Thousands of years ago, when yogis lived in caves and roamed around India, the only thing they needed to train their bodies and minds to reach enlightenment was…their self! No blocks and bolsters, straps and eye pillows, and definitely no fancy yoga mats (save the odd deer skin or tiger skin) . Fast forward to 2011 though, and you’ll find more yoga props available than ancient yogis could ever have dreamed of. While some modern yogis like to take a minimalist approach to their practice, it can be nice to have a few yoga props to help you with your practice, particularly if you’re new to yoga. Without a doubt, the first yoga prop people think of when hearing about yoga is the yoga mat. Yoga mats provide a little cushion between the floor and our bodies, delineate personal space in class, and can help to remind us of our commitment to practice when we see them rolled up by the door. There are lots of options for yoga mats, and many factors to consider when choosing your mat.
Eco friendly – Many basic yoga mats, the kind you might find at your local big box retailer for example, contain PVC and/or latex. Latex is an obvious issue for people with latex allergies. As for PVC, there is some evidence that links PVC exposure to illnesses and conditions ranging from asthma to reproductive issues to cancer. Considering how much of our yoga practice involves putting our faces and hands on and near our mats, for many yogis it is worth the extra money to buy a yoga mat made from materials like sustainably harvested rubber.
Weight and thickness – Do you drive to class, or are you lucky enough to live around the corner from your local studio? Do you travel a lot for business, and want to take a mat with you to practice in your hotel room? Your lifestyle makes a difference in what type of mat you need. There are extra thick mats, for people who need more cushion. There are light and flexible mats that can be folded or rolled up and thrown in your suitcase for trips. Thicker mats tend to be heavier, which is important to consider if you are walking or biking to class and plan to throw your mat over your shoulder during transit. Thinner mats are lighter, but don’t provide as much cushion. Think about how you get around and when you do yoga, and buy accordingly!
Style of yoga – The style of yoga a person studies can have a big impact on the sort of mat they buy. If you are doing a hot and sweaty style of yoga like Bikram, you’ll need a very different type of mat than if you practice something like a gentle, restorative yoga. Different yoga mats have different levels of “stickiness” which will affect the way your hands and feet grip the mat during poses like downward facing dog. Some mats are textured in different patterns to help enhance grip as well. If you aren’t sure what kind of mat you should get, ask your teacher what you should look for. They probably have some suggestions! If you’re not comfortable talking to your teacher, peek around at the mats other students in your class are using. That can give you an idea of what to look at when you’re mat shopping.
Sheepskin rugs – Let’s not forget that some types of yoga don’t need a yoga mat at all. Look around in a Kundalini yoga class and you’ll probably see some sheepskin rugs. These rugs are thought to aid meditation by providing insulation between the yogi and the magnetic field of the earth. They also help to cushion ankles and knees during yoga and meditation. While the use of a sheepskin may not be for everyone, it is an option.