Yoga Mat Vs. Yoga Towel: What’s The Difference?

While the ancient practice of yoga can be performed anywhere under any circumstances, “which gear is the right type of gear” is still a matter of concern among many yoga enthusiasts — beginner or expert. However, it’s no secret that a yoga mat, the prime staple of yoga gear, is a basic necessity for practicing yoga.

Many wonder, though, how does it compare to a yoga towel?

Yoga mats are often the go-to gear for proper practice. It is practically a necessity on a hard surface that needs a cushion. Yoga towels, though, are great to reduce slip and soak up excess moisture from a sweaty practice.

The main difference between a yoga mat vs. a yoga towel is its use. While yoga towels are not required to practice yoga, they can come in handy for situations in which you will be sweating a lot. They can also serve as protectors for your yoga mat.

How Yoga Mats And Yoga Came To Be

Whether you’re an avid practitioner of yoga or not, chances are you’ve seen a yoga mat at one point or another. If you’re not exactly sure, they’re typically those long rectangular mats on which people somehow twist themselves into pretzel-like poses, all while maintaining near-perfect balance!

In a sense, yoga is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s not impossible to master either. All you simply need is an open mindset, patience, lots, and lots of it, and last but not least, of course, a good yoga mat. Although not strictly required for practicing yoga, they serve a purpose for many reasons.

So, where exactly did the concept of the yoga mat originate from? 

A Brief History Of The Yoga Mat

Downward Dogs, deep breathing, and asanas, oh my! Yoga’s history is quite deep, dating back to 500 BCE. So how does the yoga mat fit into all of this? Believe it or not, what is known as the yoga mat today didn’t miraculously insert itself into the routines of some of the earliest pioneers of yoga.

As with anything in history, the idea started as something small and evolved over time. Before the practice of yoga became modernized, practitioners performed yoga routines on the bare ground, if they were lucky, in the soft grass, but often on solid earth. Through practicing without a mat, it was believed one could attain enlightenment by maintaining constant contact with the natural earth. 

The earliest version of a mat was likely an animal hide. Even paintings from as early as the 19th century, feature experienced yogis and practitioners of yoga using deer and tiger hides as mats. Hides provided cushion, a non-slip surface, and allowed the yogi to channel the energy from the animal.

As the practice of yoga began to evolve over time and find its way towards Western civilization, the practice itself, as well as the concept of yoga mats, took on a more modernized form. 

How Angela Farmer Created The First Yoga Mat

With the introduction of yoga to the Western world, deer hides, and tiger skins were substituted for everyday towels or pieces of cotton fabric over hard flooring.

The downside with these new types of “makeshift” yoga mats, was that practitioners often found it hard to practice yoga due to the towels slipping on harder surfaces such as wooden floors. As a result, yoga teacher, Angela Farmer, came up with a genius solution that later paved the way for the modern-day yoga mat.

While teaching yoga, Farmer noticed the dilemma of using a towel as a yoga mat. Furthermore, she had a medical condition that caused her hands and feet incapable of sweating, which, in turn, delayed her from gaining any type of traction as she practiced certain yoga poses.

To combat this problem, she trimmed a piece of carpet underlay down to the size of a standard towel and created the first yoga mat!

When her students saw her version of the yoga mat, they immediately became interested, and soon after, the first yoga mats began to be manufactured by a German carpet factory she first bought the underlay from.

Purpose-made yoga mats then began to be manufactured in the U.S. by a company specializing in yoga products following Farmer’s initial design. These mats were designed to be sturdier and hold their shape compared to Farmer’s yoga mats. To read more about Angela Farmer’s story and the function of a yoga mat during yoga, visit here.

Yoga Mats Today

Following Angela Farmer’s first production of the yoga mat, yoga mats today come in several different sizes ranging from an average of 6 feet long and upwards of 7 feet for people of taller height. They typically measure a span of 2 feet widthwise.

Yoga mats also come in different ranges of thickness to accommodate those who prefer more cushion when practicing yoga. There are also lightweight yoga mats if you don’t prefer as much cushion. Texture-wise you can also find yoga mats that are soft and best-suited for yoga therapy. 

“Yoga mats range from super thin and compact travel styles that weigh a mere 2 lbs. To cushy quarter-inch beasts that weigh up to 7 lbs. If you’re not sure where to start, choose a mat that’s about ⅛-in. Thick (or 3.175 mm), a pretty standard thickness. These mats are excellent for those in a strong, flowing practice. “

Source: How To Choose A Yoga Mat – REI

Lightweight Yoga Mats1/16 inch or approx. 2 mm thick
Standard Yoga Mats⅛ inch or approx. 3 mm thick
Thick Yoga Mats¼ inch or approx. 6 mm thick 

When yoga mats first began to be commercially manufactured and produced, PVC was a common material from which they were made out of. Polyvinyl chloride, PVC for short, gives yoga mats their signature sticky and rubbery texture.

Yoga mats produced from PVC are quite popular, given the smooth, rubbery texture it provides as well as its lower price compared to mats made from other materials. PVC yoga mats are known for the “spongy” cushion they provide, making it easier to maintain the right footing as you perform certain yoga poses and positions.

Yoga mats made out of material such as jute tend to have a rougher texture, while mats made out of cotton and rubber tend to be smoother and provide the most grip. Mats made from jute, a type of natural fiber, cotton, and rubber are considered eco-friendly because they feature recycled materials as well as all-natural materials from the earth.

Eco-friendly mats have become quite popular, as many practitioners believe they can honor the tradition of seeking enlightenment from practicing yoga on a natural surface. 

What To Look For In A Yoga Mat

Depending on what you’re looking for, it can be hard at first trying to come across the perfect yoga mat. In many ways, buying a yoga mat is just like trying to find the perfect pair of shoes – it takes time and trying on several pairs before you find the perfect match. 

When in search of the perfect yoga mat that will meet and satisfy all of your needs, you should consider several of these factors:

  • The price of the yoga mat
  • The length, width, and thickness of the yoga mat
  • The brand
  • The material
  • Whether the yoga mat is suited for a certain form of yoga
  • Your experience level

Practicing with the proper yoga mat is essential, as you want to give yourself the best chance at being able to perform yoga properly. Finding the right yoga mat depends a lot on your personal preferences as well as what may, in particular, be recommended for your skill level/experience. 

For instance, yoga mat thickness is something to think about before purchasing just any mediocre yoga mat. Thicker yoga mats provide more cushioning and are more comfortable to kneel on. They are also great for therapeutic purposes and practitioners of older age and who may suffer from achy joints.

On the other hand, thinner mats are easier to maintain stability on and hold a stronger grip. 

As mentioned before, yoga mats are produced in several materials, including PVC, eco-friendly material like jute and cotton, and TPE or thermoplastic elastomer. PVC yoga mats are the most common type of yoga mat and provide the most cushion and grip.

For more information on how to find the right yoga mat, you can take a look at our recommended gear page, and if you want to dig deeper and find even more information take a look at this these articles.

Can A Yoga Mat Be Too Thick?

When An Expensive Yoga Mat Is Worth It (And When It Isn’t)

This is Why Your Yoga Mat is Falling Apart

What Are Yoga Towels Used For?

If you’ve ever practiced yoga before, it’s quite common for your hands and feet to become sweaty during your routine, especially in the midst of a rather intense pose such as Downward Dog or even harder, the Tree pose!

Given that yoga is, in many ways, is a form of exercise, becoming sweaty while practicing it is sure to happen at one point or another. To serve as a solution to sweaty hands and feet, many turn to a yoga towel as an extra addictive to have a better grip on a yoga mat. 

“Many yoga fans are finding that the mat alone is not sufficient to prevent slippage due to a sweaty surface. Because it is essential that people performing yoga can hold their poses without slipping, a yoga towel can make all the difference . . .”

Source: Sunshine Yoga

Yoga towels serve many purposes different from that of a yoga mat. They’re not just your typical beach or bath towel you would use to dry off with either; they are specifically for use on yoga mats.

Using A Yoga Towel Can Boost Your Performance

While some can get away with using a regular everyday towel, it’s not recommended, as these types of towels aren’t as absorbent compared to yoga towels. Yoga towels are extra absorbent towels that can be placed onto a traditional yoga mat.

Unlike traditional everyday towels, most yoga towels have slip-resistant padding underneath to prevent the towel from slipping as you use the yoga mat. Not only does this convenient feature prevent you from you slipping and sliding, but it also helps you to maintain your balance more.

Given that most yoga mats are made from materials such as PVC or natural rubber, it’s not a bad idea to introduce a yoga towel to your yoga mat if you find that doing yoga becomes harder once your hands and feet begin to perspire more.

While these mats tend to be smoother and naturally rubbery to help you get a better grip, they can still be hard to support yourself on if they become wet. For this reason, a yoga towel becomes necessary in allowing you to practice yoga safely and securely.

By wicking away any moisture produced by your body, a yoga towel is a great piece of gear to have on hand and use often, especially if you’re doing a more intense yoga such as hot yoga. Hot yoga consists of performing yoga at a hot temperature, causing you to sweat and burn more calories. 

The Benefits Of Using A Yoga Towel

There are several benefits to using a yoga towel, and the most obvious is to keep you from slipping and hurting yourself while practicing yoga. Additionally, it acts as an extra layer of protection for your yoga mat, protecting it from bodily fluids, dirt, and water. 

Yoga mats are great, and all but using them on a consistent basis can cause dirt and bacterial build-up over time. Unless you have a yoga mat that is made out of a naturally absorbent material such as cotton, chances are any germs, bacteria, and bodily fluids that drip onto the map remain on the surface rather than become absorbed.

In addition to the absorption benefit of using a yoga towel, there also remains the benefits of protecting the yoga mat from wear and tear as well as being able to keep it clean. After an energized yoga routine, there’s most likely sweat and dirt on the surface of your yoga mat.

Sure, spritzing it down with a natural cleaning solution is a good way of keeping it clean, but are you truly getting rid of all the harmful bacteria that could be hiding on the surface? 

 

The Protection Aspect Of Using A Yoga Towel

Spritzing down and wiping your mat does do a good job of cleaning your yoga mat on its own, but doing so is more or less equivalent to wiping your face with a wet cloth versus actually scrubbing your face. Although you’re cleaning the surface, there’s still the potential of trapped dirt, bacteria, and other germs remaining deep beneath the surface.

Because yoga mats are not able to be deep-cleaned and trying to do so would be difficult, using a yoga towel can save you both time and money. It’s important to practice good hygiene in general, so why would you skip doing so for your yoga mat.

A yoga towel can simply be cleaned in a washer or by hand, and better yet, doing so will help get rid of any sweat, dead skin cells, or germs.

Last but not least, using a yoga towel can provide you the benefit of protecting your yoga mat from wear and tear over time. Not all yoga mats are cheap. Some can be quite expensive, and wouldn’t it be nice to get more out of your yoga mat than what you initially invested?

Cheap or expensive, you want to make your yoga mat last a long or possible. Using a yoga towel is the perfect way to make sure that happens!

How To Find The Right Yoga Towel

As with yoga mats, yoga towels come in all varieties, differing in shape, size, color, absorbency, and more! There’s no right or wrong way you can go with buying a yoga towel; however, consider shopping for the one that best suits your needs.

Whether it’s an affordable yoga towel, one that will last a long time, or one that’s made of microfiber cloth, the choice is yours!

Most yoga towels come in two standard lengths: mat-length or hand-size. Mat-length yoga towels measure the same length of a standard yoga mat and will fully cover it. Hand-size yoga towels are smaller and can even be used as regular everyday workout towels if preferred. 

“The two basic types of yoga towels are the mat-length towel and the hand towel. Mat-length yoga towels (at least 68 inches long) cover the entire mat and improve stability, while hand towels are designed simply to wipe your brow and sop up perspiration.”

Source: Choosing The Best Yoga Towel

It’s recommended to choose a mat-size yoga towel if you prefer to maximize the grip on your yoga mat and, furthermore, increase the absorbency as well. Overall, finding the right yoga towel is a matter of what you prefer as far as the brand, absorbency, length, and price. For a list of some of the most popular yoga towels, visit here

Tips For Your Next Yoga Towel Or Yoga Mat Purchase

Generally speaking, it’s okay to go out and purchase the first yoga mat and towel you come by, but there are some things you should consider before doing this. For starters, buying the right gear to accommodate your needs is the best way to go. Doing so will ensure that you give yourself the best chance at performing properly.

In addition to buying gear that will enhance your performance at yoga, setting a budget, and making a list of what you’re looking for can also help. Identifying what you’re looking for before you go shopping can help lessen the stress of trying to decide what to buy, how much to spend, and everything in between.

The first tip is to set your budget. Are willing to spend more for a top rated yoga mat or towel vs a mediocre one? How much money is too much to spend on a good yoga mat or towel? These are some questions worth asking that can help prevent you from bursting your pockets and regretting it later.

Typically, the average price for a good yoga mat is anywhere between $30 and up towards $75. There are yoga mats that can go for much higher than $75, but they have all of the bells and whistles. Yoga towels can cost as low as $15 and upwards of $30.

As with either of the two, the higher the quality, the higher the price.

The second tip is to make a list of what qualities you look for in a good yoga mat, yoga towel, or both. Qualities such as the brand, thickness, absorbency, and length are things you should think of when making your purchase. Ultimately, this will help you find what you’re looking for faster and allow you to find the gear just right for you!

Sita

Mother of three and Yogi of 20+ years and 200 Hour Certified Yoga Teacher. I am also a Certified Thai massage therapist and I have taught Gymnastics for more than 10 years. In the last couple of years, I've been a big promotor of intermittent fasting.

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