If my home ever had a fire you’d find me, without hesitation, lunging for my yoga mat. Perhaps that seems an odd choice. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
I wanted to write about yoga mats this week because you may be practicing yoga with our Prasada team doing our Yoga@Work or YogaFIX programs where a mat is not needed. This type of no-mat yoga is also called chair yoga, though sometimes this implies only poses done in a chair. You know it’s much more. Here’s a great article by a favorite yogi, Olga, about the full range of people who can benefit from chair yoga.
Perhaps you have been enjoying those experiences as your first steps in your yoga journey and you’re thinking about getting a mat. Or maybe you have a starter mat from Five Below (which is an awesome way to start) that is wearing out and you are ready to invest in a new mat.
I also wanted to write this article to share what I have found to be most important about selecting which mat is right for you. (Please note, Prasada nor I receive any benefit or advertising fees for any product I recommend.) Next week, I’ll write about making space at home for your mat and getting started with a home practice.
Why am I so attached to my mat? I’ve had it for over 18 years. Seems hard to believe because it looks almost exactly as it did when it arrived in the mail. The one difference is that the label peeled off so I cannot even share the exact brand. I think it was called the black mat. More on that in a minute.
My mat and I have been through a lot together. Two pregnancies, two toddlers, two teenagers—many phases of my life. I have practiced yoga on it on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, taken it to many weekends at Kripalu and dragged it through the sand on numerous Cape Cod and New Jersey beaches.
When I bought my mat, it was a significant $95 investment. I remember the shock at the cost when my yoga teacher recommended it. It seemed utterly outrageous. So far if I calculate the value that is a little more than $5/year. Not bad. Also, it came with a lifetime warranty.
Why did my teacher recommend this mat? She knew it would last. She also wanted me to avoid the first mistake of buying a yoga mat; that thicker is better. This is true, and not true. It is less about thickness and more about the density and texture of the mat. The purpose of a yoga mat is to be a good grip for your feet and hands so you don’t slip. The surface of the mat needs to work with your preferred level of grip. I have tried yoga mats that feel like Velcro and others where I slipped all over the place.
One consideration is how much you will be sweating. Yes, some yoga is gentle and you will not sweat. Other types of yoga will make you really sweaty. My mat was worthless when I accidentally stumbled into a hot yoga class a few years ago and the temperature got over 104 degrees. I thought I was going to have a slip and fall injury. I don’t do much hot yoga so it’s usually not a problem.
The thin yoga mats do have a bit of a texture so they have a nice grip but not much padding. A bit more thickness can be nice but there is one warning here. Recently I skirted into my favorite yoga class and the teacher already had an extra mat set up. She invited me to put my mat right on top of it. It felt nice when I was on my hands and knees but when we got to the standing balance poses I was wobbling all over the place.
Standing and balance poses require firmness under your feet. Sometimes I even step off my mat and onto my wood floors at home or in a yoga class to be more steady. Sometimes people bring super cushy exercise mats to a yoga class thinking the extra padding is a good idea. These mats are usually shorter and may be nice under your knees but are really hard for poses like downward dog or any kind of balancing poses. Yes, there is such a thing as too much padding.
My black mat is a bit thicker than the regular yoga sticky mat, but it also is very dense, which is why it is so heavy. It is solid rubber. I get a little padding but also the firmness I need for standing poses. What if you do need that extra padding for when your hand and knees are down or when you are on your back? I am with you. Here is the true secret. A yoga blanket. I am a serious blanket lover.
Please let me reassure you; using a yoga blanket or any kind of blanket when you are on hands and knees or on your back during a yoga practice is not cheating. It’s called self-compassion. I have the regular Mexican yoga blankets you find at yoga studios that are about $12 and I also LOVE the big, extra heavy recycled blankets. These are so worth the $18 investment. Get two or three as they also great for covering up in savasana or folding for support in a restorative yoga practice.
The closest thing to my mat is the Manduka black mat pro. It is a little heavier and a bigger investment at about $110, or the Lululemon Reversible Mat which is a double-sided mat, a little lighter and lots of colors (though the lighter colors will stain) and is a little less expensive at $68. Another mat many of my friends like is the Jade Harmony mat.
It will ultimately come down to your personal preference. Make a choice, buy a mat and then try it out for a bit. Check the exchange policies but most good mat manufacturers know it takes time to know if a mat is going to work for you and some even have a recommended break-in period. Don’t be shy. If you don’t like the mat, return it and try another one.
As far as any kind of yoga mat cleaning products go, I am a minimalist. Sure, maybe that yoga mat cleaner works well. So too will a wet rag with a little dish soap if your mat gets dirty from an outdoor practice or from a lot of sweating. I have even hosed my mat down and let it dry in the sun and that has worked as well.
I think the real fondness and attachment to my mat is about something more. It has been there with me for all the mundane day-to-day practices. It has been my safe island sanctuary where I stood with lots of fears and tears. It caught all of those and softened them into my foundation of strength and courage. It has been there, under my feet and at my back in moments of deep solitude, stillness and peace. It has pulled back the curtain over-and-over again to show me my very best self.
I know. It’s a yoga mat, just a piece of rubber. But it’s been much more.
Here to an exciting adventure finding your own very special mat. Take your time. With any luck, it will be a long and wonderful relationship.