Yoga is one of those forms of exercise that is well suited for beginners in large part thanks to the inexpensive costs of the needed equipment. However, if there was one fundamental component that is vital to everyone's yoga "kit", it's probably the yoga mat, and oh my have they changed throughout the years.
A Brief History Lesson!
Back in the beginning of yogi-time (as Lifeorme.com puts it), yogi's barely used anything (just grass often, if needed), and if some amount of cushioning was critical, basic things such as animal skin or cloths could be used.
Fast forwarding many years later, as the practice continued to evolve, cotton rugs made of such cloths evolved (1930's). This was also a time when more asanas were evolving, which meant more movement, which equaled the need for a more stable and comfortable surface.
As yoga became more prominent in the West, so did the need for a more "cutting edge" yoga mat. The first modern yoga mat was developed in the 1960's, which used a carpet underlay. These sticky mats had one big problem, and that was durability. The foam material broke down rather quickly with moderate to heavy use.
Then in 1990's Sara Chambers founded Hugger Mugger. These mats were much more sturdy and sticky, allowing for better grip and footing.
These mats also have a problem, and that is they are made from PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). At the time of reading this, you probably are aware that this type of material is NOT environmentally friendly. However, they are extremely durable and forgiving when practicing the art.
Fast forwarding again in time, as we sit here writing this post in 2021, you can almost find a mat to suit every priority and preference. From a vast selection of colors, to a wide assortment of materials and thickness's, the options are almost.....Endless!
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So What's The Problem?
The problem now is that beginners can often experience to much of a selection, getting totally lost and confused in the process. This guide will serve as the perfect tool to introduce you to yoga mats and the various features you need to know about, to make a mindful selection.
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Too Thick or Too Thin
The thickness of a yoga mat is one of the essential features you need to consider when purchasing this essential yoga tool.
The thickness is especially important if you are older and/or need the extra support for arthritic knees and elbows. However, with that being said, you may use caution not to overdo it, because getting a mat that is too thick, may result in instability and difficulty performing certain poses.
The other draw back to thicker mats, may just be the amount of material. Usually thicker = heavier, as well (maybe even up to 7lbs). So if you're transporting the mat, this could raise some red flags as well.
Truthfully, most of this comes down to personal experience and preference. Many mats today, whether thick or thin, work perfectly fine for many styles of yoga.
The trick may just be about finding that sweet spot that delivers comfort and stability for you as an individual. Personally, the best place to start is with an 1/8" mat. These usually are pretty standard thickness's and do the trick, without bunching up while doing your asanas.
i. Thinner Mats:
Pro's: Travel Better. Better Stability/Balance. Good for Carpet.
Con's: Less Cushion.
ii. Thicker Mats:
Pro's: Great for Therapeutic Practices. Work Well on Harwood Floors. Better for Longer Holds (like restorative poses). Easier on Joints.
Con's: Heavy. Harder to Transport. Less Stable. May Bunch-up.
The material that the mat is made from is also an important consideration when selecting your yoga mat.
Well based on the material chosen may dictate how it responds to wetness (like sweat), eco-friendliness, stickiness, how well it absorbs your bodies differing postures and positions, even smell.
We can tell you, the last thing your want is to be in an intense yoga class and worry about slipping with every move, or focusing on keeping your mat stable on the ground, etc.
Yoga mats come in several different types of materials, but the main one's include; Cork, PVC (vinyl), natural or recycled rubber (be mindful of latex allergy), and also cotton. Over time, as you gain
more experience, you may find that you have a specific preference for a
particular type of material.
For beginners, vinyl, also known as PVC, is the most economical option that offers excellent traction for all of the different yoga styles you may end up doing. Durability is high with PVC mats. The downsides are two-fold, they are not eco-friendly, nor do they absorb well. This means if you sweat a lot, you will have to be mindful of this, potentially stopping to dry off your mat several times. These are also latex free.
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When we discuss these types of mats, usually they include organic cotton, jute or natural rubber. Obviously we have the biggest "pro" of all and that is, these mats are environmentally friendly. They also usually provide very good grip or traction for doing all styles of yoga. The biggest draw back, is probably the biggest "plus-side" to PVC, and that is longevity.
Natural rubber mats are made from natural latex, and can be quite durable, just not PVC durable. They usually are textured as well and provide pretty good traction, as well as pretty good contour to the body.
Synthetic Rubber Mats/Cork:
Synthetic rubber mats, you may have guessed it already, are made from synthetic latex, so they are not natural, but are very durable. They offer good traction, like natural rubber mats (maybe better), and are quite pliable as well.
Lastly is cork. Cork yoga mats actually contain a layer of cork over-top of rubber or PVC (depending on brand). Cork is 100% biodegradable, recyclable and renewable. Cork yoga mats offer a good amount of grip or traction for the practitioner, making them a popular choice for hot yoga practice. The open cell structure helps prevent pooling of sweat. Better yet, cork is a natural anti-bacterial, so you don't have to worry about smell!
The price of a yoga mat can range from
relatively expensive to pretty cheap. You can consider various factors when
choosing a yoga mat, and each affects the overall price differently.
Different materials, various thicknesses, and patterns are all factors in the pricing of different types of yoga mats. If you are just starting and are looking for a good yoga mat, your best bet is to go with an affordable mat and upgrade later as you decide that you are more interested in practicing yoga, or find your preferences in mats changing.
There is not much more to say about pricing. As you browse, whether that be Amazon, or another retailer/manufacturer, you will see the vast differences in prices, with PVC almost always being the least expensive way to go.
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The last factor (which we have briefly touched upon) that is going to be pretty
important, is the texture and grip provided by the mat. This is important
because you don't want to lose your footing while you're doing any advanced poses or any asana for that matter.
Like we mentioned earlier, this process is really going to be individualized, because of the variety of mats out their. Best bet is to often start with an inexpensive, "standardized mat" to some extent, and work your way from their.
A good texture on a mat will be something with the right mix of traction for your body, floor traction, as well as the ability to repel moisture to some extent. However, some yoga styles, like hot yoga or more intense styles of flow yoga, you will sweat! With hot yoga, it's possible to use a towel topper to soak up sweat, making you less likely to slip. A towel topper can also make things easier to clean afterwards.
Some mats offer textures to help add grip. This may help two fold by making it more (or less) sticky. Textures may also aide to some extent, physical comfort levels, based on the individual.
A good rule of thumb, if you wish to stay clear of PVC, are natural rubber mats or cotton with a raised pattern for those really sweaty days!
It's All About Finding the Right Yoga Mat for You
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into selecting the "perfect" yoga mat for your individual needs. Sometimes, it's trial and error. We recommend to be cautioned if new to yoga, going right out and buying a $200.00 yoga mat. As nice as it may be, it may not be suited for your experience level, or style of yoga for that matter.
It's kind of like that saying "aim small, miss small". If you miss on this and don't spend to much, there is room to try again, after some fine tuning, with only a small amount of money used. If you go out their and purchase a $200.00 mat and don't use it, you've missed on a big purchase, and potentially wasted a large amount of money (to some at least).
If it's your first yoga mat, then two additional resources can help you make your decision. The first is to make sure you read all of the reviews when purchasing a yoga mat online, and the second is to talk to your yoga instructor, as they will be able to recommend the best option and guide you through the process better!
We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in choosing your yoga mat, more carefully! Have a great day!