Choosing the Best Yoga Mat

In my six years of practicing yoga, I’m proud to say that I’ve only purchased two mats! And this is not because my mat sat in the back of my closet for some time. This is because I took my time selecting a mat, researched, and chose well. There are many factors that go into choosing a comfortable, long lasting yoga mat. Below is how you can evaluate yoga mats and find the one that’s right for you!

Length
Most yoga mats are about 68 inches (5′ 8”) in length. If you’re like me and are just about 5′ 8″ or taller, I’d recommend looking into extended length mats (usually 72 inches). This way, you’ll be able to spend the entire yoga class (including savasana – the final resting pose) on your mat.

Weight
While most yoga mats aren’t that heavy, it is important to keep in mind how you will transport your yoga mat to and from class. Given that I’ve lived in cities for the past several years, I often walk or take public transit to yoga. This means that I usually have my mat in a bag over my shoulder. I recommend getting a lighter weight mat if you plan to carry it around to and from class to reduce the weight on your shoulders and back. Lighter weight mats are usually 2.5-3 pounds.

Slickness
Yoga is not a place where you want to go sliding unintentionally off the mat. You could bump into a neighbor or even put yourself at risk for injury. If you’re attending hot or power yoga classes regularly or you sweat during your practice, I’d consider looking into an anti-slip mat. These mats absorb sweat well and allow you to keep moving safely – no matter how much sweat you drip on the mat!

Thickness
Thick mats are more supportive, but they can be more difficult to practice balancing poses on. Think about where you’ll be practicing yoga – on a hardwood floor, outside, on carpet, etc. Depending on the surface you’re practicing on, you may need more or less support. Typically, yoga mats range between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.

Price Range
Some yoga mats can be pricier than others. Having an budget set before you go shopping will help you to stay on track and find quality mats in your price range. I spent $75 on my first mat (lasted 4 years) and $55 on my second mat (still in good condition). In my mind, both of these purchases were rationalized considering that I used to attend in-person yoga classes at least once a week. If I rented my own mat for $3 each time, I would’ve spent about $150 a year on mat rentals. Instead, I spent about half of that on a quality mat that lasted 4 years. A quality yoga mat is an investment in yourself, your wellbeing, and your relaxation. If there is one area in life to save for or put it a bit extra towards, this is it!

Material
Many yoga mats are made with PVC, but there are many eco-friendly, PVC-free, and latex-free mats available. I look for mats made with manufactured materials because I spent lots of time on my mat and want to be conscious about what I’m breathing in for hours each year. When shopping for mats, look for the materials section to learn more.

Color
Yoga mats come in all colors, so selecting a color is completely up to you! I prefer to choose calming colors for my yoga mats – deep blues, purples, or grays. I like to look down at my mat during class and feel at peace!

Now you can take what you’ve learned and pick out the best mat for you!

Owning Your Wellness Journey

Staying at home has led me to have some pretty interesting realizations about myself. In the past few weeks, I’ve thought deeply about my health and wellness journey and how even though it was a part of me, it wasn’t something that I truly took ownership of.

Before the pandemic, if I wanted to work out, I went to spin class. or yoga. If I wanted to treat myself, I went to the spa for a hot stone massage or the nail salon for a mani/pedi. If I wanted my home to smell good, I’d go to TJMaxx (sometimes two in one day) just to smell the candles.

I was so excited when the day rolled around and it was time for me to go to one of those places. I picked out my clothes beforehand (often color-coordinated) and could not wait to do these things in the name of “self-care”, fitness, or wellness.

And then we got told to stay at home. Even though some things have opened up, I haven’t been back. Gone are the days riding front row at spin class while the instructor high fives everyone on the way out of the room. Gone are the hands on adjustments to improve your alignment in yoga class. Non-existent are trips to stores like TJMaxx where you can touch a whole bunch of things in the store, place them back down on the shelf, and walk out with only one item.

This routine I created could not be adapted to life as we know it now. Because it depending on human touch, contact, and hanging out in indoor spaces while very unconcerned about how many people were there or how many items I touched that I didn’t plan to buy.

So, I realized that this routine I created to help me stay well and be joyful was largely out of my own hands. It involved so many people, several strangers, and a whole lot of not-so-personal spaces. Most of all, my routine was based on me receiving things, whether it was instruction, guidance, or relaxation via hot stones. I may have scheduled the appointments and booked the classes, but this routine was not mine.

What I have been exploring over the past few months is taking more ownership of my wellness journey. It is much less about what I can go out and do and instead about the inner work I need to do. Some days that means I take an hour long power yoga class (virtually), and other days, I may read or paint. I select activities based on what I’m striving to achieve.

Although it certainly feels odd to reach a stage in this pandemic where I’m missing the “practically strangers” that I often encountered in my daily life, I’ve accepted that this is how things are for now. And I’ve realized for me that wellness isn’t about where you go. Practicing mindfulness and finding activities that are relaxing and bring me joy can be practiced from anywhere.

Keeping a Consistent Practice

The most beneficial, transformative yoga practice that you can ever have will be a consistent practice. It’ll be the practice that you can’t walk away from. It’ll be the practice that you keep coming back to, even when things get tough. It’ll be the mat you return to on the days when you don’t feel like it. Consistency is challenging. It’s hard because it requires commitment and sacrifice. It’s hard because it doesn’t just require motivation, it calls for dedication.

Motivation is an amazing feeling. It’s our drive, what keeps us going and what keeps us working hard. We find motivation in different places. It might come from attending an energizing yoga class or meeting up with someone who is passionate about the same things that we are. The downside of motivation is that it can fade. Maybe you’re starting to feel uninspired or maybe it’s been a while since you did something that fed you soul. When motivation starts to wane, it’s easy to give up, put your mat in the closet, and leave it there. This is where dedication kicks in.

Unlike motivation, dedication is not necessarily going to you that burst of energy. Instead, your dedication will be your “why”. Whether it’s setting aside time to self reflect or time to challenge your mind and body in new ways, your dedication will always be there. It ruminates in the background, like a soft, steady hum. Most of the time, you don’t hear it above the noise that is your motivation. But your dedication will be there when you need it most, especially on the days when you simply don’t feel like practicing.

Establishing what motivates you and why you are dedicated to your practice will help you to stay consistent. There is no one definition of what consistency is. For some, this could be every day; for others, this could be once a week. Creating an achievable schedule will help you to make the time for your practice and commit to it.

The great thing about creating a custom schedule is that you can do what’s right for you. For example, there are many ways to practice yoga on the daily basis, if that’s what you choose to do. Your practice could be a mix of both power and restorative with meditation sessions so that you alternate between high and low intensity days. You can practice for 10 minutes or choose to do a longer session. Once you’ve created and maintained a routine, your practice will become a habit. And even on the days when you’re tired or sore or just don’t feel like hitting to the mat, you’ll have both your motivation and dedication to support you and your yoga journey.