Each type of yoga mat has it’s own set of characteristics that make it suited for different types of situations even before you get it home. Far beyond just buying the right mat, taking good care of it will extend the life of this important purchase and keep it clean, healthy and supporting you properly for years to come.
How to Choose the Right Yoga Mat for Your Practice
A decade or so ago, and choosing a mat was pretty easy, the options were slim-none and you could maybe pick between blue or purple. Now the options are well, overwhelming at best.
Just take a look at our yoga mat reviews this week and you’ll see an incredible variety of mats in every price point and style. And if you’re not lucky enough to win a free mat this week, here’s how to narrow down that daunting list of available yoga mats to a small group that’s right for you.
Types of Yoga Mats
This is where you pick your “breed” of mat and it’s all about the purpose you want it to serve and the type of yoga you do. There are 4 main types of yoga mats:
- Fabric Mats: often made of cotton, jute, hemp, bamboo or other fabric like material. These mats are the easiest to find in environmentally sound versions and using organic materials. Best for “hot” styles of yoga or those that involve sweating, fabric mats actually become more “sticky” when you sweat on them. Depending on the backing (many come with non-skid coatings) you can easily throw these mats in the wash to freshen them up and keep them like new.
- Sticky Mats: Usually the type of mat that springs to mind for many people when they think yoga mat. Sticky mats are some of the most versatile mats on the market and can be used for most types of yoga such as Ashtanga, Iyengar, Restorative, Power, and the list goes on. Sticky mats vary in material construction and can contain PVC, latex, natural rubber or closed cell foam. When choosing a mat from this category be sure to investigate what it’s made of to ensure you’re getting what you want. There is a huge difference between a plastic mat and a natural rubber one, yet they are both considered “sticky.” Also, people with latex allergies need to be cautious and look for latex free versions which are now widely available. Sticky mats, minus the rubber versions, can become quite slippery when wet so they are not usually used by themselves for “hot” types of yoga like Bikram or Moksha. You can compliment your sticky mat with a fabric towel for your hot yoga practice, such as the great ones made by Yogitoes, and then you get the best of both worlds.
- Travel Mats: Marked by their lighter weight and portability (many fold instead of roll to fit more easily in a suitcase), travel mats can be made of pretty much any material. With some yoga mats weighing in at a hefty 10lbs, it’s understandable that you don’t want to lug them on vacation or extended stays away from home. If you’re in the market for a travel mat, many companies offer travel versions of their more popular mats so you can actually get the compact version of the one you already love.
- Ultra/Pro Mats: Most like a sticky mat, Ultra/Pro mats are pretty much just a sticky mat on steroids. They are often longer, thicker, wider and heavier than their sticky counter parts and the price is usually reflective of that. These mats can truly last a lifetime though and once you find one that you can call “home” you’ll see why the investment is truly worth it when you fall in love with your practice and never need to buy another mat. These mats can be used in similar fashion to the sticky mats and may need a towel for a hot practice as well.
How to Care for Your New Mat
You’re going to sweat on it, tumble on it, have emotional moments on it and it needs some love returned for all it will give you. Taking care of your yoga mat is really easy and can improve the surface if done properly.
- Read the Label: Each mat is different and the materials the mat is made of dictate how you should care for it. The manufacturer will know the best way to extend the longevity of the mat. Some mats should go in the washing machine while for others, this will destroy it, read the label and follow those instructions!
- Wash Your Mat Before First Use: Most sticky mats are coated with a lubricant that help them not stick together in shipping and storage so when you get your mat you may be surprised that it’s not as “sticky” as anticipated until you give it a wash down. This can simply be done with a mild soap and water solution and allow the mat to air dry flat before use.
- Wash Your Mat Regularly: A thorough soap and water wash is great for some mats but for others if you don’t rinse them thoroughly it can actually make it more slippery. There are many commercial mat sprays available that come in convenient spray bottles that fit right in your yoga bag so you won’t forget to bring it to class. For a DIY solution, I make a mat spray using a small aluminum spray bottle, filled almost to the top with water then I add 2 drops of tea tree oil and 1 drop of either lavender or lemongrass essential oil (these are the oils I use). The tea tree oil has antibacterial properties to keep it clean and you can add any other essential oil to freshen up the smell if you’re not fond of the tea tree. The oils also help to keep the mat from drying out and can really improve the texture of your mat over time. Never use rubbing alcohol or other drying agents on your mat it can degrade the finish and break down the surface.
- Store Your Mat Properly: Ideally we would all have room to spread our mat flat when not in use. If you are not going to be using your mat for awhile, you can lay it flat under your bed so it doesn’t get in the way and avoids those curly ends. Rolling a mat is often the most convenient and space saving method of storage. When you roll your mat up roll the top layer to the outside so that when you do lay it on the floor the ends don’t curl up.
Other Considerations Before Buying Your New Yoga Mat
- Size: A standard yoga mat is 24” wide by 68” long and fits most people. If you’re a taller sort of just like some length to your mat, you can find mats up to 84” long.
- Width: The standard width of 24” is fine for most however, some people like the wider 26” variety and you can even find a few 36” wide mats. So why would you need a wider mat? If you do a lot of arm balance postures, or simply have wider shoulders, you may want a wider mat.
- Texture: Every mat has a different texture while some are smooth as they come. Many websites offer close ups of the mat texture so you can get a “feel” the mat before you buy it. Texture helps with grip and works hand in hand with the mat material.
- Thickness: Depending on the type of practice you prefer, the thickness of your chosen mat may vary. Thick mats feel more comfortable when sitting and lying but can make balance postures more challenging if too thick. Most mats range from an 1/8” thick to 1/4” but you can always find other mats thinner and thicker to meet your preferences.