Q: I am going to buy my own mat, mostly so I can better practice at home but I also want to look like a yogi when I walk in the studio! I notice they range from a few dollars to over $100. Any guidance on how to pick the best yoga mat?
A: Fifteen years ago, there was only one basic type of yoga mat and your only choice was whether to buy purple or blue. Now, there’s a yoga mat for every priority and preference.
Beyond a color that make your heart smile, your yoga mat needs to keep you stable in your poses; and it needs to be storable and portable, and comfy. You may also want your mat to be environmentally friendly. These aspects of your mat’s characteristics are all affected by how the mat is made: how thick it is, what it’s made of, and its surface texture.
Use this guide to help you find a yoga mat you can be blissfully happy with — one that suits your practice, priorities, lifestyle, values and budget.
Why it’s important: The thickness of your yoga mat has a lot to do with how comfortable it is. The tradeoff is that thick yoga mats (some as thick as 1/4 inch) can make it harder for you to feel a strong connection to the floor, making you more wobbly in Tree Pose for example.
Options: A standard yoga mat is about 1/8 inch thick, while the thickest swell up to 1/4 inch. There are also wafer-thin yoga mats, often billed as “travel yoga mats,” that are a mere 1/16 inch thick. They fold easily and don’t weigh much, making them a cinch to fit in a suitcase.
Basic buying guide: Consider how much room you have to stow your yoga mat, how important portability is, and where your sweet spot is on comfort versus being able to feel a direct connection to the floor.
Why it’s important: The material your yoga mat is made of dictates its texture, stickiness, eco-friendliness and how much it yields to pressure and how it wears over time.
Options: Most standard yoga mats are made of PVC. Newer, more earth-friendly options include natural and recycled rubber.
Basic buying guidelines: If you’re allergic to latex, avoid yoga mats made of natural rubber. If you want to stick with the tried and true sticky mat, choose a yoga mat made out of PVC, which can endure your use and abuse for more than a decade. In general, PVC has the most “give” of any yoga mat material
Why it’s important: The texture of your yoga mat dictates how much traction it provides. Like stickiness, texture affects how much slipping and sliding you do. And because texture affects the way a yoga mat feels, it’s also a component of overall comfort.
If you’re a Princess and the Pea type, any bumpy texture will likely aggravate you in Savasana. Texture can be either manmade (a pattern of raised bumps, for example) or dictated by the materials — jute yoga mats have an organic roughness to them, while PVC yoga mats, though slightly textured, have a softer feel.
Options: There’s a yoga mat texture to suit every fancy — from completely smooth to downright rough.
Basic buying guidelines: If you’re looking for a yoga mat that prevents slipping and you’d like to avoid PVC mats (the traditional sticky yoga mats), look for a rubber mat that has a raised, tactile pattern. The added grip the raised texture provides can help you stay put no matter how sweaty or vigorous your practice gets.
If smoothness is of prime importance to you, a PVC yoga mat is the way to go. And if you relish stickiness but are curious about the newer, more earth-friendly options, test drive a few before you buy.
Why it’s important: A sticky yoga mat keeps you from sliding all over the place and helps you maintain your alignment as you move from one pose to another, as well as when you hold poses for several seconds.
Options: PVC yoga mats have the highest sticky factor.
Basic buying guide: If you need help staying put in your poses but you bristle at the thought of practicing on a yoga mat with a raised texture, a PVC yoga mat is probably your best bet. Just remember that these yoga mats are only sticky when they are clean. Wash it whenever you notice your hands sliding forward in downward dog.
Why it’s important: As yogis, we hold dear the tenet of ahimsa, or non-violence. That makes practicing on a yoga mat that will ultimately end up clogging a landfill for decades to come troublesome.
Options: Earth-friendly yoga mats are typically made from natural or recycled rubber. These yoga mats may also include natural materials.
Basic buying guide: If eco-friendliness is important to you, avoid yoga mats made of PVC (the traditional sticky mat), which does not break down in landfills and is costly to recycle. Rubber mats, while available in a range of thicknesses, tend to be thicker and slicker than PVC mats.
6. Price range
Typically, a basic 1/8 inch thick, plain solid-color PVC sticky yoga mat will be toward the low end of the price range. From there you may pay more for premium thickness; antimicrobial treatments; and cool textures. Eco-friendly yoga mats tend to be toward the high end of the price range.
Once you’ve narrowed your choices down by thickness, material, texture, stickiness, eco-friendliness and price, there’s only one factor left: style! So go ahead and pick your favorite color, pattern or print. After all, you’ll be seeing a lot of it in Downward Dog.