Posted by: Yoga in Borve | October 22, 2014

‘Which yoga mat should I buy?’

So you’ve read ‘Do I need to get a mat?’ and been persuaded that now is the time.  Or maybe you’re trawling the internet as I was myself a few months ago, looking for reviews to help decide which yoga mat to buy.  There are so many mats available now it can be hard to know where to begin, and factors to consider include the mat’s dimensions, surface, material, density, colour, durability, whether it’s washable, where and how it was made…and for those of us in the north of Scotland, whether it is even available, as some companies won’t deliver here at all, and many that do charge hefty postage fees. In the end, much of it boils down to your own priorities and preferences.  But here is the tale of my life in yoga mats, in the hope it might help you choose yours.

Ready for class...Yoga Mad Warrior Plus mat (sky blue), Yogamatters sticky mats (ocean green), Gaiam Premium mat (purple).

Ready for class…Yoga Mad Warrior Plus mat (sky blue), Yogamatters sticky mats (ocean green), Gaiam Premium mat (purple).

I began going to Iyengar yoga classes when I was a teenager, using the equipment provided.  When I was in my early twenties, I did a beginners’ course at an Ashtanga yoga studio.  Ashtanga can be pretty sweaty, and lying face down on the smelly studio mats encouraged me to buy my first mat from the limited range stocked by the studio shop.  I did this knowing nothing about yoga mats and without any research or thought, beyond choosing a royal blue one.   It happened to be a Tapas mat.  It did the job and is still going strong.  For the first ten years I owned it, I wasn’t exactly wearing it out.  I rarely took it with me when I went to yoga classes and I only sporadically did yoga at home. When I started doing a lot more yoga and taking my Tapas mat with me to classes, I noticed it was pretty thin (about 3mm).  A couple of years ago I decided I’d invest in a new and more luxurious mat since I was practising yoga regularly at home – and at teacher training weekends and courses, I was spending five or more hours a day on my mat. Yoga Mad Warrior Plus matI chose a Warrior Plus mat from Yoga Mad.  I still hadn’t done much research into mats so I felt like I was treating myself to luxury – £23.50!  6mm thick!  And the summer sky colours made me happy every time I unrolled it. Eighteen months later, I was a bit cross, because the mat had discoloured and also seemed increasingly spongy and unsupportive, even though it was thicker and more expensive than my Tapas mat.  Then it dawned on me I had probably spent more time on my Warrior mat in 18 months than I had on my Tapas mat in 18 years.  So, if you only want a mat to take to class once or twice a week, a Yoga Mad mat should be fine.  Many of their mats are European-made, with Oeko-Tex certificates. By this time, I’d also done more research into yoga mats, as I had set up my own yoga class and chosen to buy mats for new students to use until they knew whether yoga was for them and if they wanted to buy their own mat. Yoga Mad’s basic Warrior mats were only 4mm thick so instead I ordered the equivalent from Yogamatters, because it was 4.5mm thick (washing yoga matsotherwise the same dimensions as my Warrior Plus – 183cm long and 61cm wide) and available in lots of lovely colours.  I’ve put 12 of these sticky mats through heavy use – and the washing machine – over the last year and have been happy with their performance.  The Independent recently did a yoga mat review and the Yogamatters sticky mat made the top 9, described as  ‘a great all-rounder, […] reliable and good value’. When I realised my Warrior Plus mat wasn’t tough enough to take what I was putting it through, I started to read up on yoga mats more thoroughly.  There are two categories of mat I didn’t quite see the point of – so if you have and love one, please tell us why in the comments section!  The first category is ‘travel mats’ – yoga mats which are so thin and lightweight you can fold them like a towel.  Perhaps packing your travel mat commits you to keeping up your yoga, or unfolding it creates a space and mood which encourages you to practise. Or maybe it’s important to have a clean, non-slip layer on top of whatever you are practising on.  Personally, I’m happy to use a towel.  Or the grass, or whatever. pigeon pose on grassyoga on jetty The second category is eco/biodegradable mats.  This is exactly the sort of mat I’d have expected myself to go for, but as I read up on it, I couldn’t help but think – why is it a good idea to have a mat which basically decomposes as you use it?! [see May 2016 update below].  I decided the best solution for me was to get a very durable mat, made somewhere I could be reasonably certain about the materials used and the working conditions of those making it.  In the end, I actually got two mats, both of which are Oeko-Tex certified and have a lifetime guarantee – so I’ll be leaving them to my niece in my will.  I use a Manduka prolite (4.5mm thick, 61cm x 180cm) when I am out and about teaching or attending classes.  At home, I use the Manduka pro mat, long (6mm x 66cm x 216cm).  It remains to be seen whether they’ll outlast me, but so far they’re exactly what I need.  Although the Prolite is smaller and thinner, it’s still dense and supportive.  The Pro is hardly what you’d call portable – it’s a beast of a mat – but it’s perfect for working on at home.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend these mats to everyone, though.  They are expensive and far more than you need if you are only doing a couple of hours’ yoga per week.  Also, some reviews complain about the surface of Manduka mats being slippy.  That’s not been a problem for me but I guess it depends on the style of yoga you practise and how sweaty your hands and feet are.  I imagine some people would also find the Manduka too hard; there is nothing squishy or memory-foam like about it. My Manduka pro doubles as my office/desk/lab.  When I’m doing personal practice or private tuition, my yoga space is clutter-free.  But when I’m studying, catching up with Yoga in Borve paperwork, or designing lesson plans, this is how it looks: Yoga mat office A few years ago, my husband decided he’d like his own mat too.  His only criteria were it should be purple and reasonably thick.  Since I could get free delivery from John Lewis and they stock Gaiam yoga equipment, I chose a Gaiam Premium mat for him.  It’s 6mm thick and 61cm wide, but only 173cm long. Unlike me, the instant my husband got his own mat, he started taking it to classes and has never used anyone else’s mat since.  Although he said he was happy with it, it’s a bit small and has the same spongy lack of support which had been bothering me with my Warrior Plus mat.  I recently came across a great post about yoga mats by James Russell, who recommended a company I’d never heard of, Ruth White Yoga Products.  All their non-slip yoga mats are Oeko-Tex certified and machine washable.  Their postage is steep (good customer service though – they refunded a third of my postage when they found out their carrier had a special offer on for Highland deliveries) but they have a super range of mat widths and lengths.  I bought my husband one that is 80cm x 220cm – big enough to avoid any contact with cold/dirty floors!  It is 4.5mm thick and feels similar in quality to my Manduka Prolite – very dense and sturdy.  Time will tell how well it lasts, but so far I’m impressed.

Update Feb 2015: I now have another student who uses a Ruth White Yoga mat, and one who has a Yoga Mad Studio Pro mat (4.5mm x 60cm x 183cm).  The latter seems to be made of the same material as the Ruth White mat, i.e. it’s denser and sturdier than Yoga Mad’s Warrior mats.  I’m told by its owner that Yoga Mad is currently offering a much better deal on postage to the north of Scotland than Yoga Matters or Ruth White Yoga Products.

Update July 2015: another brand I’ve now had a chance to use/see in use is Airex Calyana.  These are stocked by Edinburgh-based Yoga Shop UK.   The Calyana Black Beauty is similar to the standard Manduka Pro in look and dimensions (185 x 66cm, 6.8mm thick).  The Calyana is slightly longer and thicker than the Pro, but the most noticeable difference is there is more ‘give’ in the mat – it has a bit of a memory foam quality to it, e.g. if you’ve been bearing weight on your hands then move them, there is a hand-shaped imprint which gradually fades away.  If you have bony, sensitive joints this could be a good choice of mat for you, as you definitely feel more cushioned than on a harder mat like the Manduka.  I’d guess Airex Calyana, being softer and having no lifetime guarantee, wouldn’t last as long as a Manduka, but it is nevertheless a quality product.  The Calyana also has a very non-slip surface.  I almost felt like I was on fly paper!  So it could be a great choice if you have sweaty hands and quite a dynamic practice.  On the other hand, someone who comes to my classes and uses the Calyana Blue Pearl found the stickiness quite unpleasant, so turned her mat over and used the other side.  She reports that the ‘sticky’ feeling tones down once the mat has been used regularly for a while.  The Blue Pearl and the Calyana Karma Lime are the same dimensions as the Black Beauty but not as thick – 4.5mm rather than 6.8mm.  This makes them lighter and less bulky to carry to classes, but they are still very dense, sturdy mats.  Yoga Shop UK is currently stocking half price Karma Lime high quality seconds.

Update May 2016: Last winter, I was looking more into the relative environmental friendliness (or unfriendliness…) of different yoga mat materials and productions methods and I came across a Scottish company, EcoYoga.  I liked the sound of the company and the straightforward honesty of their website (see their FAQ section if you want to know what I mean) so I made sure to seek out the mats and talk to the company director, Seona Robinson, when I popped in to the Yoga Show in Glasgow for an hour back in April. I was lucky enough to be given a ‘factory seconds’ 2mm mat and I love it – its texture, appearance and even smell (the hessian brings back happy memories of putting jute night rugs on the horses at the stables where I spent weekends as a teenager 🙂 ).  For me, 2mm is fine to use on a carpet but too thin on a hard floor, so I put it on top of my other mat.  I have been spreading the word about these mats and one friend locally has bought a 2mm and a 4mm so she can use them separately or together.  She purchased ‘factory seconds’ but all three of these mats I’ve seen are really high quality.  My own is an undyed natural cream colour and the only ‘flaw’ I can see is a yellow mark about the size of my thumb.  EcoYoga mats have been made, in the UK, since 2003 and it’s clear from what I’ve read and heard that, depending on how you use and look after them, they can last for years and years…and then you can compost them.

Update July 2017: So how are the mats I’ve got doing? I’ve changed my mind about the Calyana Black Beauty being suitable for a dynamic practice – though it has good grip, it has a tendency to stretch out slightly, for example in Downward Dog pose. I still like it though and I use it in every class I teach in village halls because it is a good size and amount of cushioning. I don’t personally use the Manduka Pro Long any more now that my home studio is now a much clearer and warmer space. I still think it’s a quality mat though and I keep it for the occasions I have 6ft tall guys here doing yoga. I stopped using the EcoYoga mat whilst teaching, because I tend to wear black trousers and the cream jute surface comes off in micro-flakes all over them, leaving me looking as if I have seriously bad dandruff. I still love the feel and smell of it and in theory would use it as a travel mat…though in practice, because of where I live, if I’m travelling it’s usually in the car, and so my go-to mat for workshops and classes away from home is still the Manduka Prolite. It is showing zero signs of wear and tear despite being used frequently on pretty dirty floors (you can’t machine wash it, but it scrubs up well), left in hot cars, etc.

I have also used three other mats which I can now add to the review:

Karma. This is 183 x 61cm and a comfy 5mm thick. It’s made from TPE. The Karma is an extremely lightweight mat with very good grip and a level of cushioning which is nice for sensitive joints. It’s ever so slightly ‘stretchy’ (like the Calyana) and I personally don’t like the texture/feel of the material. But my husband loves the Karma, which has replaced his old Gaiam mat for taking to classes out and about. When he’s doing yoga at home he puts the Karma mat on top of the large Ruth White mat so he has lots of space and plenty padding for his knees.

Liforme. I am ambivalent about this mat. It’s very expensive, and unlike Manduka will clearly not last forever. I think if you practised hard on it daily it would quickly get marks on it (though some people like that ‘personalisation’ of their mat) and would wear out in a couple of years. It’s a bit eye-catching, perhaps some might even say flashy; I prefer my low-key midnight blue Prolite when I’m out and about. The dimensions are great – 185 x 68cm. It’s only 4.2mm thick but I’d say it feels as supportive as the Prolite. It comes with its own bag, which offsets the cost by a chunk – as does (for me) the fact it’s manufactured by a company which has taken environmental and ethical considerations into account. It has a very smooth top surface, which can feel a little chilly up here in the Hebrides. But it’s comfortable to lie on and provides excellent non-slip grip and an OK amount of padding for knees, etc. One of the main selling points of the Liforme is the etched in alignment guide markings and that (along with its size) was the reason I wanted to try it. I was curious to know how these would ‘fit’ with someone like myself who is pretty lopsided, and also if it would be a useful teaching aid during private tuition. I am still uncertain of the value of the alignment marks. They look pretty, and I can use them myself, but I’ve been doing yoga so long I don’t ‘need’ them. I don’t find them distracting though. If someone was new to yoga, I’d have concerns they might spend too much time looking at the lines and perhaps trying to force their body to fit what they thought was ‘right’. On the other hand, they can be a very useful teaching tool, helping people to grasp more quickly and accurately what you’re asking them to do with their stance, and why. When I got my Liforme, there were only a few colours available but I see from the company website they have expanded the range, with more colours, a travel mat, and another version with fewer alignment lines and symbols etched on it.

Jade. This company also has an ethical/environmental policy and the mats are made from natural rubber. I’ve not had the opportunity of using the Jade Harmony, which seems to be the most popular/commonly used of their mats (61 x 173cm x 4.5mm thick). However, I did get the chance to buy a Jade Fusion at a bargain price due to cosmetic damage to its surface. Normally the Jade Fusion costs almost as much as the Liforme. The Fusion, like the Harmony, is a relatively short mat at 173cm – although I think you can purchase longer options at extra cost. I wanted the short one so it took up less space while I was teaching in the Borve studio. I also wanted a Fusion because – as the name suggests – at 8mm thick you can use it for both yoga and pilates. It’s a heavy mat and the grip is excellent. It’s incredibly comfy to kneel or ‘roll like a ball’ on, but some people might find standing balance poses tricky on that extra padding. Like all the natural rubber options, you shouldn’t leave the Fusion in hot cars or direct sunlight – which is fine by me since I don’t carry it about anywhere and we have very little sunlight here! Many reviewers complain it is so super-grippy that every hair or particle of dust in a room ends up sticking to it like a magnet. While that’s true, I’ve not found it a problem – I just hoover it every time I hoover the studio! It is since I got this mat that in my personal practice I’ve almost entirely stopped using the Liforme, Manduka Pro and EcoYoga mats. The Jade Fusion fits my day-to-day yoga mat needs really well and it’s already out there on the studio floor waiting for me every morning…

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Overall?  It’s nice to have a mat that meets your needs, with a colour and texture which make you feel happy when you practise on it.  Think about where and how it’s made.  Don’t spend a fortune if you are new to yoga or only do a bit of yoga – a decent quality basic mat will last for many years if well looked after.  And remember, as I’ve said before, you can do yoga without a mat… Here’s a good post by Jenny Savage on 12 easy ways to bring more yoga into your day – no mat required!

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