The yoga mat has become an essential tool for many who practice yoga. Yet many also wonder why or if they should use a yoga mat.
What’s the point of a yoga mat? The main point of a yoga mat is essentially to keep the focus on your practice and form. While it is possible to do yoga without a yoga mat, using one helps eliminate the distractions that can impede your movement into different poses.
Yoga has been practiced for hundreds of years. The soft foam mat that many of us tote back and forth to our yoga class is a relatively recent invention. So do we need a yoga mat? What is the point of a yoga mat? We’ll discuss why you should use one below.
Why Use a Yoga Mat
A yoga mat is more than just a colorful, rolled-up cushion for us to use for Shavasana or corpse pose. In reality, a yoga mat is much more. There are several reasons to use one.
A Yoga Mat Keeps You from Slipping
While it is possible to do yoga without a yoga mat, most of us prefer the stability a yoga mat has to offer. Sure, you could do your poses on your living room floor, but Downward Dog is a much easier pose when your focus is on the posture and not trying to keep your feet from slipping out from under you.
Also, while you could use a towel or a blanket as your yoga base, they tend to move away from you while you move from pose to pose. Trying to keep balanced in a Warrior pose is one thing, but trying to juggle a moving blanket while keeping the pose is quite another.
A Yoga Mat Keeps Your Temperature Regulated
Keeping your muscles warm makes your movements smoother. The ground tends to be cold. Although your mind may not sense it at first, and you may not even mind it so much, your body will sense the differences in temperature, and your muscles will react. This, in turn, will mean that what should be a smooth motion from one pose to another may now be more awkward as your muscles tense up.
The padding of a yoga mat adds a layer of insulation between you and the cold floor. This keeps your muscles warmer and more flexible. This is important to consider if you are working inside on a hard, cold cement floor. It is equally important to think about when you are working outside on the cold and sometimes damp ground.
A Yoga Mat is a Cushion
The padding of a yoga mat also adds comfort to your practice. A thin mat may not have enough cushion, and you may feel stress in your knees and hips when you lunge into your poses. A yoga mat that is too thick may not provide enough connection and stability to allow you to adequately transition from one pose to another. You may feel bouncier than connected.
A yoga mat with just the correct amount of thickness to provide ease of movement but is thin enough to keep you grounded is what you want. But also keep in mind, one yoga mat may be perfect for one type of practice may not be the best for another.
- If you are doing a lot of floor work, the extra cushion could mean a more comfortable session. Doing a headstand may mean you want your yoga mat to have a little extra cushion.
- More downward dog may mean you want a yoga mat that gives you moderate cushion for you to grip your toes, but not too much that your body gets out of alignment.
- And if you are doing a lot of moving from one pose to another, a thin mat with just enough cushion to keep you steady may be the best choice.
You should also consider where you will be using your yoga mat. If you practice outside and your yoga mat is all that is between you and the hard ground, you may want more cushion. On the other hand, working in an inside studio where the floor is hard but not as bumpy may mean you would feel better using a slightly thicker mat. It is all about what you are most comfortable with.
A Yoga Mat is More Hygienic
Let’s face it. If you are working hard, especially if you are doing hot yoga, or Birkram yoga, you are going to sweat. A sweaty mat can be slippery, and while the non-slip feature of a yoga mat can mean the difference between a confident pose and an awkward slip, a sweaty mat can be rather unappealing.
All your yoga equipment should be able to take a little beating. Towels can be washed, and blocks can be wiped down. A good quality yoga mat can take regular cleanings, whereas a cheaper yoga mat may keep its less than attractive smells forever. In either case, wiping your mat down between uses is always a good idea.
Many studios and instructors provide yoga mats for those that need them. Keep in mind that as you are sweating, so did the person that used the mat before you. You may want to consider investing in your own yoga mat.
A Yoga Mat Keeps You In-line
Sizes for yoga mats can vary. A yoga mat is usually about six feet long and two feet wide. The rectangle shape of a yoga mat gives you a visual sort of map of where to properly place your feet and hands to get the most out of your stretch. The straight sides also act as a guide to make sure your body is properly inline so you can prevent injuries.
A Yoga Mat Sets Boundaries
In the same way that the shape of your yoga mat keeps your body inline, a yoga mat can also define boundaries. If you practice solo, this may not be so important. However, if you are practicing your yoga in a crowded studio where floor space is at a premium, a yoga mat can be seen as a way to define your space, making sure you have enough area to move freely as you need.
A Yoga Mat Means Yoga
Similar to putting on your running shoes means you are ready for your morning jog, rolling out your yoga mat means you are ready for your practice.
Of course, you can do a Sunrise Salutation at any time and without special equipment such as a yoga mat. But a yoga mat can be a metaphor for your practice. Your yoga mat symbolizes that you have set aside time for you to focus on your breath and release your mind. Your yoga mat means this is your time.
The Real Point of a Yoga Mat
To some, a yoga mat can be just a rectangular piece of rubber or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). To others, it is a symbol of their dedication to their practice.
Whether you roll your mat up and put it in a carrying case to tote it back and forth to class, or it stays a part of your personal studio, a yoga mat can be a very personal item.
Of course, technically, you do not need a yoga mat to practice yoga. However, the comfort you feel when you use a yoga mat can sometimes make a difference between a practice that motivates and inspires you and one that is simply a series of stretches.