Using a yoga mat for yoga may seem to be a necessity, but is this true? The yoga mat developed from the practice originally taking place on grass, then using animal skins for cushioning and grip. However, yoga mats as we know them now were created by a yoga teacher named Angela Farmer in 1967 when she used a piece of foam carpeting underlay to aid her while practicing and teaching. The idea was shared with the underlay manufacturer and developed from there.
Is a yoga mat necessary?
The answer to this question is both yes and no, however it is by no means required as to whether you use a yoga mat or not and the decision is yours. Some people believe the mat’s sticky texture that helps to grip could lead to sprains or other injuries in the joints and over flexibility without sufficient muscle protection. Due to the grip the mat provides, the leg and arm muscles aren’t having to work as hard to keep you balanced which may feel easier initially, however if muscles supporting joints are not strengthened and maintained, this could leave you more susceptible to injury.
Should I use a yoga mat?
It is of course your choice, there are benefits of using a yoga mat. Aside from providing a sticky surface, the foam texture cushions and insulates your body when practicing on solid, wooden floors, like the ones in most yoga studios. This alleviates any harmful and uncomfortable pressure on the knees as well as, helps your body regulate it’s temperature to avoid injury. To many yogis a yoga mat is our personal space; our yoga mat gives us control over the space we occupy during a yoga class and keeps others outside of that space during class. A yoga mat makes us feel ready for practice, it’s part of our ritual to unroll the mat. The choice of design, color and material we choose for our yoga mats is much like our choice of clothing we practice in. Just be sure to do your research when shopping and choosing a yoga mat. Find a yoga mat that will be best suited for you and your needs.
Yoga mats are not mandatory for a yoga practice, but they can make your practice more comfortable than using the floor alone. However, if you practice yoga at home, a carpeted floor can provide cushioning with slightly less grip than a mat, alternatively, you can take your practice outside, and use a grassy area or the beach for a cushioned experience.
With the increased interest people now take in yoga, it's no wonder that the market has been flooded with all sorts of products and accessories dedicated to yoga practice. Advertisements with the best yoga mat have become more than common; the so-called “best” mats often vary in price and quality. If you are buying a yoga mat for the first time, you may not know how to choose one. Yoga mats provide some cushion between the floor and your body, as well as, delineate personal space in a yoga class. Our yoga mats can also 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. There are so many brands, names, sizes, colors, materials, thickness, etc., how do you know what's right for you? With the number of yoga mats on the market and it can be overwhelming making that choice of what to look for. Here are my top 6 tips to help you make a choice:
Eco friendly: Many basic yoga mats that you might find at your local retailer contain PVC and/or latex. Latex can be an issue for people with latex allergies. As for PVC, there is some evidence that links PVC exposure to certain illnesses like asthma. Considering how much of our yoga practice involves putting our faces and hands on and near our mats, it may be worth the extra money to buy a yoga mat made from materials like sustainable harvested rubber.
Good grip: A good grip is the most important function of a mat, so it’s important to test it before buying. There are many mats on the market which are designed for physical therapy or Pilates, so buy one specified for yoga practice. Some people sweat a lot from the style of yoga they practice like Ashtanga or Vinyasa flow; here it’s important that your hands and feet do not allow you to slide. Try a downward-facing dog, it’s THE grip test.
Thickness: Depending on the style of yoga you practice or if you have previous injuries (like your knees, back, elbows) you may be better suited to buy a thicker mat with proper padding. Though Table and Downward Dog positions don’t require much cushioning, other forms of yoga need some lining to maintain a proper balance. Extra thickness provides more cushioning for the joints especially when practicing on wooden floors however a thicker mat can prove more unstable in balance postures. Be warned, there are many cheap mats out there that say they are 6-7mm thick however the density of these mats are often very low meaning they offer little or no extra cushioning. A good tip is to check the weight of the mat to try to judge density.
Size: A standard size yoga mat is around 61cm wide and 180cm long. If you are tall like myself, you may want a longer mat that’s 68cm wide and 185cm long. Also be sure to look for an extra-long mat bag to carry it in.
Price: It’s up to you how much you want to spend on a yoga mat If you can, it is better to spend a reasonable amount on your yoga mat especially if you use it every day or if you plan to use it often for yoga classes, plus some more expensive mats will last longer than a few yoga practices. Less expensive mats may be made with less sturdy material or be made of PVC, which may disintegrate after a few sessions. Prices vary for different patterns, textures, thickness, antimicrobial treatments and eco-friendliness.
Understanding your style of yoga and your body's needs are the first steps to picking a mat that can best support you. Remember: it’s what takes place on the mat that matters most. For more information on finding a great yoga mat for your practice, check out this guide: https://www.reviews.com/best-yoga-mats. See you on YOUR mat!
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