If you’ve ever tried doing yoga on a hardwood floor, you’ll know all about the aches and pains felt afterward.
But when you go to the store to choose a yoga mat, intending to put the pain behind you once and for all, you’re faced with a wide variety of choices: thick ones, thin ones, pink ones, brand-name ones.
What do you do?
Believe it or not, a mat can have a huge impact on your performance, which is why it’s important you choose the right one. That’s why we’re going to walk you through the steps to choosing the best yoga mat for your needs.
By the time we’re done, you can kiss those aches from the hardwood goodbye.
Do I Really Need One?
The short, quick answer? “Yes.”
Yoga “mats” have been used in some sense since the workout form was first practiced in Northern India. At that time, grass acted as the mat. It was eventually replaced with animal skins.
Mats not only help you balance in difficult poses, but they also protect your body from the hard floor. If you’re in a class, a yoga mat also acts as a border for your personal space. Further (and most importantly), they ensure you don’t slip.
That’s actually why yoga instructor Angela Farmer created the first mat in the 1960s. From there, they took off in popularity as people ditched their worn out, slippery towels for something sturdier and easier to practice on.
Is it possible to do yoga without a mat? Absolutely, but we don’t recommend it, especially if you’re inside.
How to Choose the Best Yoga Mat
When browsing the huge selection of yoga mats online or in the store, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. All of these will help you find the top yoga mats on the market as well as the one that was made just for you.
The first factor you want to consider is thickness. There is no “all-fit” measurement here; the best thickness depends on your level, comfort preferences, and exercise plans.
Almost every yoga mat is 1/8 inch thick, but other measurements are available. If you’re planning on doing more floor exercises, a thicker mat is your best bet. If you tend to stand more when you work out, thinner is better.
If you bruise easily or have joints that ache often, consider a thick mat to take some of the pressure off your body when you work out. This is also ideal for beginners; before your muscles harden, your body will feel a bit more soft, meaning that floor can hurt.
If you plan on doing pilates as well as yoga, consider a thick mat. Keep in mind, however, the extra cushioning may make certain poses difficult because it affects your balance.
Try not to go over 1/2 inch thick unless you plan to use it for general exercise, too. Yoga mats are called “sticky mats” for a reason; their primary purpose is to stop you from slipping, not to act as a pillow.
Finally, for all you advanced yoga enthusiasts out there, thinner is typically better.
Length and Width
Most mats are between 68 and 72 inches long. Choose a mat that is at least half a foot taller than you in length. For width, measure your waist and add a foot.
Doing this will give you plenty of space to stretch without wandering “out of bounds.”
Unless you plan on taking a magic carpet ride that will result in a bruised bottom, it’s best to check out the grip characteristics of a mat.
It’s hard to tell how slippery the item is if it’s all wrapped in plastic and on a shelf, we know, but do your homework here. Read the description on the mat and find reviews online. You want to strive for nonslip so you don’t run into any issues doing your poses.
You’re going to be lugging it to wherever you do yoga, so consider finding a lighter mat if you’ll be traveling quite a distance. Many come with shoulder straps to make the journey easier.
Unfortunately, the majority of mats are manufactured using PVC. They are especially found in cheaper mats because the material is affordable for companies.
However, PVC is full of toxins that make it unable to be recycled. If it’s burned or put in a landfill, it releases carcinogens. Even worse, many studies have shown PVC can be harmful to humans in more ways than we can list here.
If at all possible, try to find an alternative material. Many sustainable mats are on the market now, including fair-trade organic cotton, hemp or rubber.
Some yoga mats are designed to be sweat proof, so if you tend to drip a bit while struggling with your downward-facing dog, choose one of these guys.
We’ll be blunt here; the better mats are just more costly. They are made with more durable materials, have superior grip and demonstrate ideal durability. Some yoga mats quite literally cost thousands of dollars.
Experts suggest a good price range that will net you a quality mat is around $50 to $100.
You might be surprised at the numerous designs on the market. There are plain colors (usually an inexpensive alternative), movie-themed ones and more.
There’s even a Han-Solo one where he’s trapped in carbonite. Can you get any cooler?
The design is a way to let your personality sparkle. Ideally, it should also be something that inspires you or makes it easier to go into your zen mode prior to working out.
If you’re not the type to get psyched about an upcoming yoga session, consider brighter colors. Some studies indicate warmer colors, such as red and orange, are also useful for boosting productivity and strength.
Are You Ready to Yoga?
Finding your perfect mat doesn’t have to be stressful. If you look for these factors and match them to your needs, you’ll find the best yoga mat for you in no time.
If you’re interested in other cool and custom-made fitness items, be sure to read our article. It gives all the spicy details about the best yoga apps and devices currently on the market.
And congratulations! In finding your personal needs for a mat, you’ve just gotten one step closer to spiritual freedom.