Welcome to Monday Musings, a series where I review books that I read pre-end of 2017, when I started writing wrap-ups, talk about characters or topics that aren’t as relevant, or sometimes a surprise non-bookish thing. This week, we’re finally touching on something I promised months ago–yoga mats!
First! Since this is mainly a book blog, I’m not sure how many of you actually know this, but I teach yoga!
A little history. I discovered yoga in December 2011 along with Tibetan Buddhism. It was during a fairly dark period in my life, and both of these things helped lift me out of that and on the path to relearning joy. I’ve used a heck ton of mats over that time, and it’s been a wild ride since then, but in January 2016, I settled in for my first weekend of yoga teacher training. Suffice to say, I was terrified. Here’s Mary circa somewhere around then, and we’ll dive right into the reviews.
I had almost no tattoos, IT’S SO WEIRD!
From December 2011-mid 2016, I rotated through the same four or so mats. Many of them can still be found on Gaiam’s website. I never spent more than $30 on a mat in those five years, and I always bought them at Kohl’s or Target. And before we get any farther in this post, I want to note that I still love the heck out of these mats, and the only reason I moved onto a more expensive one was because of the amount that I practice. These $25-30 Gaiam mats are amazing! However, they do start to come apart eventually, and if you’re practicing five-six days a week like I do, you’re going to go through them fairly quickly.
I see a lot of Gaiam mats in the studios that I teach at and take class at. Many of them provide standard, solid color Gaiam mats for rental, as well. They are one of the most popular mats, and I think for good reason. They’re durable, they’re comfortable, they come in different thicknesses, they’re lightweight, and they’re going to survive if you take care of them.
One of the things I really, really love about Gaiam, too, is that the mat and you don’t slip. Even the standard $25-30 mats are excellent. There are a few mats in the $35-50 price range, but I never tried those, so cannot truthfully comment on them, but based on my experience, I’d say the same is likely. Never once did my Gaiam mat fly out from under me during a sweaty practice, and I always felt like I had a solid grip. Of course, the first class or two was a little slippery, but that’s just new mat vibes, and it’s really not that bad. Toward the end of their life, I did notice that I was starting to slide around a lot more, but in their prime, Gaiam mats are top notch if you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Athletic 2Grip Gaiam Mat
Fairly soon into YTT, I decided that I wanted to upgrade my mat. I still used my standard Gaiam mats throughout training, but you’ll notice on my social media that around graduation in August 2016, I switched primarily to the Athletic 2Grip mat. It’s $75, it was the first mat I ever ordered online, and it only comes in black. (There used to be a lime green option, and honestly, I can see why it’s not available anymore–it was scary.)
This mat, guys. If it didn’t start degrading, I would still have it. I would 100% still be practicing on this. I’m not lying to you when I say that I truly love Gaiam mats. I think they’re wonderful, and I’ll explain why I’m no longer practicing on them, but first. THIS MAT!
So, you’ve started practicing a little more than once or twice a week, and you’re starting to think that maybe you want something a little more elevated. Maybe your standard Gaiam mat is starting to crumble a little or get slippery, and you want something that’s going to continue to support you as you start practicing more. But some of these mats out there are well over $100, and that seems a little ridiculous, right? At this stage in your practice, yeah, it is.
Honestly, I only really recommend getting one of the big brand mats if you’re teaching regularly or practicing power or buti or similar for four-five days a week. Otherwise, you’re fine, you don’t need to spend $150 on a mat just because you want to look good on Instagram. I’m really not trying to be that person right now, but most of the regular mats out there are going to do what you need them to do without having to shell out a bunch.
I’ve gotten off track. I have the fondest memories ever of this mat. It was longer than the standard length, and though it’s only 5mm thick, my rickety knees felt fine on it. I used it every practice from about mid-2016 until sometime this year? I can’t remember the exact month, but it was early 2019 that I stopped using the Athletic 2Grip mat from Gaiam. So, for about 3 years, this was my favorite mat. I could literally tackle it running, and it wouldn’t move at all. I sweat buckets onto this thing, and it never slipped. Actually, right up until the end, I wasn’t slipping at all.
Toward the end of this mat’s life, though, I was starting to get into buti (imagine power yoga, but add in some cardio, dance, and plyometrics, and then the loudest music possible; it’s insane), I was teaching six classes a week, and my home practice was intense. Thus, while I wasn’t slipping, the mat itself was starting to slide out from under me. During buti, I was constantly pulling it back underneath me. I very clearly remember working on pincha at home, and when I kicked up, the mat shot forward, and it was terrifying. It also started to crumble, and my toes were starting to turn black from cobra to down dog.
But for 3 years with a pretty regular vinyasa practice, this was it, and I still love this a lot. However, toward the beginning of this year, I knew it was time. I was teaching more. I was practicing more. I needed something that was going to keep up with me.
First: the mat pictured is not Manduka. I don’t actually have any pictures of me practicing on it. Instead, this is around the end of my Gaiam Athletic 2Grip mat, which was in February 2019.
Second: This review is not meant to deter you from buying a Manduka. Their customer service was amazing, and I know a lot of people that swear by their Manduka. It just wasn’t for me.
Getting into the big brands is a little nerve-wracking. Manduka? Alo? Higher end Gaiam? What the heck is a cork mat? Jade? Lulu? There are so many. It took me weeks of research to make a decision. I didn’t want another Gaiam because I felt like the same thing would probably eventually happen. I’d tried a Lulu and not liked it, so wanted to stay away from that material, which also ruled out Alo. Cork mats sounded awful. There were a ton of reviews that mentioned Jade’s degraded like Gaiam’s did, so that sounded like the decision was made–Manduka.
A few of my friends have and love Mandukas, and I was about thirty seconds from ordering mine when a friend messaged me and said she’d been using Liforme for a while now and was never going back. Alright, hold on, then. I did some research on Liforme, and in the end, I decided to go with the Manduka because the Liforme says right in the product description that they’re biodegradable, so eventually they will start crumbling. Granted, they’re made so that that won’t happen for a lonnnnnnng time, but I just didn’t want it. I ordered my Manduka, and I shelled out a little more money for the longer one ($150), plus got it in maroon, and I eagerly waited by the mail.
As I was waiting, I started seeing reviews about a “break-in period” in which the mat was really slippery and required a lot of practice to get it yoga-ready. My friends said that it wasn’t that bad, and with how much I practiced, I wasn’t really worried. It came in the mail the day before a chakra workshop, and I was so stoked. I brought it to the workshop, and I am going to forever regret that decision.
Seriously. That workshop is forever tainted by my experience with the Manduka, and I’m so sad about that because it was an amazing class, and I really wanted to settle wholly in it. But I couldn’t. Why? I was in real danger of face-planting during every single downward dog. Like, not joking. I had to wrap my hands around the edges of the mat in fists to avoid slipping, and even then, I had to keep readjusting my grip. Every high lunge or warrior nearly turned into a split. It was awful.
I left a little discouraged, but I reminded myself that this was normal, they’d advertised this break-in period, so I got to work. I brought it to buti, I taught with it, I practiced at home on it.
For a month, I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a cliff. I got so frustrated with the fact that no pose was safe that, at the end of the month, when I pulled up to one of my studios to teach, I left the Manduka in the back of my car and popped my trunk to get my old Gaiam out. I couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up.
Manduka’s customer service was incredible. I explained to them that, after a month, I was still slipping to the point where I felt like I was on a damn slip and slide, and that, as someone who was on a mat almost every day, I couldn’t continue to use it. They gave me a full refund, they were very kind, and I support them as a company. Like I said at the beginning, I know a ton of people (in real life) that love Manduka mats. It just wasn’t for me.
I honestly just did a stupid smile when I saw this mat. No lie, I’m in love. When I went to my first buti class with my Manduka, I noticed that the instructor had a Liforme mat, and I asked her if I could quickly step on it. A couple months prior, I’d watched someone do 108 sun salutations on a Liforme, and neither her nor her mat moved, and so seeing it in buti was like a second sign. Alright, if this thing can survive 108 sun sals and buti, there’s something special going on.
The moment I stepped on it, I knew.
“Oh, I’ve made a grave mistake,” I said dramatically as I sadly walked back over to my Manduka, which had already ruined a chakra workshop for me and was about to ruin a buti class, too.
The second I had my refund for Manduka, I ordered the Liforme. I was so nervous. Was this going to be a repeat? Was I forever going to slide all over my mat and have to just buy a new Gaiam every few years?
I got my Liforme in March, and it’s now the end of June, and I have never been happier in my life. I have to literally pick the mat up if I want to move it. It’s not going anywhere on its own, no matter how much I dance all over it. I’m not going anywhere on it, no matter what I do on it. It’s comfortable, it’s sturdy, and it’s got an extra special thing that I’ve never seen on another mat.
My mom loves this picture of me, and I think it’s adorable. I’m putting it here because you can see the lines on the mat a little better. There is a line that runs down the center of the mat, and the Liforme symbol is dead center of the mat. Those lines near my knee are for your hands, and there are two sets of them, based on height, where the heels of your hands should rest, and there are matching ones for your feet for down dog or plank. The little triangle things on the other side of my knee are for under your palms when you’re in tabletop, and there are matching ones for under your knees. There’s also a diamond shape that, are you ready for this, helps navigate your foot to A PERFECT 45° ANGLE IN WARRIORS!
I honestly thought that I’d never use these. It just seemed like a cool extra bonus. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I shift in my down dog every single time if I’m not already on the lines. And do I utilize that diamond? Oh, heck yeah. These asana support lines are the literal best thing ever.
I swear by my Liforme mat. And I’m hoping that in five years, I’ll still be swearing by it. It’s the same price as most of the other big brands out there ($150), and I was happy to drop that on it. It’s well worth it.
Did you find this helpful? Are you searching for a new mat right now? What’s your favorite mat? Let me know in the comments below!