Buying yoga mats: a user's guide

Yoga mats are one of the most sold yoga merchandise in the world. Ironically, in the country of origin (i.e. India) yoga is practiced on whatever sheet they get but you just can't stretch your muscles or have proper breathing without a yoga mat if you are in a developed country or if you are rich enough to have been in such countries.

But you cannot laugh away yoga mats. If you are serious about yoga, you must have a cushion under you that helps you do yoga comfortably and safely, and help you draw the benefits of yoga.

Look for the following features in yoga mat:

  • It should not feel hard but should not cushion too much like a mattress.
  • It should not stretch when doing yogic exercise. Loosely knit rugs, rubberised fabric or towel may, therefore, not be suitable for many asanas.
  • It should not be woven loosely such that it accumulates dust and dirt over time and leads to growth of pathogens and mite.
  • If should not be made of material that decays rather fast, gets damp with humidity and/or produces bad odour.
  • It should preferably be washable or at least easily vacuum cleaned / dusted, especially if it is to be used outdoors.
  • It should not be slippery. It should stick well to the ground. Straw mats and plastic sheets may slip when you move your limbs.
  • Should be heat insulating so that it does not get too cold during winters (or in AC) and too hot during summers. Cotton, wool and some types of synthetic material is good in this respect.
  • Should have a slightly rough texture, but not too rough. Too smooth upper surface may lead to slipping while stretching. However, the surface should be fully even, not with engravings or bulging patterns.
  • If you take it while travelling or do yoga in your garden, the mat should be light-wight, crease proof and easy to roll.

The points listed above are like 'criteria' for selecting a mat. Beyond the above, let's give you some more details about mats vis-a-vis yoga so that you make the best selection for yourself.

Use of mats depends on your physical fitness and age, climate and weather, the place, and the type and duration of yoga you practise. You may need waterproof, lightweight and firm mat when you want to spread it on ground or grass early in the morning when things are moist with dew. You would rather prefer a blanket or woolen mat if doing yoga in a cold place and on cold surfaces such as cement or tiles. If you only do pranayamas and a few light asanas, tensile strength of mat (=how much pull it can resist) would not matter.

In the market, you also get mats that suit some special medical conditions. For example, if you have knee problems and have been advised yoga as a therapy, you might need mats with extra padding.

Also remember that yoga is an exercise and not entertainment. Then it is not just an exercise, it is almost a way of life - a commitment to oneself to keep oneself fit physically, emotionally and spiritually. So, yoga mats should complement this commitment.

Variety of yoga mats available in the market

There is a huge market for yoga mats. In fact, #yogamats is almost like a trend within the #yoga social media trend!

  • Mats come in different sizes; you need not go for any size bigger than 6.5x3 feet.
  • Mats also come in various thicknesses. Thick ones may feel comfortable but you are likely to wobble doing standing poses. Too thin ones may roll at corners or edges. 
  • Mats are of different materials. Go for the usual PVC mats if you are not choosy. If you want to go for natural fibre, go for cotton, jute, wool or felt. Jute is more rough in texture. 
  • Thickness and material used decide many of the attributes listed above: comfort, stickiness, portability, and so on.
  • Mats come in a range of sophistication. You can even go for multi-layered ones, with a sticky bottom layer and a soft upper one.
  • Yoga mats come in numerous colors and patterns. Go for one that is not too bright or goudy. At the same time, avoid dirty looking colors. Do not go for sexy or such other designs that can distract attention and do not go well with yoga.
  • Finally, yoga mats come in a range of prices. Put your hand in your pocket to see what suits you.