Up a mountain. On your living room carpet. In a sauna-like heat. In the cool breeze on the lanai. Regardless of where you take your practice, your mat comes along, too. That makes choosing the right mat integral to a Zen routine. So, what should you look for in the ideal accessory for your practice? Here are some mat-purchasing points to consider before your yoga flow is interrupted by a mat mishap.
1. The Overall Feel: Your mat should fulfill all the feels. Your perfect mat-match is light enough to carry, thick enough to cushion, and long enough to lay on.
Floor-Side Grip—Whether it’s a hot
yoga class or its just plain hot, a slippery mat can slip you up. To avoid
embarrassing wipeouts, grip (on both sides of the mat) is key.
Most yoga studios have hard floors, so consider a mat with some grip on the floor-side. With a solid grounding, you can move around your mat confidently, knowing it won’t move out from under you. A mat with some stick assures you that when launching into a headstand, your mat won’t be the cause of an injury.
Feet-Side Grip—Grip on the top of the mat is another consideration. Non-slip material prevents lurching, sliding, and inadvertent splits. But you don’t want it so sticky that it adheres to your forehead in child’s pose. This is hard to gauge when eyeing out a mat online. Look for a nonporous, semi-gloss top with a raw, rubbery floor-side.
Comfort & Carry—Ah, savasana. You’ve been looking forward to that mind-body relaxation. But an ultra-thin mat can disrupt the meditative moment. A lack of padding wreaks havoc on your joints during the course of your practice. The typical mat runs about 1/8 inch in thickness. A thicker mat (1⁄4 inch, at most) is heavier to lug around, but many consider the tradeoff worthwhile. So, if you bike to your practice, are a traveling yogi, or refuse to leave home mat-less, then take these habits into consideration. For yogis on the go, a packable mat is your best option. What you lose in cushion, you gain in freedom with 1/16-inch travel mats.
2. Technology: Improvements in mat functionality have positively impacted our practice. The hot yoga craze has led companies like Manduka to feature moisture-wicking mats. No more inadvertent sliding splits mid-class. Ouch! Big Island-based mat company CNTRD features a basic mat with a series of guiding dots and dashes. These serve as a map to your mat, helping to navigate more precise alignment. Though, ideally, we receive adjustments from a trained instructor, matrix mats offer basic guidance when practicing independently, optimizing the benefits of each session.
3. Sustainability: You don’t have to be an environmentalist to commit to a mat that makes Mother Nature proud. Buying consciously is made easy with a variety of sustainably sourced materials:
SugaMat is an eco-friendly company that reincarnates wetsuits into yoga mats, upcycling 12,500 donated wetsuits and counting. By melting down the PVC-free neoprene, SugaMat diverts waste from the landfill, creating a product that eco-aware yogis dig, including Hawaii pro surfers Jamie Sterling and Rochelle Ballard. Yoloha Yoga (a fusion of yoga and aloha) is a company that combines sustainably sourced cork mixed with rubber. The result is a PVC-free cushy, yet grippy mat. The earthy tones are reminiscent of a bulletin board and serve as a visual reminder of your aloha for the aina.
Beyond the mat, other brands have found ways of contributing to sustainability. Jade Yoga mats, made in the US from natural rubber, boast firmness, grip, and durability. The company’s roots are even more impressive: For each mat purchased, Jade Yoga plants a tree, and the company is nearing 2 million! Each color option has a corresponding cause so that your purchase supports reforesting the planet plus cancer research, domestic violence prevention, and other community concerns. Another known company is prAna, which allows you to shop online by sustainability factor, including recycled content in mats and, for yoga accessories, fair trade and ocean-mindedness. Mats are earth-friendly and non-toxic so you can breathe easy when nose-to-nose with your mat.
Here are other factors to think about when finding the perfect mat:
4. Length: A mat that’s too long creates excess bulk when rolling up your mat. Too short leaves your feet dangling off the end. Before buying new yoga real estate, consider the size of your practice space and how tall you are. The average length of mats is 68 inches, but may be shorter or longer. Check the label before you buy.
5. Color: A distracting pattern or loud color can disrupt a meditative moment. You probably won’t be buying a new one for a while, so make sure your mat is a style you’re happy with in all moods and settings.
6. Price: Some name brands can leave you in serious sticker shock! But there areways to get your dream mat without breaking the bank. If you know exactly what you want, hop online. Many retailers like Yoloha, will offer discounts to yoga instructors. Others (Gaiam, prAna) offer a 10 to 15 percent discount to first time purchasers. Buying a mat second-hand is another great way to go green while saving some green. Amazon, eBay and used sporting goods stores offer near-new, wallet-friendly options. (Tip: Shop around in January/February when folks are offloading perfectly good mats because they were gifted a new one, or that New Year’s resolution didn’t stick around.)
Find your mat-match by trying out a few styles you’re interested in. Take advantage of studio mat rentals to give an unfamiliar brand a go. Ask around—your instructors and friends can provide insightful feedback. They may even let you try their mat. Manduka has a “Find my Mat” feature on their website, helping buyers narrow down their options. Switch up the routine and visit a new studio with different gear.
Remember that yoga is not a sport requiring much gear, so use mindfulness when choosing a mat will result in a peaceful practice.
Ask The Experts
Yoga Hawaii Magazine asked two Hawaii-based yoga instructors for their thoughts when it comes to buying a mat: Kelsey Barden (Owner/Operator of YogaFloats Certified since 2012) and Kara Miller (Power Yoga Hawaii, Still and Moving Center, North Shore Yoga Co Op Certified since 2009). Here’s what they said:
Q. What do you look for in a yoga mat?
Kelsey Barden: The main criteria I look for in a yoga mat is one with good grip. Many yoga classes I attend get pretty hot and sweaty, so I look for a mat that will stay grippy, even if my hands and feet are slippery. If you have a slower practice that doesn’t work up a sweat, you may wish to get a mat with a little more padding to help cushion the joints in longer holds.
Kara Miller: I look for a few factors when buying a yoga mat. I know I make a difference with my consumer choices. Thus, the first thing I look at are the materials it is made with. Sustainable or recycled materials is my preference. And then of course, how well it grips both the floor and my hands is my other main component.
Q. Do you have a go-to brand?
KB: My favorite brand of yoga mat is Manduka. It has
excellent grip if my hands and feet are sweaty. It also stays put and doesn’t
move under me as I move through the practice.
Q. Is a good mat worth a higher price? Why?
KB: Yes! I think once your yoga practice becomes a regular part of your routine, it’s totally worth it to get a quality mat. I spent many years on a cheap mat, and once I made the switch, my yoga practice changed dramatically.
KM: Yes! Just like anything – is buying local food worth the higher price? It’s all about who and what you want to support with your dollar and why. Sometimes making a quality product with a sustainable. material that is good for the environment yields a more expensive yoga mat. But personally, especially in the context of practicing yoga, that is a tradeoff I’m very willing to make.
Q. In what ways does a mat affect your practice and how have you seen it impact the practice of your students?
KB: A yoga mat can affect your practice by helping
you to feel grounded. If your hands and feet are sliding, it is hard to
maintain the integrity of the pose. Also, I have had mats that scrunch up
throughout the practice, creating an uneven foundation beneath you which is
distracting and will disrupt your practice.
KM: My mat doesn’t have a big impact on my practice – I’ve been practicing long enough that I can practice anywhere and on anything and feel content. However, with many of my students a quality mat makes a huge difference. I see many students who are newer to yoga struggling unnecessarily on poor quality mats (slipping on the mat, the mat slipping on the ground, too much padding making it hard to balance). In those cases, I always encourage them to rent one of our better mats, and their practice is noticeably more grounded and safe.
Q. Any other thoughts you’d like to share with Yoga Hawaii Magazine readers?
KB: You can get creative with what you practice yoga on—you don’t have to be restricted to a rectangular rubber mat! Sometimes practicing on sand or grass can feel amazing. I even use the deck of a standup paddleboard as my yoga mat! As long as you have a relatively flat surface where your hands and feet won’t slip, you can take your yoga practice pretty much anywhere!