldn’t be a problem. It should be standard weight and not too heavy. There are some mats that cannot be rolled up so makes it tough to carry them around. Look for ones that come with a strap to secure both ends and can be carried around.
- Easy to clean
Whatever genre of yoga you practice, the mat should be cleaned if not daily then every other day. There are so many bacteria, lint, hair and toxins that we shed while practicing and not to mention the sweat. Dampness breeds germs that would make you sick, also dampness from sweat will eventually start smelling. Hence get a material that is either natural or easy to clean. Yarn, fabric, leather and other such materials are not easy to clean so avoid those unless you have the time to get them dry cleaned every day.
- Type of Yoga
The kind of yoga you practice also determines the mat you should buy for example for those who practice hot yoga should go for natural materials (cork, natural rubber etc.), those who practice bakhti, yin or restorative yoga should get a round mat/mandala as focus is more on seated asanas. If you're doing hot yoga, you may want to choose a mat specifically designed for this type of yoga. These mats are designed to keep you from slipping when sweat gets on your mat. Flow yoga classes require more complex movements, and you'll need a mat with more traction to keep your arms and legs in place.
- Your Location when you do yoga
If you practice at home, then you probably don’t care about the weight or ease of carrying the mat. But if you travel a lot and if you also practice outdoors you may want to invest in a light-weight yet durable mat also that is weather proof (doesn’t fade in the sun, or water-proof and easy to clean)
- Your Budget
Mats vary greatly in their price and you must check your budget to see what you can afford. A 1/8-inch thick PVC mat with no padding, stickiness, or other frills will be your cheapest option. A mat of this nature will cost you around $10, but it will wear out fast. I hear people say, “Oh I can buy a cheaper mat because I am not regular at Yoga”- well the truth is that its penny-wise pound-foolish approach- even if you aren’t regular you need to see what is long-lasting and beneficial for you. A good quality mat will prevent you from investing repeatedly in a mat. These days you can have a good quality mat at a reasonable price especially if you go for generic brands versus big names.
On the other hand, if you call yourself a yoga enthusiast, go for a pricier mat from a reputable sports or yoga company. A mat will set you and your practice apart so do your research.
Aesthetic side of things:
With the advent of Instagram and other social media, yoga mats are now a style statement for many. There are so many options to choose from you can have a printed mat or a totally plain one. You can even have a picture of your choice printed on the mat, there are vendors that sell the option of personalizing your mat as per your needs.
Some people like to have their mantras on the mat. Some like to go for branded ones from Lululemon or Manduka. Some go for generic ones, depends what is the preference is.
If you are being very creative, then you can also get a plain mat that you can design/paint yourself with acrylic paints or sharpies.
Having your mantra on your mat is a great way to keep your bearings in place when you are in your practice. These words resonate with your practice and make you and your mat stand out.
The idea is to do your research and to make a wise and conscious choice!