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A decade ago, I remember how my dad would wake up during the wee hours of morning, go to the patio upstairs, spread out his chataai—an Indian mat made of plastic straws—and practiced yoga in solitude. Also Read - Yoga For Asthma and Lung Cancer: 5 Incredible Yogasanas to Ease Breathing
Although he seemed content with the spiritual experience of doing yoga exercises, he carried a smirky expression on his face most days. This was because the mat was good for exercises like Pranayama—where you simply sit in a particular position and perform breathing exercises—but when it came to performing Surya Namaskar, he found the mat to be slippery. Also Read - Malaika Arora's Yoga Postures Will Brush Aside Your Mid-Week Blues| PICS
I often suggested that he must be willing to spend money if he wanted a comfortable yoga mat. But looking back, I realize that there were no options available—things in the world of yoga were not as rosy as they are now.
Yoga is an ancient practice, but the use of mats is a modern thing. Originally, yogis performed yoga on grass or hard earth. For firmness while doing yoga exercises, they simply sprinkled some water on the surface—one can say yoga was practiced in natural surroundings, literally!
Can you imagine doing this without a mat?
Even Marilyn Monroe practiced yoga without a mat.
As time passed, yoga evolved and moved to the West. People started finding it difficult to practice yoga exercises without a mat, especially when it comes to Hatha yoga—where you need to balance your body on hands and legs. They realized that it was hard to do these exercises without a firm cover underneath.
Then came sticky mats by Angela Farmer, a yoga teacher from Germany. The mats were a godsend for many people who struggled against slippery floors or thin mats made with plastic or bamboo straws. Sticky mats became extremely popular, and people around the world started using them mainly because they were designed to withstand human body chemistry and flexible movements. But soon, their surface began peeling under the hands and feet of yoga practitioners—which is when people shifted back to traditional mats.
But when it comes to yoga mats today, it is a whole new ball game. There is a yoga mat to suit every priority and preference. Some well-known brands are Prana, Gaiam, JadeYoga, Hugger Mugger and Maduka.
If you are wondering which yoga mat is the best one for you, it depends on your priorities. You will find yoga mats that are lightweight, ideal for traveling, eco-friendly mats—free of PVC, latex, and toxic materials—and more, all available in different sizes, shapes and colors.
Instead of basing your mat judgment on your favorite color, it is best to focus what would be best suited for the type of yoga you practice. Also, what the yoga mat is made of, its thickness, and its texture, are factors of utmost importance while buying a yoga mat.
Here are five things to consider before buying a yoga mat:
1. Texture: It is the texture of the mat that matters the most when it comes to traction. If the mat has a sticky texture, it affects how much slipping or sliding you do. The mat’s texture is also a vital component in deciding the kind of grip you need while practicing yoga exercises. Experts suggest that if you are looking for a yoga mat that prevents slipping and you would like to avoid PVC mats (the traditional sticky yoga mats), look for a rubber, jute or cotton yoga mat that has a raised, tactile pattern.
2. Thickness: If the yoga mat you have chosen is too thin, it may damage your knees. On the other hand, if it is too thick, then you may not feel connected to the floor, which is a vital requirement while doing yoga. Standard yoga mats are about 1/8-inch thick while the thickest ones can be up to 1/4-inch. There are also wafer-thin yoga mats, also known “travel yoga mats,” that are a mere 1/16-inch thick, fold easily and do not weigh much, making them easy to fit in a suitcase.
3. Be ready to spend a few extra dollars for quality: We are not advising you to splurge but make sure you don’t compromise on quality. In other words, don’t buy a mat just because it is cheap. If it is too thin, the mat will wear out quickly and may also be harmful to the environment. In an article on Huffington Post, New York-based yoga instructor Elena Brower said, “You can trust [the brand] Manduka in terms of price for longevity.”
4. Make sure the padding is appropriate: When you are starting out as a new yogi, you must focus on building your joint and muscle strength—and without a good yoga mat, this is surely not possible. If you are new to the world of yoga, then go for a well-padded yoga mat. And while padding is good, be sure to check the mat’s foam level—if it is too foamy, then doing Surya Namaskars may be tough.
5. Go for eco-friendly yoga mats: Go green and avoid buying mats made of PVC, which is a toxic plastic filled with carcinogens. There are brands like JadeYoga that sell the eco-friendly mats and claim to be the pioneers in selling non-sticky, green yoga mats made from natural rubber tapped from rubber trees.