How to Choose the Best Yoga Mat for Your Practice
When I first decided to start practicing yoga at home, I lived in Madrid, Spain. That was years ago, and the yoga scene there was in a budding stage. So, there weren’t many classes or props to choose from.
I scouted the entire neighborhood for the best yoga mat, and only the local dollar store had a few PVC yoga mats for about 6 euros. My only choice was the color: orange or purple.
Nowadays, the options are virtually infinite. This makes it possible for anyone to find their perfect mat. Though, at the same time, it can be quite confusing to know which one to pick. Especially if you’re buying online.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions for choosing the best yoga mat. Hopefully, they’ll make your yoga mat shopping experience as painless as possible.
How To Choose the Best Yoga Mat
1. The Type of Your Yoga Practice
Which yoga mat is best for you will heavily depend on the style or styles of yoga that you practice.
If you do the dynamic types of yoga or sweat a lot, you’ll want a mat that is grippy but not too thick. A yoga mat that doesn’t provide enough traction will likely annoy you. Instead of focusing on your breath and movement, you’ll be focusing on trying not to fall onto your face. A yoga mat that’s too thick will make balancing tricky.
But, if you practice Yin or Restorative Yoga, you’ll want something cushier and more supportive for your joints.
If you do both, then you should look into an all-around mat that would make both enjoyable.
2. Your Level of Experience
If you’re completely new to yoga and unsure if it’s for you, don’t buy an expensive mat right away. Yoga studios tend to have mats that you can borrow for a small fee. You can use one of those if you practice at a yoga studio. Or you can buy a cheaper option until you make up your mind.
There is no need to splash out on a high-end mat if you won’t be using it.
However, if you’re a weathered yogi or know that yoga is in your life to stay, investing in a higher-quality yoga mat can transform your practice.
Moreover, you’ll actually save money in the long run. Remember the cheap PVC mats I mentioned before? Practicing Ashtanga, they would last me for about two to three months only.
3. Yoga Mat Price
Determine your budget, but remember that cheaper does not mean better. You can spend under 10$ on a cheap PVC mat, but it will likely start flaking in a few months. So, you’ll find yourself needing to replace it over and over again.
A durable mat can cost you around 100$ or more. But it will last for years or decades. (Manduka even offers a lifetime guarantee for some of its products.)
Pricier, higher-quality mats will feel a lot better.
4. Yoga Mat Material
PVC/Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride) Yoga Mats
These are the original and most mainstream sticky mats that you can find in many yoga studios.
They generally provide a good grip and are durable, affordable, and widely available. PVC mats are latex-free, making them suitable for those with a latex allergy.
The downside is that they are made of plastic which has been treated with toxins and heavy metals to make them soft and flexible. These toxins and heavy metals can pose serious health problems and are potential carcinogens.
Not all PVC yoga mats are the same, though. Brands such as Manduka and Gaiam still use PVC, but they remove toxic chemicals from it. Think decaf coffee.
TPE/Foam (Thermoplastic Elastomer) Yoga Mats
Made of PVC-free synthetic rubber, they have pretty much the same properties as PVC mats. They are also very lightweight but tend to be slightly pricier.
TPE mats often come in two colors. That’s because they consist of two layers with a sheet of fabric in the middle, which helps the mat to keep its shape and stay in place. The upper layer usually has some patterns or designs printed on it, which makes for a better grip.
TPE mats contain latex. Thus, yogis with latex allergies should avoid them.
PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) Yoga Mats
This is pretty much a less toxic version of PVC produced in a more environmentally friendly way.
There are mats that are just made of PER and those made of PER and jute, a very economical plant fiber. Jute adds a coarser texture and a grassy smell but isn’t as absorbent as cotton.
PER is latex free.
Rubber Yoga Mats
These eco-friendly mats are made from natural rubber harvested from rubber trees. Because of the open-cell structure (I explain this in Step 8), they usually provide good traction.
If you practice strenuous styles of yoga or sweat more, rubber mats can be a great choice. But, because of the same reason, they dry longer, are more difficult to clean, and can degrade faster if not taken care of properly.
They also have a particular rubber smell that takes some time to fade. Even though rubber mats are natural, they still contain latex.
Cotton Yoga Rugs
These are the traditional Mysore Ashtanga rugs. They are thin, absorbent, natural, and easy to clean.
But they will slide on a slippery surface and won’t provide as much comfort and support. You can use it on top of a regular mat though (as you would a yoga towel). That will keep it in place and provide additional padding.
Cotton yoga rugs also can double as blankets. You can fold them up and use them when you modify poses.
Hybrid Yoga Mats
These yoga mats are a combination of materials. Usually, they have a syntactic bottom, which provides a better grip on the floor and keeps them from sliding around as you practice. On top, there is a more natural upper layer, which absorbs moisture and provides traction.
This makes hybrid mats suitable for Ashtanga, Bikram, Hot or Power Yoga classes, as well as for yogis who tend to sweat more.
Some options of hybrid mats include PER and jute, rubber and microfiber towel, rubber and cork, and PER and bamboo.
Cork Yoga Mats
These are natural, eco-friendly, and sustainable mats that are gaining increasing popularity. They usually have a good grip and are great for sweaty practice. Cork is antimicrobial and will repel mildew and mold. It also has a pleasant, natural smell and feels soft.
Plus, you may even be able to make your own mat if you get your hands on a sheet of cork.
The downside of cork yoga mats is that they can break down and start flaking quicker than the other types of mats. Mats that are solely made of cork can be slippery on the floor. If you’re worried about that, choose a hybrid mat that has a rubber or TPE bottom.
Some cork mats can also feel rather heavy.
5. Yoga Mat Thickness
Even if you choose the best yoga mat material for you, the wrong thickness can destroy your practice. Yoga mats usually fall into one of the categories below. However, keep in mind that slight variations may apply to different brands.
Depending on the type of your practice, one mat may not be enough for you, and you may want to look into a secondary one over time. For example, you can have one for home practice and one for travel. Or one for Vinyasa and another one for Restorative or Yin Yoga.
Standard yoga mats – 3 to 5 mm (1/8 to 3/16 inch)
They allow you to perform balancing and standing postures without compromising your balance. At the same time, they provide sufficient support for your joins in seated and reclining postures.
5 mm (3/16 inch) is what I’d recommend you to go for if you’re unsure of what you should choose.
Travel yoga mats – 1.5 to 2.5 mm (1/16 – 1/10 inch)
These are thin, lightweight, and occupy less space. Some travel yoga mats can also be folded. Therefore, you can easily put them in a bag or a suitcase.
The disadvantage is that they can feel hard and uncomfortable on your wrists, knees, and spine.
A travel mat, however, can be a great alternative to a standard one if you practice on carpeted floors. It will give extra traction but won’t completely mess up your balance. And, together with the carpet, it’ll provide enough cushioning.
Thick yoga mats – 6 to 8 mm (1/4 – 5/16 inch)
These are suitable for restorative types of yoga or Pilates because they provide additional cushioning for the joints and spine. You’ll be able to hold poses longer without feeling any discomfort.
However, practicing the more dynamic yoga styles, you may find balancing tricky.
6. Yoga Mat Size
A standard yoga mat is about 66 x 180 cm (26 x 71 inches). If you’re taller, look for an “Extra Long” option. It will be pricier and heavier, though, and not available for all mats.
Some brands offer an “Extra Wide” alternative as well.
7. Yoga Mat Grip
Grip or stickiness is how well the mat sticks to your skin. It’s essential for safety and alignment, and it will also allow you to hold the postures longer and more comfortably.
Synthetic materials such as PVC and TPE are the stickiest, but you need to clean them regularly so that they stay that way. Cotton and jute aren’t sticky, but they get more traction when moist.
Rubber mats fall somewhere in between. Some have excellent tractions, others don’t. However, they also tend to get better traction when moist but need to be dried and cleaned properly and regularly.
Note that most mats come with a protective film. It can feel either slippery or nastily sticky and needs to be cleaned and “broken in” first. Check the manufacturer’s instructions, and don’t give up on your mat right away.
8. Yoga Mat Cell Structure
The upper layer of the mat has either an open or closed-cell structure, which determines which styles of yoga it suits you best and how you should clean your mat.
Open-cell mats are porous and, therefore, permeable. They are great for sweaty practice as they tend to get better traction when they are wet.
Their drawback is that they will absorb everything and can turn into a breeding ground for microbes, fungi, and bacteria if not taken care of properly.
This may make you cringe, but some people actually like open-cell mats. They feel more stable and secure due to the suction they create when they soak up moisture.
Because open-cell yoga mats aren’t as dense, they’ll also wear out sooner. Especially if used heavily or, once again, not being taken good care of. If you deep clean and dry it out regularly, though, your open-cell mat should last you a long time and won’t cause you any problems (or infections).
Closed-cell mats, by contrast, are denser and impermeable. This makes them more hygienic, durable, and easier to clean. But, at the same time, they can become very slippery when exposed to even a tiny bit of moisture and, thus, unsuitable for dynamic and sweaty practice.
If that’s the type of yoga you do, but the idea of an open-cell mat grosses you out, or you don’t have the time to clean one properly, use a towel on top of a closed-cell mat, get one with texture on it, or wear grippy socks and gloves.
Natural rubber mats (with the exception of Manduka eKo and eKo lite) usually have an open-cell structure, such as PVC, TPE, and PER, are closed-cell. Manduka’s eKo and eKo lite are open-cell, but they have a thin closed-cell layer at the very top.
Choosing an eco-friendly mat can be one way of practicing ahimsa, the principle of compassion.
PVC mats are considered the worst for the environment as they don’t break down and are very difficult and expensive to recycle. If you do go for PVC, choose a pricier, toxin-free product that will last you a long time, won’t compromise your health, and won’t need a replacement (at least not for a long time). If it wears out, look into ways of reusing or upcycling it instead of throwing it in the trash.
TPE and PER are often labeled as eco and can be recycled into new mats, flip-flops, or other things. But don’t blindly trust the label.
You need to know where to send them for recycling as they won’t simply break down in landfills. Some manufacturers provide such information, while others don’t, so you may need to do research on your own.
Natural rubber, jute, and cotton are natural materials. Therefore they will biodegrade over time.
10. Yoga Mat Design
Now, this is absolutely up to you and your personal preference. Yet, there are two things I’d like to point out:
- If you choose a mat with a printed-on pattern, keep in mind that the dye may bleed when it comes in regular contact with sweaty hands and feet.
- It’s likely that stains will form where your hands and feet most frequently touch the mat. If you think that it will bother you, go for darker shades.
See if there is anything unique about the product or company that can influence your choice. For instance, Liforme mats have alignment markers on them and come with a bag included in the price, while Jade Yoga plants a tree for every mat they sell.
What yoga mat are you currently using? What features do you like and don’t like about your mat? Is it the best yoga mat for you or would you like to change it? Perhaps you have some questions to ask? Or suggestions for choosing the best yoga mat of your own? I’d love to hear from you!