I am not going to claim to be an expert on all yoga mats and I won’t be able to detail every single type of mat currently available on the market but I have a fine collection of them myself and have several decades of experience using them!
At present I have a variety of yoga mats for personal use including several traditional “sticky” or “non-slip” yoga mats, a linen yoga mat, an eco yoga mat and a cotton yoga rug. Of these mats, the least I spent on one was £28 and the most expensive one was £48 so I have always been happy to spend a little bit more on my mats (but not a ridiculous amount!) and as a result they continue to last.
There are many factors one can take into consideration when buying your first yoga mat – not least thickness and the overall dimensions of the mat, the material it is made of, the grip it offers, etc. but I think in reality the most important aspect when buying your first mat is budget. How much do you have at your disposal to spend on a mat? and how much are you “willing” to spend on a mat? It is all very well reading about eco-friendly yoga mats that use only the finest, most environmentally-friendly materials or those specially engineered yoga mats that cost well over £100, but if your budget is under £10 one cannot always take these factors into consideration. In truth, practicing yoga on a £100 mat is not going to make you any better than practicing on a £10 mat BUT what spending a little more might do is ensure your mat doesn’t fall apart upon first use so you get a little more value by spending a little more and you might find a better quality mat more comfortable. But ultimately start out with what you can afford and then when you know you are going to continue with your practice then you won’t mind parting with a little extra cash for better quality and you will probably end up buying a few different ones!
This is an important aspect to consider when purchasing a yoga mat but equally there are ways around everything. When I started teaching I invested in 20 yoga mats for use in my classes all of which are 3mm thick. Aside from travel yoga mats, 3mm is a standard basic yoga mat thickness. Some people might find this thickness uncomfortable under the knees in some poses or when laying down but this can be worked around by doubling over the mat under the knees or hips where necessary which then provides adequate cushioning or you can place a blanket underneath you wherever needed. I also use a 3mm thick mat when I go away on holiday as they are lighter and this is perfectly adequate. However, it is possible to get thicker mats for not too much more cost so 4mm, 5mm or 6mm mats are also great in that these will provide more cushioning built into the mat itself without the need to double over or use additional cushioning. If you are buying your first mat I would personally recommend getting a minimum 4mm or a maximum 6mm mat. You don’t want any thicker than 6mm otherwise you lose the “earth” contact which is important for balancing poses and I often see students with thick mats stepping off their mats for balances so they clearly do feel it is harder on a thicker mat. The thick mats that are often advertised as yoga mats are not really suitable as they squeak when you use them, roll up at the ends and are not generally non-slip.
Material and Texture
You can find yoga mats in all manner of materials: PVC, rubber, bamboo, jute, cotton, etc. although most standard and purse-friendly yoga mats are made of PVC. I have read some articles saying about PVC not being environmentally-friendly on the basis that they do not biodegrade BUT for me personally I have never actually had to throw one away and equally there are countless web articles offering suggestions as to how to upcycle or repurpose your PVC yoga mats so I don’t think this is a reason not to buy one if this suits your budget. Equally if your budget can stretch a little it is always nice to buy eco-friendly products so you could try out a more natural material. My favourite mat by far is a linen yoga mat that I purchased for just under £40 and my least favourite – funnily enough – is the most expensive one in my collection – a luxury eco mat – which seems to get quite dirty and likes to roll itself up and doesn’t have a particularly good grip so spending a lot of money on a mat does not guarantee that it will be perfect but as I practice yoga all the time I am happy to spend money trying out different mats.
Texture will be determined by the material of the mat – this is mostly to do the sticky-not sticky factor. Most standard yoga mats sold now are in fact sticky and non-slip – PVC offers a good non-slip surface and my linen one is good too. I do find, however, that whether a mat is slippy or not seems a lot to do with the person. I have never had a problem with slipping on any of my mats, whether a 3mm lower end yoga mat or a higher end linen mat. I just don’t have a problem with slipping but some people will slip about regardless of the mat, just the nature of where they sweat. In these cases it might be best to buy a yoga mat towel (suitable for hot yoga but obviously can be used in hatha if you tend to slip) which have little grip dots on them that help prevent slipping. Also I see some people wearing grip gloves which they find helps. It really is a case of finding out what works for you personally. A lot of mats, I should add, “develop” their grip with use so the more you use them the more “non-slip” they become – another reason to do more yoga!
As for style there is a yoga mat for everyone! All colours of the rainbow, all manner of patterns, all different materials, so really it is just a case of finding a mat that appeals to you. Mine are all relatively plain (at present) but I always have my eye on more flamboyant mats although I am starting to run out of space to keep them all!
The only accessory you might want for your yoga mat itself is a convenient way to carry it about. Obviously you can just roll it up and tuck it under your arm – nice and simple – but yoga mats – as you will find out – like to unravel themselves and can get a bit awkward if not secured! There a couple of ways to counter this, you could purchase a yoga mat carry strap which you should be able to pick up for about £5 for a basic black strap, or you could buy a yoga mat bag – lots of different colours, styles, fabrics and prices are available for these. You can get bags that just fit your mat, or larger bags that can fit your phone, purse, yoga props, etc. so worth having a look around to see what would suit your needs.
I hope this advice has helped even if just to give you idea about what to think about when buying your first yoga mat, or even some ideas if you want to upgrade. If you still have no idea where to start feel free to contact me if you want some suggestions although in essence you can buy yoga mats from literally everywhere these days – sports shops, on-line stores and probably even the supermarket!