So, you’re thinking about transitioning from the studio supplied yoga mat and purchasing your very own? But how do you go about choosing the best mat for you and your practice? With the abundance of choice on the market these days it can feel overwhelming. But all this choice allows us to select a mat that not only suits your individual practice, but also your priorities, lifestyle, environmental values and of course your budget. This guide will help you to navigate the complexities of your options so that you can find the perfect fit that is right for you.
It wasn’t too long ago when all you could purchase was the typical blue or purple PVC yoga mat with its rubbery texture and toxic composition. Now blessed with options, options that are far more environmentally friendly and conducive to a blissful yoga flow. So, let’s take a look at a few of the common ones:
Suede/Microfiber materials are often incorporated with a rubber base since they offer a soft, absorbent and quick drying surface to your mat. Microfiber is usually made from polyester but we've gone a step further and sourced microfiber that is made form recycled PET bottles, reduce, reuse and recycle! With additional non-slip coatings, a suede/microfiber mat can not only offer a versatile space for any yoga style but it also a beautiful canvas for an array of vibrant prints.
Sourced from nature, the use of tree rubber is by far one of the most environmentally conscious options on the market. With many brands sourcing sustainably harvested and ethically sourced natural tree rubber, there is very little processing required as compared to many of the other artificially made materials resulting in no toxic chemicals used in its production. Often natural rubber mats are combined with another material such as Jute to add extra traction and grip. It is also common to use a microfiber or PU top layer which can add that extra level of comfort. The best part about mats that incorporate natural rubber in their construction is that they sit flat on the floor every time- no more rolled ends!
If you are allergic to latex you might want to avoid natural rubbers and instead explore a different natural material like cork. Made from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree this fabric offers a high-performance surface that is anti-microbial and free from many of the toxins and chemicals and is hypo-allergenic. With some research it is also possible to source a range of cork mats that are from premium sustainable sources. And to add to its points as an environmentally friendly option this material is also 100% biodegradable too.
PU is sometimes referred to as ‘Vegan Leather.’ This material is a variety of artificial leather composed from organic fibres and coated with polyurethane. The material is often used in conjunction with natural rubber in yoga mats creating a premium platform for a wide variety of yoga and fitness styles. The surface allows moisture absorption while the textured underside provide an excellent non-slip base, perfect for those slightly sweatier Power Yoga or Bikram sessions. These mats are extremely durable and easy to clean, simply wipe over with a damp cloth and lay in shade until dry- voila!
Thermal Plastic Elastomer (TPE) is essentially a mix of plastics and rubbers, offering the best features from both materials. But this is an artificial material that has been created without the toxic chemicals of PVC and attention to its biodegradable qualities. With a variety of surface options these mats offer a unique textured surface which provides optimal grip and traction and typically are extra thick for added cushioning and comfort. Their closed cell design means your mat won’t be harbouring any nasty smells and is washable and easy to clean, making it an ideal hypo-allergenic choice.
A big part of comfort on the mat is in the thickness. Typically, yoga mats range from 1.5mm to a lavished 6mm. But it is important to note, thickness isn’t everything. Whilst we all love that bit of extra cushioning on our knees during a deep crescent lunge the trade-off can be that it is harder to establish a strong connection to the floor inhibiting your balance and stability.
The standard mat thickness is 3mm and is largely the most popular and versatile. For those practicing more restorative and mediation-based classes it might be worth contemplating a 6mm mat which will provide the maximum amount of comfort when stationary on the mat for long periods of time. You might consider a 1.5mm mat if you are travelling and require a foldable travel style mat. Its compact nature reduces the overall mat’s weight as well as allowing it to be packed easily into a suitcase.
Texture & Grip
The texture of your yoga mat will dictate how much traction it provides. And this is purely down to personal preference. Ideally you want to find something that helps you can maintain your alignment without sliding out into a wide legged split, but similarly that you don’t have to prise your feet from the suction of the mat.
If you’re a Princess-and-the-Pea type highly textured and ribbed mats such as PVC and some types of TPE might provoked you during savasana and that’s something nobody wants. If this is the case have a look at the range of suede/microfiber which offer a velvety soft texture but still have sufficient grip with their added non-slip technology. A PU mat might also be an appealing choice with an even polyurethane coating creating a clean slate allowing your zen to flow.
If you find your slipping and sliding all over the place perhaps a something with a little more texture might be your cup of tea. PVC is the ultimate in ‘stickiness’ but it is certainly not your only option. A blend of natural rubber and jute can also provide a natural grippy texture which some students really enjoy or maybe it’s worth looking into cork or textured TPE mat.
Ultimately mat choice comes down to personal preference and its certainly worth doing your homework since you will be seeing a whole lot of it every time to take a dive into chaturanga. From the moment you unroll your mat you want to create that state of mindfulness linking the action with the intention. That’s why the mat matters!