Why Do I Need a Yoga Mat? (Hint: You Don’t!)

Do you need a yoga mat to do yoga? You might think so because most people use mats when they practice.

But in reality, you don’t need a mat for many of the poses that make up this ancient practice.

Let’s look at why you may not need a yoga mat and how to determine what is best for your needs. Plus, how to choose the best yoga mat if you do decide to buy one!

Is a Yoga Mat Necessary?

A yoga mat is not necessary for most circumstances. In fact, many yogis perform mat-free practice on the bare floor or carpets. What many don’t realize is that the modern yoga mat we use today is, without a doubt, a quite recent invention.

But, that doesn’t mean they don’t serve any purpose at all. And for those with certain medical conditions, it may even be required.

Let’s continue…

What’s the Purpose of a Yoga Mat?

The main purpose of a yoga mat is to provide a cushion between your body and the hard floor. This can be important if you’re doing an active practice that involves jumping around or coming down hard from a pose like pincha mayurasana, reducing the risk of injury.

A little cushioning can be nice while sitting on a hard surface or balancing on your hands or arms, etc., as well.

While providing a comfortable base is an important benefit to using a yoga mat, many practitioners also use them to:

  • Prevent slipping: Mats are engineered to be sticky enough to allow you to stay in yoga poses like downward dog with your hands and feet remaining in place (especially handy if you sweat a lot). Even if you’re on a soft surface like carpet, a yoga mat will provide the grip necessary for certain holds that carpet won’t.
  • Provide insulation: They may also provide some insulation if the surface you’re practicing yoga on is chilly.
  • Personal space: Yoga mats provide a clean separation of space in a crowded area.
  • Avoid germs: A yoga mat creates a clean workout area, no matter where you are (at the yoga studio or at home).

What Can I Use if I Don’t Have a Yoga Mat?

A towel can be an effective substitute for a yoga mat, especially if you just need a little cushioning from a hard floor. If you need extra cushioning, try layering multiple towels on top of each other.

Tip: Beach towels typically provide the length needed to best replicate a yoga mat.

Aside from towels, other options include:

  • Foam sleeping pads: Foam sleeping pads provide an extra thick and cushy surface to practice your postures on. The downside is they can be a little too thick, making it hard to balance in certain poses. But hey, it’s a great excuse to invest in a new foam pad if you use one for camping or hiking.
  • Carpet squares: Carpet squares from a home improvement store can be suitable substitutes when practicing at home, especially since they are designed to provide cushioning and grip to prevent it from slipping around.
  • Rugs: A thick rug may also work well as an alternative yoga mat depending on how grippy its surface is (although most rugs will slide around with your movements).
  • Sofas and beds: If you’re feeling really adventurous, why not try a few poses on your furniture? Just be sure to use caution if practicing near the edge of a sofa or bed. You also don’t want to end up taking an accidental nap in savasana (or maybe you do)!
  • Grass lawn: If you’re practicing outdoors on a freshly mowed lawn, the grass may provide enough cushioning to be suitable for yoga.
  • The beach: If you’re practicing on a sandy beach, the fine sandy grains can provide some cushioning between your body and the ground.

While some of these options may work, none will offer all the benefits of a mat specially designed for yoga use.

So, if you decide that a yoga mat is right for you, how do you choose the right one to buy?

How Do I Choose the Best Yoga Mat?

In short, look for a yoga mat with a textured surface to maintain a better grip (for you and the mat), the right thickness and material for your needs, and one that’s in your price range.

Let’s look at each of these a little bit closer.

Mat Thickness

Yoga mats come in various sizes and thicknesses, with traditional thin mats weighing only 2 pounds on up to 8 pounds for thicker models.

So, what size yoga mat should you get?

If you’re unsure where to begin, choose a mat with a thickness of about 1/8 inch, which is quite common and ideal for practitioners of all types. They allow for good floor contact, which helps with balance in a number of yoga asanas.

That said, thicker mats provide greater cushioning and are ideal for therapeutic exercises. Thicker mats are also more comfortable for yogis with sore knees or aching joints.

Yoga Mat Materials

Yoga mats are made from various materials, including inexpensive PVC to eco-friendly natural rubber. And while thicker mats tend to last longer than thinner mats, their durability is directly affected by the material the mat is made from.

Related: How Long Does a Yoga Mat Last?

Common yoga mat material types include:

  • PVC yoga mat: PVC is a plastic-based product that is extremely durable, simple to maintain, and provides excellent traction via it’s non-slip surface. Unfortunately, PVC mats are non-absorbent and can become slippery when you sweat a lot. Because PVC is latex-free, persons with latex allergies may use it without worry, but it isn’t as environmentally friendly as other choices.
  • TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) yoga mat: TPE is a blend of materials that combines the characteristics of rubber with the recyclability of plastics. TPE mats tend to be less durable than their PVC counterparts but rival them in terms of traction.
  • Eco-friendly and natural yoga mats: Natural rubber, organic cotton, and jute are three common materials used to make these types of exercise mats. When compared to other options, eco mats typically fall short in grip and long-term durability (compared to PVC). But, if you prioritize environmental friendliness, they rank first.

Price

A standard 1/8 inch thick, simple solid-color PVC yoga mat will usually be at the low end of the price range.

Be prepared to pay more for extra thickness, designs and patterns, antimicrobial treatments, various textures, and eco-friendly materials.

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