What to look for when choosing your first yoga mat

So you’ve decided to buy your own mat? Good for you. Your mat will become a place of peace and pain, pleasure and determination, a place of solitude and introspection. That humble rectangle will be there when you are at your most vulnerable and most powerful. So what do you look for to get the perfect one for you?

Price

Yoga mats are big business. Some retail for hundreds of dollars, especially the name brands. If this is your first mat, don’t spend too much. It’s likely that as your practice evolves, your demands of a mat will change. And in all likelihood, you’ll end up with several. One for travelling, one for home practice and one for the studio work. And one funky one you bought on a whim in Bali.

Support

The next thing to think about is support, both for the poses and for the times you’re too wrung out to move beyond Child’s Pose. Kneeling poses, forearm balances and even that Child’s Pose can be uncomfortable on a thin mat so you want yours to be soft enough to cushion your bones. If you only practice Yin, a squishy mat will be great. If you practice any other yoga though, you also want one that is firm enough to give you a solid foundation in standing and balancing poses. A super soft, squishy mat is more unstable under your feet and will make your tree pose more wind tossed than serene. You’re going for the ‘Goldilocks’ type of support here, not too soft and not too hard.

Grip

While you’re going Goldilocks on support, you want to go more one sided for grip. I’m sure you’ve experienced those mats that allow so much slide that your down dog becomes a plank by the end of the second breath. Your mat should have enough grip that whatever body part is grounded, stays where you so carefully placed it. That’s not the end of the grip story though, the other side is well, the other side, the bottom side of the mat. You want a mat to grip the floor, to stay put while you move through your practice. A mat that slides on the floor feels unsteady, you don’t feel grounded and any flow becomes a lot more tentative, less confident as a result. Plus you may end up a whole lot closer to your less slippy neighbour than either of you would like.

Maintenance

Let’s face it, yoga is often sweaty and messy, and your mat can get pretty gross. You want your mat to be easy and quick to wash, and dry as you don’t want to be without it for long. Be careful here though, the more shiny and easy wipe down, the less grip you may have. Look for a mat that allows both easy wash and still has that grip. You also want your mat to tolerate a lot of use and washing, look for durability of material too. It’s great to look like you’ve been to yoga, but not because you’ve got little shavings of your mat stuck to you when you get up.

Design

This does matter, to a degree. Remember your mat will become your sanctuary, and you will, potentially be looking at your mat for hours each week. What would you like to be looking at? What will inspire or calm you for practice? Do you need something plain or something a little more creative to help set the mood? Your practice requires a mat that will be right for you. Look for the above features and you’ll find a new friend, a battleground and a sanctuary.