First of all come to yoga without attitude and with an open mind. Yoga is not a form of competitive sport, it is self discovery and learning to let go through practice of pranayama (controlled breathing) and asana (postures).
Your mat is your story
Always bring your own mat even if your studio has all equipment to support your practice. On a spiritual level, you bond with your mat and create your own story. On a physical level, yoga is practiced barefoot, therefore it's a risk to catch an infection even if studio mats are carefully disinfected after each practice. For example, feet fungus can spread easily from infected surfaces and it is very hard to get rid of it.
I don't have much money to buy expensive mat
Start saving and look out for promotions on those good quality famous brands. Let me share my personal story with yoga mats. I tried so many yoga mats from very cheap mat that cost me £8 pounds up to the most famous brand like Manduka for £85 pounds and I must tell you that well known expensive brands are so much worth it. They provide excellent grip, are non stretchy, clean well and last forever. Well, may not be forever but for a very, very long time.
I bought my first mat from TK Maxx. I thought I made a discovery, '£8 pounds, what a bargain!' I was so much wrong. It looked nicely packed, nice colour and was the thickest on the shelf 15mm:) I thought, that was exactly what I need. Perfect. It only served me one yoga class as it was impossible to perform any standing asana. It stretched, lost form and when pressed hard on it, the thickness did not give any cushioning. It was like a marshmallow.
Had to go and buy another one. This time I chose 6mm PVC mat for £11 pounds. It must have lasted few sessions and it started to flake. It didn't provide a good grip either, and if I was getting very sweaty, which happens to me a lot, the mat was getting incredibly slippery. No, no to that one either! So far, in couple months, I spent £19 pounds.
Natural rubber mat
I had no choice but to look for something more decent. I bought a natural rubber mat for £27 pounds which served me a year. Not bad hah?!
4mm, sturdy, well made. Was very happy with my purchase until I used some mat spray in the yoga studio which made mat super sticky and the colour started to come off making my feet, hands and white clothes blue. You know that feeling when you buy branded jeans and legs and knickers turn blue :)
Natural rubber is an excellent idea but need to look how it's been manufactured. No colour would be ideal. Of course, instructions how to clean the mat have to be followed carefully. Once it got damaged, there was no way to fix it. I washed with clean water let it dry completely but it would get sticky on the next practice. What a pain. So my total investment for a year £46.
Natural cork mat
Then , while I was in India, I bought a natural cork mat. Felt that I deserved a treat. The mat was amazing. The price was around £40 pounds. It was 4mm thickness, non slippery, had a nice velvet feel, and was self clean. Great mat, totally recommend as long as you don't need to roll it. The cork breaks after a while. Also it is quite heavy to carry. Good mat but lasted just under a year. I am still looking into cork mats, as with a little improvement, they can be amazing. And they are made from natural material.
Cork mat with PVC padding
I gave another chance to a cork mat! I bought cork mat with PVC padding for around similar price. This mat was much lighter but after rolling to squeeze into my yoga bag, the cork split in few places after using several times. It is not noticeable, I still use it, but I have to give time to see if it will be able to last a year. Good mat, recommend but without trying different brands hard to say. I heard that only poor quality cork breaks. Another thing that I didn't like, was combination with PVC. I always think, where it's going to go after use, will it be recycled? So on average I spent approximately £120 for yoga mat in 2 years.
What else is out there?
I won't lie, I am still looking around for various eco alternatives. Mats with some natural fibers and no artificial colours is my preference. I came across this amazing company ecoYoga that makes mats with natural rubber and jute weave. What an amazing, lovely mat! At the moment, I can't tell you how long it will last but the grip and feel is amazing. I have connected with this mat instantly. Will keep you updated. You can try one by yourself, just click add to the cart below :)