It’s true: once you’re committed to yoga, your mat will be your best friend. It will go with you to work so you can hit the studio on the way home. It will go with you on vacation so you can practice on the beach. And it rests faithfully in the corner of your bedroom, waiting for you to scratch it behind the ears…no, wait. That’s the dog. Seriously, a yoga mat will be around as long and as faithfully as your dog. There are people out there who will tell you they’ve had their mats for over a decade and the mats aren’t showing any signs of aging. You can’t say that about a dog. And you don’t have to feed a yoga mat or follow it around with a little plastic bag in the park. Yoga mats, depending on the materials from which they’re made, can outlast just about any other piece of equipment you might buy for a fitness program. They require very little care and maintenance and yet will continuously provide you with exactly the amount of padding, support, and traction you need. So how do you go about finding this BFF?
There are some standard categories you’ll want to address as you begin the process of choosing a yoga mat. Let’s stick with the dog metaphor for a minute: when you’re choosing a dog (or a yoga mat), you’ll have priorities. Is price an issue? What is its pedigree (what’s it made of)? How is its temperament (is it going to need lots of maintaining)? Will it be soft, furry, and shed all over the place (is it smooth, textured, high-tack, or low-tack)? Will it fit in your home (is it appropriate for your situation and practice)?
Ok, now let’s look at these questions without the dogs. Yoga mats come in a huge range of prices. Most people are going to start there. Sure we’d all like the pure-bred Great Dane, but who can afford it? (Oops, slipped back into the dog thing there…) So pick a price range and start your search. Are you a beginner or just getting back into the practice after an extended absence? Look at mats that will offer you significant padding but still provide support. PVC is probably your best bet. If it’s too squishy, the mat won’t help you in balance, but if it’s not soft enough, you won’t be comfortable holding poses, and then what’s the point, right? Cotton and jute mats are cool, but less cushiony, rubber is padding-o-plenty, but less supportive. PVC mats are the most popular for good reason.
You’ve chosen a thickness, so now determine what kind of yoga you plan to practice and what you’re likely to run up against. Hot yoga? Plan to sweat the Nile. If this is your thing, you’ll need to look for a mat with a high tack. This is going to be stickier than the low-tack mats because where there’s moisture, there’s slipping. And nothing is less conducive to yoga than slipping. If you plan on a standard yoga practice, a low-tack mat is just fine. Additionally, you’ll want to consider the surface texture. Here’s where you should test drive. Try a smooth mat and one with texture; it’s the only way to tell which you’ll prefer.
Finally, while substance is queen, appearance is that adorable little princess over there who can’t be ignored. Mats come in solids and prints, with images, quotes, and artwork. Choose one you’ll love to look at everyday. Like the sweet, sad face of a giant basset hound. Sorry. Done with dogs, I promise.
Don’t skimp on this, seriously. A good yoga mat will be with you for a long time, so do your research, ask around, borrow, see what you like. Good luck and happy practicing!