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How to Choose a Yoga Mat

How-to-Choose-a-Yoga-MatYour yoga mat is your personal space. It creates a boundary between you and others and allows you to experience your practice deeply inwards. With the proper yoga mat, you will be able to solely focus on your practice. Distractions during practice are common but from my experience, ultimately, nothing can be worse than a crummy mat that has no traction and leaves you slipping and sliding all around. As you will be spending a lot of time befriending your mat, it’s crucial that you find your perfect match.

Now, if you are a beginner I’m not advising you to spend 100$ on a mat right off the bat, but once you know that you will practicing regularly , it’s a good idea to invest in a high quality durable mat. Here is a list of factors to consider when it comes to choose a yoga mat for your practice.

Consider your budget

There is no need to make your wallet cry for a mat once you decide to invest in it — and this applies to both beginner and experienced yogis. However, the cheapest, brandless mats are usually poor quality and fall apart quickly (one I had was literally shredding pieces after only a couple months).

But if a tight budget is an issue, then go for whatever you can afford at the moment but try to aim for mid-range brands. Remember, the higher the price tag the more you are paying for the brand, design, style, thickness, and materials. You get what you pay for as they say.

Bottom line: a mid-range brand name mat is usually a good start.

Consider the type of practice

The type of yoga practice that you pursue will impact your choice of yoga mat. Now, I’m not saying that you need to buy a separate mat for each type of yoga that’s out there,  but there is a difference when it comes to choosing a mat designed for Hot Yoga, Restorative and Yin, Flow and Vinyasa classes among others.

For example, for Hot Yoga you want a mat that’s sweatproof, “sticky” and has solid traction whereas for Restorative and Yin yoga you’ll want a cushioned thicker mat that’s at least 5mm thick. For more rigorous practices such a Flow and Vinyasa classes you might go for something that has both dry and wet traction to keep your hands from slipping once you start sweating.

Consider the material

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Mats made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), latex, plastic, polyurethane emit harmful toxins from their material during skin contact and inhalation. Although PVC is a great (and cheap) sticky mat perfect for hot yoga, it leaches toxic chemicals such as phthalates which can cause birth defects, reduced sperm counts in men, reduced fertility in women, asthma  among other scary stuff.

Eco-friendly mats are your best bet in terms of safety, although do double-check the label as some companies like to slap-on this term and play with words in their product descriptions. Eco-friendly yoga mats are PVC-free and made of natural plant-based material such as rubber, cotton, jute, and bamboo. Cork mats are another option but they may wear quickly. New rubber mats emit a temporary smell for the first couple of weeks. Best mats are made from recycled rubber.

Tip: If budget is a strict concern and your mat of choice is made of questionable materials and you want to protect yourself, you can simply use a towel over your mat during your practice.

Consider the thickness and length  

The thickness and length of your yoga mat comes down to personal preference. Comfort is the key.  If you are tall, you will most likely want to have a mat that is longer than the standard 68 inches (172 cm)  in length as you want your feet stay on the mat for the Warrior poses.

As for the thickness, a standard yoga mat is about 3.2 – 4mm thick. For those looking to deepen their practice on a spiritual level, opt for a 2mm or even thinner mat (also known as a Travel mat) as you will feel grounded and connected to the earth.

Personally, I find it hard to experience spiritual connection to your true self when your knees and wrists dig into the ground causing you pain. Ouch. Such discomfort may take you entirely away from your yoga experience anyway so those with sensitive knees, wrists, and ankles should better pick a thicker mat with the extra cushioning that’s at least 5mm or more.

In fact, for Yin and Restorative Yoga Classes it’s actually recommended to use a 5mm, or even thicker, mat to make your practice more comfortable for the seated and lying postures. Beware that these thick mats may interfere with certain transitions thus affecting smooth movement between poses in Flow and Vinyasa classes. Remember, the thicker the mat the more trouble you may find doing balancing poses because of lack of connection you have to the floor.

Lastly  a point that’s easy to forget is that the bigger and thicker the mat, the heavier it is to carry around with you and it might be annoying if you are commuting by public transport or bike. For a little extra you can also get special casing so that it fits snuggly and is portable.

Consider the grip, texture and stickiness

The grip between you and the mat, and grip between the yoga mat and floor is crucial to prevent slippage and injuries.

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Do you already own a PVC mat? No worries. A yoga towel can be placed over the mat to stop toxins from absorbing into your bloodstream. Click on the image to read my review of Manduka’s Yogitoes Yoga Towel

PVC mats have very good grip only until you start sweating which will lead you to sliding so they are not the best option for Bikram and Hot Yoga classes. The PVC mat’s texture is soft and comfortable for your hands and your back during Savasana. They are made with a fabric-like smooth surface on top and a patterned bottom to help your hands stay put to the mat, and the mat itself to the ground. PVC mats retain their stickiness only if they are clean so you’ll have to frequently clean them to prevent your hands and feet from sliding during your practice. Using a  yoga towel when you are sweating on your PVC mat will keep your grip and prevent toxins from entering into your body.

The raised patterns and bumps in eco-friendly mats made of rubber, jute, or cotton might feel more rough compared to PVC mats but they will safely help your hands dig into the mat while keeping slippage at a minimum even when you sweat. Most mats made from naturally slip-resistant rubber are also quite comfy.

Summary

Price: If budget is a concern then aim for a mid-range brand name mat. Stay away from no-name mats as they tend to break and tear fast.

Thickness: To feel most grounded and have a portable mat you can carry anywhere opt for 2mm or thinner mats. However, if you have sensitive knees, hands elbows, or practice Yin or Restorative Yoga – opt for 5mm or thick
er mat. Most people will be best suited by a medium thickness mat between 3.2-4mm thick.

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Check out my review on this Manduka X Mat by clicking on the image

Material. Cheap PVC, latex, plastic, polyurethane emit harmful toxins but you can mitigate somewhat by using a towel over the mat. PVC mats make you lose grip when you sweat. It is much better to go for a eco-friendly mat from plant-based material, such as rubber, cotton, jute, and bamboo. They perform better when you sweat, are comfortable, and safe to your health.

I hope that this article helped you clarify in choosing a yoga mat.

=>Also, if you’re in a market for an innovative and eco-friendly mat to use for both your workouts and yoga, learn more about the Manduka X in my review by clicking here.<=

What kind of mat will you be purchasing? What has been your experience in finding the perfect mat for your practice?

Leave me a comment below.

PS: I respond to all comments.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Matthew Matthew

    Oh my gosh, i literally bought a yoga matt 2 days ago, its arrived and everything. And I am gutted i didn’t read your article sooner, it sounds like i should’ve considered a few more factors.
    If mine breaks i will definitely be looking at your article again, it was awesome to read and so so helpful.
    I hope people read this before buying their matt!

    • Vanessa Vanessa

      Oh bummer. Perhaps the company has a free return policy that you may want to look into. :/

  2. Cathy Cathy

    Bamboo? I’ve never heard of this material being used as a Yoga mat before. I imagine it would create a hard surface to practice posture. But bamboo is naturally a cooling material so it would be great to find out what brands are out there.

    Do you have any recommendation?

    • Vanessa Vanessa

      Hi again Cathy! There aren’t too many brands that make bamboo yoga mats on the market.

      I haven’t personally ever practiced on one but after doing research, I found a brand called Beach Bamboo Yoga Mats that specializes in making bamboo mats and offers two models which have good reviews: Ganesha Beach Bamboo Yoga Mat and the Hanuman Beach Bamboo Yoga Mat.

      By the way, in case you are thinking of getting one, keep in mind that while bamboo mats are commonly used to practice yoga on the beach or in yoga retreats, they are not recommended to be used in a Hot Yoga or Bikram Yoga class. Let me know if you have any more questions and I’ll be glad to help!

  3. Evie Evie

    I bought my mat last year after reading a couple of reviews but it is too slippery for me (even though reviews said it was sticky). I do flow yoga but my hands always sweat more than the rest of me – so my hands always seem like they have been through a hot yoga session. I bought some yoga paws to stop the slipping (and protect my wrist) but it looks like a mat designed for hot yoga would really help as well. Which mats would you recommend?

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