Buying a Mat

Slick-Yoga-MatThe perennial question came up at the end of practice this morning:  What kind of mat should I buy and where?  Mats are rather personal things, they often define our space when we practice and are even sometimes seen as status symbols.  Isn’t it odd that a tool we use to practice Yoga, Union, can so easily also be used as a tool to create separation?  This post, however, is not about the philosophy of Yoga mats.  It is about finding a good mat for your practice.


Slip Slidin’ Away

First and above all, mats should not be slippery.  If you click on the image of the mats above, you will notice that the blown up section shows that the mats are shiney.  Avoid shiney mats like the plague, they will almost always be slippery.  I have yet to meet a shiney mat that is not slippery.  Slippery mats mean that downward facing dog becomes a constant downward slide as your hands slip away from you.  Unfortunately, mats that are not shiney can also be slippery; so, a mat with no shine does not guarantee a slip free experience but the chances of a slippery mat are much, much lower.

If avoiding shiney mats is the first rule, avoiding spongy mats is the second rule.  Thick, spongy mats allow your wrists to sink into them and so allow your wrists to over extend and put too much strain on the joint.  If the mat is more than ¼" inch thick, I recommend avoiding it.  Even ¼" inch mats can be too spongy; so, how to get a mat that provides good cushion without the spongy effect?  Buy a heavy mat.  A heavier mat means the material used is very dense.  Dense mats also mean more material to provide cushion without being soft and spongy.  On a side note, saying spongy very slow makes my head vibrate and my kids give me weird looks.  The vibrations feel funny but the looks are what really give me a laugh.


Size Doesn’t Matter, It’s How You Use It

Next, we have length and width.  For length, you want a mat that allows you to keep your hands and feet on the mat as you move from pose to pose.  Step back into lunge and measure from your fingers to your feet.  Your mat needs to be at least this long.  Now, how wide are your and hips?  You want your mat at least that wide.

Wider and longer, however, are not always better.  The wider your mat is, the longer it is when rolled up.  If you’re just practicing at home or in a class locally then this is not so much an issue.  Extra wide mats do not travel well on airplanes and usually require you to check at least one bag.  Extra long mats can cause issues in any class.  If everyone is using a six foot mat and you have a seven foot mat, you need to be at the front or back of the class so you can hang the extra 12" of mat out there without encroaching on the people in front of and behind you—yes, the teacher really does want you in rather uniform rows; this makes it easier to see everyone in the class.  My last two mats have been unintentionally long and you’ll always find me at the front or back of a class as a result.

patterned mat

A Horse of a Different Color

Lastly, let’s talk about color and designs.  They don’t matter.  The only real guide is that your mat should not be a distraction for you.  If you want to also be kind to those who practice near you, pick a mat that won’t be distracting to them either.  For me, that means a black mat with no designs or labels.  Labels are absolutely not needed; so, when I buy a mat, I immediately start finding a way to safely remove any labels.  Designs and sayings might be inspiring to you but what starts as inspiration can easily turn to distraction or attachment.

A word about mat prices.  It’s easy to find mats that cost $100 or more.  While expense doesn’t promise quality, buying a $5 mat at the local low price store may be a great way to start your practice but you’ll soon want a better quality mat that supports your practice rather than distracts from it.  Buying a more expensive mat typically means it will last for years and then it will suddenly start to fall apart.  Don’t use a mat that is falling apart, buy a new one.  I bought a HuggerMugger mat on clearance for around $60 in 2009.  I replaced it last year after 5 years of practicing with it, that’s $1 a month.


Quick My Money is Burning a Hole in My Pocket

Where to buy mats online?
HuggerMugger (if you are in Utah, you can visit their store)
Jade Mats
Yoga Accessories, especially the eco mats section
You can also find a wide selection of mats through Amazon.

Listen!  Do You Smell Something?

New mats stink, there is just no way to get around that unless you use an all fabric mat of some kind.  Dirty mats also stink, keep them clean!  You don’t want to put your nose somewhere that smells like your own feet and if other people can smell your dirty mat . . . just keep your mat clean!

Jai Bhagwan