Whether you're a total newcomer or a long-time enthusiast, having the right yoga mat can make a whole world of a difference to your practice. Sometimes it's overwhelming to make the right choice with a plethora of mats that are available in the market. While the vast majority of yoga mats work perfectly well for any style of yoga, understanding the differences will help you select a mat that fits your needs.
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Things to Consider -
What's Your Level?
Your level of yoga is a reflection of your practice. It's good to know where you stand and adapt your requirements accordingly.
A beginner is someone who's just been introduced to the sport. If you're doing short and straightforward yoga sessions, getting comfortable with a few basic beginner poses and your practice ranges from 3 to more days a week.
Things to look for -
When you're an absolute beginner, the grip and thickness matter a lot. You're probably doing gentle yoga styles such as Hatha, Yin, Restorative or Prenatal, which tend to focus on slower postures and being in contact with the floor, you'll want a greater level of comfort. You should choose a mat between 5 and 8 mm thick to help protect your joints. Another quality to look for is "how easy it's to transport" so that you're able to carry it to your classes without much of a hassle.
If you’ve been taking the yoga basics class for several months, and you comfortably know your way around all basic yoga poses, easily doing the Downward-Facing Dog or the Tree Pose, it's probably time to level up and consider yourself an intermediate practitioner.
Things to look for in a yoga mat -
With your practice leveling up to medium intensity, you're getting into sessions that will work your muscles and make you work up a sweat! Since you're transitioning into a more advanced level of gentle yoga, you can still use a mat between 5 to 8mm thickness but this time choose a mat of better quality that can accommodate long hours of yoga.
When you've been doing asanas consistently over time, getting stronger and more flexible and increasingly challenging poses have become more accessible, you've moved onto a more advanced level of your practice. You've now entered a world of high-intensity yoga.
Things to look for -
If you're doing dynamic yoga such as ashtanga, vinyasa or in a warm room such as Bikram / hot yoga where you do lots of standing poses requiring good balance, your top priority is stability and plenty of grip so that you don't slip. The best thing is therefore a thinner mat, between 1 and 5 mm maximum. You can also add a thin pure rubber mat for maximum grip, especially for asanas like a downward-facing dog.
Yoga mats come in weights from thin and light for travel to ¼ - inch heft mats that can get up to 7 pounds in weight. If you’re not sure which is best for you, we’d suggest a ⅛ - inch thick mat--that’s pretty standard when it comes to a strong, flowing practice. You’ll have a solid contact with the floor, which is necessary for many poses. They’re also unlikely to snag during flows, unlike thicker mats.
However, if you’re heading somewhere by air, you’ll want a thin mat designed for portability. These mats pack down smaller than mats like the one suggested above, so you can easily tote them around in your luggage. Just know you’ll have to leave behind some of that comfort.
You’ll want to choose a thicker mat for restorative or therapeutic practices. These mats are far more comfortable in forearm and kneeling poses, that are often part of slower, calmer practices. However, thicker mats are harder for balance during standing poses.
Materials And Durability
It is common sense, and true, that yoga mats that are thicker last longer than thin mats. Just know--mats of all thicknesses last a pretty long time, so this might not be a concern. You’ll want to think about the material your mat is made from when you’re making your decision on which to buy.
PVC is a plastic-based material that many mats are made of. It’s durable, cleanable and grippy. Please note that they’re not absorbent, so they can become very slick when wet with seat. It’s also latex-free, a consideration if you have latex allergies. But it’s not biodegradable or as environmentally good as other options.
TPE, or thermoplastic elastomer, is a human-made blend of plastic and rubber polymers. These mats are usually more environmentally friendly than PVC and some are even completely recyclable. You’ll need to note that these are usually less durable than PVC, but they are still great in the traction department.
Eco or natural mats are made of things like natural rubber, cotton and jute. They’re usually less grippy on the floor, but they’ll offer plenty of traction against your hands and feet. They aren’t very durable like PVC, but they’re worth the pain if sustainability is a priority.
It’s not often talked about, but yoga can be a pricey practice to take part in. If you’re working to stick to a budget, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a good value for your mat. That being said, if you get a mat that isn’t plain, standard-sized PVC, you’re probably going to have to pay some extra dough.
Features like antimicrobial treatments or cool designs aren’t as important as material and thickness, and can add to the cost of your mat. If you’re new to yoga, perhaps stay with a slightly less expensive mat--you can alway upgrade!
And if yoga is not your cup of tea, these mats can also be used for pilates, strength training, and at-home sweat sessions.
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