Choosing a yoga mat is more tricky than you’d imagine. How do you choose one in a sea of options available? And why are some of them so expensive?
While I know these schmancy mats look AMAZING, from an aesthetic point of view, and the sustainably sourced materials, and socially conscious business choices made by companies like PrAna make me want to spend the extra cash - I still wanted to get to know the technical side of what’s beneath your toes in that warrior pose.
I interviewed Roald Paul a yoga instructor at CityROCK Johannesburg, fitness fundi and our resident yogi and he gave me the low down on what to consider when buying a yoga mat.
Legend has it that original yogis in India practiced without any yoga mats. While those that were in in poses for extended periods used animal skins to make their meditation more comfortable. As yoga practice developed, rugs and material based mats were used increasingly. But these slipped around and did not provide sufficient grip. In the modern age, PVC mats began to be used increasingly as yoga was popularised in the west. Yogis, becoming aware of the harms of PVC on the environment, humans and animals, began developing more sustainable solutions. Enter… the modern, eco yoga mat.
The six main things you want to consider when trying out yoga mats are:
- And, colour - of course!
When looking at yoga mats, consider what they are made of. Let’s start with
Ahimsã – a tenet of yoga which is to do no harm, and in a broader sense to share love. Biodegradable materials are becoming more popular in yoga mats but strangely, they are fairly difficult to come by. So, look at where the yoga mat was made and what materials and business practices the producers use. Find yourself an eco-friendly mat and you’re on the way to a fulfilling practice.
Yoga mats can get sweaty and we put them on the floor and lie on them. So you want to keep them clean. Different materials will clean more easily than others. If you choose a more ‘slippery’ texture it may be easier to clean but you will lose out on grip. A hyper textured mat can be more difficult to clean but will give you way more grip.
That brings me to…
There are a host of textures out there to keep you on the mat in even the most acrobatic poses. If you’re new to yoga, you’ll find this helps with keeping steady. And if you’re a seasoned yogi, you’ll know that texture is vital if trying to push your own boundaries.
How wide and long the mat is, will be relative to you! If you have broad Sharma-like shoulders you may wish to consider a wider mat. But the width should also be considered when you think about the types of yoga you like best. If you’re doing lots of rolling on the mat or even just keeping your arms wider in certain plank type poses, you’ll learn to love a wider mat. The length should be considered for similar reasons.
This is mostly a consideration if you’re travelling with your mat. Carrying a heavier mat on an aeroplane can be cumbersome. But you may sacrifice on durability to get a lighter mat or lose out on biodegradable material. A heavier mat also sits nicely in windy conditions if you like practicing outside.
Firmer yoga pads facilitate more stability and therefore allow you to go deeper into poses. Remember though that different kinds of yoga are suited to different levels of firmness. A yin class for example, where you’re spending an extended period of time means you’ll need a cushier mat. But in an Ashtanga class, full of upright poses, you’ll want to take advantage of all the balance you can get.
This is all about your taste! Personally, I think design trumps all! I think you should pick the colour that brings you the most joy but of course a more sensible answer might take into consideration how easily dirt shows up.
Lastly, there is a feeling about a yoga mat. One that really helps you connect to your own practice, makes you feel good about your choice, and it’s this thought you should not forget to heed.
Take a look at some cool prAna yoga mats here.