Buying a mat for your yoga practice is an important investment. It is easy to keep using a mat from the class stock, but nicer and more hygienic to have your own. More importantly, buying your own mat tells you how serious you are about your yoga. Having your own mat means you might start getting it out at home, finding space in the house, or in the garden and begin to get into practicing yoga at home on your own, without the instructions you get from your teacher.
This means you can be more instinctive and take as long or as little time in a pose as you like...you become your own teacher, you can really tune in to what your body and mind needs when you start your own self-practice. From here, what you can get out of your yoga has endless possibilities...
If you already have a mat, but it is very thin/old/tatty, do consider replacing it. The value you place in your yoga equipment reflects the value you place on yourself, and you may need to remind yourself that you are worth it!
You want one that supports your practice and doesn't hinder it. If your mat is too light or gets stuck to your feet and lifts up when you lift your feet then that could cause you problems. If your mat doesn't stay put when you are in downward dog for example or slips on the floor surface when in a wide leg standing post, that's not much good. You need to feel secure and grounded in any pose you do. Your mat should be able to cope with your hands or feet getting a bit sweaty. If you find that your hands and feel slip a lot on the mat, think about investing in a small bag of climbers or yoga chalk.
The more experienced you become, the more practice you are likely to do and the more you will demand from your mat.
It is very common to see yoga mats with wee chunks torn out of them at either end. This is caused by toes and toenails getting caught as you transition through from a pose to another - Downward Dog to Lunge or Warrior, for example. A good quality mat should not tear easily but to stop this happening, you need to lift your feet more, by engaging your belly and lower back, keep your lifting foot active to stop it dragging and also lift the knee towards your chest before aiming your foot between your hands at the front of the mat. It takes time and core strength to manage this time after time, don't worry if you don't master it at once.
The thickness of the mat depends on the type of floor you use, how comfortable you are when kneeling, sitting or lying on your back or side and how much 'natural padding' you have. I don't do 'bootcamp yoga' and I would encourage you wherever possible, to either use a mat at least 4.5 or 5mm thick, or 'double up' your mat under your knees or bottom (if you are not practising a flow sequence) or consider using two mats to maintain your comfort - particularly on a hard and cold floor (you can get a wool-backed mat if this is the case).
If you travel a lot and enjoy practicing yoga on holiday or during your travels, you can buy lightweight mats especially designed for travelling, but I would recommend 'Yoga-Paws', wee pads that you put on your hands and feet which prevents the need for a mat. They are less than the size of a pair of socks and gloves, so really easy to transport!
Mat hygiene is important as well, particularly if you use a mat from the studio or class stock. Invest in some wet-wipes to wipe your mat and/or your feet each time you start your yoga practice. Some wipes are enhanced with aromatic essential oils - aroma-yoga! You can use different fragranced wipes or aromatic oils to suit your mood or if you prefer, use a mat spray to inbed the essential oils into the fabric of your mat. If you don't want to have a heavily scented mat, a occasional light spray or wipe will do, but if you want to keep your mat clean without a scent, wipe your mat with a damp, fragrance-free cloth. You will get more out of your mat by keeping it clean on a regular basis.
Some of the mat wipes or sprays on the market renew the stickiness of your mat, some may make it feel a bit slippy. Most will replenish the stickiness. If, however, the latter is the case, you can often renew the stickiness by washing your mat, so do check whether the mat you are considering buying is washable (and whether your machine is insured!) and if so, make sure you have got the facilities to hang it out to dry (most of them drip a lot, even after being spun)
A lot of yoga mats these days are described as 'eco', are PVC and latex free and made with non toxic/biodegradeable materials. Prices start from about £35.
The standard (non-eco) mats range in price from £10 (from large supermarket chains or on-line) and go up to £35 - 40.
If you want a substantial mat for every day use, or to enhance your comfort, then think about investing in a really good quality mat and expect to pay anywhere from about £35 upwards - the sky is the limit, seemingly.
All the items mentioned can be purchased from me or direct from "Yogamatters" using the links on my website. Yogamatters is a small company, the staff are passionate about yoga and convey their yogic principles and values through their work and the goods that they sell. If you use this link, as an affiliate, I get 'karma credits', which helps me keep the price of my small stock of retail goods down, as well as bringing equipment and accessories to the classes for you to try out.