It’s probably no surprise that the original yogis didn’t carry around a mat to use when they practiced. But, did you know that the first modern yoga mat was actually a European carpet underlay?
Angela Farmer found this carpet underlay and carried it with her to her teachings in the ’80s. In the 1990s, Hugger Mugger mass-produced the first yoga mat for students of Iyengar Yoga.
The yoga mat has changed significantly since then. And just as yoga is your practice, so is your mat. Choosing the right mat will come down to your personal preferences, the style of yoga you practice, and other decisions that are unique to you.
Whether you are buying your 1st, 10th, or 100th yoga mat, read on to learn about the latest in yoga mat features and how to choose the best one for your practice
Identify Your Preferred Style of Yoga
Do you most commonly practice Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, or Heated Yoga? This is the first place to start.
If you are newer to yoga, you can pick a standard middle-of-the-road mat, but as you progress you may want a newer mat that better matches your style.
In Yin Yoga, you hold poses for a longer period of time, so you may want a mat that is thicker and has more padding.
If you practice Ashtanga, Hatha, or Vinyasa you may want a mat that has a higher “stickiness” factor. This will keep you on the mat without straining to keep from falling over.
In Heated Yoga, the focus is on absorption and not sliding.
Once you know your yoga style, you can focus on other factors of your mat.
Choose the Right Yoga Mat Thickness
Typically a standard yoga mat is about 1/8th inch thick; however, they can be as think as 1/4th of an inch or as thin as 1/16th of an inch.
You choose your thickness based on your personal needs. Travel mats are thin, so they fit better in your suitcase or carry on.
Thicker mats may make it easier on your knees in kneeling poses, but make it harder in balance poses.
You also want to consider where you are storing your yoga mat. A thicker mat takes up more room, which may be an issue in a smaller living space or if you carry it along with you to work or to a studio.
Choosing the Right Material
Mats are now made of many different types of materials. The least expensive mat tends to be made of PVC or vinyl. More environmentally friendly mats are made of natural or recycled rubber, jute, or cotton.
The mat material dictates its texture/feel, stickiness, eco-friendliness, and sponginess. Most importantly it also dictates how the mat will hold up over time.
If you have a latex allergy, avoid yoga mats made of natural rubber. If you want the original, it will be made of PVC which makes it durable, sticky, and spongy.
If you don’t like a spongy mat, choose jute or cotton, as they have the least amount of give. Jute is a natural fiber like cotton produced largely in Asia.
If you are focusing on the tenet of Ahimsa, or non-violence, you may choose an eco-friendly mat made of rubber, jute, or cotton. Some mats are also made of cork and bamboo.
Natural fibers do tend to be thicker and slipperier than synthetic ones. To combat sliding, look for a mat made with natural fibers that has a texture or raised pattern.
Texture Versus Stickiness
The texture of your mat determines the amount of resistance or traction it has. Stickiness refers to the amount of suction in your mat.
Yoga mats range in texture and stickiness from rough to super smooth. Mats with more texture improve your grip and do not cause slipping if you practice heated or power yoga.
One mat texture is not better than the other, and ultimately your choice should come down to your preferred feel. But keep in mind, all mats work best when they are cleaned and well-maintained.
There is a yoga mat for every price range. You can purchase a good PVC mat for $10-$20. Or you can go all in, and spend up to $100,000 on a mat made of vegetable-tanned leather and adorned with ethically-sourced gemstones.
Choose the mat that fits your budget, and don’t let the price of a mat or the need to purchase the “right” yoga clothes prevent you from practicing yoga.
If the original yogis could use the natural ground or a blanket and a loincloth to practice, you shouldn’t let material trappings prevent you from experiencing the benefits of yoga.
When you do choose a yoga mat, pick one that makes you feel happy. Choose the color, design, and style that works for you. The goal of purchasing your own mat should be to further your practice. When you love your yoga mat, you will be more willing to use it.
You should choose the right mat for your style, budget, and yoga needs. If you have questions, ask other yogi’s preferences. Your yoga teacher can also be a great resource to learn more about which mats they prefer for the style of yoga they teach.
You don’t have to rush to purchase a yoga mat, most studios have them to use or rent until you find the right one for you.
Have Mat, Will Travel
Now that you have chosen the right yoga mat for you, it is time to take it to the studio and try it out. The good news is that you don’t have to travel far—our classes are centrally located in London.
Take time for you, and join us on the mat in a yoga class.