The Ultimate Guide to the Right Yoga Mat for You

The Ultimate Guide to the Right Yoga Mat for You

With hundreds of yoga mats on the market, it’s no wonder why you came searching for some recommendations!

As much as it may feel overwhelming trying choose a mat from among so many options, the good news is that I can practically guarantee you will be able to find one that fits your exact specifications and complements your practice perfectly.

The two most important things to consider when you’re looking for a new yoga mat are material and thickness – both of these things should be informed by the type of yoga asana you normally practice, in order to better serve you rather than hinder or even potentially hurt you. 

Material

Ever since Hugger Mugger created the Tapas mat – the first sticky PVC mat produced in the U.S. specifically for yoga – in 1990, the options have slowly been growing. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, remains the most popular type of yoga mat on the market today, but multiple other materials have since gained mainstream popularity as well.

Each material has its strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to ask yourself which qualities are most important to you. Are you sensitive to rough or raised textures? You’ll drive yourself insane trying to relax in Savasana on a TPE or jute mat. Do you need something non-slip to avoid falling flat on your face in downward dog when your hands start to sweat? Then some of the natural options may not be your best bet.

Here’s an overview of the most popular materials used today:

The Ultimate Guide to the Right Yoga Mat for YouPVC

This material has maintained its reputation for a reason. Its stickiness is unparalleled, making it ideal for maintaining your grip in standing poses and downward dog, even when you start sweating. Its dense, squishy composition also ensures that you’re comfortable in tabletop, seated and supine poses.

However, PVC is not environmentally friendly. Because they are a plastic derivative, these yoga mats are not recyclable, and instead are destined to spend eternity in a landfill. Some brands also contain phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors and are easily released into the environment when the material is heated (hello hot yoga, I’m looking at you).

Rubber

Rubber was next up on the list of materials introduced to the yoga mat market, shortly after PVC.

While natural and recycled rubber mats are not “sticky,” they still provide a slip-resistant grip and comfortable cushioning. These mats are also a great eco-friendly option because rubber is biodegradable and recyclable. For yogis looking to reduce their carbon footprint, these mats are a much better option.

While natural rubber mats are generally considered very durable, they don’t quite stand up to the immortal PVC. Natural rubber also contains latex, and while multiple brands market their mats as 99% latex-free, they are generally not recommended for anyone with a latex allergy.

TPE and PER

These synthetic materials were both developed as eco-friendly, natural versions of PVC. Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and polymer environmental resin (PER) mats are recyclable and biodegradable. They are also free from the phthalates and other toxins present in PVC. Consider them a less expensive alternative to rubber.

Since these mats are produced from natural materials, however, they are known to be less durable, especially when exposed to the sun or prolonged heat. They are also “closed-cell” materials, which means that sweat does not absorb into the mat. While they can still provide a good grip, this is often obtained by creating a more textured or rough mat surface, which can be a big turn-off for some yogis.

Cotton, Hemp and Jute

Cotton and hemp absorb sweat well, and while they are not sticky, they do provide good grip with softly textured surfaces. Cotton and hemp are also by far the easiest type of yoga mat to clean (you can just throw them in the washing machine!). While jute provides good traction, it does so through its naturally rough texture, which may not feel comfortable for many yogis. 

Each of these fabrics are eco-friendly options for your yoga practice. Since they are plant-based materials, they are biodegradable and renewable resources. Cotton yoga rugs have long been a staple in traditional Mysore/Ashtanga practice, and remain so to this day. 

Because of their plant-based origins however, the durability of these materials falls on the lower end of the spectrum. Jute is the most resilient of the three and hemp, being a dense and more elastic fiber, is slightly more resilient than cotton. These materials also generally leave something to be desired in the comfort arena, since they are thinner and provide little to no support when laid flat.

  • Pros: eco-friendly, easy to clean
  • Cons: less durable, less comfortable
  • Popular mats: Yogasana (cotton), Hugger Mugger Sattva (jute/PER blend)

Thickness

After considering which material will best suit your practice, the other major deciding factor in your yoga mat search is your desired thickness. Yoga mats fall into three main categories:

Travel

1/16 inch or 1-2 mm; These mats are great when you have limited space. They easily fold down to about the size of a yoga block, making them ideal for fitting into your suitcase. But since they are so thin, they are not as durable as other mats, and are not designed for daily practice. They also provide virtually no support, regardless of material.

Standard

1/8 inch or 3-5 mm; This is the most common thickness for a yoga mat, as it works well for almost any style of practice. It balances comfort with stability, ensuring that your knees, hips and sit bones are lightly cushioned AND that you feel firmly grounded in balancing poses and inversions.

Sometimes brands offer mats in both 3 and 5 mm options. If you are looking for a standard, universally practical yoga mat, go for 5 mm.

Thick

½ inch or 6+ mm; If you have sensitive joints or practice mostly yin/restorative yoga, you may want to look into a thicker mat. While they can prove more difficult for finding balance, they do provide superior comfort and support.

Keep in mind that thicker mats are also generally heavier. While this may not a problem for the majority of yogis who drive to a studio or practice at home, a 7.5 lb yoga mat will, eventually, feel more like 750 lbs when you have it slung over your shoulder long enough!

Other Things to Keep In Mind

The classic size for a yoga mat is 24 x 68 inches, though some brands like Manduka and Lululemon produce their “standard” mats at 26 x 71 inches. These sizes serve most yogis well, but if you’re on the taller end of things or you just want a little extra space on which to move around, look for mats specifically labeled “wide” (the Jade Harmony XW is 28 inches across) or “long” (Manduka’s PRO extra long mat is 85 inches).

And as with most consumer products, higher quality materials tend to come at a higher price. While I don’t think its necessary to find the most expensive mat possible, because sometimes you will find yourself paying to own a brand name, rather than a high quality yoga mat, I do recommend investing your money into something that will last you a long time.

I’ve been using the Jade Harmony Professional for 5 years and I love it. As a sweaty-handed yogi (can I get an AMEN), finding a mat with good grip is of the utmost importance. I generally don’t have any issues with slipping and sliding on my Jade mat, and if I know I’m going into a heated class where I’ll sweat a lot, I bring along my Manduka eQua microfiber hand towel too and lay it across the top of the mat just in case.

The Jade Harmony Professional also keeps me supported through all of my favorite practice styles, providing comfort in yin/restorative classes and stability in a vinyasa flow. Obviously I’m biased, but I would highly recommend this mat to anyone. Beyond being made of natural rubber, Jade plants a tree for every yoga mat it sells! At the time this article was written, their tally was ticking up toward 1,410,000 trees planted so far.

The Takeaway

As long as your yoga mat is comfortable and suits your practice well, that’s all that matters. You should never feel pressured to purchase a certain brand or spend a certain amount of money just to “fit in” or because someone else told you that’s what it takes to be a “real” yogi.

People have been practicing yoga asana in various forms for thousands of years, and until very recently that often involved no mat at all, or, as mentioned above, a yoga rug. These modern commodities are very helpful, yes, but they’ll never define the success of your yoga practice. Listen to your own body and mind and make the decision that’s best for you – that’s what makes a real yogi.

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