Choosing a yoga mat 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 need a yoga mat?
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 Cunningham, Owner 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.
- 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.
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.
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 Moore, International 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
- Durability and longevity — A yoga mat’s ability to withstand even the toughest of practices over time.
- 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.
- Stability — A firm, dense mat can help you feel stable throughout standing and balancing poses.
- 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.
- 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.
- Texture — Mats have different surfaces, but most yogis agree that it’s best to have a mat that feels most natural.
- 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.
- 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.
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.