Types of Yoga Mats
Yoga mats provide a slip-resistant
surface for all styles of yoga. They also provide a bit of cushioning between
your limbs and unforgiving studio floors or uneven outdoor terrain. It can take
some time to figure out what kind of yoga mat works best for you, but experts often recommend thicker mats
for anyone who needs a bit more cushioning or enjoys practices such as Yin or
restorative yoga that move slowly between each pose. A thinner mat might be a
better choice for advanced moves that require a lot of stability and a solid
connection with the ground, as in an Ashtanga or hybrid yoga-cardio class.
Ultimately, however, it's personal preference: The best mat for you is the one
that lets you focus on yoga, not whether your hands are slipping or your elbows
are aching.Travel Yoga Mats
A major perk of yoga is that you can continue your practice wherever you go. Travel yoga mats usually weigh a few pounds at most, and they typically roll up more tightly than bigger mats. Certain travel mats are even foldable so you can stash them in a suitcase more easily. Typically, these mats are on the thinner side -- something to consider if you generally enjoy a thicker mat. Some also have a smaller surface area.Hot Yoga Mats
Increasingly popular hot yoga classes are held in rooms that may be as hot as 100 degrees, so buckets of sweat are a foregone conclusion. Experts say you'll need a very sticky mat to keep from sliding around during these sessions. Mats with the best grip are often made of natural rubber and have an open-cell surface. This means they absorb your sweat instead of repelling it, leaving less moisture to make the mat slippery. Others are made from synthetic materials such as PVC that have a special moisture-wicking coating.Yoga Towels
If you have a mat that isn't very sticky or simply want extra traction, a yoga towel can be a valuable addition to your practice. Yoga towels can be laid on top of your yoga mat to spare it from absorbing sweat, and they also provide a little more comfort and cushioning. These towels are designed not to slip around, even during vigorous practice, and they can be tossed in the washer and dryer for easy cleaning.
Finding The Best Yoga Mats
There are several quality expert
reviews and roundups of the best yoga mats. For our picks, we emphasized
reviews that involved comparative first-hand testing by professional yoga
instructors. These included helpful guides from OutdoorGearLab.com, TheSweethome.com,
and Reviews.com. Of course, we also examined owners' reviews at sources such as
Amazon.com and Gaiam.com to see how the mats stood up to day-to-day use. With
all reviews, we paid particular attention to the mats' versatility, durability,
ease of cleaning and portability.
Experienced yogis say it's hard to beat the Manduka PRO Yoga Mat (Est. $110) for durability and comfort. The PRO is touted as a great choice for
nearly all styles of yoga, but it's a particular standout for advanced students
who need extra support while they're attempting tough moves. Note that if
you're a hot yoga student, it might not be the best choice -- experts with
OutdoorGearLab.com say it needs a break-in period to gain more traction, and
even then, wet traction falls short of other yoga mats.
The PRO is made of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. PVC has a bad rap in some
of the yoga community because of environmental concerns that it isn't
recyclable and can release a variety of risky chemicals. To blunt this
criticism, Manduka uses an emissions-free manufacturing process. The mat is
also certified safe for human contact by OEKO-TEX, an environmental
certification agency in Europe for the textile industry. The mat receives high
praise for durability, with reviewers saying the PRO will last for years.
Manduka backs the mat with a lifetime guarantee.
The PRO is 1/4 inch thick, which is on the heftier side for a yoga mat.
Reviewers say this extra thickness makes for a very comfortable and stable surface,
regardless of where they're practicing. The extra cushioning comes with one
major drawback: The mat weighs 7 pounds, which is quite heavy if you plan to
carry your mat regularly. The regular PRO is 26 inches wide and 71 inches long,
but for about $20 more you can buy an 85-inch version. There are about a dozen
colors, including the venerable black version.
If you simply can't envision schlepping a 7-pound yoga mat, Manduka
offers another well-reviewed option that's easier to tote: the Manduka PROlite (Est. $75). Reviewers say it's a good pick for most practices
because it's durable, supportive and doesn't bunch up. Again, experts caution
that there are much better, stickier mats out there for hot yoga.
Reviewers praise the Manduka PROlite's longevity and lack of
odor. The mat's closed-cell surface is also easy to keep clean because it
doesn't absorb sweat or other moisture. Like the PRO, the PROlite is made of
PVC. Manduka backs the PROlite with a lifetime guarantee.
The PROlite is just 3/16 inch thick, but experts say it's
still substantial enough for a variety of practices from gentle to more intense.
Though the mat is much lighter than the PRO, it still weighs 4 pounds. That's
middle of the road for a yoga mat, so, while it's not impossible to travel
with, there are still lighter options if you'll be on the go. The PROlite is 24
inches wide and 71 inches long. For about $14 more, you can buy a 79-inch
version. There are about a dozen colors, including vibrant shades of purple,
orange, and green.
Beginners or those who only do yoga occasionally will
probably be just fine with a basic mat, and one of the best on the market is
the YogaAccessories Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat (Est. $21), which testers with
TheSweethome.com praise for feeling "grippier than anything in its price
range." Users give it mixed reviews for stability: Some are pleased with
stickiness, while others say they aren't impressed.
The YogaAccessories mat is also made with PVC. Its 1/4-inch
thickness makes it a bit more forgiving for newbies who want extra cushioning
if they slip, or for more advanced students who want a mat is thick enough for
trickier moves. Note that this is the same thickness of the Manduka PRO, but at
3.6 pounds, the YogaAccessories is half the weight. That bodes well for easier
portability, but long-term durability is questionable: Several reviewers say
the mat is prone to rips and tears and, while there is a limited lifetime
warranty, it only covers manufacturer's issues such as peeling or fading. The
mat is 24 by 74 inches and comes in more than two dozen colors.
Travel mats are easier to take on the go
If you've ever dreamed of performing your downward dogs on a
tropical beach, a travel mat might be just the ticket. These mats are typically
lighter and thinner than the average mat, making them easier to squeeze into
luggage of toss in a tote bag.
Among travel mats, the Jade Travel Yoga Mat (Est. $60) offers
the best blend of performance and portability. While it's heavier than some
other travel options, reviewers say its easy-to-grip surface makes it ideal for
any kind of yoga, including hot yoga.
Jade is noted in the yoga community for eco-friendly
products, and the Jade Travel Mat is no exception. It's made of sustainably
harvested, biodegradable natural rubber -- there are no PVCs or other synthetic
materials. Jade also plants a tree for every mat it sells. However, as with many
natural rubber mats, there is a strong odor, especially at first. Reviewers
note that the sticky open-cell surface can attract lint or other debris and
stain easily, and warn that the mat shouldn't be stored in direct sunlight.
The Jade Travel Mat is 1/8 inch thick, which reviewers say provides
enough support without making the mat too bulky. It can be rolled or folded for
easier transport in luggage. However, it weighs a bit over 3 pounds, which some
complain is still too heavy for a travel mat. The mat is 24 inches wide and
comes in two lengths: 68 and 74 inches. The extra length will run you about $5
more. There are five color choices: black, midnight blue, olive, purple and
Yogis who prioritize portability above all else should check out the YOGO Mat Ultralight (Est. $70) which has attracted some buzz for
its non-slip surface and truly compact fold. While pricier than the Jade Travel
Yoga Mat, some YOGO reviewers say the price jump is worth it because this mat
folds down to the size of a newspaper.
Like the Jade travel mat, the YOGO is made with biodegradable tree
rubber, and the company plants a tree for every sale, which should make it a
good pick for any eco-minded buyer. The rubber also means no slipping: Brandon
Quittem of TheYogaNomads.com says "it's by far the stickiest travel mat on the
market," and several owners report going through their entire yoga practice
without sliding around. Odor is minimal, reviewers say.
The YOGO Mat Ultralight is a mere 1/16 inch thick, half as thick as the
Jade travel mat, and a few reviewers caution that it may not be supportive
enough on a hard surface for some. However, the thinness does help it fold so
compactly, and integrated buckles keep it packed up tight in luggage or even a
large purse. At 2.6 pounds, it also weighs less than the Jade. It's 24 by 68
inches and comes in three colors: gray, purple and green.