At my first yoga practice, I borrowed a mat that my studio had on hand. I quickly realized I needed a mat of my own. The borrowed mat was too thin, not long enough for my height, and covered in somebody else’s sweat! Being a total novice, I headed to the local discount store and bought the first mat that caught my eye. Having, at the time, more money than common sense, I ended up buying several more mats in the search for the one that was really right for me. From experience, I know that when you look for the perfect yoga mat, you should consider 5 factors: size/shape, thickness and weight, composition, aesthetics, and price. If you take the time to carefully think through these factors, you will be happier with your choice, enjoy your yoga practices more, and maybe even save money.
Size/shape: As your instructor will probably tell you, your mat is your universe. Too small, you may be uncomfortable; too big, you may crowd other students. “Standard” yoga mats are rectangular in shape, approximately 24″ by 68″. For people of average weight and height, this size and shape will likely serve well. It will give you just enough horizontal space to do seated poses and twists and enough length so that vinyasas and supine poses don’t have you hanging off the back. If, however, you are carrying a little extra weight or you are tall (say 5’10 or over) you may want to consider getting an extra long mat to give you extra space to move forward and back and to stretch out. Or, you may want to take the leap of getting a round mat, like the Mandala 6′ Round, which gives you more room to stretch out in all of your poses. I take a long mat to class but use a round mat at home. Long, rectangular mats can easily be accommodated at the studio, but the round mat (unless everyone in the class uses one) just disrupts the arrangement of the other mats in the class. So if you take one to the studio and you’re the only one using a round mat, be prepared for some disgruntled stares from classmates and maybe your instructor.
Thickness: A yoga mat’s purpose is to provide you with a non-slip surface and to cushion your knees, hips, and other parts that come into contact with the floor. Mats at the yoga studio and less expensive mats are likely to be 1/8″ thick, perhaps slightly more. This minimal thickness is fine if you have no sensitivity in your knees during camel pose, in your hips during supine twists, in your elbows during sphinx, or in your wrists in down dog pose. But if you do have that sensitivity, a thicker mat may be best for you. Many mats advertised as “thick” are only 1/4″ thick. In fact, Manduka’s Black Mat, considered the Cadillac in thick mats, is 1/4″ thick. However, other mats, like premium mats made by Jade, are up to 5mm thick or more and just that little extra padding can make a difference in how you feel. One more thing to think about with thick mats, the thicker the mat, the heavier it is likely to be, which can be a drawback if you are toting it around from class to home and back.
Composition: Yoga mats are made of various different materials. Older mats and cheaper mats may be made of latex, PVC, or a plastic blend. You may be allergic or sensitive to some of these materials, and they are hazardous to the environment. Newer mats are made of a composite, microfiber, or hydrogen based foam that does not contain latex and are more “eco-friendly.” Mats also may be made of natural, more environmentally conscious materials like cotton, bamboo, jute, hemp, or natural rubber. Even though yoga mats are called “sticky mats” and are intended to keep you from slipping around since you practice in your bare feet, once you start to perspire the mat can get slippery. With most mats, you’ll need a yoga towel to absorb sweat and keep you from sliding around in a power, Bikram, or ashtanga class. Cotton type mats will indeed soak up sweat but they provide less cushion when damp and have to be laundered to keep them from smelling bad. Natural rubber mats are less slippery even when wet and easily cleaned; I tried the Harmony mat by Jade and even though I sweat quite a bit, I got by with just a hand towel and stayed put even in the last down dog of my practice.
Aesthetics: One of the teachings of yoga is to give up worldly, sensory pursuits that distract from practice. But most of us still want to look good and be in pleasant surroundings when doing our poses. If this is you, stop and think about whether a plain black mat (even if it’s long and thick and made of natural materials) will satisfy your sensual side. Even a lavender or teal colored mat can become boring to look at after a while. By far, Gaiam makes the most decorated yoga mats with names like Damask, Tie Dye, Flower Power, and Dragon Fly Hydrangea. Only you will know if the patterned decor is worth any sacrifice you might have to make with respect to the other features you need or want.
Price: Prices for yoga mats vary widely. You can get a cheap, “plain Jane” yoga mat on the internet for about eight bucks. If you are just trying yoga and don’t want to make a commitment, this might do. But if you are serious about practicing, expect to pay a little more. Generally, thicker natural material mats will be more expensive. Gaiam’s mats run from about $20 to about $40. Manduka’s black mat pro will set you back close to $100 and the Eko natural rubber mat is about $80. YogaAccessories makes a natural rubber mat in 5/16″ thickness for about $45 while the same thickness natural rubber mat from Jade is about $80. Madala’s 6ft Round Mat will cost you approximately $65. Prices change and sales do happen, so check around and compare prices. Check with your yoga studio too; they may have the mat you are looking for and might be able to meet a price you’ve found elsewhere.
Which mat is right for you depends on the size/shape of the mat, how thick and heavy it is, what it is made of, what it looks like, and how much it costs. You also may decide that you need more than one mat, especially if you practice at home as well as at the studio. In any event, if you take the time to carefully consider these factors, you will be happier with your choices, enjoy your yoga practices more, and maybe even save money.