While almost everyone who practices yoga does so on a yoga mat – and many people spend more time every week on their yoga mat than with any other single inanimate object (other than their phone), many yogis still wonder what mat is right for them. The answer depends on the person and their practice. You might be surprised to learn how many different types of yoga mats are on the market and all the factors to consider in choosing your mat.
Yoga Mat Types
20 years ago, there were only a couple of options, but today’s yogi is fortunate to have a wide variety of mats to choose from. These include: natural rubber, latex, cotton, cork topped rubber, fabric topped rubber, poly vinyl chloride (PVC), thermo plastic elastomer (TPE), and polyurethane.
Each of these types has different benefits that should be considered before making a decision on your mat.
Grip & Comfort
The top priorities for many people are grip and comfort. Most people find that natural rubber provides the best overall grip, but some people get good results in hot yoga with Polyurethane, Cork, or some of the fabric covered mats. PVC is notoriously slippery – especially if you sweat while you practice. Your best bet to figure out which mat provides the best grip and comfort for you is to borrow one from a friend or demo one at your studio.
As for comfort, you can usually count on natural rubber to provide the most cushion and comfort – but be careful of two things:
- Some rubber mats contain large amounts of filler making them less comfortable (these fillers make the mats much heavier and harder than other rubber mats).
- More cushion is not always a good thing – an extra thick mat may be unstable in standing poses for a beginner yogi. PVC, TPE, cork, and cotton mats are generally not as comfortable and they do not have the resilience and cushion of natural rubber.
Considering most people do yoga for their health, this might be your most important consideration. Ironically, the most common mat (PVC) is one of the most toxic plastics on the planet. Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen and the manufacturing and disposal of PVC mats may create dioxins – another carcinogen. Further, PVC mats contain phthalates some of which are also believed to be carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors. It is no wonder that PVC has been banned from children’s toys in the U.S. since 2008. TPE is a generic term, so ask the manufacturer what type of plastic is used to determine its health impacts.
Polyurethane mats are fairly new to the market, so there are no reported negative health effects at this time. Natural rubber and latex mats are good choices unless if you have a latex or rubber allergy. Cork on its own is safe, but beware of cork with a backing made of recycled tires as tires likely contain a variety of toxic chemicals. Organic cotton is always a safe bet.
Environmental impact is important for many yogis. If you are concerned about the use of rapidly renewable resources, you cannot beat natural rubber, latex or cotton as these are plant based products that renew at least annually.
Natural rubber and latex are tapped, like maple syrup, from rubber trees and cotton is harvested annually. Cork is also sustainable (the bark is renewable and harvested every 8 years, and recycled tire backing keeps some tires out of landfills). PVC, TPE, and Polyurethane are petroleum based products, so are not renewable.
Further, you may choose a US made mat to ensure compliance with US environmental laws (along with US worker safety laws). US made mats also have a smaller carbon footprint related to transportation. The one advantage of some of the very expensive PVC mats is a lifetime warranty that ensures reduced landfill impact. TPE mats are also theoretically recyclable, but only if returned to the TPE plant for recycling.
There are companies that give back to the earth by planting a tree with every mat sold.
Size, Color, Design, Weight, Durability, and Price
The “standard” mat size is 24” x 68”. There are mats on the market that are as wide as 28” and as long as 85”. It is recommended that your mat be at least as long as you and as wide as your shoulders plus 4-6 inches. A thick mat might be just the right thing for a gentle restorative practice or a yogi over 200 pounds.
As for weight, PVC and TPE mats are typically much lighter than natural rubber mats (as they are mostly air); but for yogis on the go, natural rubber comes in thinner versions that can be fairly light.
If you want a printed design, current technology allows for more detailed printing on PVC and TPE mats. Fabric covered mats can be printed in even more detail.
People who are concerned about the durability of their mats may be drawn in by the idea of a lifetime warranty. However, if you think about a pair of running shoes, a serious runner probably replaces their shoes every 4-6 months. Running shoes are more expensive than yoga mats and yet runners don’t think twice about having the right equipment to make their running experience better. So while durability is a concern, it should not come at the expense of your health or your practice.
Finally, with respect to price, PVC mats can be found for as little as $5, but also for up to $136. TPE mats range in price from about $25 to about $50. Natural rubber mats range from $40 to $170.
The bottom line is to ask yourself what is most important to you and your practice. If you are concerned about the health effects of your mat, be sure to confirm that it does not contain PVC or phthalates.
If you are interested in grip or comfort, you should try a rubber mat. If you have a latex allergy, your best bet is probably TPE. For hot yoga, try rubber, cork, or one of the fabric cover mats designed for hot yoga.
If you are concerned about the environmental impact, you should again be looking at rubber. No matter what, you are going to be spending a lot of time with your mat, so be sure to choose the one that is right for you.
Jade is committed to making the world’s best performing, most environmentally friendly yoga products and giving back to the earth with every product sold. Through its “Buy a Mat, Plant a Tree” program, Jade has planted over one million trees so far. Through its “Community Partners” program, Jade provides mats to many nonprofit organizations and donates a portion of sales to environmental organizations, veterans organizations, and other worthy causes. More information about JadeYoga and the programs they offer our members can be found on our Member Perks page or the JadeYoga website.
The views expressed in this article are that of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Yoga Alliance.