Half Lotus outdoors
Half Lotus On Top of Missouri

The closest I’ve come to joining the “Yoga Selfie” craze is to, on some of my trips, suddenly strike a pose and ask my travel buddy to capture it with a camera. It’s usually at a particular beautiful and/or monumental spot. For example, the shot above has me sitting on the very highest point in Missouri, a big rock that sits on Taum Sauk Mountain.

In all cases, a yoga mat is missing. You don’t really need a mat to practice yoga. You don’t even need to strike a pose.

However, a mat can be a helpful prop for setting aside time and physical space to do some moving, or some sitting still. I really like my sunset-colored mat. Unrolling it to establish the time and space for yoga is part of my practice ritual. In fact, its brilliant color is sometimes a stand-in for the candle I like to light.

millipede in Kentucky
Another find on that road trip

Some of my students have asked for advice on choosing a yoga mat, and I’d like to help. Below is what I can say today, though in an upcoming post I plan to post reviews of a few other brands/types of mats, which may be even more helpful.

  • A little splash of a color you like does wonders. Yes, I’m a designer in my day life. The oranges and reds in that favorite mat never fail to brighten my day. This nearly guarantees a rewarding practice, even if just on one level. Sometimes that’s the one level I need.
  • I’m not as fond of my other ocean-blue one, but its extra length has proved helpful in establishing my space in yoga classes. My long body tends to need a little more space than a standard mat affords, for some poses.
  • How much can you spend? I’ve been using the same two mats for at least 15 years, keeping one in my car (to take to classes), and one at home. Both came from the Hugger Mugger catalog and each cost me around $30.
  • $30 may seem like a hefty investment, but I’ve seen several $8 mats come and go though my classes, and they aren’t very … resilient. As in, little bits of material from some mats remain in one of my studios after each class. A $30 mat that lasts 15 years seems like a better investment than an $8 one that barely lasts through a year of once-weekly classes and some home practice.
  • That said, if you’re new to yoga and are just sampling it, an $8 mat may last just as long as you need it to – whether you bail on yoga or decide to later invest a little more money in a longer-lasting mat.
  • In certain poses, a sticky mat can be very helpful. The texture and material of many mats available – it’s mainly a little rubbery and pliable, with some pattern on it – can help keep your bare feet or hands from slipping, and it can also keep the mat from moving around on the floor while you’re standing on it.

Most mats marketed for yoga –and most mats that are available to use at some yoga studios or gyms, for free or a small rental fee– cover the basics listed above. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when thinking about buying or using a mat:

tree in Kentucky
Natural Bridge = Mat
  • Hygiene: Even if your living room, hotel room, gym, or yoga studio floor is visibly clean, it may not be invisible-varmint (athlete’s foot, anyone?) free. Bringing your own mat can assure you that your hand/feet/face are touching something that you’re sure is clean. Also: your mat likely smells better than the floor of at least two of those rooms.
  • You may find that some poses, perhaps ones where your knees are on the floor, reveal that you have particular sensitivity to a hard floor. Some mats provide some extra padding, while still being firm enough for you to stand/kneel/lie down on level ground. These tend to be a little more expensive, so be prepared to spend more than $30. Alternatively, bring along an extra towel to roll up and place under your knees, to help them feel better in crescent moon or camel.
  • Thicker camping-style mats may be tempting for the extra padding they offer, but there will likely be a trade-off in stickiness factor. I find my old closed-cell foam pad, rolled up, to be more helpful as padding in some restorative poses.
  • If your feet or hands sweat a lot during your practice, place a bath towel on top of your mat. A regular towel works fine, though a YogiToes skidless towel is an option, as well. This rather spendy (~$60) wonder has silicone dots on one side that help it stick to the mat, and it’s usually closer in size to your mat than a regular towel.
  • Some mats come in more earth-friendly materials than others. If you’re especially sensitive to the impact your yoga makes on the planet, this may be the way for you to go, but keep in mind that whatever your material choice, there are lots of ways to reuse your mat, once you’re done with it for good.
  • Wearing socks can be an option, but keep in mind that the socks may increase your slip factor.
  • The style of yoga you practice can inform how thick your mat should be. However, I’ve practiced several styles that cover good portions of the heat/padding/need for firm surface spectrum, using the same mat. Adding a towel or other props was all I needed to do. Find what works for you.

That’s what I’ve got today. When I bought my mats there weren’t a lot of choices, but these days you can find any sort of mat online, and mats are also available at accessible retailers like Target and Walmart, REI carries them, and of course many yoga studios may sell some of the more expensive ones. Perhaps you’ll find that a $100 mat is exactly what you need; perhaps just bringing a towel to your current mat will help with traction or sweat absorption. Good luck in your search! If you find anything you love, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Yoga Mat Love

      1. He said the more basic the better considering the condition of my back. Withou understanding the levels of yoga, I tried a power yoga class that a friend recommended, and it was so far advanced that I never wanted to return :( I have to find something for people who can’t even touch their toes. Maybe yoga for senior citizens :)

      2. Traci: Well, power yoga can be pretty aggressive. Maybe try Iyengar or a “gentle yoga” class? While some styles do have more difficult “levels”, the real choice for you is to find a style (or “tradition”) that works for you, and there’s such a range that it’s likely you’ll find one. The choices can be overwhelming, depending on how much yoga is in your town, though there are some online resources that can bring a style to you no matter where you are. The web also offers a variety of articles/graphics that can help you navigate the busy waters – this one’s pretty good, I think: http://yogasix.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/whats-your-yoga.jpg Good luck!

  1. I’m a bit of a gear junkie, so maybe that drives my feelings on this, but my mat is really an important part of my practice. It seems to define the space where I practice…just this little rectangular box. Plus it works for my needs…it’s just a basic Gaiam mat, with a two graphic made of two shades of green. It’s not cushy, which I think makes it respond faster to weight shifts in balancing poses. It’s sticky, which I like also.

    You’re absolutely right about keeping it clean. I spritz it with Simple Green,wipe it down, and let it air dry. The little thing is really absorbent of cleaner and of sweat, so frequent cleaning is pretty important.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Arah!

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