Sara Shops (it’s a tough task, but she’s up for the challenge.)
I recently took to yoga and have had quite a bit of fun (make that hip pain) finding the ideal mat. I’ll spare you the pain and eyebrow-raising I endured by sharing my newfound knowledge of rubber rugs with you.
In case you’ve never tried yoga, or think it’s for hippies or Madonna, I highly recommend it. Not only will you glow like a little glowworm, you’ll feel relaxed and loose. Bonus: you’ll lose a few pounds around your middle after just a few sessions (yoga really does massage your organs and flush toxins). It can be pricey, but I’ve managed to find a few spots that offer great package deals, and I even learned about a group that gets together for free – and apparently, this goes on all over the place. Cool!
There are many different types of yoga, of course. Personally, I’m loving good old hatha for increasing my flexibility and sense of relaxation. Although, the two hours being pushed and prodded in iyengar by a very serious husband-and-wife team – easily in their 70s – was more entertaining than anything the Wilson brothers have come up with lately. He was good cop, she was bad cop (I’ve never been so intimidated by someone who weighed, at most, 85 pounds soaking wet).
On to the mat. Not knowing if I would want to stick with yoga, I chose the cheapest mat available. Not a move I’d suggest following (unless you want to put up with some smirks and a lot of pain). After the first session, I knew that I would definitely want to stick with yoga. Unfortunately, I also stuck to my new mat. Though it only cost about $15, the lightweight, all-synthetic foam was far too thin (only about 1/8″) and not nearly squishy enough. Being so thin (the mat), all my joints ached like the dickens the next day.
So, I upgraded to a vinyl sponge mat for $25. This one was a little more generously proportioned (72″ instead of 68″) and is the standard mat most folks go with. It’s still just 1/8″, but it’s squishy, waterproof, and closed-cell non-Latex (this just means it’s better for you because it won’t harbor bacteria). It also has a nice meshy grid that helps you grip. However, after a few weeks with this guy, I was seriously hurting. Maybe my joints are a little too princess-and-the-pea, but I decided to see what else was available.
I began really investigating the world of yoga mats. All yoga mats break down with use, which actually tends to make them more comfortable (sort of like shoes). And there is a mat for everyone: there are breast cancer mats (a mat for every cause), organic mats made of jute and bamboo (ego-friendly!), temperature-sensitive mats, travel mats, microfiber mats. There are probably even mats that read your mind (ok, maybe not).
The eco-mats are typically made of a thermal plastic elastomer that contains nothing chemical, synthetic or metal. A lot of instructors I asked are really into this new material (prices tend to be a little higher – around $40-60). I wasn’t as sore after using it, and I did feel very, well, close to the ground, but it just wasn’t squishy enough for my tastes. I’m willing to give up a little grounding to feel completely comfortable.
After spending many hours of eye-glazing surfing at various web sites, I decided my best bet would be visiting a few different stores. The private yoga boutiques had the latest organic, eco and super-comfy offerings – but at really high prices (no surprise there).
Eventually, I settled on a mat from Big 5 that didn’t even claim to be a yoga mat. It’s a meshy, waterproof, 1/4″ wonder that is so comfortable, I could hug it. Though this $40 wonder didn’t come with any special marketing or branding, a similar one is available online (and for much less).
Various instructors suggested different mats, but they all agreed on one thing: my initial selection was totally inferior. If you’re new to yoga, I suggest borrowing a mat (just clean it!) until you know if yoga is for you. Then be sure to splurge on the most comfortable mat you can afford. It’s well-worth it.