Choosing the Right Yoga Mat
Shopping for your first yoga mat — or even just a new one — can be an overwhelming experience. Choosing among the various materials, sizes, and thicknesses can feel like a whirlwind of decisions to make. This guide will cover each of these aspects and more, and should make the decision process a bit simpler.
Considering Your Needs
Consider Your Body Type
The type of yoga mat you need depends, to an extent, on your body type. Slimmer bodies may benefit from thicker mats or padded mats, as you have less natural cushioning from fat deposits on your body. Standard yoga mats are 1/4 of an inch thick, but go up to 1/8 of an inch. Consider a thicker mat if your body is more petite. If you have a more robust frame, you may be able to get by with a mat that's only 1/8 of an inch thick.
If your joints get sore easily, you may need a thicker mat even if you have a more robust frame. Thicker mats, or mats with extra padding, can be easier on the joints.
Also, keep length in mind if you're tall. A standard yoga mat is 68 inches long, which may not be long enough if you're on the taller side. Look into a super-stretched yoga mat if you're more than 5'6" tall.
Look into Your Type of Yoga
The type of yoga you'll be doing can also affect what kind of mat you should purchase. Consider your yoga level before purchasing a mat.
If you're new to yoga, it's okay to go with a less high quality mat. Go for a basic mat between $10 and $20. You may decide yoga is not for you, so you do not want to invest in expensive equipment. Also, as you figure out how your body responds to yoga, you'll be better able to figure out your personal needs. Go for a cheap mat now and then choose a more expensive one down the road.
Flow yoga classes require more complex movements, and you'll need a mat with more traction to keep your arms and legs in place. For yin classes, however, you'll primarily be sitting on the ground, so grip is less important. Instead, go for a soft, cushy mat.
Some people engage in a form of "hot yoga," in which they engage in yoga in a heated room. If you're doing hot yoga, you may want to choose a mat specifically designed for this type of yoga. Such mats prevent your sweat from being absorbed by the mat, preventing them from becoming sweaty and damaged.
Consider Where You're Doing Yoga
Where you're going to do yoga also makes a big difference in your mat type. If you intend to primarily do yoga at home, for example, you do not need to worry about a lightweight mat you can transport easily. However, if you take yoga classes outside your home, you may want to look into a mat you can carry around easily.
You may also want to look into a lighter weight mat if you travel a lot and do yoga when on the road. You may also want to consider investing in a second yoga mat that you can bring on trips.
Choosing a Material
The differences in material compositions may seem subtle at first, but they are impactful on the way you practice yoga. The yoga mat is your sanctuary and domain, and you need to feel balanced and at peace when you practice. Consider each of these options thoroughly before you seek out one particular type of material:
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is one of the most commonly used materials to make yoga mats. However, it has a bad reputation in the yoga community as some studies indicate it may be a carcinogen. It is also hard to recycle. In the event your mat gets old and worn out, you'll simply have to throw it away. If you're a health-conscious person, you may want to avoid a PVC mat.
Many people prefer mats made out of natural rubber to PVC mats. A simple rubber mat is about as easy to find as PVC mat, but has a better reputation among yoga enthusiasts. A rubber mat may be a good idea if you're just starting out, as they're simple to find. However, a rubber mat will be costly. A rubber mat costs about 4-5 times more expensive than a PVC mat or 2-3 times more expensive than a TPE mat.
Thermo Plastic Elastomer(TPE) is a unique material that is created for meditation and fitness. It s a great option for Non-slip mats, also known as sticky mats, are mats designed to allow you to move into many different positions. These mats provide added grip and stick. If you're doing a particularly rigorous form of yoga, consider a non-slip mat. Essentially the eco-friendly version of TPE mats offers the same performance characteristics, but without any harmful environmental side effects.
Some yoga mats are simply made of cotton. Many prefer cotton because it's a more natural material. While cotton may retain more sweat, it is easily washable. It is also soft, but may have slightly more grip than a TPE yoga mat. However, cotton can more easily retain sweat. A cotton yoga mat may require frequent washing. Sometimes called "traditional yoga mats," cotton yoga mats are thin and eco-friendly. They're also commonly used on top of other yoga mats to provide the support cotton alone doesn't offer. Cotton absorbs sweat well and actually increases grip when wet.
Yoga Mat Thickness
While there are only three main mat thicknesses, the differences among the three are quite significant. If a yoga mat is too thin, certain poses may be hard on your knees and joints. If a mat is too thick, it will be difficult to maintain your balance and hold a pose. Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each thickness:
1/2" thickness: Generally, the thickest a mat will be is 1/2". Higher-end, PVC mats will typically be 1/2" thick to offer the best comfort and support. With more cushioning, however, the added mass will make the mat less portable and tougher to fit in standard yoga bags. If you need more padding, consider going for a thicker mat.
1/4" thickness: This is the most commonly used thickness and it's a perfect combination of performance and portability. If you practice often, you should look into 1/4" mats because they provide enough cushioning for your knees, but are light and thin enough to carry to and from the studio every day. A good in-between would be a mat of 1/4 of an inch. If you're new to yoga, but more petite in frame, this may be a good option for you. A mat of in-between thickness may also be good if you travel a lot, as they're easier to roll up and transport.
1/8" thickness: If you're constantly on-the-go, you should look to 1/16" mats as the ultra-portable solution. Half as thick as a standard mat, 1/8" yoga mats will fit in any yoga mat bag with room to spare. Aside from portability, thin mats like these allow you to get a better feel of the floor. This is definitely an excellent option if you prefer the natural feel of touching the ground.
A standard mat is 24" x 68", but the length can sometimes vary (the width will almost always remain 24"). 72" and 74" are typical alternative lengths, but some yoga mats are as long as 84". While most yogis will fit on a standard-sized mat, taller yogis will need to experiment a little. Start off by trying to do a downward-facing dog pose on a standard yoga mat. As long as your hands and feet are securely on the mat, then the length is sufficient.
Considering Other Aspects of the Mat
The texture of your mat makes a difference in terms of your personal comfort. Mats come in a variety of textures, so make sure you consider texture carefully before making a choice. Stickier mats, like non-stick mats, tend to have a rougher texture. While this can irritate skin, it can actually be an advantage if you're doing yoga that involves a lot of intense poses. If you prefer a smooth mat, TPE mats may be the best way to go. However, many yoga supply companies sell more eco-friendly mats that offer a smooth texture. Try looking into a company with a reputation for being environmentally conscious if you want a smooth, non-PVC mat. Similar to stickiness, a yoga mat's texture also helps you maintain balance and proper alignment. Whereas stickiness provides grip via suction, texture denotes a physically varied surface (like the difference between asphalt and glass) to prevent slipping and sliding. Without sufficient traction and grip, you'll slide during poses and risk injury. From completely smooth PVC mats to rough jute mats, there's a texture out there that will suit your needs.
To prevent slipping, avoid PVC mats, and look for TPE, natural rubber, or cotton, yoga mats. The added grip from the raised textures of these types of mats will help keep your poses secure no matter how sweaty you get. For smoothness and additional comfort, TPE mats are your best bets. Just be aware that these mats may not offer adequate grip when wet.
Easy to travel
It can be cumbersome to have a yoga mat that's difficult to roll up. Go for a mat that's made of a lightweight material and rolls up easily. Test out a mat in the store by rolling it up a few times. Make sure the mat is easy to maneuver so you will not have to worry about storing it. As important as padding is, who wants to lug a heavy mat around all day? For a nice balance of thickness and lightness, option for the Yogaland Premium Yoga Mats which retails at $32 and weighs 2.4 pounds, according to Amazon.
Stickiness is a measure of how well your skin sticks to the mat. It's not a sticky, gooey feeling, but rather a suction-like stickiness that helps you hold your pose and maintain proper alignment. PVC and foam mats have the highest stickiness factor, while rubber has a moderate amount. Be warned, however, that PVC and foam mats are only sticky when clean. Cotton yoga mats have virtually no stickiness.
Is there anything worse than sliding around on your yoga mat while trying to take deep breaths in downward dog? Nope. So when you’re shopping for a mat, test out grip. Are your palms sliding around? Are you clinging to your mat for dear life? If so, it’s probably not the mat for you. But if you do end up with a slippery mat, yoga instructor Yanoula Athanassakis has a few suggestions.
“One trick I use with new mats that slip is chalk, or I roll them on the concrete outside to get rid of that slippery surface of the untouched mat,” she told HuffPost.
Your stance on sustainability may ultimately determine what type of mat you choose, but it's helpful to make an informed decision. On one hand, you have PVC yoga mats which can contain substances harmful to the environment. On the other, you'll find an array of natural and recycled rubber, organic cotton, and TPE. PVC is not biodegradable and costly to recycle. Meanwhile rubber, TPE and cotton yoga mats will all break down should they ever find their way into a landfill.