Practicing on a yoga mat is a totally personal and unique experience, which depends on what feels best to you. Just like our individual yoga sessions, there’s no one right answer to how to approach finding one. How we feel is perhaps the most important point (although reducing on plastic waste should be worth considering).
That said, there are a number of things you might want to think about, when choosing a mat. These may not feel massively important at first, but will take on greater significance the more you practice. So if you’re coming to your mat daily or weekly, you might want to think about the following.
Most mats are made to easily roll up, although how you fold your mat is your choice. If you have trouble rolling your mat up neatly, you might want to consider investing in one with straps, either velcro or button. This prevents your mat from spontaneously unrolling and becoming a tripping hazard, keeping it tight and easy to store away in small spaces.
Allergies and irritation
If you know you have a particular allergy to rubber or cotton, or your skin is particularly sensitive when rubbing against some materials, you might want to consider choosing a neutral material, like cork.
Soft versus hard
This is completely down to personal preference, but different mats offer different levels of comfort, ranging from softer cotton to sturdy bamboo.
Mats like cork and sponge, being a solid, non-thread based material, may offer greater depression when pressed into by the body. This is a good idea if you find the waistband of your yoga pants uncomfortable, as it makes for greater adjustment over a wider surface. However, the experience is rather subjective, so different materials may produce different results.
Yoga mats collect sweat after a while, which is why they need to be cleaned regularly. Plastics are harder to clean, as sweat collects in the pores. Rubber, cork and bamboo are more easy to wipe down with a cloth, whilst cotton, hemp and jute should be hand washed. Always check to see if your mat is machine washable, before you try - otherwise you might accidentally shrink it down into a door mat!
Yoga positioning lines
Finding balance on the mat is tricky, particularly with moves that require hands and feet to be equally positioned, as in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) or chakrasana (wheel pose). Finding a mat with positioning lines can help you monitor where your feet and hands should be, during your practice.
Colours have a direct effect on our mood, and our ability to focus. Perhaps you’re after bright, primary colours because they pop. But you may wish for a more calming tone, which reflects the sustained speed of your yoga practice. Since yoga is generally about focusing on holding a pose and stretching your muscles, a more relaxing, earthy tone can help bring about and focus that state of mind.
As with the people who use them, yoga mats come in a variety of sizes. A good rule of thumb is to allow for at least 10cm from any part of the body to the edge of the mat. Or, in other words, if you’re lying flat on your mat, there should be at least 10cm between your head and the mat’s edge, 10cm between your feet and the mat’s edge, etc.
Generally between 0.3 and 0.6 of a centimetre is a good size mat for the body to sink into, whilst also remaining thin enough to roll up. The choice, however, is completely yours. Some materials will naturally be thicker or thinner, to allow for the amount of adjustment and size of depression the body makes on the mat.
Considering the average yoga mat lasts a year, you should try to find a material that’s easy to reuse and won’t end up in a landfill. Plastics aren’t generally biodegradable and mats coated in PVC are even worse, as they leach out harmful chemicals. Consider organically grown products such as hemp or cork, which you can reuse, or turn into mulch for the garden.
Grip and stickiness
Good mats won’t stick to the body, but will allow you the grip needed to hold a pose. This also holds true for the underside of your mat also. A few mats may use a mix of materials, such as cork and rubber, to promote a solid, adjustable surface with good grip underneath. PVC and plastic mats are particularly bad at this - as sweat builds up these mats continue to stick to the skin more and more.
Eartha’s range of cork mats, lined with natural rubber, are designed to allow for grip, remaining the same with each use (provided they’re wiped down between sessions with a damp cloth). You can view our full range of eco-friendly cork mats here, on our website.