Shopping for a yoga mat can be overwhelming. Since yoga boomed in popularity across the western world, so has the yoga mat industry, leaving us with countless options with prices ranging from single to triple digits. So what is it that makes some yoga mats so much more expensive than others, and in what circumstances is this a worthy investment? I investigated the market to find out exactly what the differences are.
Yoga mats get more expensive as their features and material quality increase. There are many benefits to buying a more expensive yoga mat, but not all are necessary. Everyone’s individual form of practice and their needs, therefore, will determine whether these more expensive features are worth the extra cost.
Many factors weigh into determining which yoga mat is right for you. Someone new to yoga who is just beginning to experiment, for example, will have different needs from someone who has gotten to an advanced level with balancing and strength poses that are made easier with a certain foundation. Likewise, someone who regularly practices vinyasa flow in an air condition apartment will have different needs than someone who takes hot yoga classes.
When it comes to the now over 11 billion dollar a year yoga mat industry, there are no clear-cut right or wrong answers. Since the market has boomed in the last half-decade, yoga mat options have become abundant. What once came in one standard fashion, made from PVC at one thickness and in one general price range, has now become a market full of options ready to please even the most athletic, the most eco-conscious, and the most artistic yogis.
Factors to Consider When Buying A Yoga Mat
Yoga mats come in many different shapes and sizes, so having an understanding of what is available on the market is a great place to start when determining whether an expensive mat is the right choice for your practice.
The type of material that a yoga mat is made out of will determine a slew of other factors on this list. Before the recent spike in popularity, yoga mats were generally made from polyvinyl chloride, also referred to as PVC, and came in one standard shape and size, found in stores for somewhere around $10-$30 US. The growth in yoga, however, referred not only to a growth in numbers of practicing yogis, but this, in turn, led to the surfacing of various forms of practice as well as various needs thereof.
Furthermore, industries and movements that parallel and often cross paths with yoga practice, such as the fitness craze and the sustainability and environmentalist movements, all began leaving their impact. Those who found yoga to be their new favorite workout, for example, popularized hot yoga and acrobatic yoga, both of which benefit greatly from a slip-resistant foundation. Similarly, a study of the history, as well as mental and spiritual practices of yoga, may lead to greater consciousness of the earth and all that is around us.
The 2010s brought about a great demand for both a more sustainable product as well as a higher-performing one, creating competition in the market as well as creating niches to cater to. Today we can find yoga mats made out of many different materials, some popular options including the following:
- Thermoplastic Elastomer
A “sticky” mat is one with good traction, something that can make a world of difference in properly and safely holding poses. Not only will good traction prevent you from slipping and falling, but it will also provide the confidence to release all refrain and allow yourself to fully stretch and dive into each pose.
This becomes especially important when performing more intricate balancing moves, such as in acro-yoga, or to prevent sliding due to sweat. After all, there is nothing worse than having to grasp the sides of your yoga mat to prevent falling on your face during a downward dog because of sweaty palms.
If this is something you struggle with, then rest assured that there are quite a few choices of materials available that create an excellent slip-resistant foundation. From natural cork fibers to yoga towels, traction is one of the major focuses in yoga mat designs.
The thickness of a mat affects both the stability it offers as well as the support and cushioning it provides
Thinner mats come as thin as 2 mm or 1/16 in., bringing you closer to the ground with less chance of movement from the mat cushioning. These are great for those who regularly practice balancing poses as it creates better traction and will allow you to better ground yourself. There is, however, very little cushioning and is not ideal for anyone who experiences sore joints but can work wonderfully when used on flat grass or carpets.
Thicker mats, on the other hand, are great for protecting bones and joints. As thick as 12 mm or ½ in., these are ideal If you require a bit more padding to prevent from aching during your practice, then these mats are exactly what you need. Yoga is all about accessibility for everyone. There is no wrong way to do yoga so long as you do what feels comfortable and right to your body, and if a bit more cushioning is what the body wants, then a bit more cushioning is what a body should receive.
Thick mats are also great for anyone who likes to have a versatile mat. Yoga is often used for exercise and can be combined with moves from other disciplines such as Pilates for a more rigorous workout. In this case, padding rather than stability will be a greater necessity from your mat, and a thick yoga mat may be the perfect choice.
For those who are unsure if either of these is the right choice for you, then sticking with a standard thickness is probably best. At 6 mm or approximately ¼ in., a standard thickness gives you provides a solid separation and cushion from the ground, yet still allows for easy stability.
How you practice will be a significant determiner in how much you should spend on a yoga mat. The casual yogi, whether you’re someone who is just beginning yoga or someone who just happens to go to a yoga class with a friend a few times a month, will generally fare fine with a relatively simple mat. Perhaps a small splurge on a slip-resistant material would be beneficial, especially if you plan to do hot yoga or want to increase and grow your yoga practice, but otherwise, you may as well keep your money in your wallet.
Those who are more experienced will likely come to a point in their journey where they feel the need to upgrade to a mat with certain features. A yoga style and practice that works for you becomes apparent through experimentation and regular practice. Knowing what you enjoy tells you what you need from your mat, and a mat that can take you further in your practice will likely become evident as a worthy investment.
PVC is a durable synthetic plastic polymer that is cheap and easy to produce, hence why it was an excellent initial choice for yoga mat producers. However, PVC is largely made from chlorine and petroleum, both of which are nothing near eco-friendly, from their extraction and throughout their processing.
Furthermore, a discarded yoga mat could spend decades in a landfill, and although it may break down, the PVB does not decompose but rather goes through a process called granulation in which the pieces do nothing more than continually break into smaller pieces.
Taking on a regular yoga practice is often accompanied by greater consciousness of and concern for the world and others around us, an increased awareness that often crosses paths with movements and industries directly related to eco-consciousness. From this stemmed a search for alternative materials to make yoga mats from, bringing about a variety of options made from both natural as well as alternative factory-made materials.
Here we arrive at the original premise of this article, that being when an expensive yoga mat is worth the price. The answer to this lies entirely in the weight and importance that each individual puts on their practice. If yoga is a casual exercise or hobby for you, then it is likely not something that you’d like to put a large sum of money into.
On the other hand, the yogi who adapts a daily routine and works to grow and expand their practice will likely place more value on yoga and will thus likely be willing to splurge more on something they deem an investment in their daily life.
Types of Yoga Practice
There are many different styles of yoga, and while some of these are commonly found in combination with one another, they are all unique in their practice. Understanding which type of yoga your mat will commonly be used for will help in narrowing down what kind of mat will fulfill your requirements.
Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced form of yoga in the western world. Translated from Sanskrit, the word Hatha literally means “force,” referring to the physical movements that are performed in the practice. Within this umbrella category are several different forms of practice.
Vinyasa translates to “flow” and refers to the style of yoga that smoothly moves from one pose to the next with the use of breath to keep rhythm and time, such as is done when moving through various salutations. This practice doesn’t generally work up as much of a sweat as some others, so a mat made out of a material such as PU or cork is ideal as it will provide enough traction to keep you in your poses, but is also smooth and will stay in place on the ground to allow you to easily flow from one pose to the next.
Ashtanga yoga, also commonly known as power yoga, follows a flow of set poses that is performed without pause. This is essentially an intense form of vinyasa yoga and is intended to be a workout, so a mat with good traction under sweat as well as one with anti-microbial properties that also doesn’t slip on the ground while you’re holding poses is ideal.
Kundalini yoga focuses on the chakras and energy. Although there are certain movements involved to help promote the flow of energy throughout the body, this form of yoga is much gentler and puts more focus on breathing techniques and chanting. Not much slip resistance is required for kundalini yoga, but because there is a greater focus on natural fibers that are believed to be conducive to proper energy flow.
Yin, or restorative yoga, is primarily practiced through long and gentle stretches aimed to restore the body and nervous system. Comfort and padding are a primary focus for this practice as stretches are often held for lengthy periods of time.
The focus of Iyengar yoga is alignment. An ideal mat for this form of practice will have enough cushioning to be comfortable to use when holding poses for extended periods of time but will be thin and stable enough to accommodate standing poses and the use of yoga props. Alignment charts that can be found printed on many yoga mats are also extremely beneficial in this form of practice.
Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, is performed at a minimum of 100 degrees Fahrenheit under the belief that sweat detoxifies the body. Although modern hot yoga has deviated from the original format comprised of 26 set poses, a high-traction mat is a necessity for any form of hot yoga, while moisture-wicking and anti-microbial properties will also make a world of difference in the maintenance of your mat.
Types of Yoga Mats
Although many of these have been mentioned above, the variety of available choices may still feel a bit overwhelming. Here are some of the most common types of mats found on the market and what makes each one of them unique.
We begin the list with the original type of yoga mat, the PVC sticky mat, also referred to as vinyl or foam mats. These are easy to find in the sports section of your neighborhood department store and are one of the cheapest options, making them common choices for beginner yogis.
These have recently fallen more and more out of fashion as news of their toxic nature has come out. PVC has been shown to be toxic in every stage of its existence, a large part of this being due to the fact that chlorine makes up over 50% of its composition. These mats are toxic in their production, their disposal, and even in the dioxins that are released and breathed in during their use.
Furthermore, PVC also contains phthalates. These chemicals help make the mats flexible, but they are classified as carcinogens and can cling to dust particles, making them easy, yet toxic to inhale. The Yogi Peace Club wrote an interesting article on PVC mats with some more in-depth explanations and further links to explore on the topic.
An alternative to PVC is thermoplastic elastomer, also referred to as thermoplastic rubbers or TPE. It provides traction that is comparable, if not better, than that of PVC mats, and is anti-microbial, making it easy to clean and care for.
TPE is a combination of materials that have both thermoplastic and elastomeric properties, often a mix of plastic and rubbers. TPE has become popular as a material for yoga mats because it is generally recyclable and considered to be non-toxic. TPE is already flexible, and so it doesn’t require any phthalates, but it is hard to know exactly what each mat is actually made of because there are many different materials that could fall into the mix of a TPE mat.
This thermoplastic elastomer mat by Semloo is textured on both sides for added traction and even features alignment lines to help you ensure you’re performing each pose correctly.
PU stands for polyurethane, another rubber alternative. PU mats offer excellent traction and are generally seen as a more eco-friendly alternative to PVC mats. While this is true to some extent, both TPE and PU mats still use plastic, a petroleum-based product. Similar to TPE, PU mats can be melted and recycled, but they are made of a combination of synthetic materials, not all of which are necessarily biodegradable.
This mat by SWET is durable, anti-microbial, and extremely slip-resistant, making it an ideal choice for hot yoga.
Both natural and synthetic rubber mats can be found on the market, both of which have some notable features. To begin with, rubber offers wonderful traction and sturdy cushioning. Furthermore, while both varieties of rubber can be recycled, natural rubber is also biodegradable.
The downside of rubber is that it is prone to breaking down when exposed to heat, UV, oxygen, and stress. For this reason, consider what type of practice you plan to use your mat for before choosing rubber. Although they may work perfectly fine for some time in an air-conditioned studio, rubber yoga mats are not ideal for those who frequently practice yoga outside or who regularly do hot yoga. Also, be sure not to leave your yoga mat in a hot car or in direct sunlight for long periods of time as they may warp or harden.
This Vivomora mat is made of natural rubber combined with cotton and uses an open-cell pattern to increase traction.
Although the yoga mat industry has come up with some notable synthetic alternatives to the original PVC mat, none of these synthetics are fully in-line with yogic principles.
Anyone who has begun the study of yoga will know that the physical aspect is only a small part of a greater mentality and lifestyle. Much of this lifestyle is based around the teachings of the Yoga Sutras, of which a large focus is on protecting and being kind to nature and the earth we live on. For this reason, the use of natural materials that are clean to harvest, use, and discard have become popular choices for yoga mats.
Cork has become a top choice when it comes to environmentally friendly yoga mats. This versatile material can be used for everything from wine stoppers, to pinboards, to flooring, and now exercise equipment. Cork is a completely renewable material that is both recyclable and biodegradable. It is easily grown and easily harvested. Made from only the outer bark of trees, obtaining cork is harmless and allows the rest of the tree to remain standing.
Cork has become popular not only because of its sustainability but also because of its high performance. It is naturally anti-microbial, making it easy to clean and care for, and it offers excellent traction for those who tend to sweat during their practice. Although cork mats are smooth to the touch and initially seem to be slippery, the mat itself gains significant traction when water, or sweat, is applied.
This mat by Satori Concept is a combination of cork and rubber that comes in a larger size than is standard, yet at a lightweight with sufficient padding and anti-slip surfaces ideal for all forms of yoga practice.
Jute and Hemp
Jute mats are a great choice in terms of environmental consciousness. The jute plant is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, making it a highly renewable resource. It doesn’t require much water or care, and its fibers are versatile enough to be used to make many items, including clothing, bags, and of course, yoga mats.
The jute plant, also referred to as the “golden crop,” grows primarily in parts of India and Bangladesh. Buying jute mats is not only sustainable because of the material they’re made from, but because it helps to support the communities from which the materials are sourced.
Like jute, hemp is a great renewable resource that is fast-growing and versatile in its utilization. It produces durable mats that hold strong under wear, but hemp itself is a rather coarse material, so hemp mats are often combined with other materials such as jute or rubber. There are some great sustainable hemp mats on the market, just always be sure to check what all is included in the mat’s composition.
Both jute and hemp tend to slide on the ground if not blended with other materials. Furthermore, both are fibrous and can be rough to the touch. Individually, neither of these fibers are ideal materials for versatile yoga mats. When used in the right combination with other materials, however, they can produce durable mats with excellent traction and low carbon footprints.
This mat by EcoStrength is a combination of jute and hemp and is non-toxic, non-slip, and eco-friendly.
Cotton is still commonly found, although it has become a debatable resource as alternatives have come forward. One of the main issues with cotton is its growing procedures, as well as the heavy use of pesticides during the process. However, cotton is still a commonly used material as it is both renewable and biodegradable, and there are companies that produce cotton yoga mats in a sustainable fashion.
The benefits of a cotton mat are that they can be washed and that their traction increases as they get wet. Cotton mats can initially be a bit rough to the touch, though not nearly as much as jute or hemp, and cotton also tends to soften after being washed. Although cotton mats will easily slide on many surfaces, they are great for use outdoors as they will not get hot and can withstand the Sun’s harsh UV rays.
This mat by Yogasana is not only non-slip and eco-friendly, but each purchase also helps to fund a child’s education!
The studies done on PVC showing how toxic a material it is will hopefully persuade even the beginner yogi to stay away from these mats, despite their low price tag, and to invest just a little bit more in a mat that is not made from harmful carcinogens. There are many other available options when it comes to yoga mats, and this list has only begun to touch on the basics of what different mat styles have to offer.
While many mats are made with specific purposes in mind, deciding on whether or not these features are worth investing in depends on the practice of each individual. Those who are just beginning to experiment with yoga will likely not require an expensive yoga mat, while those who are immersing themselves in the lifestyle or who practice certain styles of yoga will benefit from features found in higher-priced yoga mats.
Features such as ant-microbial surfaces and natural, biodegradable materials make a world of difference in both yoga practice, and the upkeep of the mat, and experience will likely expose these as worthy investments for many practitioners.
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