Choosing the right yoga mat can make all the difference to your practice.
Think about it. Your yoga mat could be with you for years.
It is a functional tool for your journey. It helps to ground and cushion your hands and feet during practice, to keep you steady. It also creates a sort of sacred, personal space for you, particularly important in crowded yoga studios.
You will have a very close-up and personal relationship with your mat: every time you practice, you touch it, sit on it, lie on it, you put your face down on it. As you practice, you pour your heart and soul and intentions into your yoga mat.
So shouldn’t you put a little bit of time and care into choosing this precious partner to your practice?
There are many many MANY yoga mats to choose from on the market. It can be very confusing. So how do you find the right yoga mat? I went through some very expensive trial and error until I found my favourite mat. Here is what I learned to look for when choosing a yoga mat.
Try it Before You Buy it
Your best bet to avoid buying mats that don't agree with you is to try it out before you decide to invest. If your friend has a mat you are interested in, ask to borrow it for a practice session. If you buy it in a store, ask if you can open it and try it out - doing a single downward facing dog will give you a great indication of the the mat’s grip and traction. If you buy it from an online retailer, check their returns policy first. And some companies may be able to send you a small sample of the mat to see what it feels like before you decide to buy it online - just ask.
The Grip Experience is the Key
The stickiness (or “grippiness”) of the mat is the most important feature and is what gives you comfort, confidence and a sensation of being grounded in your practice. But not all mats are actually sticky, even if they call themselves "sticky mats". If you are feel like your hands and feet are slipping during the practice, you won’t be able to focus properly on the postures.
And then there is the mat-stretch. Some mats do a sort of “creep” and stretch when you do certain postures such as downward dog. This can be destabilizing and distracting, so watch out for it when you try a mat, and don't buy a "creepy" mat.
What the Mat is Made of Really Matters
If you have a mat already, do you know what it's made of? The material the mat is made from dictates its stickiness, as well as the 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. A mat can be made of natural or synthetic materials, or a combination of both.
One important thing to be aware of is PVC. You may not know it, but many of the yoga mats available in the world are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride commonly known as vinyl), a by-product of the oil industry. Not only is PVC dangerous to the environment during production, PVC products - including yoga mats - give off toxic gases when they are being used. And PVC mats are not at all biodegradable so will stay in landfills for thousands of years. Or worse, will end up in an incinerator where they will release dioxin, a known carcinogen, into the environment. Please don’t buy a PVC mat! It might be inexpensive, but it’s definitely not good for you or for the planet.
In recent years more environmentally friendly synthetic alternatives have been developed and are used for higher-end yoga mats. TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) foam is a non-toxic plastic called synthetic rubber. It does not contain any natural rubber. PER (polymer environment resin) is touted as being more environmentally friendly and contains no phthalates or heavy metals, yet it is still made of PVC. These synthetic compounds may possibly be melted down and recycled but they are not biodegradable.
There are a lot of cork mats available these days, often printed with colourful designs. Cork is a natural, sustainably harvested material (from cork tree bark) that makes a light-weight, durable mat with great grip. Not all cork is equal - if you choose a cork mat, make sure you get premium Portuguese cork, and try to get a mat that is not made in China (I've heard from a cork manufacturer that Chinese-made cork products contain tiny bits of metal and other non-cork products, for you to decide). Cork mats are usually made of two layers - cork on the practice side and another material on the floor side. Take care to know what the floor side layer is made of, that may influence your decision.
All natural rubber mats are also available from certain companies. Rubber is solid and stable and offers excellent grip. This is a good choice for the environment as rubber is sustainably harvested from the bark of a tree which will keep on giving for 25 years or so. It’s important to know that rubber is latex, and some people can have a skin reaction to latex. If you know you already have a latex allergy, best to choose a mat made of synthetic material.
Size Does Not Matter
In the case of a yoga mat, size really doesn’t matter. Mats are pretty standard in size, usually about 24-25” wide and 69-72” long (up to 6 ft). This is sufficient for most people. If you are tall or feel like you want a little extra room to practice on, choose a brand that offers an extra long mat, 84” (7 ft).
You Get What You Pay For
Obviously, one criteria that may influence your decision is the price. But in this case, I’d advise you to be wary of the inexpensive mats. The cheapest entry level mats, the ones that are brightly coloured, a bit squishy and shiny, usually don’t function very well in terms of cushioning and stickiness, and they tend to shred after just a few months. More importantly, they tend to be made on non-eco-friendly materials such as PVC and are usually made in China or Taiwan where labour is cheap but labour conditions are questionable. Higher end mats will cost you more, but they will perform much better for you, they will last much longer and will often be made from materials that are more eco-conscious. It is definitely worth investing in a good quality yoga mat.
My Earth-Conscious, High-Performance Choice - the Original ecoYoga Mat
After trying and even purchasing several mats in all price ranges, trying to find one where my hands and feet don’t slip so I could pay attention to the pose, I finally found the ecoYoga mat. It is a beautiful fusion of 100% natural rubber and jute that creates a beautiful look and the best grip of any mat I’ve ever tried. Truly no slipping while you practice, and no distracting mat-stretch (finally!). It is made from sustainably grown materials that are recyclable, bio-degradable even compostable. It's fantastic for all types of yoga, even hot yoga where the grip for sweaty hands is unparalleled. It’s made in the UK so I know that the working conditions are more than fair. This is the best mat I’ve found, the best yoga experience, and I highly recommend it. In fact I love it so much, that we carry only ecoYoga mats at HUM. Learn more about it HERE.
The choice is yours, and there is a lot to take into consideration, from the grip to the materials and cost to the colours. My best advice is: when choosing a yoga mat, make the choice that is good for a healthy body and healthy planet, look for the natural and environmentally friendly alternative.
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