August 18th 2021
With the explosion of yoga styles has happened in the last five years has come an equally mind-boggling choice of yoga mats. We've seen a move away from the cheap but environmentally toxic PVC mats of old to somewhat 'cleaner' PVC and the use of TPE (thermoplastic elastomers) - a biodegradeable plastic which has made mats much lighter. More recently there's been a greater use of natural rubber (not so lightweight but hotter on eco credentials depending on how it's sourced) as well as the quest by manufacturers for the ultimate grippy surface.
When choosing a mat these are some factors to consider: does it absorb sweat or not? Can I wash it? Will it biodegrade (the easier it biodegrades, the quicker it is likely to wear out)? Does it keep its stick when sweaty or will I need a yoga towel? Does it cushion enough if I have delicate knees or wrists? How heavy is it? How eco is the manufacture? Are the markings distracting or helpful for alignment? Will I love it so much that it makes me want to do yoga more?
Best for: beginners
Recommended by: Genny Wilkinson Priest
“I don't think you should spend a lot of money on a mat if you aren't sure that you are going to practice yoga regularly,” says Genny. “This basic one from Yogamatters does the job; it's got just enough cushion and the right amount of stick to do the job well enough for a beginner.”
Stickiness is important for a beginner, adds teacher Tara Lee. "Until you learn to ground through your hands and feet more strongly you need a bit of extra grip from your mat."
“Practice on this for six months and then decide if you want to up your yoga game as well as your mat," says Genny.
Available in 13 colours, made from high grade PVC (free from many nasties) and machine washable.
Best for: a mat upgrade
Recommended by: Imi Wiseman
When you know you want to get into a proper relationship with a mat, the Jade Yoga Harmony is the way to go. In seven cool, muted colours, it’s the mat I most often see stocked in yoga studio shops and was one most mentioned by the teachers whose brains I picked for this feature, scoring both for performance and eco credentials.
Imi says: “It’s super-grippy and I defy anyone to slide on this even if you practice in a sweat lodge wearing a lot of handcream. Jade are proud of their eco-friendly reputation (the mats are made out of natural rubber) and they plant a tree for every mat sold. In fact, with extra-long, extra-wide and extra thick options, there’s no need to go anywhere else.”
The thickness is good at 4.5mm and for a natural rubber mat it's not too heavy (it’s 1.4kg).
Good for: heavy usage
Recommended by: Genny Wilkinson Priest
This mat the mat of choice of Genny, a six-times a week Mysore-style ashtanga practitioner. It’s somewhat legendary and formerly known as The Black Mat but now available in many other colours.
Says Genny: "This is the mother of all yoga mats if you practice ashtanga or vinyasa flow. It's well cushioned (needed for headstands and lunges with the knee down) and extra long (great for chaturanga dandasana and jumping back). Bloody expensive and seriously heavy (3.4kg), this is one quality mat that will last for years. I've had mine for 12 years. I wipe it daily with a cloth and spray that has a mixture of water and tee tree oil."
The Manduka Pro’s closed-cell surface keeps moisture and sweat from seeping into the mat and breeding bacteria, making it a good choice for hot yoga (although you may need a yoga towel or Mysore rug if you sweat a lot). Designed never to wear out and with a lifetime guarantee, it should never end up in landfill, and as it’s made from PVC (certified emissions-free and non toxic) that’s a good thing. The makers suggest that you can even pass it on once you’ve finished with it.
Best for: an eco mat to take to class
Recommended by: Kat Farrants
“While always practise at home on my trusty Manduka Pro [see above] it's too heavy to carry around. The best mat for travel or taking to a class is, without a doubt the Ecoyoga mat," says Kat. “It’s amazingly sticky but has zero PVC and is made in the UK. We’re practising yoga! This means a mindfulness, a consciousness of the impact of our decisions upon the planet and therefore each other. I love their natural texture and feel, they are completely non-slip. I love that they are made from entirely natural, plant-based materials and haven’t been shipped all the way from China (they’re made in the UK) which just can’t be good for our oceans and our climate, let alone our economy! They do wear out with a LOT of use, but I’m OK with that. Perfect for taking on retreats or to the studio. If you find it thin, use the studios mats underneath it and you’ll find it perfect.”
Best for: hand luggage
Recommended by: Amme Poulton
"It's very thin, it folds and has a great sticky texture," says Amme. Perfect for folding in your suitcase, this 1.5mm thick mat weights about 2.2lbs (1kg) and is eco-friendly, biodegradeable and durable, made of latex-free rubber and free from PVC, toxic plasticisers and harmful dyes and comes in a huge range of colours. It’s tightly woven to resist tearing or stretching which can be an issue with thin, light travel mats and the closed cell structure keeps sweat and bacteria out. Instead of using synthetic polyester for reinforcement, it uses a blend of polyester and natural cotton. Manduka are yoga mat specialists and always feature very highly in the ratings by yoga teachers.
Best for: retreats and holidays
Recommended by: Tara Lee
Unlike Amme (above) Tara isn’t a fan of lightweight folding mats for travel. “I find they crease in an awkward way. I always prefer to take a proper mat as hand luggage in a mat bag. Often when you are abroad, you don’t know whether you are going to have an even surface to practice on, especially outside, so I like to know I have something a bit thicker. The 6mm double-sided M Life Eco Luxury Yoga Mat is good but if you want something a bit lighter try the M Life Beginners Mat (4mm thick).”
Being made of TPE means it’s biodegradeable and more lightweight than a natural rubber mat. M Life (formerly known as Manuka Life) say it is ‘non-toxic and free from ozone depleting materials,’ and ‘free from the most harmful forms of PVC’.
Best for: stickability
Recommended by: Genny Wilkinson Priest
“This is one expensive mat It's seriously tacky with spiderman-like grip, useful for a hot yoga class," says Genny. “I found that the grip only lasts for about one year if you practice daily. Why? Sweat erodes the sticky, top layer of the mat over time because it's made of biodegradable material."
Liforme point out that the new generation of mats on sale for the past year has sought to redress this problem. “We were able to produce a new top surface material that is even more grippy than our already ground-breaking original material, yet still wonderfully soft and non-abrasive to the touch and we know from further testing and customer feedback since that the lifespan of the mats (with optimum grip level) has increased significantly.”
Careful cleaning with a damp cloth and heavily diluted washing up liquid every seven to ten practices is recommended. I personally like the alignment marks, which can also be helpful if you are newer. I practice every day on a new generation mat (I don't sweat loads) and find it a joy. Designed by yogis, it's slightly longer and wider than a standard mat and comes with a hard-wearing (and ventilated) bag included in the price to help air the mat post-practice. Made of natural rubber and eco-polyurethane it weighs in at 2.5kg
Best for: reversibility
Recommended by: Amme Poulton
The 5mm is slightly thicker than standard mats, so this baby has cushioning for knees, hips and floor poses. Made of durable polyurethane, it has good stick and absorbs moisture and the fact that you can use both sides adds longevity. Be sure to air it when new for a good while to let the rubber smell dissipate. A little on the heavy side (they don't give the weight), it also has what they call an 'antimicrobial additive' to help prevent baterial mould and fungi.
Says Amme, "I almost always practice at home on the Lululemon 5mm Reversible mat. I like the size and the different textures on each side. Colour and design are also important. I shy away from any fussy patterns. Vertical lines, particularly one vertical line in the middle, is helpful, as everyone has a left and a right. Any more placement cues on a mat don't work on my opinion, as all bodies are different shapes and sizes.”
Best for: heavy sweating
Recommended by: Leon London
Buy online here from Canada or call the UK distributor on 0755 736 6554
“I always thought that it was a bit silly to have a mat and a towel separate, so after searching the net I found the Hot Yoga Plus mat from Canadian company Merrithew, " says Leon. "This was a mat and towel together - genius! Admittedly, it does look like I’ve rocked up with my bath mat and I get some interested glances but it's not until l I appear that I might know my way around a mat, that people start to ask about it.
“It is light and washable (every couple of weeks) and needs renewing every couple of years - I've had about four. I've tried so-called non slip mats and skated around like a penguin on ice on them, so no longer bother anymore.”
The mat is 6mm thick and made from TPE on one side for an anti-slip back and microfibre fleece on the other. Leon also rates the Kharma Khare Reincarnated Yoga Mat £100 made from recycled car tyres. "A bit heavy but great traction and a long length."
Best for: pregnancy, yin yoga, extra cushioning
Recommended by: Victoria Woodhall
When I was pregnant I was forever doubling up the studio yoga mats as my extra stone or two in weight put pressure on knees and wrists. Tara noticed this among the students in her pregnancy yoga class and made The Bump Mat. It is 6mm thick and made of lightweight TPE foam weighing 2.3kg. It’s also good if you need extra cushioning, for example in yin yoga when you are holding uncomfortable poses for several minutes. The single vertical line down the middle helps with alignment and the grip is excellent. Because it’s so thick, it rolls up into quite a fat sausage and won’t fit in a conventional yoga bag, so tie with a strap.
For mother and baby yoga, I like the Yogabellies 4mm PeaceLoveYoga Mat, £69. It’s made of natural rubber, free from toxic dyes and glues topped with an antibacterial microfibre layer imprinted with water-based inks. It’s machine washable too. For my vinyasa practice, I mist it with water for good grip (or work up a sweat quickly!). Amme too is currently loving this mat for her own practice.
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June 10th 2020