In the beginning, there was only one type of yoga mat; it was made out of PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride), which is a toxic and has carcinogen element that can be harmful to your health. Furthermore, it is sticky and only came in limited colors. However, today that is not the case. Yoga mats come in variety of designs, colors, sizes, and are made of non-toxic materials.
Practicing yoga is a divine feeling, however, if you have a yoga mat of poor-quality, it will not fit your needs or fulfill the purpose of the practice. Picking out just any mat from the rack just because the color is nice, will not help you in any way.
With the increase in options, yogis have to be more careful while picking their yoga mats. The mat should be able to lend the practitioner support and balance during the practice. Hence, some know-how is important when choosing your yoga mat.
To help yogis with their decision-making when buying a yoga mat, here is a minimalist guide that covers all areas that need to be checked when picking one. But, before that let’s delve into how and why these mats came into being.
History of Yoga Mat
Yoga in its initial days, around 5000 years ago, was unlike today, not performed on any kind of cushioning or mat. Instead, yogis directly practiced on grass to create a connection to one of the truest elements of life, earth. However, later it was discovered that it is better to have some kind of insulation from the ground as it takes away energy.
As time passed, yogis started to feel a need for sticky surfaces and additional padding, especially when they had to perform advanced postures. Hence, they started using deer and tiger skins for their practice from animals who had died from natural causes, so that it also fulfilled yoga’s principle of non-violence. This however, was not possible in the western world as animal skin was not a viable option and they had to find a better prop to use as mat during their practice.
The brief timeline below explains the evolution of yoga Mats to the present time. Here is a look into it.
With the increasing popularity of challenging yoga poses, surfaces on which yogis practiced had to be more supportive and provide grip. Animal skin gave yogis the padding that was required, however, they could not create the grip. So, yogis layered these surfaces with cloth. This was not a comfortable option, but irrespective of all odds, it was the only option available.
Yogis started using rugs in place of clothes, as yoga mats. These rugs were made from jute or other cotton or synthetic alternatives.
Angela Farmer used a piece of foam carpet padding as a substitute for a yoga mat. Seeing its popularity among her students, her father Richard took the idea forward by getting in touch with the German manufacturer of padding product and became the first retailer of “sticky” mats. However, these yoga mats had a short life as their soft material deteriorated fast.
PVC yoga mats, which were much sturdier were introduced. But, again since these yoga mats were highly toxic and non-biodegradable. Furthermore, they were slippery and yogis had to cover it with a towel, which was a distracting option while also increasing the pollution caused by detergent and wastage of water used to wash these towels every time.
Sara Chambers, founder of Hugger Mugger, took the extra mile to create the first non-skid yoga mat, as durable and sturdy as the PVC Mats, but also non-toxic
(F) Present Day
The yoga industry is a booming industry with a turnover of $27 billion, of which yoga mats comprise a large part. Today yoga mats are found in a variety of sizes, thickness, designs, and materials. The options are many for you to choose from. The only important point is to choose one that fits your requirements.
Yoga Mat Materials
The types of yoga mats are categorized according to the material that is used to produce it. The material used for making your yoga mat is the first detriment of choosing a yoga mat. Below are types of yoga mats explained in detail so that you can make your choice wisely and enhance your yoga practice.
This is one of the most commonly used materials for making basic and cost-effective yoga mats. Most yogis do not prefer this material for their yoga mats since it is toxic and carcinogenic and not recyclable. However, most companies have started producing mats of this material which are marked as non-toxic and recyclable. So, be careful to look for tags before jumping in and buying one.
(B) Natural Rubber
This yoga mat is the most eco-friendly of all as it is made out of natural rubber extracted from rubber trees. It is biodegradable produced without the use hazardous phthalate plasticizers, heavy metals or PVC.
Mats made from this material are soft and comfortable. Padded yoga mats are made of foam, lined with cloth on the inside. Padded yoga mats are renowned for giving more support, however their grip is low.
Cotton mats are made of the most natural product, cotton. The material is eco-friendly, lasts longer as it can be washed, has high absorbency, and gives more cushioning than a padded yoga mat.
This is another eco-friendly, bio-degradable material that is preferred by most yogis. The material has a good grip and absorbs moisture easily. The mat is a good choice for practitioners of hot yoga.
This type of yoga mat is manufactured by using anti-microbial, premium-grade cork. The benefits of using this mat material is that it self-cleanses has great absorbency, prevents slipping when doing poses, and is biodegradable.
Yoga Mat Buying Guide – What Makes A Good Yoga Mat
Other than the materials used, there are other pointers to add to your checklist, when you go out shopping for a yoga mat. You might mistake an exercise mat for a yoga mat, but they are absolutely different in the sense that exercise mats are much thicker and have the tendency to slip.
To make shopping easy for you, keep these points in mind help yourself in making the right decision.
The texture of a yoga mat helps in determining the amount of traction it can provide. More texture means more traction, which is great for performing standing or balancing asanas; however, it can cause great discomfort for supine or seated poses.
What’s your height or body size? If you are big-built and tall you would obviously need a larger yoga mat. So choose one keeping this in mind.
The thickness of your yoga mat determines your comfort during practice. Yoga mat thickness ranges between a standard size of 1/4 inch to 1/16 inch. 1/4 inch yoga mats are the thickest yoga mats.
Extra thick yoga mats are most suited for people who need cushioning due to injury, or for practitioners who are more into supine or seated poses. The thin yoga mats are suited for practitioners who perform standing and balancing poses, to create a connection to the ground during practice.
You would not want a mat where your hands and feet start sticking to after a sweaty yoga session. Choose a mat that can offer a decent amount of absorbency while having a non-skid surface on the other side. Natural rubber, Jute, or organic cotton mats can help you achieve this requirement.
Not all yoga mats are eco-friendly so ensure to choose one that is. Yoga mats made from natural or recycled rubber, jute, or organic cotton are your best bet to achieve this. PVC yoga mats should be avoided as they do not break down easily and end up clogging landfills for years before they deteriorate.
Your choice of size, thickness, style, and eco-friendly material will determine the price of your yoga mat. So, do not just go for a high priced yoga mat without looking up the features first. Just because it is priced high, it does not mean it’s good.
Types of Yoga Mats
Every yoga mat is designed to serve a purpose. You don’t just pick up a yoga mat and start performing on it. Your yoga mat’s specification, size, and thickness must match the style of yoga you do as well as the conditions you perform it in. Your yoga mat’s grip, durability, softness, and traction are all important considerations to keep in mind so that you can move your body from one pose to another with ease.
1. Beginners Yoga Mats
Yoga mats for beginners in yoga must be able to provide them with a solid foundation and comfort since they are new to yoga. Mat kits are available for beginners, which they can use till they are able to understand their preferences.
2. Ashtanga Yoga Mats
Cotton or Jute mats are the most preferable types for Ashtanga yogis since this style of yoga involves a lot of sweating. Furthermore, Ashtanga practitioners can benefit from the cushioning of such mats especially when they perform supine or seated poses.
3. Universal Yoga Mats
As the name suggests these yoga mats serve their purpose for every kind of yoga practice. These mats encompass all requirements like comfort, the right amount absorbency, texture, and balance required for doing all asanas with ease.
4. Utopian Yoga Mats
These mats are heavy and are usually produced from PVC, which comes as a great drawback for its type. If a yogi needs to carry their mat around a lot, this is not a good choice.
5. Travel Yoga Mats
Travel yoga mats are lightweight and slim so that practitioners can easily carry them around. These mats are usually 1/16 inch thin, also known as wafer mats, or the standard size of 1/4 inch.
There are various arguments about the need to use yoga mats when practicing yoga. In every yoga teacher training, it is recommended to use good yoga mat because of the core idea of preventing the body from touching the ground and saving the body’s energy and heat from getting grounded. The mats act like an insulation between your body and the ground, thus preventing any loss of heat, charge, or energy during practice, providing a kind of thermo-insulation altogether.
Other than that, yoga mats serve the physical advantage of preventing the body from slipping and injury, especially while practicing on a flat surface. Yogis need to hold their ground strongly on the surface they are practicing on and yoga mats provide them the anti-slipping factor.
Moreover, not everyone’s bodies are made the same and neither do all have the same type of tolerance for comfort. For some, a thin yoga mat might suffice while for some it might just be too bumpy. So, everyone’s needs are different.
Choosing the right yoga mat will make your yoga practice more fun and you will feel more connected and fulfilled every time. This guide covers all of your questions regarding buying a yoga mat. So, if you do not have one or feel like getting a new one, make your list of all the specifications above and start shopping.