It is well known there are many health benefits associated with practicing yoga. As it happens, Western science is starting to provide some concrete clues as to how yoga works to improve health, heal aches and pains, and keep sickness at bay.

According to osteopathic.org the benefits of increased flexibility, increased muscle strength and tone, improved respiration, energy and vitality, maintaining a balanced metabolism, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, improved athletic performance and protection from injury might even give more motivation to step onto your mat. But if that doesn't excite you to find your center, maybe rolling out a colorful mat will align your creativity.

Comfortable clothes and the right teacher are important, a cool mat can make yoga more enticing and enjoyable.

Forget that plain, boring slab of rubber; yoga mats now come in a variety of designs. You can stretch on a faux sand beach or rippling lake, or do your cobra on a faux Persian carpet.

Here's a roundup of some of the most stylish mats (choosing a favorite may be harder than aligning your chakras):

Yoga Design Lab's Horizon mat features a photo print of a sunset over gently lapping waves. The Tribeca Sand mat has a prismatic pattern in warm jewel hues. Available at www.yogadesignlab.com.

Scenic vistas are also brought to you by Yogamatic, where waterfalls, beaches and deserts are depicted in vibrant digital prints. One mat with a hypnotic image of swimming carp is by Los Angeles photographer Jennifer Cawley. Or her sepia-toned image of Edward, a teddy bear plopped on a comfy-looking bed, would help soothe a stressed-out stretcher. City dwellers might like the views of the Chicago or Manhattan skylines. A portion of sales of a mat printed with luscious orange slices goes to New York's Food Bank. Find these at www.yogamatic.com.

Designer Sophie Lenninger of Oakland, California, creates eye-catching mats, including one referencing Uzbek Suzani patterns in a palette of pink, green and aqua. Aztec motifs of rain clouds and cactus flowers enliven her El Nino mat. And she's got a range of mats for children too, in happy Hawaiian, Southwest and Provencal prints. Available at www.magiccarpetym.com.

Surfboard artist Drew Brophy has illustrated some kids' mats with hip '60s-style prints of suns, rainbows, turtles and waves. Find these at www.spiritualrevolutionyoga.com.

Yoloha Yoga's cork mats, with simple, laser-engraved dream catcher and wildflower designs, can be personalized. Buy one at www.yolohayoga.com.

You can store your rolled-up mat in a neat bag, like the one from Brogamats that looks like a log. Or channel your inner "Hunger Games" character by toting your mat in a bag that looks like a leather quiver. Available at www.brogamats.com.

So the next time you are participating in a session at a local yoga studio like One O One Yoga in Carbondale or in a more casual setting such as the Wine and Yoga classes offered at Alto Vineyard in Alto Pass, look around at what creative mats might be right under foot. 

— Associated Press,  Rhonda M. May contributed to this article.

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