The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Perfect Yoga Mat
A yoga mat is a very personal piece of equipment. We move on our mats, meditate on our mats, sweat on our mats, rest on our mats, and sometimes even fall on our mats.
But finding the perfect yoga mat for your practice is no easy feat. Every body is unique, and consequently, so is each expression of a yoga pose.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to finding the perfect yoga mat.
Depending on how and where you usually practice, your ideal yoga mat may be different than that of your fellow yogis. So how do you know which is the right one for you?
To avoid resorting to the Goldilocks Method (trying each possible mat until you find the one that is just right), we’ve created this guide to choosing the perfect yoga mat for your unique practice.
Here are the factors you should take into consideration when choosing a yoga mat.
Height and Thickness
The thickness of your yoga mat is going to influence how much support you get. The sweet spot for a yoga mat is between 3-5cm in height, however you can find some that are thicker or thinner.
Mats on the higher end of this spectrum provide more protection. However, some yogis find thick mats to be cumbersome, as they tend to be heavier and offer less direct feedback.
If your mat is on the thinner side, you’re more likely you are to feel the ground beneath you. If you’re practicing on cold, hard surfaces, you may feel a bit unsafe. Additionally, if you have fragile joints, this could cause you some discomfort.
Thicker doesn’t necessarily mean firmer, and vice versa. Because mats can be made from a variety of materials, some can be thick and squishy, while others can be thin and compact.
If you typically practice very physical styles of yoga, like Ashtanga, Rocket, or Vinyasa, a squishy mat is not ideal. If a mat has too much give, it can behave more like a mattress. You might feel like you’re sinking into the mat, and that you don’t have the stability you need. A firmer mat is better for these styles of practice, but make sure it’s not too hard to offer adequate protection.
However, if you mostly use your mat for meditation, breathwork, or restorative seated practices, then you might not mind having something a bit softer.
If you’re a yogi who likes to explore different styles of yoga, then you’ll want a mat that can support you in both the Yin and Yang sides of your practice. A good all-purpose mat will over a balance of cushion and stability.
Weight and Portability
How often do you travel with your mat?
Firmer mats may be better to practice on, but they also tend to be heavier. If you usually practice at home, or go to your yoga studio by car, then you might not mind the added weight of a firmer mat.
However, if you’re someone who typically walks or bikes to the studio, or likes to take your mat with you to your local park, then you might want something lighter and more portable.
There are also mats that are designed specifically for travel, and can be folded or rolled up and easily stuck in a suitcase. Many yogis find that they like to keep their thicker mat at home base, and take a specific travel mat with them on their intrepid adventures.
Grip is one of the most important factors for a functional and safe yoga mat.
If you’ve ever gone to a heated yoga class without a towel, then you’re probably familiar with the slip and slide effect. But even if you’re practicing in cold climates, a good grip can make all the difference in poses in a Downward Facing Dog.
Non-slip mats are becoming increasingly popular. These mats will have a sticky surface to keep you in place during flow. For gecko level grip that’s also soft to the touch, nothing beats a cork yoga mat.
Texture and Feel
Your bare skin is going to be coming in direct contact with the mat, so it’s important that your mat is comfortable to the touch.
We often only think of how our yoga mats will function in standing asanas, but try imaging how your mat will serve you in Savasana - one of the most important poses of them all. Is that non-slip mat with the sticky surface still comfortable when you’re lying flat in corpse pose? And what about temperature? If you’re practicing atop a cold floor on a chilly morning, will that thin plastic mat serve as a barrier, or carrier to the cold?
Additionally, if you suffer from a latex allergy, steer clear from mats with a natural rubber surface. Your latex-free alternatives are going to be synthetic rubber, plastic, or cork. Cork yoga mats have a smooth, natural texture that is hypoallergenic and naturally thermoregulating.
Ability to Lay Flat
Mats that are too lightweight tend to not hold shape well. Just like when you try to roll up a piece of paper and flatten it back out, you end up with something that’s stuck in an awkward, in-between phase; it’s always curling up at the edges when it’s flat, and trying to unravel itself when it’s rolled.
Your mat should have enough weight to keep it grounded on all four corners. Be sure to check the reviews of your mat before purchasing, and look for signs that your mat can lay flat, and stay flat.
Your yoga mat shouldn’t be a contributor to our earth’s growing pollution and plastic problems. Unfortunately, however, this is the case for many mats.
Be sure to do due diligence on the materials of your mat, and opt for something that is environmentally conscious. Most low cost mats are made from PVC, which is one of the most environmentally damaging plastics of them all. It’s also common to find mats made from PET, PEVA, or PP. These plastics are easier to recycle than PVC, but they are still not renewable or biodegradable.
Sustainable alternatives to plastic mats include Rubber Mats, Recycled Plastic Mats, and Cork Yoga Mats. However, it’s important to look further than the material of the mat, and consider the whole supply chain. Investigate the source of the raw materials, where the mat was manufactured, and how far it traveled before arriving to you.
Gecko cork yoga mats are made from rubber and Premium Portuguese Cork, and produced locally in small batches. Read more about our Conscious Supply Chain here.
Many yogis are joining the non-toxic movement in attempts to reduce their exposure to carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals.
Since we spend so much time breathing on our mats, it’s critical that our mats are not releasing any dangerous particles. However, many mats are made from PVC and other plastics that have been proven to be highly toxic.
To keep your mat a safe and sacred space, choose one made from a non-toxic material like rubber or cork.
When buying a yoga mat, make sure that it’s one that’s built to last.
The durability of your mat is directly related to the quality. Lower quality mats will show signs of wear and decomposition much sooner, and you’ll need to replace them much more regularly. In the end, you won’t be saving money, and your old mat will be joining the growing pile of disposed, non-biodegradable yoga mats.
This brings us to our final criteria for finding your perfect yoga, and that’s price.
Yoga mats are sold at a wide range of prices, from a few to a few hundred dollars / euros / pounds. Mats that are cheap to sell are cheap to make, which means mass production, commodification, and unsustainable manufacturing practices.
However, just because a yoga mat is expensive, doesn’t make it higher in quality or more sustainable. If you’re going to be paying top dollar for a yoga mat, be sure that you are paying for quality and sustainability, not branding or the latest color trend.
There are plenty of independent brands who offer great mats at accessible prices. Look for a brand that matches your values and offers a product that ticks all the boxes on your unique yoga mat wishlist.
That being said, remember that your yoga mat is the only piece of equipment you truly need for your practice. Yet, many yogis spend less on their mats than they do on the nice-to-haves of the practice, like a new pair of leggings, or tickets to a yoga festival. By investing in a good yoga mat, you are investing in your physical, mental, and spiritual health. A high quality yoga mat will be able to support your yogic journey for years to come, and can save you money in the future by keeping you in alignment now.
Shopping For Your Perfect Mat
Now that you know what kind of mat you’re looking for, the trick is how to find it. Here are our recommendations for finding a good yoga mat.
- Tap Into Your Community: Start by asking the yogis within your local or online community about their mats. Arrange to swap mats with a friend for a class to see how you like practicing on their mat, and if it’s something you would want to invest in yourself.
- Read Reviews: If you’re shopping online, you won’t be able to test the mat before buying, so be sure to check out the reviews. Pay special attention to critics, and make sure that none of these are deal breakers on your perfect mat checklist.
- Look For a 30 Day Return Policy: You should absolutely love practicing on your mat. If after a few weeks with your new mat you realize that it’s not the right fit for you, you should be able to return it.
- Shop Small: Small business owners value your support more than you can imagine. When you buy a yoga mat from a friends & family run brand or an independent retailer, you set off an explosion of good vibes (trust us on this).
We’ve got a suspicion that our cork yoga mats might be the perfect fit for you.
Why? Because they were made for yogis, by yogis.
Now we meant it when we said that there is no one-size-fits all yoga mat, but we love cork mats, and we think you’re going to love them too.
To shop our cork yoga mats & blocks, click here.