Yes. Breaking in a new yoga mat is a thing. Who knew? Maybe the more experienced yogi amongst you are letting out a deep sigh, followed by a big ‘duh’ right now, but to me the whole concept of breaking in a new yoga mat is, well, completely new.
When you have some experience with yoga, you know there’s nothing worse than coming into a down dog and noticing that your hands start to slowly move forward. With every millimeter the frustration grows and chances are that your practice will be a lot less relaxed than you’d hoped it to be. Of course the fact that you’re sliding forwards could have something to do with you putting too much weight on the front, or with you producing so much sweat that the mat just can’t handle it anymore. In which case, good job! But, apart from the previously mentioned reasons for slippery hands, you could also be dealing with a new yoga mat. Not to worry. New yoga mats take time to break in and the good news is that we can help them a little in the process. We can rub them for example with (sea) salt, clean them thouroughly with yoga mat cleaning spray or simply use the mat a lot until it get’s less slippery and more loose. I know you probably wonder whether the fact that your new mat is slippery has something to do with it’s quality, but the answer to this is no. Even the most expensive mats out there need time to ‘settle’. Below I will hand you some tools to speed up this process, so if you’re ready, let’s start rubbing, cleaning and/or practicing!
The wrapping of my new Manduka yoga mat told me to roll out my mat, rub a lot of sea salt on it, and leave that salt on my mat for 24 hours. To be honest, having to empty a bag full of sea salt over my new mat made me feel a little uneasy, but I figured the Manduka people would know best. So there I went, off to the supermarket to buy myself half a kilo of seal salt. I generously put it on my mat (under which I’d put a blanket so I could easily get rid of the salt afterwards – highly recommended -) gently rubbed it in, and left it there for 24 hours. The next day, I got rid of the loose salt and cleaned my mat with a piece of cloth and some water. Fortunately, my worst fears weren’t comfirmed and my mat was still the beautiful wine dark red colour I fell in love with and it looked ready for its first practice. Of course I couldn’t resist starting this practice with some potential ‘slippery poses’. Though I’d like to believe that my hands didn’t move at all, I don’t actually think this was the case. My hands still didn’t feel as stable as they do on the mats of the yoga studio I go to, but my mat did feel more comfortable and less slippery than it did before. I guess breaking in takes time and rubbing it with salt is just one way to speed up that process. Need a recap? Here’s a nice video published by Manduka to show you just how to break in your mat with sea salt.
From my research on the web, I also found out that cleaning your mat thouroughly with yoga mat cleaning spray can speed up the breaking in process. Cleaning your mat regularly and thouroughly basically has the same effect as the salt (breaks in the top layer of your mat), but it requires more time. Another option is to use a towel on top of your mat, until your mat loosens up. This way, you can use your new mat, but prevent yourself from slipping with the extra grip the towel provides. You can buy fancy towels at any yoga store or studio, but you can also use a (beach) towel. The fancy towels might be worth the investment though (they cost about 30 euro’s) when you do a lot of hot or bikram yoga. Even the best mats become slippery during these classes, so personally I am actually considering buying one anyway. When you’re not willing to do any of the above, you can of course use your mat as often as possible and simply deal with the slippery stuff until it gets better (usually after a couple of weeks). What I do recommend in this case, is that you leave your mat on the floor after you’ve finished your at home practice and just walk on it as much as possible (whithout shoes of course). This can also speed up the breaking-in process a little.
So whether you use salt, mat cleanig spray or a towel, breaking in a new yoga mat takes time. I recommend following the instructions given by the manufacturer of your mat, for not all mats are made of the same material and can handle for example over night salt treatment. Simply give your mat the time and treatment it requires and before you know it, you have created yourself a partner for life!