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Yoga Essentials: Finding the Perfect Yoga Mat

Updated: Jan 7

Based on 20 years of practice and talking with scads of students about mats, the essential qualities of a yoga mat boil down to grippiness, cushioning, and price. “Grippiness” means that your hands or feet won’t slip out of place in downward facing dog, no matter how sweaty they are. “Cushioning” means padding for knees in table pose, or hips in side-lying postures. And I am pretty sure we don’t need to define price for you.


Yoga mats last a long time. I bought my first one in 2001 and I still use it. So while it is true that you can spend $150 on a mat, and that is a lot of money for most of us, that mat is likely to last you at least 10 years and very possibly 15-20. All of the mats that we purchased when the studio opened nearly 8 years ago get daily use and are still in great shape.


There might be other qualities that are important to you, like weight (some yoga mats are really heavy), options for a longer or wider mat, or environmental impact. We’ll try to mention these factors along the way.


What Are Yoga Mats Made From?

The typical yoga mat that you see in your mind’s eye is made from PVC or vinyl. Mats can also be made from rubber. A newer material is TPE, which is a combination of rubber and plastic. It has a distinctive look, not the square-honeycomb look of PVC or the smooth texture of rubber. Some mats claim to be made of recycled materials and some claim to be recyclable (though you shouldn’t have to think about recycling a mat you buy now for a very long time.)

Grip

This is the most difficult of the three qualities to gauge because the surface of the mat can and does change over time. Most mats come out of the package with a slick coating on them that needs to be removed. (Why the coating? So that the mat doesn’t stick to itself while rolled up and waiting to be bought.) To remove the coating, follow the instructions on the mat packaging or website – most major brands have this information. For mats made from PVC, washing the mat with water, a mild dish soap or yoga mat cleaner should begin to remove the coating. For TPE mats use water or a yoga mat cleaner. Rubber mats do not have a coating and therefore do not need anything done to them to except perhaps wiping with a damp cloth. Beware of internet advice to use salt, vinegar, bleach, or undiluted essential oils on your mat – it is not good practice for the most part. Try to find advice from the manufacturer for your specific mat.


The best way to increase grip for a new mat is to use it, which takes time. For two sided mats, pick a side and start breaking it in.


For grip, nothing beats a rubber mat. It will be grippy right out of the gate, and that grip should last the life of the mat. Rubber mats are also often eco-friendly. However, rubber mats are thin and heavy. If grip is super important to you, but you also need cushioning, you might try layering an inexpensive PVC mat under your rubber mat and see how that works. TPE mats take second place for grip, and basic PVC mats are almost always a little slippery. My hands sometimes slide in downward facing dog on my 20-year old PVC mat.

Another solution to increase grip isn’t a mat, but either a yoga towel or gloves/socks with grippy surfaces.

Cushioning

We are looking for the Goldilocks spot when it comes to cushioning—just enough so that the body feels supported (mostly on the floor) and not too much so that we feel stable and not wobbly in standing postures. Thickness and material are the determining factors of cushioning. Yoga mats come in thicknesses from 1/16 inch to 5/16 inch. Some brands use millimeters, which translate to roughly 2mm-6mm.


Mats that are 1/16 to 1/8 inch are normally sold as travel mats that are lightweight and can be easily folded up and placed in a suitcase so you can get your yoga on in any hotel room in the world. These provide almost no cushioning but will provide grip and keep you from being face down on a hotel carpet…yuck!


Rubber mats are normally 3/16 inch, or 4mm thick. Part of the reason for this is that rubber is the heaviest of the three materials, and also generally the most expensive. To keep the product affordable and easy to transport, these mats are usually thinner. Also, the main reason to buy a rubber mat is for the grip, and extra thickness doesn’t translate to extra grip.

PVC and TPE mats are generally ¼ to 3/8 inch, or 4-6mm. On the whole, a thinner mat will be less cushiony, though this is not always the case. It is possible for a TPE mat that is the same thickness as a PVC mat to have more cushioning due to the density of the material. Some mats take a two-sided approach, adding a grippy surface to one side and staying smooth on the other. Thicker mats will be heavier than thinner ones. For example, the Manduka ProLite (3/16 inch, 4.7 mm) weighs 4 pounds. The Manduka Pro is only 27% thicker (6mm) but weighs in at 7.5 pounds! It is a heavy mat to carry around.


We do not recommend mats that are thicker than 3/8 inch. Pilates mats are definitely not suited for yoga. This style of mat is generally ribbed lengthwise and ½ inch thick. It also stretches lengthwise, so it is not a good choice for stability in standing poses. You can use it for restorative yoga if you must, but that is it.


For cushioning, a 6mm PVC or TPE mat will be best, then a 4mm PVC/TPE, and rubber is a very distant third. Another solution to increase cushioning is to layer a PVC mat under your PVC/TPE mat for the floor poses, and then move the underneath mat to the side for standing postures. You can also use props to provide cushioning. This includes blankets, bolsters, knee/wrist pads, and wedge blocks, all of which we have to use in the studio. There are also gloves that provide wrist cushioning.

Price

The most inexpensive, basic mat you can get will be online or from Target or Dick’s, ¼ inch PVC, costing between $10 and $20. It will be easy to transport, not very cushiony and definitely not grippy. But it is a start, particularly if you are not entirely sold on this thing we call yoga. To up the cushioniness, you might find a 3/8 (6mm) mat for another $10-$15, so $20-$35 all in. It still won’t be grippy.


A basic TPE mat has a better chance of having grip, but you won’t really know until you practice on it. You’ll probably spend at least $30-35 on a 4mm version. You also might need to search around for one as they are not as widely available.


A higher quality PVC or TPE mat from a premium brand that has more engineering, more features, and sometimes a lifetime guarantee will start at $45 and can go up to $110 for a standard size. These mats should definitely have grip figured out and will be more or less cushiony depending on thickness and engineering. So you might find a $65 ¼ inch PVC mat that is lightweight, grippy, and feels more cushiony than your $12 Target mat that is also ¼ inch PVC. This is because it is made differently, and that R&D and manufacturing will cost a bit more.


The price for a rubber mat from a quality brand will start at $70-$80.

Size

Do not assume that all yoga mats are the same size! A “standard” mat size varies but is something close to 24 x 68. If you are taller than 5’8”, which is 68 inches, definitely spring for a longer mat. Even if you are shorter than that, you might want more length. Typical options for a wider mat are 28 and 30 inches. Major yoga brands sell different sizes. Expect to pay $20-$25 for a basic PVC mat that is wide and long. On average you’ll spend $25-$30 more than the base price for a wider or longer premium mat.

What’s Best?

My first yoga mat—the one I still use at home—was from Target and cost $12. It is a ¼ inch PVC mat. I don’t expect it to be grippy because it is not, even after all these years. But it is lightweight and easy to clean (hello washing machine), and I don’t have to be precious about it. I use it outside, too.


The mat I leave at Ganesha is 6mm made from TPE (it is the Hero mat from Natural Fitness.) It has a grippy textured surface underneath and a firm square honeycomb on the front and is not as squishy as a PVC mat. It retails for $75. It’s really heavy at about 7 pounds. I like practicing on it except for balancing poses–I don’t feel enough connection to the ground. I also would be angry at it for being so heavy if I had to haul it around.

The mat that I use for teaching or taking classes around the city is 4mm made from PVC—the Manduka Pro Lite. It is plenty grippy, plenty cushiony, and I know that I can use props for added cushioning for the poses or days that I need it. It retails for $65-$79. It is my favorite mat and if I only had to have one, this would be it. It is my desert island mat.


Mindy uses the Hero mat at the studio, too. For home, she has the thinner version of the Hero, called the Warrior. We have sold more Warrior mats than any other mat since we opened. It is priced at $42 and provides a really good blend of the three elements we listed at the beginning: cushioning, grippiness, and price. It is also not as heavy as other mats.

Our strongest recommendation is to try out the mats we have for you to borrow at the studio. There are versions of all of the mats we sell available for you to use. Especially if you are ready to make an investment of more than Target money in a mat that will serve you until 2030 or beyond, ask us which ones we recommend and practice on them. Everyone’s favorite will be different based on their needs. Our teachers offer adaptive and accessible yoga because the practice of yoga, from the mat you’re using to the poses you’re holding, will be different for everyone. Ganesha is yoga for all bodies, all people, and all stories.

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