Some of the most in depth and genuine conversations I have had with students outside yoga classes have, bizarrely, been on the subject of yoga mats. It’s pretty much the first thing you buy when you become a little bit more committed to your practice and so, despite not necessarily involving a huge amount of money, feels like Quite A Big Deal.
I’m actually of the opinion that everybody (who does yoga) should have their own yoga mat. Partially because I think that even if your yoga practice is a once a week class included in your gym membership and taken, reluctantly, because you know you need to cross train if you’re going to run that marathon/complete that tri/be able to walk when your 90, using your own mat creates a space that you have literally taken ownership of. It gives you a sense of responsibility over and commitment to your practice, and in some circumstances (we’re getting to them, I promise) can make your practice significantly more enjoyable. And partially I think this because once I read a story about somebody who got crabs from a studio yoga mat, and was so disgusted by this I swore off shared mats forever.
So – how do you know which mat is right for you? Like anything, so much of this comes down to personal preference. My dog, Molly, for example, will only ever sit on my old Sweaty Betty mat (above. Adorable). First of all… What is the mat for? Yes, I know, yoga, but do you take most of your classes at studios or do you practice at home with your teacher (or, er, YouTube)? If you’re going to be schlepping this mat into class all the time – and you’re off to a studio that provides mats anyway – go for the lightest travel mat you can find and pop it over a borrowed mat. Manduka do a great one, as do Lulu. And Sweaty. Betty have just brought out a travel mat too – I’m not recommending it simply because I haven’t tried it, but most of their stuff is fantastic. If, on the flip side, you practice mainly at home you can get away with something a little heavier.
Also worth asking: how bony are you? I never considered myself to be a bony person – in fact I would say I have fairly adequate padding – but bizarrely I have very sticky outy spine, lower ribs, knees and ankles, and graduating to a slightly more padded mat was an amazing and eye opening experience! If you like cushioning, and are looking for a mat you can use by itself as well as with studio mats, a travel mat might not be the best option for you.
Right. We’ve got practicality and padding out of the way – now I’m bringing out the big guns. We’re talking grip. Anybody who’s ever watched despairingly as their hands slid away from their hips in Down Dog will understand the frustration of a slippy mat – I’m getting irritated just thinking about it. But fear not! There are steps you can take to keep your hands where you want them. The first is buying a yoga towel – I’ve got about 5, my favourite is this one from Sweaty Betty – and popping it over your mat. Cheap, simple, effective, and best of all you can just chuck the towel in the washing machine and you’ll need to clean your mat less often. The second, and my personal favourite thanks to my years of indoor rock climbing, is chalk. It’s a bit messier, admittedly, but in a strangely satisfying way. Unfortunately, the arrival of two dogs and a cat in my life rendered this route completely impractical – and you have to use your own mat or risk the wrath of a studio manager – but a ball of climbing chalk costs £2 from a climbing shop, works like a charm, and has a nice salt-of-the-earth vibe to it too.
The third option is just to invest in the least slippy mat you can find. These can, unfortunately, be hard to find. Most mat companies will make fairly ambitious claims about the grip on their mats – to be honest, I’ve tried loads, and the only one I’ve ever found that lives up to those claims is Liforme, where you are literally not going to budge! I love mine, use it every day and will replace it when it wears out – but if I wasn’t teaching and practising six days a week I’m not sure I’d have made the investment. Also worth considering are the cons of a super non slip mat. I’ve heard of a few cases where people’s toes have got stuck on Liformes during jump-throughs, whereas on another mat they would simply have glided over, and it’s caused some painful bruising. Equally, if I’m going to be doing work on hanumanasana or something I’ll use my Manduka eko instead, so I can gradually inch my foot further away. It’s not a bad idea to consider how badly you actually need superb grip. If you do loads of inversions etc then it might be prudent – if you’re really into a more grounded hatha style it might be completely unnecessary!
And lastly, there’s looks. I have seen yoga mats with gold thread woven into them which retail at around £200 and have considered them crazy, but then again I’ve bought cheap mats in colours I didn’t like because I was rushing and never quite liked practising on them as much as I should. If you want a patterned, pretty mat look to Gaiam or new brand La Vie Boheme – the latter of which I haven’t tried but really want to (they’re gorgeous!). The manliest mats out there I think are Manduka; and I’d still say that as a great value and long lasting professional quality all rounder mat with decent grip and safe toes, their Black Mat Pro is my first choice. And if you like a wide choice of colours there are so many out there – again, Manduka have a great range but check out Lulu, Sweaty Betty and Yogamatters too!