Though it may be tempting to borrow any old mat at your local group fitness studio, it makes sense to invest in a quality mat that's suited to your needs and circumstances. You'll keep your body flu-free and receive adequate support for your pesky joints. Not sure how to choose the right yoga mat? Here are five factors to consider:
Each year, thousands of yoga mats are made with poly-vinyl chloride, or PVC. While this compound can make durable, functional and cheap yoga mats, it’s non-recyclable and very energy-intensive to manufacture. When incinerated, PVC products release toxic gases and organic pollutants into the environment - with particularly negative health consequences for communities located close to production and disposal facilities.
Bearing this in mind, you may want to look for yoga mats that aren’t made with phthalates, latex, or silicone. Biodegradable yoga mats made with organic cotton or recyclable yoga mats made with a compound called thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) can, in the long run, be less environmentally harmful.
You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re crumbling under the weight of the world when you’re carrying a yoga mat. If you commute with your mat on crowded buses, busy sidewalks, or congested bike lanes, invest in a sturdy yoga strap or bag to keep everything firmly in place. Some yoga mats are made for easy transport and are designed with lighter material.
The slip n’ slide should be reserved for summer backyard parties - not for your yoga practice. If you tend to break out in buckets of sweat during hot yoga, make sure that your mat has excellent adhesion - whether it’s wet or dry. This will help you to stay grounded during tricky balancing poses. For increased traction, look for mats with raised patterns (bumps or tiny grooves on the surface of the mat). If you're taller, you may want to pay attention to the length of your mat so that you have enough room to stretch out as you please.
Denser yoga mats will provide more support for your palms, wrists, and ankles - helping you to diffuse pressure when you’re easing into challenging or uncomfortable poses. There is a trade-off: extra padding can make it harder for you to feel anchored to the ground, which makes balancing more difficult. Standard yoga mats are around 3 mm thick while mats with more cushion are 7 mm.
Make sure that your mat is heat-resistant if you plan on practicing yoga outdoors or in a sauna. To prolong the life of your mat, spray it with cold water and non-abrasive soap and allow it to dry completely before using it again. Wipe your hands and feet before stepping on your mat to minimize the spread of germs.
Taking all of this into consideration, test out a few yoga mats at different studios and find one that you're comfortable with. Whether you're travelling, need a bit more support, or prefer to practice yoga in warmer settings, there will be a mat that suits your lifestyle. Do a bit of research and invest in one that works for you.
About the Author
Alessandra Hechanova is a highly caffeinated long-distance runner with a penchant for puns. She is the Community Manager for PumpUp, an inspiring mobile health and fitness community. When she isn’t toying with typography or serving up a smoothie, she’s struggling to achieve the elusive pull-up.