When I first started doing yoga, more than a decade ago, teachers had one option—a thick, heavy black mat made out of PVC, weighing about nine pounds. I still have my first black mat, and it’s held up through thousands of yoga practices.
But since that time, companies like Gaiam, Manduka, and Jade are designing yoga mats to fit every need and preference. There are eco-friendly mats, travel mats, sticky mats, professional strength mats, long mats, short mats, kids’ mats, all-natural mats and designer mats.
All these options make mat shopping confusing. I’ve identified five main areas to consider when purchasing a yoga mat.
Thickness. Standard mats are 1/8 inch thick, which provide adequate support and depending on the density, a relatively stable surface. Thicker mats are generally 1/4 inch thick and provide extra padding for joints like knees during poses such as crescent lunge or wrists in arm balances.
If you’re looking for a thick, sturdy, durable mat that will never pill or fall apart, The Black Mat Pro by Manduka is as good as it gets. Manduka mats carry lifetime guarantees, so they should never end up in landfills.
Thicker mats are also great for Pilates because they provide lots of cushion between the floor and the student. I like using thick mats when I practice in carpeted studios or outdoors because they help me stabilize when practicing on uneven surfaces.
Weight. The thicker the mat the heavier it is generally. Consider how much you will be carrying your mat. Do you walk up or down stairs to get to class? Do you have to take a train, or walk blocks carrying your mat over your shoulder? If so, a travel mat might be best.
Thick, dense mats such as the Black Mat Pro by Manduka weigh between 8 and 9 pounds. Travel mats weigh half as much. The Manduka PROlite weighs 4.5 pounds and is just as sturdy, stable and durable as the Pro. Jade also makes a travel mat that is 1/8 inch thick, weighs 3.5 pounds and costs $54.95.
Grip. Hot yoga students need mats that grip and wont slip when wet. Sweat absorbing towels such as Yogi Toes ($64) (http://www.yogitoes.com) or Manduka’s eQua towels ($38-$62) add traction when they get wet to minimize slipping and sliding.
The Mat, by Lululemon Black, is gaining popularity in the hot Vinyasa yoga community and giving Manduka a run for its money. According to Sam Breschi, an educator at the Lululemon store in Fells Point, The Mat stays grippy even in hot Vinyasa classes.
I tested The Mat at three of Baltimore’s hottest Vinyasa classes: Kim Manfredi’s Monday night class at Charm City Yoga Midtown, Sid McNairy’s Sunday night class at Lifeline Power Yoga and Misty Piper’s community class at Charm City Yoga in Towson. Temperatures reach well over 100 degrees.
I was amazed that The Mat really does stay grippy, despite the sweat. I used a towel only to wipe my face and under my hands in crow pose. The Mat also has an anti-microbial additive to prevent mold and mildew. This is a perfect mat for Bikram Yoga students as well.
Ashtanga students don’t necessarily want grippy mats. They need to be able to slide through each Vinyasa without their feet getting stuck on the mat, so less grippy mats like a Jade mat www.jade.com may be better. Cotton mats called “Mysore” mats are often used on top of the vinyl mats as well.
Material. Most mats are made of PVC. These mats will last a lifetime, if not longer. There are also several earth-friendly mats that are made of natural and recycled rubber and organic cotton. If you are allergic to latex, avoid natural rubber mats.
Cost. Mats range from $5 at Five Below to more than $100, depending on weight, durability, length, thickness, material and color. Students who are just starting yoga may want to purchase a less expensive mat like Gaiam’s Sol Mats, which range from $10 to $30. They come in a variety of colors and fun designs. These mats will pill and fall apart with repeated use, but are good starter mats.
Students who practice regularly should invest in a durable yoga mat, such as The Black Mat Pro, Lululemon’s The Mat, or Jade’s Harmony Professional Mat ($69.95).
Here’s what Baltimore’s favorite yoga teachers say about their favorite mats.
Kim Manfredi, co-owner, Charm City Yoga: “I use a Jade travel mat. I have stuck with, no pun intended, the Jade travel because it is biodegradable. It is eco-friendly because it is made from sustainable rubber plants. It stays pretty sticky in hot yoga and the travel size makes it light weight to carry from studio to studio. Each one lasts for years! This mat is not suitable for someone with latex allergies.”
Beth Graham, owner, Simply Yoga in Cockeysville: “I started with the standard 1/8 inch yoga mat 17 years ago and it didn’t even have a name. I bought it from Bob Glickstein, my first Iyengar teacher. The thickness provides comfort for seated poses so I don’t need a blanket. I also like the stability for practicing on carpet and hard wood floors. The only comparable one I’ve found is Hugger Mugger’s Tapas Ultima. I plan to go to try Lululemon’s The Mat next.
Suzy Pennington, owner, Susquehanna Yoga & Meditation Center: “I like the all rubber Jade mat in the travel or regular thickness. For Iyengar we need the strong hold yet the feel of the floor.”
Sid McNairy III, owner, Lifeline Power Yoga: “Manduka’s Black Mat is tough enough to handle my practice. I also like Lululemon’s The Mat. It’s great for a sweaty practice and easy to stick to.”
Camille Moses-Allen, Hot Vinyasa Instructor at Charm City Yoga: “I always said Manduka because it's durable and super sticky. However, I've recently heard that Lululemon’s The Mat is the best, as I've seen a super sweaty man practice hot yoga underneath the heater without a towel! That will be my next purchase.”
Jayne Bernasconi, co-owner, Yoga on York: "I believe that Jade yoga mats are the best, but don't leave them in the car or out in the hot sun as they will deteriorate and get damaged. The Jade is also the best mat for aerial yoga, too, as it stays put when we come down for a landing."
I personally use the Manduka PROlite and a Mysore mat for my Ashtanga Yoga practice and Lululemon’s The Mat for hot Vinyasa classes (no Yogi Toes needed). Both are excellent.