When faced with using a mat or towel for yoga, it really isn't a question of "Which one?" A yoga mat is a necessity for a successful, safe and comfortable practice. Specially made yoga towels, however, which are made of wicking fabric and often with rubber grips to hold them in place, are an add-on that can offer value in certain types of classes.
Choosing a Yoga Mat
While some purists might choose a yoga rug or bare floor for practicing, a yoga mat will make your practice more comfortable. Good quality mats are made of PVC or thermoplastic elastomer, or TPE, both of which offer some stick and and easy cleaning. Yoga mats are also available made from natural materials, such as bamboo, jute, natural rubber or cotton.
Which mat you choose depends on the type of practice you choose. A Restorative yoga practice, in which you're mainly in supported floor-based poses and not sweating, calls for a thick mat made of just about any material. Slipping and sliding isn't a concern.
A grippy PVC, TPE or natural rubber mat are your best bet for active practices, as they provide traction so you stay put as you Down Dog. Mat thickness is largely up to you. If you prefer some cush under your feet and knees, go for about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thickness. A 1/8-inch thick mat is standard, however, and may be preferable if you do a practice heavy on standing and balancing poses — you'll feel more in contact with the ground and stable if your mat isn't too thick.
Do You Need a Yoga Towel?
The grip and support provided by a yoga mat means it's a pretty necessary item. The question becomes, however, do you need a towel to cover it? A regular bath towel isn't appropriate for a yoga practice, as it isn't designed to stay put on your mat. A yoga-specific towel, however, has small grips on the bottom that lay on your sticky mat, so the towel doesn't slide. Terrycloth towels also get heavy as they soak up moisture and don't absorb sweat as efficiently as microfiber versions made for yoga.
Before purchasing a yoga towel, ask yourself the following:
- Do you attend a practice during which you sweat a lot?
- Do you want the most hygienic practice possible?
- Do you want your mat to last a long time?