The First Class is a series of posts where I discuss what to bring, what to wear and what to expect when you go to class. While this is aimed mostly at newbies, this is certainly applicable for people looking for tips on how to improve their yoga experience.
Coming to class with the right clothing and equipment is a must. I’m not necessarily talking about raiding your local Lululemon store, although they make some great products that I own and love. It’s more about figuring out what YOU NEED to be comfortable and safe in class.
First things first, you need to buy a mat. Although some studios have mats available to borrow or rent, I highly recommend you buy your own mat. Don’t be tempted by Craigslist ads of people selling their mats, no matter how funny or well written the ads are. You will be getting very intimate with your mat over the course of your yoga practice, and nothing is grosser than knowing your face is about to be where someone else’s feet were.
When shopping for a mat, check the thickness of it. You want a mat that isn’t too thin. When you’re on your back or on your shoulders (for postures like shoulderstand and bridge), you want a bit of cushion for your bones and joints. Also, over time, a too-thin mat can wear out where you place your hands and feet often, for postures like downward dog. I have actually seen mats that people have worn holes through because they were too thin and couldn’t keep up with regular use.
You also don’t want to go too thick and squishy. My first mat was a combo pilates/yoga mat (basically a super squishy yoga mat that they sold as “for pilates use” as well), and while it felt good when I was lying down, it messed with my balance. The squish in the mat moved too much with my foot, and I would topple over out of tree pose and any other one-legged postures.
If you’re looking for a thicker mat, make sure it has a FIRM and sturdy surface. Lulu’s The Mat and Manduka Black Mat Pro are two of the most popular heavy duty, thick, firm and sturdy mats available that withstand a beating by the frequent practitioner. They also cost a pretty penny, so consider your investment.
If you’re a soppy sweater like me, you may want an absorbant surface to place over your mat. Let me preface this by saying I only use my Lululemon The Mat and nothing else because it absorbs my sweat pretty decently. I should also mention that I end up wiping the sweat from my face onto my clothes, and then, I don’t really need to worry about too much of it ending up on my mat.
For the longest time, I used a Yogitoes Skidless towel. It has silicon nubs on the underside so it won’t slip from your mat. You can throw these things in the washing machine and dryer, which makes for a nice clean surface every time. In the ashtanga world, a lot of people practice on a yoga rug either placed over their mat or just on its own.
Whether you use a towel or a rug, the surface of the fabric may not be sticky enough to keep your hands from slipping in downward dog while dry. Seems kind of silly since you’re using one to keep your hands from slipping when wet, right? So, don’t be shy about grabbing a spray bottle of water (most studios that offer a warm practice like ashtanga or vinyasa have them) to spritz the towel where your hands and feet would go before class begins. If there isn’t a spray bottle, wetting down a hand towel (you know, to wipe yourself dry after class) and swabbing the surface of your yoga towel works in a pinch.
As for material, it’s personal preference. There are eco-friendly mats, vinyl, rubber, foamy stuff (very technical, huh?)… Go with what feels good to the touch. You want it to be a little sticky, as in your hands and feet have enough friction to not slip, but not so sticky that your body literally gets stuck when you try to move from one posture to another.
Finding a good mat situation for regular use is worth the investment. The cheap ones that are a dime a dozen will end up shredded and crumbly after a couple months, and you’ll have to replace it over and over again. Or you’ll be spending so much time fighting your mat, that you’ll get frustrated with the practice.
Whichever option you choose (mat only, mat/towel combo, or rug only), just make sure you’re comfortable and can practice safely. And if anyone has other suggestions, let me know!