Yoga is about acceptance, harmony and balance. The meaning of the word yoga is after all ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’. Getting ready for your first yoga class, whether you choose to do an online class or go to a private studio, might leave you wondering whether you need a yoga mat when you are only starting out?
There are various types of yoga mats out there, so how do you pick a yoga mat that’s right for you?
Stay calm and breathe, Superprof is here to help you with your decision as you set yourself up for a peaceful yoga practice in no time.
Yoga and What it Will do For You
There is no better time to get into yoga and the best part of it, it’s something that is suitable for everyone, regardless of their age, shape or fitness level. Science and research are discovering daily what the ancient yogis have known for so long, how yoga can put your life on the overall path of well-being.
The difference is, with the help of modern science we know start to learn and explain why it has such a holistic impact on us. For more background on yoga you can read this article for beginners or dive into some of the best yoga documentaries recently released.
Here are some of the highlights and changes yoga can bring to your life:
- Sleep better
- Become more relaxed as it’s been proved to reduce stress
- Practice your way to happiness as you slowly learn to manage your mind and body better
- Manage your weight better while you strengthen and tone all the muscles, joints and ligaments in your body
- Balance your hormones which will help with moods and even provide aid if you struggle to fall pregnant
- Build a more loving relationship with the holistic you while creating synergy between you mind, body and spirit.
Yoga is also the perfect supplement for any sport as it’ll help you build flexibility to prevent or rehabilitate injuries. If you combine running and yoga, you’ll manage to lengthen or create mobility around the areas of weakness due to the repetitive and ongoing use of those joints and muscles.
The Wrong Type of Mat
The first yogis didn’t even use mats, so do you really need a mat? This all depends on where you practise, the asanas (poses) you do and also how committed you will be to yoga.
Without a yoga mat, beginners run the risk of potentially damaging their knees and joints. In yoga your focus should be on creating bliss and relaxation, and choosing the right equipment for your practice will definitely get you more excited about returning to your mat every time.
Getting the right yoga mat means you can safely and comfortably practise each time.
Here’s why we think getting the correct yoga mat is a great idea:
- The right mat will ensure comfort and protection
- Your mat will create a ‘ritual effect’ and a safe bubble the moment you roll open your mat. Your mind will become more automatic in signalling how your mat indicates it’s time for you to disconnect from the outside world, each time you roll open your mat.
There are a couple of mat options we wouldn’t recommend for a regular yoga practice.
Pilates mats are usually thicker than yoga mats. They provide ample of cushioning and were created for Pilates where most of the practice is being done on the floor. It’s a great option for floor work, but because yoga is a combination of poses that alternate between standing, sitting and lying you’ll have to find an option that provides more stability.
PVC Yoga Mats
Most of the cheap, seemingly beginner yoga mats in the market are made out of PVC. It has been discovered that PVC is toxic and for that reason it’ll not only interfere with your peace of mind when you try and relax on your mat, it will also have an impact on the environment. The more you learn about yoga, the more you’ll see that the practice has a common thread of living with awareness and consciousness engrained in it and for that reason this option is a no-go for most yogis.
Carpet or Sleeping Pad (used for camping)
It’s possible to do yoga on a thick carpet or a sleeping pad, but it’s certainly not recommended due to the risks around injury. They will most probably not be non-slip which could be dangerous if you are trying to balance or practicing upside down positions like a downwards facing dog.
Visiting a yoga studio nearby or attending a group class that provides class mats, will allow you to test and try a yoga mat before buying your own. Some of our one-on-on yoga tutors, or one of your friends might also be able to lend you one.
What to Consider When Choosing a Yoga Mat?
The Material it’s Made of
Yoga mats, like everything else in life, are manufactured differently. Manufacturers use different types of materials and processes which impacts its quality, the comfort it offers, the look, sustainability, but most of all your yoga practice. Choosing the right yoga mat starts with deciding the type of yoga mat you prefer and you can consider the following:
- Is it environmentally friendly and non-toxic? Some yoga mats are mass manufactured and they use toxic ingredients. Find greater peace in choosing a mat that is biodegradable, recyclable and healthy for you and the environment.
- Choose a non-slip mat. Not only will it prevent you from sliding all over the place, it also prevents injury and provide the stability you require for all the various asanas. Choosing a non-slip mat will allow you to practise safely on tiles, wood, on concrete, or any other surface.
- Lasting durability. Some materials are more durable. You might pay a little more, but they are easy to clean and will last you a lot longer than a cheap and nasty PVC mat. Certain mats are also a greater fit to specific yoga styles and choosing the correct material for your favourite style will ensure your mat lasts longer.
- A soft or a hard mat? Instinctively most people would go for a soft mat as they think it provides the required cushioning and comfort. Unfortunately a very soft mat will hamper your practice if you plan to include balancing and standing poses. Harder mats provide more stability and is ideal if you focus on a nimble, strong, grounded practice. Beginner yogis should choose a mat that provides stability, while it provides some form of cushioning.
- Do you prefer grip in poses or ‘easy to clean’ surfaces? Textured top layers will provide greater grip and balance for your hands and feet, while a smooth surface is easier to clean. Your choice will depend on whether you choose relaxing yoga styles with fluid transitions or a mat that’s allowing you to work hard and fast.
Yoga mats should be fit for purpose, so choose one that’s ideal for your favourite style of yoga.
Most yoga mats nowadays are made of mixed materials, where the top layer are pressed onto a bottom, non-grip rubber layer. This way you can practise on a material you prefer while the foundation of the mat provides stability. Here are some of the materials on the market, their pros and cons and the style of yoga that suits them:
- Recycled cork – Antibacterial and provides great absorption for a fair amount of sweat which makes it ideal for all types of Hot yoga. It’s good for the environment, the cork provides nice natural cushioning, but if you sweat a lot it might become slippery.
- Natural rubber (tree rubber) – Used for High performance mats, it doesn’t only provide good grip, it is easy to clean, good for the environment, biodegradable and certainly one of our favourites because it’s suitable for most types of yoga, especially the hard-working, fast-moving Power yoga types.
- Microfibre – Usually a top layer of microfibre on these mats provides a soft, smooth surface to practise on while allowing greater grip for those who prefer sweaty yoga sessions like Bikram yoga or hot yoga. They are also suitable for your everyday Vinyasa yoga or other styles like Iyengar yoga.
- Cotton fabric – Woven natural cotton can make a great yoga mat and traditional cotton options were also foldable mats. These offer excellent absorption and texture, but unfortunately it’s hard to come by, provides less comfort and cushioning and are not as long as the other mats. These are great for people who have allergies to latex and rubbers.
- PVC mats – These are affordable, but unfortunately toxic to you and the environment. In our opinion … don’t even go there.
Thickness, Shape & Size
What size should a yoga mat be? The standard yoga mat is a rectangular shape, but did you know that yoga mats also come in different shapes and sizes?
Rectangular yoga mats also cater for taller yogis with the extra length options and for pregnant woman some yoga brands created wider rectangular mats, which is also great if you do a lot of floor work and twists.
For the free-spirited yogis, who enjoys full range of motion and movement beyond the restricted, traditional rectangular styled yoga mat, there’s also the round yoga mat or even a square yoga mat. These usually take more space so be sure you check the dimension before you order them.
The thickness of the mat you choose will relate directly to the level of stability and cushioning it provides. Thinner mats are stable for standing asanas, handstands or nimble poses while the thicker and softer mats are more soothing for your knees and suitable for the restorative types of yoga. Yoga mats come in a variety of thickness ranging from 3.5mm to 8mm.
Pick a mat based on where you will practise as well. A lighter or foldable yoga mat be more suitable if you travel a lot or practise at studios, while yoga sessions at home allow you to pick the heavier more stable ones.
Yoga is an investment in your mind, body and spirit and if you are really serious about it, then spending a little more for a good quality yoga mat will be worth it. The frequency of your practice, your budget and your level of commitment will guide you in deciding how much to spend.
Research various yoga mats online and try a couple out if you can before making your decision.
More experienced yogis won’t mind paying the higher costs of up to R1 999 for a yoga mat as they know it will last them long and it is probably the only equipment they require.
Beginner Yogis can opt for cheaper mats that start form as little as R399, until they’ve found their flow and know what they require from their ultimate yoga mat.
Textured, plain, reversable, with guiding alignment lines or a beautiful mandala pattern …
Yoga mats come with different designs if that can either give your practice a splash of colour or provide reminders to adjust your position or even your thinking. Some microfibre mats offer colourful designs while most rubber mats have markings to help you fix your alignment during your practice.
Where to Buy Your Best Yoga Mat
If you are looking for a quick solution, non-name brands or basic PVC mats will be available at the nearest TotalSports, Sportsmans' Wearhouse, Game or any other major retail outlet that offers sports equipment.
Online shopping has, however made some of the greatest yoga brands available for South Africans as well. The most popular brands like Gaiam, Lululemon, Manduka or Liforme are usually a bit trickier to come by and on the pricier side, but that’s due to their good quality and reputation.
Yoga studios generally have a shop that offers yoga props like yoga blocks, straps, and a variety of mats. Most of them also have online stores and then there are some specialist yoga brands that sell online like the following:
- The Om revolution
We hope we’ve provided enough information around how to pick a yoga mat that is right for you and your new yoga journey to bliss, health and peace.
Each of our bodies has different needs, and we have different preferences and types of yoga that we migrate to. A Superprof yoga teacher in your area will also be the perfect person to guide you in how to choose a yoga mat.