Mat Guide

Mat Guide

Although yogis practiced for thousands of years before the invention of the yoga mat, most modern yogis find a good mat to be an invaluable tool.  Not all mats are created equal, however, and finding the one that’s perfect for your practice can be challenging.  Here’s a guide to help get you started.

If you’re new and unsure of the depth and lifespan of your yoga commitment (which is okay!), most studios have mats available to borrow or rent.  Additionally, studios that sell quality mats are frequently willing to let you try out a sample mat before investing in your own.

Unfortunately, most mats sold in stores such as Target, Barnes & Noble, or Costco are of questionable quality.  The same is true for the majority of mats in the $10 – $25 range – they simply won’t work very well or last very long. Amazon.com does sell a variety of popular mat brands at a slight discount, usually with free shipping.

In my experience, the cheapest mats of reasonable quality come from Hugger Mugger. I liked their Tapas Ultra Mat when I used it several years ago, although I preferred to double it up with a second mat for extra padding.  The standard size currently sells for $39.95.  They also offer the thinner Original Tapas Mat for $29.95, though I doubt that it would provide enough cushioning for most practitioners.  Hugger Mugger also sells cotton, rubber, TPE, and jute mats, in addition to a variety of yoga props.  This is a well-respected company and a great source for yoga props, but not where I would go to buy a more expensive mat.

Kulae offers a nice mid-range option in the tpECOmat Plus.  These attractive mats are super lightweight and a great choice for yogis seeking a mat that’s soft to the touch, yet supportive.  Kulae mats are made from eco-friendly TPE (Thermo Plastic Elastomer) using closed-cell technology, which prevents germs from being trapped within the mat.  Personally, a Kulae mat wouldn’t be my first choice for a vinyasa practice; I found that my wrists became sore from sinking too deeply into the mat.  Kulae offers TPE mats in a variety of thicknesses and prices.  The tpECOmat Plus currently sells for $54.00.

Jade Yoga offers a variety of open-cell rubber mats.  Open-cell rubber is softer than closed-cell, but also absorbs sweat and germs much more easily.  Jade’s most popular mat is the Harmony Professional Yoga Mat, which sells for $69.95.  I owned a couple of Harmony mats, and enjoyed the slip-resistant texture.  However, if you have latex allergies or find the smell of rubber particularly offensive, this isn’t the mat for you.

In addition to several uninspiring options, Lululemon offers one particularly noteworthy mat.  The Mat is extremely absorbent, much more so than any other mat I’ve ever tested.  The bottom layer is rubber, but the top layer is made from the same material as tennis racket grip.  If you frequent hot and sweaty classes but prefer your yoga sans towel, do yourself a favor and give The Mat a try!  I managed to survive Vinnie Marino’s class on a sweltering summer afternoon using only this mat and a single hand towel, and that’s saying something!  As an added bonus, this is one of the few mats that doesn’t require a break in period.  For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I don’t completely love The Mat.  That being said, it has a reserved spot in my trunk, and is my go-to mat for certain classes.  The current retail price of The Mat is $68.00.

We’re left now with the Cadillac of yoga mats – Manduka.  Manduka has two basic mat styles – the PRO and the eKO.  They also sell thinner/lighter/cheaper versions of each – the PROlite, the eKO Lite, and the eKO SuperLite Travel Mat.  The PRO is Manduka’s original mat, with an unrivaled density providing firm rather than squishy support.  It is virtually indestructible, and comes with a lifetime guarantee.  Until recently, the PRO Mat was only available in black.  The company now offers limited-edition color options.  The eKO mat is Manduka’s newer, eco-friendly option.  Unlike Jade mats, Manduka uses firmer, more hygienic closed-cell rubber.  I prefer the less stretchy feel of the Manduka eKO over the Jade Harmony.   Choosing between the two Manduka styles can be difficult, but it helps to first decide what elements are most important for you.  The PRO Mat provides the most support; the eKO Mat is grippier and highly slip-resistant.  The PRO is more expensive, but will last longer.  Currently, Manduka sells the PRO Mat for $94 ($104 in color) and the eKO Mat for $76.  Manduka also sells an assortment of high quality yoga props.

Before coming to a final conclusion, be sure to consider the care instructions for different classes of mats.  Rubber mats will break down quickly if stored in direct sunlight.  The same is true for TPE mats, but subjecting them to high temperatures (like your car trunk in the summer) also causes more rapid decomposition.  Another issue is the weight of the mat, especially if you’ll be frequently carrying it around town.  TPE mats are extremely lightweight.  Rubber mats are heavy, and the PRO Mat is even heavier yet.

Whatever your choice, be sure to clean your new mat before using it.  All mats are sent from the factory with a protective film.  Until this film wears off, the mat will be slippery.  In addition to washing the mat, leaving it in direct sunlight for a few hours can help to break down the mat’s coating.  Any type of usage, such as sitting on the mat as you read or lying back on it while watching TV, can also help to speed up the process.  But please don’t give up on your mat before breaking it in!

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