You're ready to take the next step in your relationship with yoga and commit to your own mat. Be choosy when making your selection -- a good mat can make or break your practice. If you choose a mat only because you like the color, you may find yourself on a slip 'n slide instead of in Downward-Facing Dog. The right mat enhances your practice, so you will come back again and again to relax, strengthen and grow more flexible.
Traditional gym mats used in fitness classes usually measure about 48 inches long. If you try to use one of these mats for your yoga practice, your feet and ankles will hang off during reclined poses and you may have to awkwardly shorten your Down Dog stance. A quality yoga mat measures at least 68 inches in length. If you are vertically blessed, you can pay a little more for an extra-long mat that will fit your tall frame.
A good yoga mat is one that enhances your yoga experience. A plush mat may feel luxurious during a restorative practice, but it could make you topple over during more active practices, such as Ashtanga, vinyasa or power yoga. Yoga mats generally range in thickness from a standard 1/8 inch to super cushy models stuffed with cotton. Thicker mats are heavier and bulkier, so you'll have more to transport to the studio and need more space for storage. Thinner mats allow you to connect to the floor, which helps you during standing postures and flows. If you do like a little more padding, you can get a 1/4-inch thick mat made of dense foam that still provides you with the ability to balance.
A good yoga mat is made of a material that supports your beliefs and your practice. If being eco-friendly is important to you, choose one made of natural or recycled materials such as jute or recycled rubber. Most standard mats are made of vinyl, or PVC, which can sustain several years of regular practice. PVC is going to offer more cushioning than cotton or jute. Avoid natural rubber mats if you are allergic to latex.
Texture and Stickiness
No one texture makes a yoga mat inherently good or bad, only good or bad for your preferences. You may like a rougher texture, because it enables you to grip the floor with your feet and palms. Or, you may be sensitive to bumps and chafing at the feet and thus prefer a smoother texture. Stickiness is related to the texture and material of the mat. PVC mats tend to be the stickiest, even if they have a smooth surface. You’ll need to clean it regularly though, because build up of sweat, dirt and natural oils can make your hands slide out from under you during certain poses. A quality rubber mat will have a raised pattern to help your grip.
Color and Pattern
A good yoga mat will make you feel happy and at ease when you rest upon it. Choose a color that you enjoy seeing at every practice -- something bright and obnoxious may become tiresome day after day. Some people like a mat with a visible pattern that they can use as a guide to help align their feet and hands in optimal positions. For others, these attributes can be distracting.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.