The Better Skin Formula: Natural skincare review

For the launch issue of Natural Mumma magazine, I explored a number of natural skincare products. I selected products that were chemical-free, cruelty-free, natural and effective. For the feature, skincare expert and therapist Claire Robilliard created a bespoke cleansing ritual that was perfect for my skincare needs. I completely fell in love with her products and felt the need to write a more in depth review. 

 

Holly's OIls Cutout.jpg

Photography by Gerard Hughes for Natural Mumma magazine

 

Bespoke skincare 

For those near to London or Brighton, you could visit Claire in person in order for her to analyse your skin and develop your products. I simply sent Claire three photos of my face, makeup free and in good light. The first photo was face on, and the other two showed either side of my face. As well as this, I sent Claire a paragraph about my skin – its needs and how I was looking after it.

“I would say that I have combination skin. It is prone to dryness (especially in the winter months) and I get an oily t-zone. I’m just on my period and I get the occasional spot at this time of the month! I’m 35 next month so my skin is starting to show signs of ageing and fine lines. I eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water but probably have too much coffee and too little sleep! I exercise each morning. I also take care to stay safe in the sun. I’m very busy so I tend to exfoliate/cleanse my face during my morning shower and use micellar water before bed. I use a variety of different moisturisers at the moment. I also use clay based masks before big events/filming/photo shoots etc.”

Claire used this information to quickly put together a beautiful set of cleansing oils and serum that were perfect for my skin type.

The products

Claire uses natural plant oils and aromatherapy oils (both organic and wild-grown) to create the products to suit your needs. They arrive in a beautiful box, with a card guide and a follow-up email with video instructions. Claire’s communication makes you feel supported right through and the video clearly details how to use the products.

The kit comprises of (I’ve identified the specific blends that Claire made especially for me):

A cleansing base: Shea, Flax and Vitamin E

4 cleansing oils: 1 -Argan, Geranium and Spearmint. 2 – Safflower, Geranium and Elemi. 3 – Hazelnut, Palmerosa and Tea Tree. 4 – Poppyseed, Petitgrain and Mandarin.

2 soft bamboo cloths (to lightly slough away skin cells as you removed the oils).

A konjac sponge (to encourage radiance and cell renewal).

50/50 serum: Blackcurrant and Sandalwood.

The ritual 

You simply combine a teaspoon of the cleansing base with a couple of drops of the first oil (and slowly work your way through all of the oils), using your fingertips you gently massage this mixture into your face before removing it using a damp bamboo cloth. Use the cloth to softly buff the skin. Next comes the konjac sponge which adds instant radiance. Finish off with 50/50 serum on dry skin.

I love the idea of a skincare ritual. As I mentioned in my initial paragraph to Claire, my skincare regime had slipped into a speedy routine with little thought. It felt amazing to slow things down. Applying the base and oil to my face each morning and evening, and taking the time and care to massage it in, wasn’t only a great exercise in self care but it also meant that I was getting to know my skin on a much deeper level. Rather than simply applying products and looking for immediate results, The Better Skin Formula teaches you about your skincare and guides you towards long term healthier skin. The routine feels beautifully decadent, the aromas are exquisite and it leaves your skin feeling supple, smooth and with a really healthy glow. There were a couple of evenings where I opted for the easy option and went for the speediness of micellar water instead. However, The Better Skin Formula’s cleansing ritual doesn’t need to take that long.

The results 

I’ve been using Claire’s bespoke cleansing ritual and 50/50 serum for over a month now and am delighted with the results. My skin is much more elastic, there is no dryness and it has a different radiance. I tend to wear a light foundation each day, more for the purpose of illuminating my skin than evening out skin tone and I found that I chose to skip my foundation more this month as the glow I got from using the oils was enough. My skin looks more radiant in photos, which was ideal for this month’s editor’s photo in the magazine!

I love that the products I am using on my skin are natural and free from chemicals, I adore the ritual, the aromas and the results. I am also absolutely convinced that having a passionate professional on hand to offer support and guidance is the best way to embrace skincare. Claire is warm, knowledgeable, friendly and approachable. If your skin is in need of rejuvenation, then I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Claire’s Better Skin Formula.

Top row: Prior to the treatment, after first ritual, end of first week

Second row: After a fortnight, after a month, under makeup (one month in)

You can read Claire’s top tips for better skin in the September issue of Natural magazine magazine. 

Find your perfect yoga mat

This fascinating review of yoga mats was first published on www.reviews.com and has been reproduced with their permission and gratitude. 

As an instructor and student who rolls out the mat quite regularly, I know what features I prefer to support my practice. However, considering the many styles of yoga and workout routines that involve mats, I wanted to see what other yoga professionals thought, including those that have been at it practically since the time mats debuted (despite the practice of yoga dating back over 5,000 years, the yoga mat hasn’t been around all that long).

In the end, my top choices were pretty easy to grip. There is no perfect yoga mat, and no single mat fits everyone. If you’re looking for the best yoga mat that will support your asanas and be your new place to call OM for a lifetime, the Manduka PROlite is the way to go. It gets my top pick because its durability and versatility are unmatched. However, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, the Jade Harmony Professional Mat is made of 100 percent rubber, and offers great traction and support.

With over 50 hours of research on dozens of yoga mats, I focused on the properties and composition of the mat and how this applies to the various styles of yoga. I surveyed the masses, consulted with over 10 yoga professionals with years of experience on mats, and personally put many mats through hours of testing.

The process was sweaty, and reconfirmed that choosing a yoga mat is akin to choosing your wine — some get better with age, and it all comes down to personal taste. To help find the best yoga mat for you, I’ve also recommended top picks for specific formats, some of which include my top choices and others which do not.

The 10 Overall Best Yoga Mats

  • Manduka PROlite($75+)
  • Jade Harmony Professional Mat($70+)
  • Manduka Black Mat Pro($90+)
  • Hugger Mugger Para Rubber($85)
  • PrAna Revolutionary Sticky Mat($60+)
  • Kharma Khare($70)
  • PrAna E.C.O($47)
  • Gaiam Print Premium($16+)
  • Liforme Yoga Mat($140)
  • Yoloha Native Cork Yoga Mat($140)

How We Chose the Best Yoga Mats

My yoga mats aren’t pampered, and they’re used in a variety of styles. One week, I’m traveling to practice yoga in Mexico, and the next, I’m instructing 50 students outdoors on the beach or in a park in New England. I consistently practice a vigorous vinyasa both in and out of a hot room, and teach a gentler flow to athletes who are new to the practice.

There are a number of important features across the board that make some yoga mats better than others, and these factors are useful to take into consideration before purchasing your own. In total, I spent over 50 hours analyzing yoga mat reviews, scouring online publications, and researching the technology, history, brands, and the various qualities of top yoga mats. I drew from previous experience and surveyed over 100 yoga professionals, teachers, and students (of all levels and practicing styles) to get an idea of what people look for most.

I consulted with 10 yoga professionals, including “Boston’s 2014 Best Yoga Instructor” Sadhana Studio Owner, Glen Cunningham, who has been savasana-ing on a mat for over 15 years; Orange County’s Core Power Yoga manager and instructor Lacey Calvert; and international yoga teacher Goldie Graham. I also tapped popular blogger, YouTuber, and traveling yogi Candace Moore, as well as Rasamaya Studio owner and yoga instructor, Carrie Tyler, who is a 20-year veteran of teaching movement.

An initial 30 products were taken into consideration after analyzing reviews from Amazon, REI, and Yoga Consumer Reports. I also consulted some 50 publications (like PopSugar Fitness, Mind Body Green, and Outdoor Magazine) and popular yoga blogs (like Ekhart Yoga, Yoga Journal, and DoYouYoga). I further narrowed the list down to 15 of the best yoga mats based on my criteria of positive reviews, experience, recognitions, and ultimately what other yogi consumers had to say. This strategy helped me get to a manageable number of top products so I could physically test each myself.

I took the research to different studios and tested the mats in temperatures both over 100 and below 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I also tested on a carpet, on a hardwood floor, and in the comforts of my own home. I received feedback from fellow yoga students, and for a week, observed how the top mats appeared and were performing for others in class. Then, it was time for me to get on all the top yoga mats and put them each through a standard 60-minute yoga class. I used the mats in two different formats, restorative and vigorous, and in both heated and unheated conditions. I continued to test the mats at home through various poses and practices. (Tough work, but hey — someone has to do it!)

In my survey talking to other yoga teachers and students, responses demonstrated that the drawbacks to current mats were heaviness, difficulty in cleaning, poor traction, and a short lifespan. The data also proved that the majority of people desire stickiness and comfort. So with the intention to find the best yoga mats for the masses, I focused on a mat’s ability to provide the right amount of traction, density, comfort, and stability. Other criteria that came into play were weight, size, eco-footprint, and color assortment. I also wanted to make sure I factored in price, even though most buyers said they were willing to pay up for the aforementioned qualities.

Other Yoga Mats to Consider

The Best Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat

Jade Harmony Professional MatThe Jade Harmony Professional is a favorite among yoga professionals everywhere because of its great balance of traction and support. It’s made from all-natural rubber, making it environmentally friendly. As a bonus, JadeYoga also plants a tree for every mat that’s purchased.

The Best Budget-Friendly Yoga Mat

Gaiam Print PremiumIt’s important to invest in a reliable mat, but if you are unsure of making that investment just yet, try the Gaiam Print Premium. It retails for under $30 and is backed with a lifetime warranty. It comes in an array of fun colors and prints, too.

Best Non-Slip Yoga Mat

Liforme Yoga MatMy new favorite mat for hot yoga, with a non-slip surface that requires no breaking-in period and performs well no matter how much you sweat. At $140, it’s on the pricy side, but it offers traction unsurpassed by any of the other mats I tested.

Most Low-Maintenance Yoga Mat

Yoloha Native Cork Yoga MatThe Yoloha Native is made from a mixture of recycled rubber and cork, resulting in a pleasantly springy surface that’s naturally antimicrobial. Cork gets grippier as it gets wet, making the Yoloha another good option for hot yoga.

A Full Review of the Best Yoga Mats

Manduka PROlite: Best Overall

If you want a mat to last you a lifetime, and can also tick the boxes for grip, portability, and comfort, the Manduka PROlite is the way to go. This mat beat out its category contenders for longevity by a landslide. It’s an extremely durable, high-performing mat that’s stamped with a lifetime guarantee. Yoga teachers everywhere (including myself) agree that the Manduka PROlite gets better with age the more you use it, similar to a baseball glove. I’ll get upside-down to that.

The PVC material and density of the mat make it competent under any condition — outdoors, in a heated room, in a non-heated studio, and with gentle-to-vigorous practices — which can’t be said for the majority of the mats tested here. I took this mat through a multitude of restorative and standing poses, sun salutations, arm balances, and inversions.

I’m not the only one who ranks this mat at the top of the list. Boston’s 2014 Best Yoga Instructor and Owner of Sadhana Studio, Cunningham, has been using the Manduka Pro series mats for 14 years.

I’ve been using Manduka mats since 2001 and I still think they make the best overall mats out there in terms for grip, comfort, thickness, feel, size, and durability. I’ve been teaching for over 15 years and see a lot of ‘mat shrapnel’ on the studio floor, but I’ve never seen a Manduka Mat get worn out.

Glen CunninghamOwner of Sadhana Studio

In asanas that tend to be slightly harder on the knees, like Ustrasana (camel pose) and Anjaneyasana (low lunge), this mat provides just the right amount of support and cushion to feel ease and comfort throughout the pose, even when held for long periods of time. The mat also provides stabilization and joint protection during asanas that require more stability, balance, and impact (think: Tree pose, handstand, and jumping back to chaturangas). At the same time, it won’t compromise the ability to feel stable and connected to the ground.

As far as texture, grip, and comfort go, I give this mat two thumbs up. The slip-resistant traction kept fidgeting to a minimum. The surface, which isn’t super sticky, allowed for gliding transitions through quick vinyasas. The transition to take my foot into or out from a lunge felt effortless compared to when catching or sticking on mats made from a different textile (like some of the natural rubber mats did).

Other than the first couple of uses during the “break-in period,” the manual labor for this mat is practically nonexistent. Its closed-cell technology makes it incredibly easy to clean and wipe down after class, and with a weight of around four pounds, it’s light and easy to carry. The mat comes in an assortment of colors and in two different sizes (71 and 79 inches) to accommodate style preference as well as the taller yogis out there. It’s fairly pricey for a yoga mat, but with a lifetime warranty, it provides outstanding value.

Manduka PROlite is always my go-to. It’s easy to travel with, stays good for years, and [is] easy to clean since I’m a sweaty mess! I don’t always use a towel because I don’t need one with this mat. It’s awesome!

Lacey CalvertRegional Manager of CorePower Yoga Orange County

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Based on research, and many conversations with other yoga practitioners, the Manduka company is considered the holy grail of yoga-mat brands. It continuously tops the charts in reviews. The Manduka PROlite series is a lighter, more portable version of the beloved Manduka Black Mat Pro, which has been on the market for 15 years. The PROlite mat receives accolades from a number of magazines and popular publications. It was voted the Top Pick Award by OutdoorGearLab, voted a “must have” by Yogi Approved, and is sold and used by the most popular yoga studios across Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles.

CorePower Yoga Orange County’s regional manager, Calvert, says the Manduka PROlite is her favorite, and it’s the one the company carries in its studios all across the United States.

We see over 500 clients a week using our Manduka mats for barre and yoga. I teach on them and take class with them, and I have no complaints — they are super durable. We used to have Jade, but switched to Manduka because they are better performing overall.

Lindsey JamesManager and Instructor of Barre & Soul in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Barre & Soul Studios, found in several locations around the Boston area, provides the Manduka PRO series mats to its members for use in class.

Manduka instructs consumers to scrub the mat down with coarse sea salt prior to using, which helps to remove a thin layer that is applied in the manufacturing process. Wearing this down actually helps improve the mat’s traction with continued use. This process may be a little more labor-intensive than you’d prefer, but there’s something comforting about having a mat get better with time and form to you. Cunningham likens the breaking-in process of the mat to that of a new baseball glove: You break it in and then it fits “like a glove.”

Who should skip it?

Although some people, like Calvert, find the mat to grip fantastically with moisture, some evidence points to a few issues. In an email from the company, Manduka implies the mat does require a breaking-in period (although this is not always the case for everyone), meaning it could feel quite slippery for several uses until it has seen some action.

The traction for the Manduka PROlite is best used under dry conditions with minimal moisture, so ultra-sweaty practices and those done in a heated room may not benefit from this mat without the use of a towel on top of it. I recommend the Liforme Yoga Mat for these conditions.

In terms of eco-friendliness, the mat is made with PVC rather than natural rubber or another more environmentally friendly material. However, no toxic emissions are released during production, and its lifetime durability results in fewer landfill dumps, still making it a safe choice for the environment overall. If you are concerned with practicing on a mat that is made from eco-friendly material that’s still high performance, my recommendation is the Jade Harmony Professional (a top pick tested here).

The Runners-Up for the Best Yoga Mats

Don’t dismiss these mats just because they didn’t make my top pick. Like I’ve stated, yoga mats, like yoga, are not created equal and preference is unique to the individual’s style. Depending on what you’re looking for, these mats could be better suited for you.

  • Jade Harmony Professional Mat

    About half of the yoga instructors I interviewed suggested the Jade Harmony as their favorite yoga mat, and it made an appearance as a top pick on just about every review publication I read. The Jade Harmony offers a sturdy grip with open-cell technology and a texture to provide great performance overall. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and is a fantastic alternative for those looking for a 100 percent natural rubber, eco-friendly mat.

    This mat puts up a good fight against the top contenders, but the natural rubber makes it more apt to degrade under certain conditions (like heat and sunlight) and doesn’t include a lifetime guarantee. In my experience, the Jade Harmony does wear down rather quickly with consistent use, and needs to be replaced more frequently than with other top contenders. To sustain use, it should not be used or left out in direct sunlight. This mat’s open-cell technology means it retains sweat (good for gripping, but bad for bacteria) and oils, making it more difficult to clean.

    Warning: Those with a latex allergy should not use the Jade Harmony Professional Mat.

  • Manduka Black Mat Pro

    Known as the ruler of all yoga mats, this is a mat that appeared as a top pick in research and throughout conversation. Except for width and density (it’s wider and thicker), it’s virtually the same as its little brother, the Manduka PROlite. However, with its weight of seven to nine pounds, and a heftier pricetag, the PROlite is more appealing overall. If you are looking for a heftier rendition of the Manduka PROlite, and aren’t concerned with trekking some extra pounds to class, this mat could be for you.

  • Hugger Mugger Para Rubber

    It’s grippy and I found it to provide more cushion than fellow eco-friendly mat, the Jade Harmony. The texture, however, made transitions on the mat a little more difficult for me. As far as durability goes, I was seeing signs of wear (albeit small) within the first week of use.

  • PrAna Revolutionary Sticky Mat

    This mat is firm and not too spongy. But at nine pounds, it’s not only the heaviest, but also the biggest mat tested here. I just couldn’t justify trekking it back and forth from a studio or rolling it out anywhere but at home. However, consumer reviews suggested that taller and wider people benefit greatly from the added length and width of this mat.

  • Kharma Khare

    I love this company’s eco initiatives, and its unique recycled tire material provides the mat with undeniable grip. However, this mat didn’t pass the durability test since there was a small rip within first use.

  • PrAna E.C.O

    This mat has comfort down, but staying put…not so much. It was a little too lightweight for my practice and moved around on a hardwood floor. It also didn’t lay completely flat on the ground, which can be a hassle when moving in and out of poses. It is a more affordable, eco-friendly, and latex-free mat, which makes it a better choice for those looking for these specific needs.

  • Gaiam Print Premium

    For a budget-friendly mat, this isn’t a bad pick. In my opinion, and all the professionals I interviewed agree with me, it’s definitely worth investing in a quality mat for added comfort, injury prevention, and improving your practice. For these reasons it is difficult for me to recommend one.

The Liforme: Best Non-Slip Yoga Mat

Yoga classes done in a heated studio are popular today (and let’s face it, many of us continuously perspire holding Warrior II), so I wanted to find a mat that would provide the best stick under super-sweaty conditions without having to rely on the use of a towel. Enter the Liforme Yoga Mat. The mat has attracted plenty of notice on social media thanks to its distinct visual appearance, with alignment markers etched directly onto its surface.

As a yoga teacher, what I most love about the Liforme yoga mat is it’s unique alignment system that self-teaches the practitioner proper alignment. As a student, I love the incredible grip and traction, and how it’s equally great for high-intensity, hot, and restorative yoga.

Ashton AugustFounder of YogiApproved.com

Liforme offers a grippy surface that was unmatched by any other brand I tested (although Yoloha, below, came close). The mat has a natural rubber base, topped with a layer of polyurethane, a material that’s very good at absorbing sweat — hence the no-slip grip. No breaking-in period was necessary. I got perfect traction straight out of the box and never felt like I was in danger of falling. The mat itself also stayed put, even on a slick hardwood floor.

The Liforme is 4.2mm thick, offering a middle-of-the-road balance between no give at all and feeling like you’re practicing your asanas on a Tempurpedic. It’s a couple of inches longer and wider than the Manduka PROlite, and while I appreciated the extra room, it does mean the mat is on the heavier side, at 5.5 pounds versus the Manduka PROlite’s 4.6. At $140, the Liforme is also an investment — but if hot yoga and heavy sweating are part of your weekly routine, it’s one worth considering.

Who should skip it?

James Armitage, Liforme’s creator has said the mat is only intended to withstand 300 to 500 sessions. You can keep using it beyond this point, but the material may lose its grip. Depending on how frequently you practice, this could mean replacing your mat every year or two, which gets pricey. (Though to be fair, I’ve found many mats need replacing after a couple of years.) To prolong its life, the Liforme shouldn’t be stored in direct sunlight — its materials are biodegradable, and prolonged sun exposure can cause them to break down more quickly.

The Liforme also stains pretty easily. After resting my head in Child’s Pose, I noticed marks where my face had been, and the manufacturer cautions against using the Liforme directly after applying body creams or massage oils. I also found it to have an odd scent straight out of the box — an almost fishy smell. It began to fade by the second time I used it, so this probably isn’t a deal-breaker unless you have a very sensitive nose.

The Yoloha Native: Most Low-Maintenance Yoga Mat

Like the Lifeforme, the Yoloha Native Yoga Mat has a non-stick surface designed to accommodate hot yoga and lots of sweating. But this mat gets its non-slip powers from a surface of cork and recycled rubber. A little unusual, yes, but cork is naturally antimicrobial, helping to minimize odor and kill the bacteria attracted to your sweat.

Despite being 6mm thick, the Yoloha Native is also more lightweight than the Liforme (4 pounds, versus Liforme’s 5.5), making it easier to roll up and take with you. It comes with a carrying strap made of natural fibers, which I found a little uncomfortable — I’d probably spring for a case if I used the mat regularly, but the strap does have a minimalistic appeal.

The Native performs very similarly to the Liforme, providing plenty of support through a variety of poses. Because it’s made of rubber and cork, however, the texture is slightly more tacky, which can take some getting used to. Cork becomes more grippy as it gets wet, so if you don’t sweat much but still want a rock-solid grip, you might consider misting the mat with water before you start.

I also appreciated Yoloha’s commitment to being eco-friendly. Cork is a renewable resource in the truest sense of the word: the bark can be harvested every 3-5 years without harming the tree. My mat was also shipped with minimal (and totally recyclable) packaging, and the company included a plantable pear seed with my order.

Who should skip it?

Cork is naturally prone to cracking over time, and while the company says this shouldn’t affect the mat’s performance, it’s something to take into consideration if you’re concerned about aesthetics. You can use regular household glue to fill in the cracks if you’re bothered by them, but it’s admittedly an extra step.

As with the Liforme, some people have also noted that Yoloha mats begin to lose their grippiness after a year or two of regular use. And at $140, the Yoloha is an investment on par with the Liforme and might be out of reach for those on tight budgets.

Choosing the Right Yoga Mat for You

Choosing a yoga mat simply comes down to your preferences, your needs, and your practice. As it should be, not all yoga mats are created equal, and there are variables you will want to consider before purchasing your own yoga mat. First things first, let’s start with the basics.

Do I even need a yoga mat?

Sounds kind of ridiculous given the nature of the article, but with mat rentals available at just about every yoga studio, many may question the need in owning one.

The truth is, no, you don’t need a yoga mat to practice yoga. In fact, the whole phenomenon of practicing on a mat is relatively new. In today’s day and age, and when practicing in traditional studios, it’s advised to practice on a yoga mat, and one of your own for that matter. Yoga mats not only provide traction against sweaty palms, but also represent personal space. And yoga teachers agree, while mats are not mandatory, you should absolutely use one in class for safety reasons.

Mats are helpful in getting people focused, instead of being frustrated with a bunch of other variables in the process like being uncomfortable, slipping, struggling, straining, etc.

Glen CunninghamOwner of Sadhana Studio

Additionally, for hygiene purposes as this New York Times article suggests, you should invest in your own yoga mat because of germs on communal mats at studios. Now, let’s get you yoga mat savvy.

Yoga Mat Materials to Consider

The material the mat is made from dictates its stickiness, durability, comfort, texture, and whether or not it’s friendly for the environment. Yoga mat material is a matter of personal preference, beliefs, and how it reacts to your body.

  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): This is the stuff that keeps slippage to a minimum, is durable, and provides the most “give.” A concern with PVC, without going into too much detail, is that it contains phthalates — substances that have been linked to health issues and negative impacts on the environment.

Eco-Friendly Materials

  • Cotton: A cotton mat helps to absorb sweat and can increase grip when wet, but doesn’t provide a lot of give.
  • Recycled, natural rubber: It may not be as sticky as a PVC mat, but will still provide great grip. Those with a latex allergy, however, will want to avoid this type of mat.
  • Jute: Made from fiber of a jute plant, this stuff keeps you in place due to Polymer Environmental Resin (PER), a nontoxic material. Jute has the added bonus of having antimicrobial properties for those extra-sweaty practices.
  • Bamboo, cork, and hemp: These are some other natural fiber mats to consider.

Other Factors to Think About Before Buying a Yoga Mat

Aside from materials, there are a slew of other factors that go into choosing the best yoga mat for your practice.

  • Open- versus closed-cell structure
    There are two other factors to consider when it comes to mat material: closed-cell and open-cell structure. Open-cell mats absorb sweat and oils, which keeps grip even under wet conditions. This, however, also makes your mat harder to clean. Closed- cell mats don’t absorb moisture, which makes these great for cleanliness, but also makes slipping easier.
  • Density, thickness, & weight
    The density of a mat will determine your comfort level, the support of joints, and stability in balancing poses. If a mat is too thin, kneeling poses may not be comfortable. But if a mat has too much cushion and not enough density, the connection to the earth may be lost; balance poses may feel unstable; and wrists, knees, and hip joints may be distressed. Generally, the thickness of a mat ranges from 1/16 to 1/4 of an inch thick. The thickness and density of the mat determines its weight, and weight of a yoga mat can be under two pounds (making it easy to trek and travel with) and upward of 10 pounds.
  • Durability
    The durability of a mat will dictate whether it will withstand thousands of surya namaskars (sun salutations) for years to come with minimal wear and tear. Some mats, like the Manduka Pro and Manduka PROlite, offer a lifetime guarantee. Natural rubber and some eco-friendly mats will hold up well. However, lack of proper care (like failing to clean them or leaving them in a hot car), and using them in the outdoors or heated environments can cause the material to break down rather quickly.
  • Price
    Like many other things, you’re going to get what you pay for, and this certainly applies to yoga mats. The price of yoga mats range from $10 to over $100, which is a considerably wide margin. The lower price range can typically be found in big-name department stores, but it means you probably won’t be investing in a reliable, quality mat. The price tag increases with brand name and materials used. Just know that a quality mat is well worth the investment.
  • Yoga style & location
    Take into consideration the type of yoga and where you’ll most frequently be practicing before making the purchase, since the best type of mat can vary based on the style of class. For example, comfort and cushion may be a higher priority when practicing a more restorative yoga. For styles such as Bikram and other hot yoga classes, you won’t necessarily need a sticky mat, but you may look for a mat (or invest in a towel) that absorbs sweat and is easy to clean. For more vigorous styles of yoga, like power yoga and ashtanga, you’ll want to look for a mat with a no-slip grip to provide traction once you begin to drench yourself in sweat.
  • Length & size
    This one is pretty simple: You’ll want to make sure a yoga mat covers your whole body when lying down. If you’re buying a mat online, make sure to look at the measurements. If you’re in a store, ask if you can lie down on the mat to test it out.

What makes a good yoga mat?

The most important qualities in my opinion are: Cushion (enough to protect joints but not too much that it throws off balance), weight (easy to carry to class), and durability. The $15 mats may see breakdown after a few weeks, so consider this when purchasing.

Candace MooreInternational yoga instructor & blogger

The question isn’t necessarily what makes a good yoga mat, but what qualities in a yoga mat make you feel good in a practice designed to make you feel good. A good yoga mat is relative to the individual. If you want to invest in a high-quality yoga mat, I’ve outlined the most important features below.

The 8 Most Important Features

  1. Durability and longevity — A yoga mat’s ability to withstand even the toughest of practices over time.
  2. Comfort and support — Just enough cushioning for your joints can reduce squirming in kneeling postures and provide padding for impact, but not so much that it compromises support.
  3. Stability — A firm, dense mat can help you feel stable throughout standing and balancing poses.
  4. Portability — Consider how much travel you will be doing with your mat. A mat’s weight and size will dictate whether or not it is toteable. Since most people walk, bike, and travel to class, an easy-to-carry mat is an important feature.
  5. Traction and stickiness — It’s important for a mat to provide traction both to keep you from slipping and in staying connected to the ground. The last thing you want is for your mat to function as a Slip N’ Slide.
  6. Texture — Mats have different surfaces, but most yogis agree that it’s best to have a mat that feels most natural.
  7. Environmental consideration — Buying an eco-friendly yoga mat is important to many practitioners. If this holds true to you, consider purchasing a mat made from all-natural materials.
  8. Size — Your yoga mat should cover the length and width of your entire body. Not every yoga mat comes in various widths and sizes, so make sure to check measurements before purchasing.

Bonus Features to Look For

These don’t make a yoga mat “good” per se, but they add a nice touch, depending on your own interests and beliefs.

  • Giving back: Many brands are part of a greater cause, participate in recycling programs, or give back for every mat that’s sold. Consumers often like to both feel good and do good!
  • Color selection: Not every brand provides an assortment of colors, patterns, and sizes, although most provide neutral colors. It’s nice to have options.
  • Smell: This seems like a weird one, but depending on the material used, mats can have an undeniably strong scent. It’s not out of the realm for shock to set in after taking a nice big inhale through your nose in child pose. Although, most of the manufactured smell disappears over time.

Final Thoughts

Best All-Around Yoga Mat

Manduka PROliteThe best yoga mat that will support your asanas and be your new place to call OM for a lifetime.

Like your practice, your yoga mat should be one that you invest in, one that you keep coming back to, and one that supports you through every inhale and exhale. It should feel like a little island you want to call home for every practice.

The Manduka PROlite allows me to take my practice in a variety of settings and teach to a number of yoga styles, while ensuring a long-lasting relationship with my mat. Another favorite among yoga professionals, the Jade Harmony Professional Mat is a heavy duty mat made of 100 percent rubber.

If things get extremely hot and sweaty, I suggest turning to Liforme Yoga Mat to ensure you don’t slip and slide around.

Don’t be afraid to test a few mats on your own and ask around before making a purchase.

When a yoga mat feels just right for you, it can make all the difference in your practice.

Breathing in labour

Breathing

Breathing deeply is so important in labour. It will keep you calm and collected, able to listen to your instinct and speak your mind. It will give you a vital sense of control. It can aid in pain management. It gives you energy which is so important during childbirth. It also supplies your baby with plenty of essential oxygen, keeping them alert and healthy. Counting your breath can also help you to time contractions.

Pain makes us naturally tense up, our breathing becomes shallow and our muscles tighten. At the first sign of labour you need to consciously loosen your shoulders, keep your spine lengthened and raise the crown of your head to the sky. You may feel comfortable walking around, you may prefer to sit. However, you position yourself, establishing a deep breathing routine is essential. Exhale fully through your mouth, using a long controlled measured breath. Count the seconds it takes and then match them as you inhale, keep that rhythm going for the entire first stage. Every time you breathe out let your muscles soften and relax, this will help your cervix and vagina to stay soft and pliant too. Once you have established a firm counted breath you may like to add some words, especially if the pain is becoming more intense. It could be a short mantra such as “I can do this” or “This too shall pass” (using two words for the inhale and two for the exhale or you could use one word such as relax. Breathing in for ‘re’ and out for ‘lax’). If you like the sound of a mantra, then it might be worth finding one before you go into labour. Having these little devices to support you all ready and waiting can be really empowering.

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If you are finding that your breathing is becoming shallow again, focus on the out breath as the inhalation will follow naturally. It is worth going through some breathing techniques with your birth partner during the pregnancy. They can keep you on track. Being told what to do can take away the feeling of empowerment, so rather than telling you to breathe they could gently place their hands on your shoulders to relax them, look you in the eye and breath with you. Perhaps even saying the words or counting the breaths for you.

Sometimes using sound can be helpful too. Breathe in through your nose as fully as possible and breathe out through your mouth making a noise as you do so. It may be an ooohh sound or an aaahhh. Sometimes the use of sound can help us to release the pain and deal with it more effectively. This is a useful technique once labour has become established and is progressing well.

You may find that the breathing gives you a dry mouth so it is a good idea for your birth partner to offer you water regularly. Sometimes sipping water through a straw is helpful so be sure to pack some straws and plenty of bottles of water in your hospital bag. Again, you may not want to be asked if you would like some water every few minutes so it may be easier for them to simply offer it to you without words or have it on hand so you can point to it if you want it. Being well-hydrated will also help with breastfeeding, so try to drink as much water as possible during the labour.

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Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness can be incredibly powerful. Entering a state of mindfulness can give you the power you need to believe in yourself. If your contractions are intense and close together, you may find it difficult to settle into this place. You might prefer to use a pair of words that can keep you positive and focused. You could inhale strength and exhale fear or pain. Come up with your own couplet that feels empowering and relevant. 

Taken from ‘The Natural Baby: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond’ by Holly Daffurn and Samantha Quinn.

A-level retakes: the right option for you?

Your grades are not your destiny: they’re just letters and numbers which rate how well you performed in one artificial arena, once.” Charlie Brooker

So you’ve got your A-level results and they are not what you need to get into your chosen university. Where do you go from here? What are your options?

Talk to your chosen university

If there are extenuating circumstances for your low grades or it was a pretty near miss, then you may still be accepted by your chosen university. Call up university admissions, talk things through and see how you can progress. If your chosen course isn’t oversubscribed then you may still be in with a chance. If resitting your A-levels seems to be the sensible option and your heart is set on that university, then you might like to check what their policy on retakes is. On the whole retake grades are accepted (and often commended) but in very rare cases some universities may not accept retake grades or they may ask for higher grades at retake than your original offer. Arm yourself with this information early on so that you can make an informed choice.

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Don’t make a snap decision

Not getting the grades you are anticipating can be heartbreaking. After years of hard work, it can feel pretty bleak – especially when your peers get the A-level grades they need. Don’t make any rash decisions. Take some time to think things through and talk through the options with your parents, teachers and friends. There are options available such as clearing, but signing up for a course that didn’t make your heart sing to start with might only lead to more stress and disappointment. It’s important at this stage to know that you have options, then take the time to carefully consider which option is right for you. There will be reasons why you went for the course you did, and committing to a different course (because it was available through clearing) may make the next few years incredibly difficult. Getting a good degree is inevitably hard work, but it will be even harder if you don’t have the enthusiasm in the subject to start with.

Be honest with yourself over why you failed

Was it lack of knowledge? Lack of confidence? Were you simply not ready? Did you not put the work in? Many students simply feel unprepared for their exams. Now you know what to expect, you can properly prepare next time and get the results that you truly deserve. Some students do not get the grades they deserve because they were unwell or missed too much school. You may have the depth of knowledge but lack the skills required to answer the questions. Retaking your A-levels gives you the chance to learn exam technique and independent study skills.

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Resitting your A-levels shows maturity

With the immense pressure that students are now put under, not getting the grades that you were hoping for can feel like a massive blow. It’s important to remember that the university you apply for will respect your dedication and tenacity. By retaking your A-levels you are showing a level of commitment and maturity that proves you are ready for university.

It’s only a year

Although many of your friends will be going on to university, there will be others that take a gap year or go into work. There will also be plenty of people from your 6th form who also need to retake their exams. As well as resitting your A-levels it is worth using the year to your full advantage. Could you also volunteer or do work experience in a field that would support your choice of degree? What could you do with the year that would really make you stand out to your chosen university? What would help you feel ready for taking a degree? It can also be helpful to have friends who go to university before you. You can visit them on campus and get a feel for student life which will really pave the way ahead for your own university experiences.

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Should I go back to my old college for retakes?

The benefits of going back to your former college (it is familiar, you know what to expect, it is no doubt close to home, it is more affordable) are often outweighed by the opportunities that arise when you go to a fresh college for retakes. Many students find that starting somewhere different, where the focus is on resits yields much better results. It can feel quite demoralising to sit through the same lessons with younger students. You might prefer to see this as an opportunity to try somewhere new and ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes again.

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You’ll learn more than how to ace your A-levels

The majority of A-level students who opt for a resit to improve their grades, find they take more from the experience than improved exam results. The impressive reviews from the popular retake option Rochester College talk about confidence and becoming more of a well-rounded person. Their intensive A-level retake course is set on engaging students and bringing out the best in them. They only accept students for resits if they know it is the best option for them at that time. Places like Rochester Independent College offer the perfect stepping stone in preparing students for university, not just academically but students are given more respect, without limiting rules or uniforms. They call their teachers by their first names and are encouraged to think for themselves and discover more about who they are. The class sizes are tiny, meaning you’ll be given more attention and support. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by people who are in a similar position to yourself. Colleges that specialise in resits really value the importance of learning exam techniques and independent revision skills. These skills will not only help you to succeed in your A-levels but will serve you well throughout the rest of your academic career. You can find a list of college that offer retakes here.

How do I go about retakes?

Once you have decided that retaking your A-levels and aiming for that coveted university place is your best option, you need to officially decline any university offers by 20th September so you can start the process of retaking. The option to retake exams in January is no longer there, so you will have to take them in the summer. You will also need to rewrite your personal statement if you decided to reapply to university through UCAS. This is a great opportunity to explain how your retake year has shaped you as a person and highlight what you have learnt through the experience. Get in touch with your chosen retake college and they’ll be delighted to offer you support and guidance. The courses start in mid-September so you still have some time to relax and recharge for the rest of the summer.

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Above all, don’t beat yourself up about not achieving the grades you had hoped for. Give yourself time to process it, find the best options for you and move forwards towards a bright and positive future. 

Problems feeding? Could your baby have tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie 

You may have heard of tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), but most of us know little about it unless it affects our child or someone we know. Tongue-tie is the name given to the birth defect in which a small tight piece of skin has formed between the floor of the mouth and the tongue.

Tongue-tie is most commonly picked up through problems with breast feeding. A baby with tongue-tie can struggle to latch on, the nipple when feeding, cause pain when feeding or slip off the nipple when trying to feed. This is because babies with tongue-tie are unable to open their mouths wide enough to latch on to both the nipple and the breast tissue. Successful breastfeeding also involves instinctively placing the tongue over the lower gums, without this mechanism the nipples are not protected from the gums and they can quickly become sore. A baby with tongue-tie is unable to cover their gums as their tongue cannot reach very far. If your nipples are sore and you have bleeding or ulcers, then it is worth investigating further to see if your little one may have tongue-tie.

Problems with breastfeeding not only mean that the mother suffers from painful nipples, but it can also mean that a baby does not gain weight quickly. It can also affect the bonding process between mother and child. If you suspect that your little one may have tongue-tie then it is important that you speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife immediately. A simple procedure can be carried out that will divide the tongue-tie and allow you to feed your baby.

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Even if you have a lot of experience with children, please do not assume that you will be able to detect a tongue-tie just by looking at the tongue. To the untrained eye, a tongue-tie is not always visible.

Bottle-fed babies with tongue-tie are often hard to spot, perhaps because a bottle teat does not feel pain and discomfort. However, restricted tongue movement may mean that your baby is unable to seal the teat properly and they may leak milk out of the corner of their mouth or take in a lot of air when they feed.

Tongue-tie that does not affect feeding is often not treated or may even go undetected. It is only when a child starts to speak that a speech therapist may pick up on the reason behind their difficulties. If tongue-tie is affecting a child’s speech then they will need to have treatment to resolve the issue.

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Tongue-tie is not always easy to diagnose. Even with feeding problems there could be another cause. For this reason it is important to see an oral specialist as soon as possible. If your child has any difficulty feeding then it is definitely worth investigating further. Feeding problems will not only affect their weight gain but will also have an impact on energy, sleep and development. It is much better to sort these things early on than to struggle on for some time. If you do suspect tongue-tie then discuss the possibility with your health visitor or doctor. If you have been breastfeeding, you may decide to express your milk instead and swap to bottle. Bottle fed babies with tongue-tie will still struggle to feed, take a long time feeding and may even fall asleep regularly at the bottle through exhaustion. They may also be colicky and suffer from trapped wind. At least your nipples will be spared though.

It is important to remember that tongue-tie is easy to treat and once it has been resolved will cause no long term problems or issues. If your child is struggling to feed, please don’t struggle on regardless. There may be an underlying issue. Seek help immediately.

This was taken from my book ‘The Natural Book: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond‘ which was co-authored by Samantha Quinn of Mumma Love Organics and was published by Green Books in February 2017. 

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