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.
As you read this, be mindful of who will be using this yoga mat. The yoga mat you choose should reflect your experience and dedication. Basically, if you're new to yoga you should be looking more at basic, entry-level mats.
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:
- PVC: Most entry-level mats are made of polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC. This material offers good durability, stickiness, and comfort. Despite its proven performance as a yoga mat material, PVC has received criticism for not being environmentally friendly.
- Foam: Essentially the eco-friendly version of PVC mats, foam yoga mats offer the same performance characteristics, but without the harmful environmental side effects. The only caveat is that mats made of foam contain latex which can be problematic for some yogis with allergies.
- Rubber: Another popular choice among eco-friendly yoga mats, a rubber yoga mat is a solid alternative to a PVC mat. Like foam yoga mats, rubber mats contains latex. Those with allergies should look elsewhere.
- Cotton: 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.
- Jute: Similar to cotton yoga mats, jute offers the same sustainability and resiliency as cotton yoga mats. Like cotton mats, jute yoga mats are normally used over another yoga mat to get excellent traction and superior support. However, jute is a more fibrous material which is a bit rougher than cotton and absorbs less moisture.
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:
- 1/4" thickness: Generally, the thickest a mat will be is 1/4". Higher-end, premium mats will typically be 1/4" 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.
- 1/8" 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 1/8" mats because they provide enough cushioning for your knees, but are light and thin enough to carry to and from the studio every day.
- 1/16" 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, 1/16" 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.
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 and jute yoga mats have virtually no stickiness.
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 rubber, cotton, or jute 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, PVC and foam mats are your best bets. Just be aware that these mats may not offer adequate grip when wet.
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 jute. PVC is not biodegradable and costly to recycle. Meanwhile rubber, jute, and cotton yoga mats will all break down should they ever find their way into a landfill.
Money is always a tricky topic to tackle, but you should obviously try to get good value out of your yoga mat. For the most part, straying away from plain, standard-sized PVC yoga mats is going to cost a bit extra.
Material and thickness should be decisive factors since they will directly affect how you practice yoga. After that, any additional features like antimicrobial treatments or interesting patterns/designs are a matter of personal taste. As briefly mentioned before, stick to a mat that matches your level of dedication and experience. If you're a new yogi, you may want to be a little more conservative as you figure out what types of yoga you enjoy.
Types of Yoga
The last factor in helping you decide the right yoga mat is the type of yoga you plan on practicing. Again, if you're new to the world of yoga, you won't yet know what type of yoga you actually enjoy. However, if you already have some favorites, they should play a significant role in helping you determine your next yoga mat.
With so many different styles of yoga, it's best to keep it simple. Textured mats are ideal for more active types of yoga — like power yoga — because of all the bending, sliding, and stretching. All your perspiration would make it difficult for PVC and foam mats to stay sticky. For lower-intensity yoga — such as restorative yoga — comfort may be a higher priority since you'll be lying down for long periods of time. In this case, PVC or foam yoga mats would work well to provide adequate comfort and support.
Listen to Your Body
If you take away anything at all from this guide, know that if you feel comfortable on your yoga mat, little else matters. Buying a yoga mat isn't about finding the most expensive or nicest looking one, but instead finding one that can help you practice yoga safely and properly. That said, it never hurts to have a cool looking, brand new yoga mat!