What to Know Before You Buy a Yoga Mat

All Mats Are Not Created Equal

Yoga mat
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Why to Buy a Mat

Yoga mats (also called sticky mats) are used in most yoga classes to provide cushioning and traction. While you can usually rent a mat at a yoga studio, it's a good idea to buy your own. It will pay for itself pretty quickly so you don't have to wait and see if this yoga thing sticks before taking the plunge into mat ownership. While your commitment to yoga doesn't need to influence your decision, your feelings about other people's sweat and bodily fluids should.

Shared mats can harbor bacteria, including staph, and fungus. You will also need a mat if you plan to do any yoga at home.

Yoga Mat Basics

A standard sized yoga mat is 24" x 68", although longer mats are available for tall people. On the low end of the price spectrum, you can get a basic mat for about $25. From there, the prices range up to around $140 for a deluxe mat. These more expensive mats usually come by their price tags honestly by offering more environmentally responsible production methods and materials. They will also generally last a lot longer than a budget mat.

Although it seems like there are a lot of different kinds of yoga mats available, a closer look reveals that most of their differences are pretty superficial. A mat may offer a pretty design or come with a cute tote bag, but the real issue is what the mat is made out of. There are three materials that dominate the yoga mat market: PVC, rubber, and TPE.

 

  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a man-made material that is not biodegradable. It's the material of choice for low-end mats like the communal ones at your local studio. However, PVC doesn't always mean a cheap mat. It's also used for the very popular high-end Manduka PRO series, which are much thicker than your average mat and are virtually indestructible. PVC mats can take some time to wear in. Once they do, they provide good traction.
  • Rubber is a pretty straightforward material. It's natural, renewable, and biodegradable. Rubber provides a very grippy if somewhat hard mat surface.  Jade Yoga has made the most popular rubber mats for many years. Natural rubber makes for a heavier mat and can have a noticeable smell at first. Both these concerns are mitigated in new rubber/polyurethane hybrid mats made by Liforme and Lululemon, which are also very absorbent and offer a superior practice surface. Cork and jute mats are also options for people who want a natural mat, but they are much less widely used.

  • When TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) mats came on the market, they seemed to solve a lot of the problems with other materials. Though man-made, TPE does biodegrade. It's odorless, incredibly lightweight, and very soft to practice on while also preventing slipping. All these things make for a strong plus column. On the minus side, it's not very durable. 

Slip Sliding Away

Depending on the material (PVC is the biggest culprit) new mats can be a little slippery.

After a few classes, the problem usually goes away as you wear in the mat. If it doesn't, try washing it gently as this can accelerate the process. Skip the soap and hang it to dry. If your palms tend to get sweaty, a product like the Yogitoes Skidless Towel, which absorbs moisture, may help. These mat towels have become ubiquitous in hot yoga classes where abundant sweat can cause mats to get very slippery.

Where to Shop

Most yoga studios carry mats for purchase. Aside from supporting your local studio, this setting also offers you the opportunity to feel different kinds of mats and hear a lot of opinions on what type is best. As yoga becomes increasingly popular, yoga products have also become commonplace at sporting goods stores and department stores like Target. If you have a mat picked out already, you may find the best prices by shopping online.

    Carrying Your Mat

    Some yoga studios will store your mat for you. If yours does not, it's handy to have a yoga mat bag, or at least a strap so you can throw it over your shoulder. What kind of bag is best depends on how you get to class and how much stuff you have to carry. A simple strap may suffice for people who drive to class, while public transport commuters and people who are heading to work will want something more ample.

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