Twelve years ago, during my first six months of yoga, I took Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes at a university gym. No sticky mats or props. (Actually, we did use gym-style foam pads for prone/supine poses but did standing poses on the naked hardwood.) Eventually, the class grew from 30-something students (back then the majority of students were middle-aged or senior staff, faculty, and “faculty wives”) to 50 or 60, now lots of undergrads. The university saw that yoga was a permanent fad and invested in minimal props.
I enjoyed those early days. It was gym yoga. But the teacher was a serious yogi, well-trained in the Iyengar method. After about six months of gym yoga, I started taking regular classes at studios, where the plethora of props was rather overwhelming. Later, in my experimental phase, I tried numerous studios, across the US, and realized how much effort folks put into studio atmosphere.
Me, I preferred minimalist. Fancy studios seemed too contrived and self-conscious, with murals paying homage to the om symbol, Ganesha, namaste hands, or some unidentifiable mystic motif.
But I did start acquiring props. That first year I got a sky-blue yoga mat with an uncommon “pebbly” texture. It’s available at longtime San Francisco prop retailer Yoga Props (thick mat, 4mm, $30). I later ordered the thin version (standard mat, 2mm, $25) for lightweight transport, especially in luggage. (I have no proof, but I think they’re the same as the Bheka mats.) Within a couple of years, I bought the basics: three wool blankets, two blocks, strap. Eventually I splurged on a beefy round bolster.
The most-important prop, of course, is the mat. My hands and feet tend to slip so “stickiness” is key. The mat above is by far the best sticky mat I’ve found. The texture is dense, matte, and heavily textured, not smooth and slick as are most moderately priced mats. When you roll it into a cylinder to backbend over, it’s solid, not squishy.
I’ve tried Hugger Mugger mats but find them slippery. I’ve tried Canada’s Halfmoon and the bargain Wailana (which has nothing to do with Hawaii, if you’re wondering) mats with similar results. I’ve tried a Gaiam eco mat, which creased from being folded for sirsasana. Some people swear by the behemoth of mats, that indestructible black Manduka mat, but it weighs a ton and seems like overkill. Manduka does encourage mat recycling, however, even paying for return shipping if you buy another Manduka mat.
My first Yoga Props mat is now 11 years old, worn and slightly crumbly, but it’s still among my mini contingent of mats. I have machine washed and dried it countless times. I recently bought a replacement but I’ll keep my original until it’s absolutely toast. I know that mats aren’t exactly eco-harmless but, as with clothes and cars, you can do with very few over a lifetime.
What to do with a worn-out mat? Upcycle it by sending it to Recycle Your Mat (based in Eugene, OR, but of course).