There is probably no product as important to a sound yoga practice as a yoga mat. Yes, you can do yoga without a mat as I previously revealed, but when it comes right down to it, yoga is better with a mat.
Yoga is better with a mat because the floor is a dirty place.
Yoga is better with a mat because the floor offers uncertain footing.
Yoga is better with a mat because the floor is a hard place.
That yoga is better with a mat is hard to deny, but I am here to tell you, yoga is even better with a good mat. Luckily, there are lots of good mats out there and I have owned quite a few of them. There are in fact so many mat choices out there that it can be rather confusing to sort through them all. I thought I would take just a moment to share with you the mats I have known so if you are in the market to get a new mat you can make an informed choice.
The review I am sharing with you comes from mats I have actually used so I can tell you about them from my own personal experience. I have included links to purchase these mats and I am an Amazon affiliate which means I get a small percentage of sales – but it does not cost you anything to go through these links. I do most of my shopping through Amazon because they have the best selections at the best prices. You can sometimes find these mats locally, but not often at the prices you can find on line. Very rarely you can find these mats at the discount places like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx and if you find a great buy – LET ME KNOW. I am always looking to replace studio mats.
When I first began to purchase mats I was more concerned about price than anything else. Okay – my first purchase of an actual yoga mat (not the rubber gasket one) was all about getting the only yoga mat they made, so price was not actually a bargaining point. I am a bargain hunter and have purchased a number of low cost mats. These mats differed a lot in quality. High quality low cost mats are out there, but not as abundant as low quality low cost mats. Some of the worst mats I have owned and some of the worst mats I see people using are those that they purchased for a great price. I am definitely on the lookout for great deals and getting something for a low price does not mean you have to sacrifice quality, but you need to know what you are looking for.
The minimal requirements for any mat:
- At least 3mm of thickness unless you are looking for a travel mat.
- Made from substances that are not horribly toxic. You need to be able to touch the mat surface before you commit to buying. If it feels oily and especially if it gives off an intense chemical smell – stay away from that mat (all new mats have a bit of a nasty smell and should be allowed to air out in the garage a few days before use – but a new mat smell that makes you gasp is not good).
- At least 68 inches long and 24 inches wide.
High quality mats for a great price:
Hugger Mugger Tapas Original Sticky Yoga Mat
I used to purchase these Hugger Mugger mats in large 100 ft rolls and would cut them apart to sell to my students. That is how hard it was to find mats ‘back in the day’. Some of you may still have one of my hand-cut mats because these things last and last.
I still have two of them in my studio and they are just as good as they ever were. These are what are known as a sticky mat because the surface sticks to your hands a feet a little, providing great traction.
At 3mm of thickness, they do not cushion your knees very well unless they are doubled over but they have a very smooth surface so if rough textures are a problem, then this is the type of mat you need.
Gaiam Print Yoga Mats
I think these Gaiam Yoga mats are by far some of the most attractive mats out there. I have two of them with different designs and they remain among my favorites.
They have over 20 different designs and many different colors, so your mat can stand out from the crowd. That can make if very helpful if you forget your mat somewhere as it will be easy to identify instead of just another blue mat.
These are just 3mm thick, so don’t expect much padding. You can create more cushion by doubling them up and if you already have one mat, using one of these as a topper can really brighten up your yoga experience.
The price on these is great. You get a high quality and attractive mat for the cost of what is charged for lower quality mats.
When I was just doing yoga for myself, I had only one or two mats. When I began to teach yoga, I began to collect mats to provide for my students. Many of my students were needing more cushion than was provided by regular mats, so I began to seek out thicker mat styles. Once I tried a thicker mat, that became the gold standard for me. Yoga is one of those things that brings your knees in contact with hard surfaces. I want cushion between me and that hard surface. Mat thickness is one of those variables that suffers from an incredible array of choices and descriptions. They blithely switch between millimeter and inches in descriptions in a way that defies our ability to figure out what it means. Here is a little mat thickness chart for you:
- 1/16 inch = 1.5 mm – This would be considered a travel mat. Very thin. It may look like a yoga mat, but think of cardboard thinness and you are thinking of this kind of mat. Very light and easy to pack.
- 1/8 inch = 3 mm – This is the typical thickness of many yoga mats. This will not provide much knee cushion unless you double the mat.
- 3/16 inch = 4.8 mm – but they will call it 5mm. – This is a good mix between cushion and stability and for many this will feel just right. Depending on the material, this thickness of mat may cause the mat to feel noticeably heavier than other mats.
- 1/4 inch = 6 mm – This is often advertised as an ‘extra thick’ mat. This will provide more knee cushion, but those who need maximum knee comfort may still want something thicker.
- 5/16 inch = 7.9 mm or 8mm. This is probably the most comfortable for knees against the floor without being too squishy for standing. This also, depending on materials, could be a very heavy mat.
- 1/2 inch = 12.7 mm – This is unusual thickness and may labeled as something other than a yoga mat, such as an exercise or pilates mat. This kind of thickness is great for knees but becomes a little unsettling for standing yoga poses or balance poses.
- 3/4 inch and above – You are now doing yoga on a mattress.
Hugger Mugger Tapas Ultra
If you have borrowed a mat at my Saturday morning 9am class then you have probably used one of these Hugger Mugger Tapas Ultra mats.
I purchased a whole bunch of them to help out my students who needed more knee support. These are great for that and they also provide a little entertainment because they retain the impression of your foot or hand – sort of like a memory foam effect.
These combine a cushion with a sticky surface so they are very stable. They are also durable since it has been over 15 years since I purchased mine and they get a lot of use from students.
Danskin Deluxe Fitness Mat
The Danskin Deluxe Fitness mat is not considered a yoga mat, but it should be. For anyone who has been to my yoga studio and especially if you have been to a Core Conditioning class, then you have probably used one of these fantastic, highly cushioned mats.With these mats, you will not feel your knees on the floor. Their only drawback is that they are so thick they can create a challenge with balance in standing yoga poses. Great for those who really need knee cushion.
A Thin Mat:
Manduka eKO Superlight Travel Mat
This Manduka travel mat is a special piece of equipment that is lightweight, folds up small to fit in your carry on bag and offers you a real mat surface to do your far away from home yoga.No more laying out hotel towels in a desperate attempt to keep hotel floor yuck away from your hands and feet. Nope, now you will lay out hotel towels to keep the yuck off of your happy little travel yoga mat.The reason I like Manduka over other travel mats is because they have managed to combine a natural rubber top with a cloth material back. The lightness of this mat is because it is super thin at just 1.5 mm. It needs to be mentioned that 1.5 mm of thickness will not cushion your knees, but one can’t have everything.
Lack of cushion is about the only drawback to this Manduka and it is unavoidable in an easy to pack travel mat.I must confess I purchased this mat because I had traveled to a yoga conference out of town and had forgotten to bring a mat. So, I did not so much as weigh my options as grab at a chance to get a mat from a conference vendor. I also must confess that I purchased it because it was exactly my favorite shade of green. I am glad I did because now I have this awesome travel mat made of natural rubber, lightweight and totally my favorite color of green. Heaven.
The next evolution of my choices in mats came from my quest for less toxic exposure. If I am placing my hands and feet and yes, sometimes face on that yoga mat, does it matter what that mat is made of? Yes, it does, especially the more time you spend on that mat. Molecules have a disturbing way of traveling through our pores. I wanted to make sure that I was not getting any unhealthy molecules from my mat so I began to seek out natural mat materials.
Here is a brief rundown of what mats are made of:
- PVC = polyvinyl chloride or vinyl – most mats are made of this substance. This kind of material is very smooth to touch and also makes up the ‘sticky’ mat stickiness. This is basically plastic and not all plastic is the same. Some PVC mats offer reduced exposure to certain chemicals but others are cheaply made and may expose the user to endocrine disrupting chemicals.
- Oeko-tek = a higher priced PVC that is touted as being AZO, DPO and latex free.
- TPE = thermoplastic elastomer. This is touted as being more environmentally friendly than PVC and supposedly biodegradable. It is PVC and latex free. I could find no reference to toxin exposure from this substance, but since it is a blend of rubber and plastic, what the blend is made of could pose sensitivity issues. It is somewhat vulnerable to deformation and damage from excess heat.
- Eco-conscious = This could be many things but is typically jute and natural rubber combined in some way.
- Bamboo = This may be bamboo as in an outdoor mat style reminiscent of a beach mat or it may be a bamboo microfiber blend cloth on one side and rubber or other material on the other side.
- Natural Cotton or other Natural Fibers = This might be a rug like mat or may be a blend with rubber or man-made materials. These blends are touted as being absorbent for hot yoga styles. For most of these, they give better traction when they are damp.
- Rubber = Natural latex rubber harvested from rubber trees. This is touted as being less toxic because it has no plastic substances and is also environmentally friendly because it is sustainably harvested. Natural rubber contains latex so it is not the choice for those with latex sensitivity.
Less toxic mats I have known :
I discovered Kulae mats
at the Texas Yoga Conference a few years ago. The company was just getting started and they were selling this unique type of mat that was totally eco-conscious and free from all sorts of chemicals because it was made of TPE – thermoplastic elastomer.
“Okay,” I said and purchased this really thick and extremely lightweight Ultra Kulae mat. I must stress how lightweight this mat was – like a cloud! The idea that something so light could cushion so well was fantastic. Finally, I had a ‘travel around Houston’ mat that wouldn’t leave a dent in my shoulder.I liked it and still have it, but I stopped using it for two reasons.
First of all, it was so thick (the Ultra version was 8mm thick) it was bulky and would not fit in my regular yoga mat bag. Second, because I like to fold my mats in half first before rolling them, it developed a serious permanent wave. This wave was a result of the combination of the way I folded it, the heat of my car during Texas summers and the susceptibility of TPE to deformation under heat. After several months of ‘riding the wave’ I regulated this mat to home use where it can remain unexposed to the heat of my car and now behaves itself quite well.
The mat I purchased at the yoga conference was thicker than the one I am showing. Kulae no longer seems to make the 8mm Ultra version of their mat.
PrAna Living E.C.O.
My Prana yoga mat replaced the Kulae mat as my travel around Houston mat. It is also made of thermoplastic elastomer and offers great cushion along with being incredibly light-weight.
Now you may be wondering do I have the same ‘wave’ issue with this mat? Not so much. Although this mat curls up on the ends – something that you will find me dealing with at the start of every 9am Saturday yoga class (I fold it the other way and glare at it), it does not have the hump in the middle like my Kulae. I attribute this to the fact this mat is 3mm thinner than the 8mm Kulae I had.
You may be wondering what is the difference between the Prana and the Kulae version of these mats and about the only thing different is the color schemes. Both offer a longer 72 inch length. Both are two sided offering you different colors for both sides. Both give great cushion, stability and light weight.
Why did I choose Prana this time. Price. This mat was simply less expensive than Kulae. I did like Kulae’s color schemes and greater selection better, but what it all boiled down to was that at the time, Prana had a better sale going on than Kulae.
Jade Fusion Yoga Mat
Ahhhh. Do you hear that? Bells! That is what goes off in my mind every time I think about my Jade Fusion Yoga Mat. This was the first natural rubber mat I purchased since the gasket mat days. My selection of natural rubber was to reduce my contact with endocrine disruptors found in plastics. For most people, the time spent on a mat is not as extensive as the time a yoga instructor stands and places hands, knees and face against mat material. I wanted to cut down on the plastics in my life. I was also seeking a thick mat to protect my knees.
I found all of this and more in this mat. Some of the more was unfortunately a disturbing rubber tire smell that lingered for over a month. Others have not reported this, so maybe some mixture of rubber plus the color I chose was to blame. Tire smell aside this has been my all time favorite mat.If I were to write poetry about a mat (and let’s all hope I never sink to that level because you know I would have to share it with you) I would create a sonnet about my Jade yoga mat. No matter that the thing weighs a ton. That is why I have a yoga studio. This mat lives there and only has to move about 10 feet from where I store it.
This is not a permanent mat though. Some of those PVC mats I purchased over 20 years ago will still be good to go for another 20 years. I purchased my first Jade mat in 2008. Since that time I have stood, knelt, pounded, and sat on it for hours and hours a week. An old studio dog left a signature scratch on it and the studio cat has adored it with his claws. Eventually it begun to show signs of deep wear and little pieces of mat began to detach from the constant wear of my hands and feet.
It still has years to go as a useful mat and I will not be parting with it. I am however retiring it to home use and getting another new one for the studio. I only hope that new tire smell will not be so pronounced with my new Jade mat. (update: yeah, the new one smelled like a tire for several weeks as well. Still love it.)
So there you go, a mat review about my personal mat collection. I know there are other great mats out there and I would love to hear from you about your favorites. Please share your comment below and let me know what you love about your yoga mat. What was your best mat ‘deal’? What mats didn’t work for you?