A prospective student recently told me “I expected you would provide mats”. I blinked, and for a split second my world stopped as my mind flashed up the implications of this statement. Firstly, I would have to buy them. At least 20 of them. Goodbye £250! Or perhaps more! Then I would have to store them. That could be interesting, in my little house.
And for each of my 8 classes a week I would need to carry them to the car (goodbye walking to class), unload them into the room, return them to the car at the end and then carry them back into the house to store away til next time. Assuming I can carry 4 at once, that’s 16 trips minimum per class … at least 128 a week. Hello chiropractor! Not to mention the extra time it would take. There would also be the need to keep them clean – can you imagine washing and drying 20 mats on a regular basis? My mind boggled. I blinked again. “Afraid not,” I replied. “It’s not really practical.”
Aside from the practicalities of supplying mats for students, as custodian of your yoga practice I do also believe that it is for you to choose and care for the equipment you need, as part of your commitment to treating your body respectfully in class. For advice on what it might be useful to bring along to class, please check out my FAQs page.
The key investment you are likely to need to make is, of course, the purchase of a yoga mat. While you can get away with using any sort of exercise mat or even a thick blanket to begin with, a proper mat really does make the practice safer and more enjoyable. So, what are you looking for when you buy a mat?
Your first priority should be to choose a sticky mat. Many types of exercise mat provide excellent padding but will slip on the floor. This can put you at risk of injury during standing postures and balances. Ideally we do the practice barefoot, and the stickiness will also help to stop your feet (and hands) from slipping. Wearing socks is not generally helpful here; either they slip on the mat, or else stick to the mat and you slip inside them! Feeling that you are sliding on the mat is likely to introduce tension into the body and make it harder for you to relax into a posture.
Yoga mats are typically 4mm thick. This is thick enough to provide some degree of padding and insulation from the floor but thin enough that the mat is still flexible. It is also a reasonable weight to carry to class. A 4mm mat is easily folded to provide extra protection when you are kneeling. It can also be rolled up to help you sit more comfortably. Some students like to use 2 mats, or bring a blanket for extra support and comfort.
Sadly, as with anything you tend to get what you pay for. I have tried cheap mats in the past and found that spending a bit more is really worthwhile. My current mat is a ‘Warrior Mat’ from Yoga-Mad (presumably called after the series of yoga poses of this name). I have been using the same one for several years now and it is just starting to show some signs of wear. Whilst this mat is not from the eco-friendly range, I particularly like the fact that I can put it in the washing machine when it’s grubby, although getting it dry is another matter! More recently, I have started using a yoga towel on top, as this can be washed and dried much more quickly. A decent mat might cost you £18 or so, but t probably works out at just pennies per class before you need to replace it. And then, of course, there are myriad uses for your old yoga mat – but that’s the subject of a whole different post!