A few clients have recently had trouble or questions about buying a yoga mat, so I thought a ‘Buying guide’ might be helpful. There are a number of important things to consider when buying a mat that I’ll list below, and obviously prioritizing these points dependent on the most important issues will be quite unique to each person. However, I’ll try and make it as simple as possible and provide links to some of my favourite suppliers.
I’ve started with this topic as it’s what most of us will consider first when buying a mat. Mats can range in price from $5 - $300 and sometimes the saying ‘you get what you pay for’ doesn’t ring true. Kmart and the Warehouse have a good selection of cheap mats that are perfectly serviceable and also a great option as a ‘beach yoga’ mat. A $5 mat from kmart can get you started and then you might consider upgrading to a better quality, more comfortable mat that will last longer (and use the cheaper one as an outdoor practice mat).
There’s nothing worse than finding your knees aching from too much pressure whilst doing some kneeling yoga poses on a hard floor. That is why I recommend thicker mats for anyone who has knee issues, joint pain, heel pain, writst issues or brusies easily. The tradeoffs with a thicker mat are that it generally makes the mat heavier and larger when rolled, which needs to be considered if you are carrying your mat at a festival or taking a yoga practice outside. Thicker mats can also make balance poses more difficult due to less stability underfoot, but don’t let this dissuade you. Your balance will soon improve and your comfort is more important than being slightly wobbly in tree pose. Mats range in thickness from ultra thin 1.5mm travel mats to thicker 6mm mats for more cushioning. I DO NOT recommend using ‘fitness mats’ which tend to be made from foam and can be both slippery and dangerous for balance poses. This yoga mat from Gaiam is meant to be so comfortable that you won’t even need to pad it with a blanket if you’ve got knee issues. The Eco Yoga store also has a range of different thicknesses. Or go into your local lululemon store and try some out.
If you’re concerned about using plastic mats, as I am, there are a number of options available to make a more sustainable choice. I am currently using a mat from the New Zealand company Valka, I love this company as it maintains high quality while being ethically sourced, carbon neutral and sustainable. The mat surface is made from cork and it has an all natural rubber backing. The tradeoffs with this mat is that it is slightly heavier than a standard PVC mat and the surface is slightly slippier than a sticky plastic mat. A number of brands also offer a tree rubber backed, jute surface mat. Yoga Tribe has some beautiful designs on their Jute mats. The jute surface provides more grip if the cork surface didn’t appeal. Another eco option that I would love to treat myself to is a 100% pure NZ wool yoga mat, the ecoyoga store has one for $299 with a biodegradable grip texture printed on the surface to ensure less slippage. How amazing would a snuggly wool mat be?
IMPORTANT NOTE: anyone with an allergy to latex should steer clear of any mats with natural tree rubber.
If you are consistently taking your yoga practice outside, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, dark coloured mats (whilst showing the dirt less) can get very hot for the feet if you’re practicing out in the sun. A lighter coloured mat will save burning your feet and hands while you’re practicing. For an outdoor mat I would tend to choose a more durable and heavier mat, this will help protect you from any uneven surfaces you may be practicing on and will also help stop the mat from blowing around if there are gusts of wind. Let's also be practical, I would recommend choosing a plastic mat for outdoor purposes, as they can easily be washed or brushed down. A mat with a smoother bottom may be a good option for a beach yoga class as the sand can then be easily brushed off and doesn’t stick in the texture of the mat. Personally I have a cheaper, light coloured mat reserved for my outdoor practice and have chosen a thicker more ecofriendly option for my studio practice.Kmart offer a thicker mat with a smooth side and textured side or a light coloured mat for the sun.
Sweaty, Slippery or Smelly?
If you are practicing Bikram (hot) yoga or just tend to sweat more during your yoga practice then absorbent mats may be something to consider. There are a number of problems with a sweaty yoga mat, it starts to get slippery, the sweat is absorbed into the mat which tends to smell after a while and will also start to break-down and wear-out the mat. Cork mats are naturally anti-microbial and so tend to smell less (see Valka above). Or TPE material can now be made with a closed capsule surface to stop the absorbtion of sweat, Manduka mats like this are touted to last a lifetime. There are also mats that combine a microfibre towel into the surface of the mat, to absorb the sweat and maintain their stickiness the sweatier you get.
Mats with a built in alignment tool can be particularly helpful for beginners or anyone really wanting to get the most out of their yoga practice. These mats feature a diagram on the surface that serve as a reminder about where to position your limbs in certain poses. There are a few different brands and materials but they all have lovely designs to them. There is even a specialised Iyengar alignment mat.
For kid’s mats you can buy an adult size and cut it down if needed. Letting them choose a mat with fun colours or even letting them draw their own pictures on with permanent marker is a great way to get them invested in their yoga practice. I would also recommend one with an embossed surface for extra grip, we definitely don’t want any injuries from the kiddos slipping and sliding on their mat. You can even get personalised mats from Zazzle, and I know my kids would love this dinosaur one.
I hope this helps give you some pointers on what to think about when buying a mat. If all else fails take the handy quiz at EcoYogaStore to help you decide what will suit your individual needs. Namaste beautiful souls.