An increasing number of natural materials are being used to make eco-friendly yoga mats, including natural rubber, dried grass, organic cotton, cork and jute (a plant fiber that is commonly used to make twine and burlap), as well as biodegradable, recyclable compounds like polymer environmental resin (PER) and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). Eco-friendly mats do not contain PVC, which is important for those who avoid plastic for health or environmental reasons.
One thing to note: Mats made with natural rubber or TPE are classified as closed-cell or open-cell mats. The difference: Open-cell mats are more porous. Unlike closed-cell yoga mats, they readily absorb sweat, so they are less slippery. While this is great for stability, the maintenance on these mats can be considerable since sweat and grime can become trapped within the cells. Open-cell mats can be a good choice for all yoga styles because of their nonslip properties.
Although closed-cell mats can be slippery, they are more hygienic and easier to clean. Closed-cell mats can be cleaned by wiping down with mild soap and water. Open-cell mats can be cleaned the same way, but most reviewers recommend a deep cleaning after a sweaty yoga session. This can be achieved by soaking the mat in the bathtub (in plain water or a mixture of mild soap and water) or hosing it off, making sure to squeeze all excess moisture out of the mat and letting it air dry. Closed-cell mats can work for all styles of yoga, but practitioners of Bikram and hot yoga may benefit from a yoga towel to decrease slipperiness. Yoga towels are discussed in a separate section of this report.
The biggest downside to eco-friendly yoga mats is that they tend to be less durable than their plastic counterparts. In addition, mats made of grass or jute may not be as cushioned or supportive as the traditional PVC-based yoga mats. Even so, most yoga devotees who are concerned about the environment see the current crop of eco-friendly yoga mats as a step in the right direction, which has helped this category gain serious momentum.
There are a number of eco-friendly yoga mats on the market, but the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat (*Est. $65) garners the highest ratings. This PVC-free mat is made from natural rubber and comes in two lengths -- 68 or 74 inches -- with a thickness of 3/16 inch. Though the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat weighs 4.5 pounds, it is still lighter than other top-rated mats like the Manduka Black Mat Pro.
Women's Adventure magazine gives the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat a 4.5-star rating (out of 5) in a group test of five mats. Like most reviewers, testers for the magazine praise the mat's fantastic grip and traction. "Even after a good sweat, this mat's winning feature is its natural rubber that enables hands and feet to grip wonderfully," the editors write.
This opinion is repeated at Amazon.com, where more than 320 reviews combine to give the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat a 4.5-star rating overall. Most users say the mat is supportive without being too squishy. "The cushioning is more than sufficient without being 'squirrely,' so balance poses are stable," says one user.
The Jade Harmony Professional offers great grip because it is an open-cell mat, so it absorbs sweat and water. However, some reviewers complain about the porous nature of this yoga mat. "Sweat is absorbed easily and readily into this mat, and it's difficult to clean," says the author of Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog.
Durability is also a concern, as a number of reviewers report that their mat wore out quickly, although this is a common complaint about eco-friendly yoga mats. Some users also say the Jade Harmony Professional emits a strong rubber smell, and although it does diminish over time, some say it never vanishes.
Jade also gets high marks for the Jade Encore Yoga Mat (*Est. $65), another rubber-based yoga mat. The Jade Encore mat is very similar to the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat -- it's 3/16 inch thick and comes in two lengths -- but it is made with recycled natural rubber. The Jade Harmony Professional is made from new rubber, which is tapped from a tree like maple syrup.
Insiya Rasiwala-Finn, writing for Canadian news site Granville Online, recommends the Jade Encore Yoga Mat for its nonslip grip. She also likes that it is made in the U.S. However, she warns that the mat disintegrates easily. We also saw one complaint at Amazon.com that the mat has a strong rubber smell.
The Barefoot Yoga Original Eco Yoga Mat (*Est. $75) also gets high marks, including recommendations from Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog. It's made of natural rubber and jute fiber, and it comes in lengths of 72 or 84 inches. The Original Eco Yoga Mat is 0.15 inches thick and weighs between 4.5 and 6 pounds depending on the length. The editor of Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog says it is durable and "substantial enough for the most vigorous of practices." He also likes that the jute fibers provide a natural nonslip surface.
Testers at Women's Adventure magazine say the mat holds up well to demanding poses, and they appreciate its green credibility. "Without man-made additives, it is the most eco-friendly mat on the market and is even biodegradable," they say. However, a few users at Amazon.com say the Barefoot Yoga mat sheds small fibers and wears out quickly.
Barefoot Yoga also makes the cheaper Barefoot Yoga PER Environmental Mat (*Est. $30), which is made of polymer environmental resin (PER), a relatively new artificial material that is baked at high temperatures without the toxic emissions that characterize PVC Production. We found fewer reviews for this yoga mat, but some testers like that it has the support and cushioning of a conventional yoga mat without the chemicals.
The Prana Revolution Natural Sticky Mat (Est. $100 and up) is another eco-friendly option that earns several recommendations. The mat is made from natural biodegradable rubber, and, at 78 inches long and 30 inches wide, is much larger than the average yoga mat. It's approximately 3/16 inch thick.
In a test of five yoga mats at Women's Adventure magazine, the Prana Revolution yoga mat earns the highest rating and an Editor's Choice award. Testers say it has the largest area and most support of any of the mats tested. "It never slips or bunches, so there is never a need to adjust mid-sequence and testers loved the confidence and strength they felt when pushing against the delicate texture of this natural rubber surface," the editors write. A tester at BoingBoing.net, a product-review site, calls it her favorite yoga mat, saying it never slides or bunches.
The Prana Revolution yoga mat also gets excellent user reviews at Amazon.com, where it enjoys a 4.5-star rating after 50 postings. Most say the yoga mat is durable and sturdy, and they appreciate the extra width for poses that require more room to stretch out. However, heavier users say they could use more cushioning, and some say the mat gets slippery when they sweat. One of the biggest complaints mentioned in reviews is the mat's considerable heft -- it weighs 9 pounds, making it one of the heaviest mats covered in this report.
Manduka also makes an eco-friendly yoga mat, the Manduka Eko Yoga Mat (*Est. $70). The Eko is a closed-cell mat made of natural rubber. It has a length of 71 or 85 inches and a thickness of 3/16 inch. The editor of Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog gives the mat a grade of A-plus, saying it's incredibly sticky, which is helpful for maintaining tricky balance poses. However, several users at Amazon.com disagree; many owners complain that the mat is too slippery. Still, other users on Amazon.com praise the Eko's durability and cushioning, and the mat earns a 4-star rating overall. The Manduka Eko mat weighs 7 pounds, so even those who like the mat acknowledge that it's heavy to carry around on a daily basis.
Manduka makes a lighter version of this yoga mat, the Manduka Eko Lite Mat (*Est. $40), which weighs 3.5 pounds but is shorter and thinner at 68 inches long and 1/8 inch thick. Users at Amazon.com say the Eko Lite yoga mat is good for light use, but some think it's too thin for regular daily use. Ann Pizer at About.com likes the grippy surface on the Eko Lite, but she says the mat is thinner and has less cushioning than she would like. She also complains about a strong rubbery smell.
Yoga mats made from natural fibers have more texture, which assists with balance. The Health and Yoga Natural Dried Grass Yoga Mat (*Est. $50) has a textured, grippy surface that is excellent for yoga poses requiring a lot of balance. The mat comes in two sizes -- 24 inches by 72 inches, or 36 inches by 72 inches -- and weighs approximately 4.5 pounds. The Natural Dried Grass mat has a latex backing to prevent sliding and bunching. However, even with this latex backing, some reviewers say it slides too much during Ashtanga yoga, which involves a lot of quick, athletic moves.
Reviews indicate that eco-friendly yoga mats aren't as durable as their plastic counterparts. In particular, the Hugger Mugger Earth Elements Mat (*Est. $50) attracts a number of comments about its short lifespan. The 72-inch-long Earth Elements Mat is made from closed-cell thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), which contains no PVC or phthalates. While the mat gets high marks for its eco-friendly credentials and ample cushioning, some say it falls apart quickly.
The editor of Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog gives it a grade of C-minus to D-plus, saying "the initial honeymoon with this mat ends pretty much as soon as it starts falling apart." He reports that large chunks started falling off the mat after just several weeks of use. We also saw a number of complaints at Amazon.com that the Hugger Mugger Earth Elements Mat shreds easily and falls apart within a few months.