I’m facing purchasing a new mattress. My back has been telling me it’s time. As I consider all of the options and factors in purchasing a mattress, they sound exactly like the questions my students ask me about purchasing a yoga mat. Should my mat be thick or thin (soft or hard)? What should my mat feel like? What should my mat be made of? “I just got my mat but I think I’m going to return it, it’s so slippery.” I also realized that I have just as intimate a relationship with my yoga mat as I do with my mattress. I spend many hours a week on my mat and it is important that I’m comfortable with my mat.
For me the single most important factor in my relationship with my mat is how I feel about it. If I squirm and slip while I’m practicing yoga, It’s just not the mat for me. If I can’t relax during Savasana it’s not the mat for me. It doesn’t matter if the mat is thick or thin, if it is made of rubber or not – being comfortable is my deciding factor. You simply cannot tell just by looking, or even using a mat one or two times, if you will be comfortable with that mat. That is why I’m grateful that most studios have mats for rent or use. This way you don’t have to suffer through using whatever mat you got for free or the least expensive mat. You can try several mats to determine which mat you are comfortable with. I always encourage my students to try several mats until they are sure they have found their “perfect” mat. This is a lifelong relationship you’re investing in.
I went through five different mats before I found the one I was most comfortable with. It is a rubber mat, which makes it very sticky, and it is very thin, which helps with my balance challenges. It is turquoise and makes me think of the ocean every time I step on it. When I’m in Savasana I hear the gentle waves lapping against my mat and I’m in the islands relaxing. It is not the least expensive mat nor the most expensive mat, but it’s my mat.
I just mentioned some of the things you should consider when finding the perfect mat. Here are some more things to consider. Do you need a thicker mat? Do you have joint issues that would benefit from extra padding? Or is balance your biggest challenge (and therefore a thinner mat would be better for you)? Do you practice Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) and need a very sticky mat to keep you from slipping through all the sweat? Is texture a big issue for you? There are several mats that have two sides with two different textures to them. Are you latex sensitive? You need to choose a rubber-free mat. Are environmental concerns your deciding factor? There are sustainably manufactured mats.
After I purchased my perfect mat I was completely frustrated. I had tried it out for several weeks at the yoga studio, and it was great, but when I used the mat I purchased I slipped and couldn’t get set in a stable flow. I was going to return the mat until I had a conversation with my teacher. She asked if I had prepared my mat for class. I thought she was making a joke but she was dead serious. Another learning experience for me. You need to let your mat breathe for a couple of days before you use it. Lay it out at home flat. Don’t use detergent dish soap to wash your mat. Make sure it is completely clear of soap, or you will slip when you practice the first few times. If it is warm out, and you have a place to do it, air it out outside. You will be much happier with your mat if it’s prepared correctly.
I like to remind myself that Yoga is a mind-body connection. It is deliberate and meditative. Yoga helps you become strong physically, mentally and spiritually, just as our sleep helps us to heal and regenerate. We don’t leave our sleep to just any old mattress, so don’t leave your Yoga to just any old mat.