Finding the right mat: some recommendations

¬†When I first began practicing yoga, I lucked out with a great mat. It had a cool pattern and was grippy enough to keep my sweaty hands from sliding all over the place in my Jivamukti class. At the time the mat, which I’d purchased at a book store, actually seemed unremarkable. It protected me from the floor and provided some cushion for my bony knees. Big deal.

When I had to replace the mat a couple of years later, I figured I’d do exactly what I did the first time I needed a mat: I went to a bookstore, briefly perused the selection, and left with a midnight blue mat. After returning home, I unrolled my bounty and tried it out. The mat was a flimsy, slippery mess. Poses which had become routine were suddenly treacherous — my downward facing dog looked less like an inverted “V” and more like a flatline. It was the first time I realized that my yoga mat was actually a tool essential to my practice. Just as a runner wouldn’t traipse around in ill-fitting, poorly constructed running shoes, I shouldn’t be messing around with a poorly produced mat. Yes, a good mat can be pricey — but no more so than a good pair of sneakers.

Whether you’re a beginning yogi or a seasoned veteran, please do yourself a favor and ditch your slippery or threadbare mats. Your body will thank you for it! Here are a few of my favorites mats:

Manduka Pro
: I did a lot of research on fantastic mats, and the Manduka Pro was always near the top of best-of lists. Still, its lifetime guarantee is probably the only thing that led me to consider such a pricey mat. At 6 mm thickness, this mat offers great cushion for my joints, plus at 71″ by 26″, the mat gives me plenty of room for my 5′ 7″ frame. Now for what I don’t love about the mat: It requires a lot of breaking in. When I first tried it out, I slipped all over the place, and I ended up abandoning it during my hot yoga sessions. The packaging mentioned that there is a film present in the mat after production, and that consistent practice (or a salt scrub) would remove the film over time. I was frustrated my mat needed so much work in order to work. But ultimately, I did the salt scrub and made peace with the mat. I’ve been using my Manduka Pro during my home practice for about nine months now and have ended up enjoying it.

Manduka Prolite: Being a yoga teacher, I get to observe a lot of students practicing on a lot of different mats. The Prolite has emerged as a standout. I teach in a hot power vinyasa studio, and the yogis with Prolites seem comfortable and stable — and often without those nubby yoga towels. At 5mm thick, the Prolite is a bit lighter the Pro, but still cushiony enough for hardwood floors. Though I’ve never owned a Prolite, I have some personal experience with it; our studio utilizes a Prolite for the teacher’s practice mat. Even during steamy classes, I’ve found the mat has great grip — sweaty hands and feet always stay put. Plus, the Prolite comes with a lifetime guarantee and is less expensive than its bigger sibling. I’ve been so impressed with the Prolite that I’m thinking about making it my next mat. I’ll keep you posted!

: This was my first really good mat — and once I tried it, I knew I’d never go back to flimsier varieties. Grippy from the start, this mat helped me feel stable in staple poses like Warrior I and in challenging poses like forearm stand. Importantly, the mat wasn’t so grippy that I couldn’t flow between poses. Jade mats come in multiple sizes (tall yogis, rejoice!) and colors. Bonus: Jade mats are ecologically sustainable AND the company plants a tree for every mat you purchase.

: Like the Jade mat, the Lululemon reversible mat was grippy right off the bat and affordably priced. However, it came with a smell that was so strong and nauseating that it gave me a headache; I had to air it out for a day or two before I could even think about doing yoga on it. But once the smell dissipated, the mat turned out to be a pretty good one. I used the smooth side for several months before it became slippery, then moved to the textured side. I’d hoped to get more wear out of it — I’ve been practicing hot yoga on it for about eight or nine months and I’ll need to replace it soon — but, overall it’s a mat I’d recommend to anyone looking for a stable base.

As you consider your next mat, remember that different bodies respond differently to different mats. If possible, see if you can try out a few friends’ mats before you make a purchase. Ultimately, you want a mat that helps you feel comfortable and stable throughout your practice, and that may not mean purchasing the same mat as the yogi next to you. Whichever mat you choose, have fun and practice well. Namaste!