Traditionally, yoga was practiced without the aide of a mat for many, many years. It wasn’t until yoga spread to the west, where many people had carpeted floors which made practicing asanas difficult, that the idea of the yoga mat was born.
Stemming from humble beginnings as rectangular piece of carpet underlay, today it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of options on the market. Here are some considerations to help you find your perfect mat.
The first thing to look for in a yoga mat is stickiness or grip: you want to feel like you have a good grip so your hands and feet don’t slip while you hold your asana. If you practice hot yoga or a vigorous style of yoga that makes you sweat, you can find mats designed to absorb water and keep their stickiness while wet.
The level of stickiness depends on the type of material and/or texture of the mat. It is worth trying a few different models to see what kind of material and texture feels right for you.
Thickness & Length
The thickness of your ideal mat will also vary according to your needs. Standard mats are usually 1/8 inch thick. This provides enough cushioning for most people’s knees while keeping a good connection to the floor to facilitate balancing poses. Thicker mats (up to ¼ inch) will be easier on your joints, but harder to balance on.
Also, ensure the mat’s length and width are appropriate for you. Most mats measure between 24”-26” wide and 68”-72” long. There are extra-long options that go to 30” wide and 80” long for taller people.
Values & Ethical Considerations
When choosing your ideal yoga mat, remember the yogic principle of ahimsa or nonviolence. It is hard find a truly ideal yoga mat because one has to balance durability and eco-friendliness of the materials: a durable yoga mat will avoid filling landfills, but some of the most eco-friendly materials tend to need to be replaced more often.
Keep in mind that PVC mats, while inexpensive and sticky, create environmental damage. According to Greenpeace, PVC is the most damaging kind of plastic and contaminates humans and the environment through its entire life cycle: production, use and disposal.
With the number of eco-friendly options available, you can easily avoid PVC if your budget is not too tight. There are very good mats made of recyclable, decomposable thermoplastic that is PVC, chloride and latex-free. Natural rubber mats are a great option if you are not allergic to latex. Other eco-friendly materials include jute and cotton mats.
Other considerations are where the mat was manufactured: that country’s rules regarding the environment, and the treatment of workers. Jade and Hugger Mugger manufacture their mats in the USA.
There are mats available for all budgets. Depending on a number of factors, yoga mats can range in price anywhere from $15 to well over $100. Make sure you shop around, keep an eye out for sales, or check out retail section of your local studio.
Leave a comment our Facebook page with your recommendations for the best brand, store, and material for your fellow yogis at Feel Good Yoga and Pilates, we’d love to hear from you!
Author: Nathalie Boulanger
Editor: Sarah Head
Yoga Center Santa Cruz. The Origin of the Yoga Mat.
Hugger Mugger. Yoga Mat History 101.
Insiya Rasiwala-Finn, 2009. What’s in a yoga mat?
Greenpeace International. Go PVC-free.