Back in the day, when yoga was first gaining popularity in the western world (late 1960's/early 1970's), practitioners didn't have "sticky mats", or yoga mats like we know today. In ancient India where yoga was established, yogis practiced outside on lush grass, or inside on tiger or deer pelts. If you have been practicing for decades, and started in the 60's, 70's or 80's, you probably remember practicing on a carpeted floor, rug, or cotton mat. If you remeber Lilias, Yoga, and You, the syndicated instructional yoga show on PBS from 1972-1999, she only practiced on a bare, carpeted floor. Only in the later days did she begin to use an exercise mat (not even a sticky yoga mat). The yoga mat, also known as sticky mat, non-slip mat, non-skid mat, that we know and love today came from the idea to use the rubbery underlay found beneath carpet as a practice surface. The first purpose-made yoga mat wasn't put into production until the 1990's.
When shopping for yoga mats, you are sure to run into a wide selection these days. The original, standard sticky mat is 68" long by 24" wide and 1/8th inch thick. But why stop there? There are thicker, larger mats, eco-friendly mats, performance mats, and more. There are so many choices that it may be tough to decide on just one mat. The yoga mat you decide to invest in will need to suit your personal preference as well as the style or school of yoga you practice. Here at Yoga Direct, we created a yoga mat guide that pairs your practice with the perfect mat for you!
If you are into a sweaty, rigorous practice, you will need a durable and heavy duty mat that is just as strong as you are. Sweaty hands can cause you to slip and fall: a health risk. To combat this common and serious issue, you will want to look for a mat with a fabric-like non-skid surface. A regular PVC "sticky" mat will not make the cut. Standard mats in a hot studio will make you uncomfortable and less likely to enjoy class and/or return to class. For all "hot" classes, you will want to bring a water bottle and a microfiber hand towel for wiping away excess sweat. If you perspire more than the average yogi/yogini, you might want to bring a hot yoga mat towel just in case. Our favorite are the ultra colorful Yogitoes SKIDLESS Yoga Towel. These microfiber towels are engineered to cover the exact size of your mat, keep the hands and feet dry, are silicone-covered on the bottom to prevent wrinkling or displacement, and are skidless. Now, back to the mats. For Bikram and other heated classes, I always use my Dragonfly Performance Pro Mat. It is extra thick and sturdy, so it's comfortable on joints. The top layer is sealed with a soft, fabric-like surface which mocks a hot yoga mat towel, keeping your sweaty palms and feet locked into the earth. The Performance Pro is closed-cell, meaning it doesn't absorb sweat (super hygienic). The cherry on top? This mat is backed by a limited lifetime warranty, so you will never have to buy another mat again.
• Manduka Black Mat Pro (71")
• Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat (Long)
Both vinyasa and ashtanga styles are marked by their use of a flowing series of asanas. The "flow" of these classes are typically sun salutations, or variations thereof, with different asanas worked into the middle of them. To be specific, the instructor normally leads students through a sun salutation, and in the middle of this sequence, the teacher will instruct students to assume different asanas. Then the sun salutation sequence is finished. The teacher always repeats each sun salutation — one on the right side of the body and one on the left. The "flow" does not just apply to the fast-moving pace of asanas but also the coordination of these movements to the breath. The focus here is really on breathing intentionally. This is a rather cardiovascular, heart-pumping style of yoga, and as such, it tones and firms the body and is a great workout! Like Bikram, you will want a mat that is rigid and durable. Stickiness is important, but some mats are actually too sticky for vinyasa and ashtanga, and your hands, feet, and limbs can get caught or slow down when you perform large, sweeping movements. Jade Yoga engineered the Jade Elite Yoga Mat for this specific reason. It's just as thick, rigid, and high-quality as it's Harmony Professional sister, but is just a little less tacky so you can flow freely and easily without being slowed down. We also love this mat because it's made with environmentally friendly materials (natural tree rubber).
• Yoga Direct Premium Weight Yoga Mat
Hatha yoga and Yin yoga are slower-paced forms of their hot and sweaty counterparts. Hatha is usually what laymen (non-yogis_ think of when they conjure up mental images of "yoga". It is intentional, strong, and traditional. No fancy props or frills here! Hatha and Yin are a great way for beginners to build a solid foundation of a yoga practice. These classes are usually great for all levels — from beginners to the more advanced practitioners. Because there is less sweat and less movement, Hatha and Yin yogis won't need to worry about slipping all over the place. If this is your style, you will want to choose a mat that is thick and supportive on joints, because you will be on the floor a lot and will be holding poses for a longer period of time. A standard ?" mat won't make the cut — these mats will leave your elbows and knees bruised and your body sore from such a close contact with the hard yoga studio floor. These mats are less expensive than professional or performance mats. You will still want to find a mat that is sticky, because when you hold downward dog for minutes (versus seconds), your hands might end up slipping underneath you, and that's no good when you are trying to meditate or concentrate on your intention! This is why we chose our best-selling mat, the Yoga Direct ¼ Inch Deluxe Yoga Mat as our top pick for this style. It provides all of the above requirements and then some. Plus, it comes in 27 color options, so you can choose a color as colorful and unique as your personality! This mat is priced wholesale and comes in at just over $10. What a deal!
• YogaForce A-Line Exercise Mat: with alignment lines to perfect your practice.
These styles of yoga require very little movement. Restorative involves holding pretty simple and easy poses for long durations, and you won't break a sweat. In Yoga Nidra and with meditation, you won't move at all. If these classes are what you love best, check out our futon-style Yoga Direct Cotton Yoga Mat. This mat also doubles as a bed on camping trips or sleepovers! The cover is removable so you can wash it and keep things fresh.
Yogi on the go! Performance and professional mats can weigh in at around 8 lbs. That's a lot of mat, but not problematic when you can just put it in the trunk as you drive to and from class. But what about our jetsetters? What about our urban yogis who bike to class? How about doing yoga in a hotel room? Most yogis who own travel mats own them as a convenient alternative to a heavier mat. We love the a Dragonfly Natural Rubber Lite Travel Mat and here's why: it's eco-friendly (made with renewable tree rubber) but doesn't smell like a tire store; it's foldable (so you can pack it in a suitcase); it is rigid and dense so it works well over carpet despite it's lack of thickness; it's textured and as sticky as our performance yoga mats; and, it weighs only 3.5 pounds. Need I say more?
What kind of yoga do you practice? Which mat has suited your needs? We'd love to hear from our readers on what works for them and what has not worked for them in the past! Drop us a line in the comments!