Which yoga mat should I buy? Whether you’re practicing for leisure, mindfulness, or stress release, it’s clear that yoga has several health benefits. Yoga strengthens our bodies, allowing us to increase flexibility and release tension in our bones and muscles. In particular, it is especially beneficial in alleviating both mild and chronic pain in our bodies.
In one study, it was revealed that yoga could help decrease pain and improve physical functions in participants with osteoarthritis. Additionally, another study looked at 42 individuals with carpal tunnel, prescribing them either a wrist splint or eight weeks of yoga. Results indicated that yoga was found to be more effective in reducing pain, as well as improving wrist grip strength. The pool of research continues to grow highlighting that yoga can help us manage our body pains and increase physical strength.
But how do we ensure our practices are correct and are actually supporting our bodies? The answer is right under your nose, literally. The Yoga Mat. Easily overlooked, the yoga mat defines the space you practice in, and holds the energy generated from your mind and body.
A Brief History Of The Yoga Mat
In the contemporary world, there are several different variations of yoga. However, the core essence of yoga is consistent throughout all practices – to promote a healthy and happy life of balance between body, mind and soul. With these diverse styles, comes the diverse environments that yoga is practiced in, both indoors and outdoors. Although the development of yoga dates back thousands of years ago, the introduction of the yoga mat is relatively recent. In fact, this modern phenomenon made its’ way into the yoga scene only a few decades ago, back in 1967.
According to The Yoga Journal, prior to this invention, yogis would practice on wooden floors, rugs, and the grass. It wasn’t until British yoga teacher, Angela Farmer, came across a thin and sticky material at a local market in Germany. She bought a sheet of it, and took it with her to yoga class, instantly noticing a life-changing difference. She claimed it prevented slipping, and she was able to grip the floor without straining her whole body. Angela Farmer brought this material back to London, and soon after, other yogis began taking an interest.
Moreover, Angela’s father, Richard Farmer saw this as a business opportunity. With Angela’s discovery, he commercialized the carpet material and became the first retailer of “sticky” yoga mats. Today, the “sticky” yoga mat is your most standard and entry-level yoga mat, the PVC mat. With time, advancements and modifications have emerged, giving birth to several yoga mat styles and options. To evaluate the best one for you, it’s first important to address why you should be practicing on yoga mats.
In the past, yogis would practice on wooden floors, rugs, and the grass.
Why Is My Yoga Mat Important?
The Yoga Mat is your space of power. It’s where you generate positive energy, strengthen your body, and release the stress and burdens of your daily life. On top of this, there are also many other important reasons why you should be using a yoga mat. Here are a few:
Yoga requires a lot of balance and strength, so if you’re practicing on the wrong surface, you could injure yourself. Thus, yoga mats provide that extra stability you need to engage in grounding poses, preventing slipping and sliding. Additionally, yoga mats come in handy especially when you are excessively sweating or taking part in more strenuous movements. They act as a sturdy support and are a great cushion for your body and joints.
Adding on, yoga mats create a more comfortable space to practice in. The cushioning and thickness of your mat should guide you comfortably in any pose, without too much pain or pressure. If you’re not comfortable, it becomes challenging to channel your energy into mindfulness and you may be easily distracted. With comfort, you can effortlessly immerse yourself into each pose and each movement.
Space and Orientation:
The surface area of the yoga mat defines your space, outlining a specific area that is in your control. Therefore, every edge and corner marks where you should be lining up your fingers and toes. It gives you an idea of where to place your body, also an effective way of measuring your own flexibility. Many individuals also claim their yoga mat is their sacred space of peace. Hence, it’s where they can disconnect from the outer world and focus on diving within, free of distractions. It’s a trigger to your nervous system to relax, take deep breaths, and let go of any tension or stressors.
According to Very Well Mind, the “relaxation response” of our nervous system is induced through mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises. During this conditioned response, the body experiences physiological relaxation, balancing blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone levels. Thus, simply sitting on your yoga mat and taking a few deep breaths can activate these relaxation effects.
The yoga mat gives you an outline of a specific area that is in your control.
Choosing The Right Yoga Mat For You
So, now we understand the importance of investing in a good yoga mat. But with all the different styles and practices, and the abundance of options, how do we choose the right one? How do we choose the perfect mat to cater to our needs? Consider the following factors when purchasing a new mat, or perhaps even your first mat:
To start off, the material of your mat is directly related to durability and can drastically impact your practice. As mentioned earlier, the most standard and common yoga mat is made from PVC, a plastic-based material. There are different grades of PVC yoga mats. High quality ones are very durable, offering supportive grip and are quite easy to clean. Due to their material, these high-quality mats will last a long time and do not need to be replaced often. However, they are non-absorbent which means they can become slippery with excessive sweating, so they are not recommended for bikram yoga. Another thing to note is that PVC is not biodegradable, nor eco-friendly, hence the importance of the mat being long lasting.
Rubber mats are also quite common, and pose as an eco-friendly option, being natural, renewable and biodegradable. They have a harder surface but are very grippy and provide good traction. Consequently, rubber mats tend to weigh on the heavier end, and have a distinct and noticeable smell.
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) mats combine plastic and rubber polymers, being completely man-made. These mats are very eco-friendly, lightweight, odourless, and also provide a softer surface. On the other hand, they are generally less durable than PVC and rubber mats.
Natural mats are often made from organic cotton, jute, or natural rubber. With the added benefits to the environment, they are slightly less grippy and durable. Their features vary between types of materials and manufacturer but they do share one thing: they are biodegradable, unless other materials are used during manufacturing.
Next, the thickness of your mat can often determine the comfort level of your practice. Different body conditions will range in thickness preference, so evaluate your own needs. On average, yoga mats are around 4mm in thickness, a great safe option for regular yoga practisers.
Thinner mats are excellent for travel and those who are constantly on the go as they are lighter and easily portable. Keep in mind that these mats are often less durable and have less cushioning.
On the contrary, thicker mats are a lot easier on your joints as they provide extra cushioning. They are often chosen for their restorative and therapeutic purposes. On the flip side, thick yoga mats can throw your balance off during standing poses and are heavy and bulky.
The level of your comfort experience is greatly determined by the thickness of your mat.
Finally, another important factor to consider when purchasing a yoga mat is size. A standard mat is 24 inches by 68 inches, and will normally work for anyone under 6 feet tall. Nevertheless, if you are taller, you can definitely find yoga mats that are both longer and wider. An article by LiveStrong.com suggests laying down on a standard mat into downward-facing dog. As long as your hands and feet do not hang off the edges, the length is perfect for you.
A Different Mat For A Different Yogi
Aside from considering the material, thickness, and size, you’ll also want to think about your lifestyle and price point. Let’s break down a few of our recommendations, so you can find the best yoga mat that suits your life:
The BalanceFrom is a nice option for those just dipping their toes into yoga but who aren’t quite sure if they will like yoga. This mat is definitely on the cheaper end of the scale, but has excellent reviews and is comfortable and durable. An inexpensive option that is standard in size, 6 mm in thickness, using a high-density material.
The Jade Harmony is an excellent choice for both at home and studio practices. It’s popular for its’ secure grip and stickiness, about 5 mm thick and providing great traction and stability. The natural rubber is eco-friendly, and although at a higher price point, is a worthy investment for its’ quality.
For A Pain-Free Practice
The MB Zen Relief is your go-to mat if you experience persistent body aches and pain in your muscles and joints. This mat is foldable, non-slip, 8 mm thick, and uses an extra cushion to alleviate pain, without compromising your balance. In addition, the memory foam material is durable and free of latex and metals. Overall, this is a smart purchase for restorative and therapeutic purposes and those suffering from chronic pain.
The MB Zen Relief mat is foldable, non-slip, and 8 mm thick.
For Travel and On the Go
The Manduka eKO Superlite is super thin and lightweight, perfect for travel and those who are constantly on the go. The compact rubber material makes it easy to roll and pack up, with a supportive grip for traction, being 1.5 mm in thickness. This mat is made from biodegradable natural tree rubber with non-toxic agents and is 99% latex-free.
For The Taller Folks
The Yoga Accessories Extra Wide and Extra Long mat is the largest yoga mat on the market, and is perfect for those taller than 6 feet. It measures a full 7 feet long and 3 feet wide, and is 6 mm in thickness. The textured surface has a sturdy grip, and a non-slip surface.
For The Eco-Conscious
The SugaMat Recycled Wetsuit is a premium 5 mm yoga mat made entirely out of recycled surfing wetsuits. The dimpled texture is very grippy and the material absorbs moisture, being extremely durable. Suga is also a proud member of 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of their gross revenue to environmental non-profits.
Your Next Yoga Session
With the right mat, we are now ready for a safe and healthy practice, suited just for us. Notice the difference in your technique, performance and focus when your yoga mat fits your needs. With the right mat under our nose, we can channel our full attention and energy into a mindful and strengthening session, without distractions and discomfort.
Christine Xin is a social and digital marketer with focused experience in social media strategy and management. She works with Enterprise brands in Canada to help grow their presence within the digital space, and is also a Food and Travel blogger in her free time. She has a strong passion for content creation and writing, and is inspired by a wide range of topics. She has recently taken an interest in yoga and meditation, and is actively exploring both the physical and mental benefits mindfulness has on her daily life.