The Comprehensive Yoga Mat Guide
No matter where you are in your yogic journey, a great mat can help ease the way. We've identified the top characteristics every yogi needs to consider before making the all important purchase.
Before we dive deep, a word of caution. We have found throughout years of our own practice, that the most important thing to listen to when purchasing a yoga mat is your own body. It will be the first to tell you what it needs to succeed, whether it be more cushion for achy knees or even less if you can't retain balance during specific asanas.
Yoga mats come in all shapes and sizes. Part of that is thickness. How much or little cushion do you need to hold a pose and stay comfy? There's a whole range of yoga mat thicknesses to think about, and an array of advantages and disadvantages to using each one.
1/4" or 6mm Yoga Mats - These mats are by far the most popular in the industry. A large portion of premium yoga mats stay within the 1/4" thickness because it's a size that has proven to be both durable and cushioning
Disadvantage - Sometimes these mats can get heavy, some as heavy as nine pounds. If you want to keep the thickness, but also carry it with you on the go, checkout the 1/4 Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat. They even have a lifetime warranty.
1/8" or 3mm Yoga Mats - While not as thick as a 1/4 inch mat, these still provide plenty of support and durability. A lighter mat is even easier to take to and from classes. They also have the added benefit of fitting in just about every yoga mat bag on the market. There are no worries to making this fit into your routine.
Disadvantage - With a thinner mat comes the opportunity for faster wear and tear. You may have to replace it a bit sooner, but on the bright side, they tend to be a little less expensive than the 1/4 yoga mats.
1/16" or 2mm Yoga Mats - These are probably the thinnest mats you'll see classmates using. Invented for travel, these mats can usually be folded up to fit in a travel bag. Use them wherever the road may take you.
Disadvantage - Very thin yoga mat. This is not for someone with achy knees. It does have great traction. Most traveling yogis will use this on carpet or earth, so they are not dependent on this for their primary form of support.
1/2" or 12mm Yoga Mats - We're asked quite a bit about the absolute thickest mat you can buy. This is it. The half inch mat has the most cushioning on the market, making it ideal for pilates work.
Disadvantage - With so much squishy cushioning, this mat is not ideal for yoga. It is hard to find balance for standing poses like Warrior or Tree Pose. It can also be a bit bulky. If you're looking for something that has cushion, but isn't overly cushioned, check out a few 1/4" yoga mats.
There are a handful of materials for yoga mats that range from eco-friendly materials to synthetic. Each one has their strengths and weaknesses.
Foam Yoga Mats - Inexpensive and long lasting, this material is synthetic, latex-free, and phthalate free. Mats usually weigh between two and four pounds depending on thickness. They are also extremely budget friendly, making them ideal for studio use or those just starting to practice yoga.
TPE Yoga Mats (thermoplastics) - A rubber-like material that is designed to be elastic, cushioning, durable and reusable. While synthetic, these mats can be recycled at the end of their use-life to create more mats. The ultra-soft, gel like materials are commonly used for yoga towels and high quality, light weight yoga mats.
Cotton Yoga Mats - Direct from nature. These mats are not the usual type of yoga mat experience. They're extra thick and made for meditation, restorative yoga and yin yoga. They are very similar to an extra thick cotton blanket.
Also try Yoga Rugs - They're tightly woven and thick for a soft bit of protection outdoors, during meditation, or savasana. There's nothing more beautiful than a hand woven rug!
All Natural Rubber Yoga Mats - Beautiful. The most slip-resistance material on the market, rubber yoga mats are open-celled, meaning that the mat will "suction" to hands and feet, for a super sticky experience. These yoga mats are resilient and tend to bounce back from use. This material also provides a premium cushioning experience without damaging the environment.
Here's a good rule of thumb: use a yoga mat that is at least six inches taller than you are. The goal is to lay on your mat comfortably during savasana without leaving the mat. If you're in the taller range (over 6 feet), try an extra long yoga mat. You may even want to check out an extra wide yoga mat if you have broad shoulders or want to enjoy a little extra space.
Recommendations for Each Style
The patterns and textures on yoga mats are not always for looks. Like material, it can help hands and feet stick to the mat. Your textural choice is greatly reliant on the style of yoga being used.
Ashtanga Yoga - This rigorous style of yoga demands a sticky mat. We recommend the natural rubber and TPE yoga mats because of their open-cell structure as these mats prove slip resistant despite sweat. We find that many students also use yoga towels for additional slip resistance during especially rigorous classes.
Hatha Yoga - Hatha covers a wide range of classes that teach physical postures. Typically, Hatha yoga gears itself more to beginner classes. We recommend that you are just starting out, practice on a foam mat until you have an idea of which direction you would like to head.
Bikram/Hot Yoga - These two styles are very similar. Each happen in rooms heated 100 degrees or more. Expect to sweat a ton. Because of this, we highly recommend using both a natural rubber yoga mat and a yoga mat towel. You may also want to bring in a hand towel or two to wipe off hands between poses. You will sweat like mad.
Iyengar - Proper alignment is where Iyengar starts and ends. You will not get your heart rate up and therefore sweat as much as in other styles. Balance is key. Because of that, it's not as important to have a super sticky or cushiony mat. We recommend using very firm 1/4" mats or thinner 1/8" mats. Alignment mats are also incredibly helpful for this practice.
Restorative - Restorative is the gentlest yoga practice of all. It's the equivalent to exercise while napping. Characterized by slow, sweeping poses, you have unlimited options for yoga mats. Do you want to try something truly luxurious? Use a cotton yoga mat and wrap yourself in comforting warmth.
Vinyasa - Derived from Hatha yoga, there are a few differences: Pace, and Flow. The much faster paced Vinyasa moves you through asana after asana. The flow becomes just as important as the final asana in this class. Because of the movement, we recommend a mat that is smooth but still has a lot of stick. Check out a natural rubber travel mat. They have very little texture, but still provide tack for sweaty hands and feet.