One of the most common conversations between students and teachers before and after yoga class (at least at Valley Vinyasa) is mats. What kind of mat is that? Do you like it? Is it sticky? Where'd you get it? Have you ever tried a ________mat? How much did it cost? Is it worth it?
Asking teachers and other students is a great way to gather information and can definitely help you to make a decision, but sometimes you can just end up more confused by the widely varying opinions and advice. There's no perfect process for picking the perfect mat, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop around.
Cushy Cushy. Most students I talk to place a high (and I mean high) value on the thickness of their mat.
When you consider the time spent on knees, ankles, and wrists (and even heads!) in a typical class, I suppose that makes sense. Mats range in thickness from 1/16" (really thin!) up to as thick as 5/16" (super cushy). When considering the thickness of your mat, it may be tempting to find the thickest mat out there to cushion your body during practice. Keep in mind that the cushier the mat, the more challenging it will be to balance on it. I purchased an expensive and VERY luxuriously thick mat a few years ago and found that I had to step off my mat and onto the floor every time the class went into any type of balancing pose. If that's not what you're looking for, opt for something a little thinner (see chart below).
Superior Stickiness. After thickness, most students I talk to about their mats have the most complaints (or praise) about the slipperiness or tackiness of their mats. What's more annoying than sliding around on your brand new (and maybe even expensive) mat, right? Of course, stickiness is harder to measure than weight or thickness, so your best bet is going to be try the mat(s) you're considering by borrowing from a friend, teacher, or a studio to make sure it's got the non-stick quality you're looking for. Keep in mind that many of the more expensive professional mats are manufactured in a way that it will take some time and use for the stickiness to "come out" of the mat. Most manufacturers have specific instructions for washing or treating your mat to remove any film or coating that might be causing initial slipperiness and bring up the stick factor.
Weight. The thickness (and density) of your mat will have an impact on the weight, and it's kind of astonishing how heavy some of the "professional" mats can get. Keep this in mind; if you're going to be carrying it from house to car to studio a lot, you might not want to buy the heaviest mat on the market.
Price. Of course price is a factor in almost every yoga mat purchase, and many students ask if it's really worth it to spend upwards of $70 on a mat when you can get one for as little as $10 or $20 at most mass merchants or discount stores. Of course, only you can answer that, but keep in mind the annual cost of a mat, especially if you are becoming a dedicated practitioner who will still be doing yoga in a few years. Your typical "Target" mat will probably give you a good year before it starts to crumble, flake, get holes, and resist your sanitation methods :), so your cost per year is going to be around $20. On the other hand, with proper care you can expect a more expensive mat to last as many as 10 years (some even have a lifetime guarantee), so even if you're paying $70-100 for it, your annual cost is going to be lower. It's an investment, yes, but when you consider how much time you spend on your mat, it's definitely worth at least considering an upgrade.
Mother Earth. This may not automatically come to mind when you're standing in front of the yoga mat
selection at Target, but if you consider the environmental impact of other decisions you make, why not give the earth more than a passing thought when investing in a new yoga mat. It certainly feels yogic, right? Manufacturers' websites (or look at our chart below) will tell you about the materials used to make your mat, as well as any other environmentally-friendly facts about the manufacturing process or recyclability of your mat.
Since we're on the subject of the earth, if you are getting a new mat, don't just throw your old mat in the trash. There are literally dozens of potential uses for your old mat, so please consider recycling or "upcycling" it rather than adding it to the landfill. Check out this awesome article from Fitness Blog containing 26 ideas to reuse your mat.
There are lots of mat choices out there, and we're certainly not going to try to compare them all, but here's a chart that highlights the differences between a few of the most popular mats available.
Try before you buy! Valley Vinyasa has an ample supply of Lululemon The Mat and Manduka PROLite and eKO lite mats for students to use during class.