Updated: Dec 31, 2021
Three factors to consider when choosing your perfect yoga mat
Image credit: Unsplash Luna Active Fitness
If you look around a yoga class you’ll see a rainbow of options and brands.
How do you decide which will work for you? It can be an expensive decision to get wrong and aside from donating there aren’t many recycling schemes available.
As a teacher moving between studios I’ve been lucky to test out some of the more popular options. Here are my thoughts.
Things to consider when looking to purchase.
1) What type of yoga do you do?
Hot and sweaty vinyasa or yin?
2) What surface will you be practising on?
Wood floors or over carpet?
3) Where are you going to use it?
Home or studio?
One of the first things you’ll notice when you start looking is the variety of surfaces to chose from.
Microsuede – there are lots of brands that have a microsuede top. These have a bit of a love them/hate them following. They can be slippery to grip if you don’t get sweaty palms, makers recommend dropping some water on them to add the grip while you warm up. Great in hot studios in place of using a towel on your mat which can be lumpy and wiggle about.
Cork – relatively new to the yoga market scene, they’re touted for their sustainability credentials. Similar to microsuede they perform differently between wet and dry. There’s a lot of cheap mats coming on to the market where the cork flicks off so check who you’re buying from some will last longer than others. Performance wise the wood surface is nice underhand/foot and with the rubber base there’s decent cushioning for knees.
PVC – these are still a popular and easily accessible mat. Found at all good discount and sport stores they are pretty much indestructible they have a lifespan that will outlive all of us. Unfortunately, there are a lot in landfill as they seem to be a favourite chew toy of many people’s pets. Often a starter mat because of their low price they seem to give off fumes for a while and can have a lingering plastic smell which can be off-putting at the bottom of your chaturanga. A reliable and easy to manage choice.
Foam – just don’t do it. I see so many of these intentionally left after classes because they are horrible. Someone thought a camp sleep mat could double as a yoga mat and started selling them. They don’t lay flat, they’re too thick to balance on, making it easy to hurt yourself if you’re not sure of your alignment, and they smell.
What type of yoga do you do?
With a dedicated practice you’ll be spending a bit of time on your mat. Even if you don’t stack as often as I do you, your face will touch your mat, so you want to be comfortable with your choice.
Hot yoga – you want something to stick to, no one wants to be sliding off their mat in a puddle of your own sweat. Choose a mat with lots of grip or an absorbent surface like suede or cork.
Yin yoga – you’ll be holding your poses for a while, choose a mat with a bit of cushioning for extra comfort. I rather like the softness of microsuede as a I find it warmer against the skin than some of the other mats.
Bare skin on an extra grippy mat can bite as you melt into poses millimetre by millimetre. #yogihack lay a scarf or lay a blanket over your mat for extra cosiness.
What sort of surface will you be practising on?
Where you practice influences how much support you need and how thick your mat should be for maximum comfort and stability.
Travel mats are barely a couple of millimetres thick. They’re light and easy to travel with, hence the name. They can be a popular choice to take to studios to double over class sets of mats. They have more grip than sweat towels and don’t bunch up. They are however not much on their own.
If you’re on a hard floor you may miss the cushioning for your knees. I have one that I use to practice outside, it works because it’s machine washable and I can press into the grass under the mat for stability.
Anything over 4mm is a standard mat. These mats give you a bit more to grip against as you have something to dig your toes and finger pads into something that becomes more important as you progress to more complex poses.
This is the goldilocks thickness which is why is it so popular. Support and stability.
>1cm Don’t get carried away though, a thicker yoga mat is not always better, there are limits. Steer clear of mats thicker than 1cm. The deeper the mat the more likely you’ll end up with stability issues in your wrists and ankles, this applies when practising on super plush carpet too.
Where will you use your mat?
Light mats - are not necessarily thin. The thicker the mat the more likely it will be to curl up during practice trying to revert to its rolled state. Very distracting during practice but easy to take places.
Heavy mats - give a nice solid base but they can be cumbersome to travel with. Perfect for home practice or when you can leave your mat at a studio.
You want a mat you can trust to support you and how you like to practice, or you may as well be practising on the floor. Which can be great though you’ve got to work pretty hard on some carpets not to slide.
Ask your yogi friends if you can try theirs before making a decision. You may be surprised by what you like. Use the mat for a whole class to see how you feel in a variety of poses. You really only need a single mat and even then it’s still optional. Make a choice that works for you, your ethics and your budget. Then go ahead and try them out.
You know where you can come to find an ethical strap to carry it with when you’ve made your choice 😉