Two years before becoming a certified yoga instructor, I attended my first vinyasa class with a mat I borrowed from my college roommate. She warned me that I was bound to get sweaty, but assured me that her no-frills Gaiam mat would keep my hands and feet from sliding all over the place. Skeptical as I was, I took her word for it (and brought a towel with me just in case).
I wound up taking that same mat to yoga nearly every day for the next six months, until I received my own as a Christmas gift. By the time I finished up my yoga teacher training the next year, I was familiar with nearly every type of mat imaginable—I had borrowed various brands from friends at my studio so I could supply mats when I was teaching. I watched the way my students used the mish-mash of mats I provided them, noting which ones seemed to be slippery, which looked too thin or too thick to balance on, and which appeared totally sturdy. Now, over a year out of yoga teacher training, I’ve seen and tried almost every brand of yoga mats on the market. Gaiam’s Premium Print Yoga Mat ($19; walmart.com) has measured up to even the most expensive options and surpasses all the other mats in its price range by far.
The Premium Print Yoga Mat features 6 millimeters of cushioning, which, if you ask me, is the perfect amount. It provides just enough support to protect my joints in poses like kneeling dancer, but isn’t so padded that I feel unstable in balancing postures. Try doing yoga on the beach and you’ll understand why practicing on a compact surface is generally more enjoyable than a super soft one (hint: foot cramps).
The texture of the mat is also a huge win. Though we’re all bound to fall out of poses from time to time, its small grooves are the best way to ensure a yoga sesh with minimal sweat-induced slippage. The surface may be grooved, but the mat’s material isn’t heavy or porous—meaning it’s easy to carry, simple to clean, and, subsequently, the ideal companion for yoga outdoors. Finally, the mat’s dark gray color is bound to look new for longer than a paler-colored option.
Beyond its practicality and sleek design, sustainability-conscious yogis can sleep easier knowing this mat was manufactured without phthalates (phthalates are a family of chemicals often used to soften plastics that could potentially be harmful to the environment and human health). Given that the practice of yoga is about making peace with ourselves and the world around us, it’s only right that a great mat doesn’t disrupt that.
Whether you’re new to yoga or have years of experience, Gaiam’s Premium Print Yoga Mat won’t disappoint. If you’re not convinced yet, stop by one of Health’s free weekly yoga classes in Bryant Park, where you can test-drive a Gaiam mat for yourself.
To buy: Gaiam Premium Print Yoga Mat, Sundial Layers ($19; walmart.com)
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