Illustration by Pepper Tharp Amanda MacMillan, SELF magazine
I do a lot of yoga, but I tend to practice on whatever mat or blanket is available to me at the gym or studio. And on some surfaces--including the mat I've used at home for a few years--my hands and feet slide annoyingly out of downward dog; on others, I feel like I'm sticking too much or sinking in. Lately I've been feeling a little like Goldilocks, searching somewhat hopelessly for the mat that's juuuuust right for me.
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Then I attended a class taught by yoga icon Rodney Yee, where I tried a mat from Gaiam's Sol line--a collection of seven professional-quality mats, each one made for people with different preferences based on the below factors. While there are some general guidelines for yoga mats, Yee told SELF, you can actually find quite a bit of variation if you know what to look for. Here are a few things to consider:
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1. STICKINESS: The material and surface texture (see the Sol Jala mat, pictured here) will determine how well your skin grips the mat. Your personal stickiness preference will likely depend on how much you sweat, what types of postures you practice most often, and how much help you need with proper alignment and holding your pose. So, if you sweat like a beast, opt for a super-sticky mat, and vice versa, too.
2. THICKNESS: A standard yoga mat is about 3 millimeters thick, or 1/8 of an inch. You can find mats up to 8 mm thick, however, as well as thin "travel" mats at just 1 mm. Extra cushioning can help ease knee and elbow discomfort (I usually have to fold my mat over when I'm kneeling for too long), but it can also make it hard to stay balanced during lunges and one-legged poses.
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3. MATERIAL: You can find mats made with petroleum-based latex and PVC, and ones with sustainable rubber or bamboo. Some, like the Sol Suddha Eco mat, are even recyclable and biodegradable. PVC is likely the stickiest (and the cheapest), but it can also give off an odor that might disrupt your zen.
Of course, quality comes with a price: Gaiam's Sol line ranges from $40 to $90 (although several of them are on sale RIGHT NOW!), up from the company's base $22 version. A small price to pay, in my opinion, for finally getting it right.More from SELF:
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