As a yoga instructor, I am often asked what is the “best” mat to buy.
My answer is always the same: It depends. When it comes mats, there are a huge number of options in a wide variety of materials that range in price from $10 to over $100.
In my own experience, you tend to get what you pay for. When I first began practicing yoga, I went for the cheapest options and promptly wore out two mats in two years.
Eventually I broke down and bought a black Manduka for $70 and it turned out to be one of the best yoga investments I ever made. So far, it has lasted me for over six years including an average of three Mysore practices a week, 200 hours of teacher training, and 10 intensive workshops. It’s understatement to say that I love my Manduka. However, what works for me may not work for you.
Here’s some things to keep in mind when purchasing or owning a mat:
1. How often you are going to practice yoga?
If you are only going to attend class once a week or sporadically practice at home, then a cheaper mat may be better for you and your wallet. There is no point in buying an expensive mat if it is only going to gather dust in a corner. If you are brand new to yoga and waiting to see if it is really for you, then you can always upgrade later should you become a diehard yogi.
One thing to note: Sturdier mats tend to be heavier. If you can, borrow a mat that you think you might want to purchase and carry it to and from the car or to and from your home to the studio or gym where you practice. If you live in a city and walk everywhere, then a heavier mat may literally became a serious pain in a very short amount of time.
2. What kind of yoga are you going to practice?
Certain styles of yoga may call for different mats. For example, I primarily practice Ashtanga, so I welcome the extra padding and sturdiness especially when it comes to jumping forward and back. However, for a slower-paced class, a thinner mat may be fine. Also, see #1. Realistically, how often do you practice?
3. What is your level of tolerance?
Years ago, I practiced next to a guy who remarked that he liked the thinnest mats he could find because nothing beat the feel of a hard wood floor. While the mere thought made my knees ache, he really seemed to love the contact with the floor. Other people I know would gladly buy a mat as thick as a tire if that was as option. Again, what you do like?
4. Whatever you do, clean your mat often.
I freely admit that I can be lax about this. However, a yoga mat, especially once used in Bikram or Ashtanga practice, can quickly become a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty germs and bacteria. Also, they can smell.
I don’t have the time to wash my mat after every practice, and you probably don’t either. However spraying it down and wiping it off after each practice is a simple way to keep the stank away. You can buy mat spray, but it’s cheaper to make your own.
My favorite recipe is as follows:
1 cup of distilled or filtered water
1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap
1 or tsp of tea tree oil
1 tsp of lavender oil
Mix and put in a spray bottle.
Typically, after washing my mat, I like to let it dry in the sunlight. However, if you own a mat which is made of natural rubber and guaranteed to be biodegradable, then do not do this as sunlight tends to break down the material. Also be cautious about leaving it in your car on hot summer days. Again, natural rubber and intense heat do not mix.
5. What to do with a worn-out mat?
Even with the best of care, sooner or later most mats are going to wear out. Before you toss it in the trash, see if it can be donated or reused. If it’s not too worn out, see if a donation-based yoga group can use them. Where I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, a group of yoga instructors volunteer at the nearby women’s correction center and are always looking for used mats.
Also, I am an assistant at a Waldorf school and recently found that old yoga mats are perfect for wet-felting projects. The more worn, the better.
Lastly, old mats can be upcyled in a number of ways. A quick Google search will give you endless ideas.
If at all possible, try to keep them out of the landfills as most are made of plastics that are non-biodegradable.
In closing, picking the right yoga mat can be as challenging as picking the right style of yoga that best suits you. However, finding the right mat can make all the difference in the world and may even encourage you to practice more. With the a little TLC, it can last long enough to more than pay for itself.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel