Explainer: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I’m just getting started in yoga?

Especially because I teach an introductory Ashtanga yoga class and an introductory vinyasa-flow class, I am constantly thinking about how to make this practice accessible. How do you explain ujjayi breathing? Energy locks? The fine-tuning of proprioceptive awareness?

Sometimes, though, what students need to know is much simpler than that. For instance: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I am just getting started in yoga and don’t know how frequently I will get to classes?

I’m tempted to answer, “Absolutely, yes!” and then end this blog post. I usually like getting into nuances and gray areas, but in this case, it’s a pretty clear-cut answer to me. Buy your own yoga mat rather than use the free or rented ones provided by your studio or gym, OK?

But I guess I should say a little more before I put this topic to bed. Here are three reasons to buy your own mat, even if you are only starting to check out yoga classes and aren’t sure you’ll be all that serious about it:

You get to keep it personal
A yoga mat takes a lot of abuse and it is — if not by design then at least by function — deeply personal. Yoga mats take skids (when yogis don’t quite achieve lift-off during those jump-throughs), sweat (self explanatory) and tears (yoga can make us emotional, and tears happen). Practicing on your own mat is just more personal, no matter how many times you make it to the mat.

It’s more hygenic, period.
Even if a studio tries (emphasis on “tries”) to clean their mats well between students, you’re opening yourself up to less-than-hygenic practicing conditions. When you release your forehead into the mat for child’s pose, it’s nice to be able to fully melt into the mat and not worry about cleanliness. And if it’s flu season? Eek. (I was working at a hospital during the 2009 spread of the H1N1 flu, and it changed the way I see hygenic — or lack thereof — practices around me.)

You don’t have to invest a lot of money to get a starter mat
What I tell students who are starting yoga but only practice once or twice a week at the most is to check out their local T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or other similar discount shops. A couple weeks ago when I was at T.J. Maxx, I saw yoga mats for $9.99. Will they be the best mats, quality-wise? No — but neither will the ones you rent or borrow from a yoga studio or gym’s stash. Trust me, that starter mat you pick up will last you long enough to justify the $10 you spent.

If you have flexibility in your budget, then you have what can seem like a dizzying array of choices, including David Swenson’s Gecko mat, the Manduka line, Jade mats, the Saka premium black mat, products from Gaiam and so many more. Mats in this range of quality can cost up to $104. Figure out what’s important to you. Is it whether the mat is produced in an eco-friendly way? Is it how thick and supportive it is (some yogis I know have complained of too much support, for example)? Is it how the material feels? If you’re practicing around yogis with some mats that seem intriguing to you, ask them what drew them to that mat, and if you could feel the material. Step on it, try a down dog, try floating through. It’s a quick way of test driving some of the options without having to pull out your credit card. I’ve found that, much like smartphones, people love talking about their yoga mat and all the reasons they decided on that particular model.

I use a Mysore rug over a regular yoga mat. A high percentage of my yogi friends use thin towel-like options, such as the Yogitoes brand. More on that in another post — I’ve got work to do! In the meantime, happy mat-hunting, if you’re ready to take the plunge.

(Photo credit: Yoga Time by mosabuam via Flickr Creative Commons)

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4 thoughts on “ Explainer: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I’m just getting started in yoga?

  1. Having practiced on my own 2 mats (both eco-friendly materials, one is no longer sold and was from a small company in MA, the other is from Just B Yoga/Dream Yoga Mats) for over 11 months, and on studio mats for 4 months, I would agree that buying your own mat is the best idea. We have mats to use at both Hilltop and Just B and I think it is a great thing for those who feel they can’t afford a mat. I felt that way for 4 months because I wanted to save up for an eco-friendly mat instead of buying a $10 mat from TJ Maxx. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to buy my own from the beginning because it IS personal.

    We literally pour our spiritual blood, sweat and tears onto this piece of rubber/plastic.

    Not only is it hygenic to have your own mat and to clean it yourself, but it is also a deeply personal thing. I think of my mats like I would have thought of a blankie as a kid. (aparigraha…) You’re investing in yourself by going to a yoga class, invest further by buying your own yoga mat when you can.

    • I agree 100 percent, Emily. And I love the idea of a mat as a blankie — you are so right about that. Being able to get to the mat to reset, to dig deep, to dive in and to transform is like having a rolled-up talisman always ready to unfurl and travel with you.

  2. I use my own yet at Pure Yoga they have them and they clean them daily… which is nice, so in there I don’t mind, and it is easier not to carry, but everywhere else, I just would not do a dirty mat. I always prefer my own…

    Rose good thing I read your post at wordpress, I had no idea it is now, will add to my blogroll!

    • Claudia, I hear you on the whole carrying-around thing — especially when living in New York. Portability for those living in cities with public transportation is a great point of consideration.

      I used to carry around a heavy black mat and a rug in my Saka cargo mat bag, but honestly, it was so heavy that I felt like I needed yoga for my shoulders after carrying it around. So I switched to David Swenson’s Gecko mat, which is lighter and has been working well.

      Yes, I switched my site to a site. Thank you for adding to your blogroll! Much appreciated.

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