As yogis we are more spoilt for choice than ever when it comes to yoga accessories and props, and with one of the most important yoga props, the yoga mat, we are flooded with claims and vast amounts of information about which mat is right for you. Just as picking running shoes is a personal matter for a runner, so too is finding the perfect yoga mat for a yoga enthusiast. This decision should be made mainly with regards to what style of yoga you do as there are many mats with various characteristics that suit different disciplines. Along with this, it is advisable to consider the long term environmental and personal impact of the mat. We'll discuss the best options for your various practices, as well as comparing materials and comfort vs portability.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)/Sticky Mats
PVC, or sticky, yoga mats are the most commonly used yoga mats which you are most likely to find at your local gym and yoga classes, and will often be the least expensive of the many different yoga mats on the market. These mats can be an easy choice for the beginner who is still figuring out which yoga practice is right for them. The benefit of a PVC yoga mat is that it is often light to carry around and offers some cushioning depending on the thickness of the mat, yet it can be quite bulky. However, PVC is a plastic with the addition of phthalates, keeping the mat flexible, which is a known carcinogen. Due to the many toxins contained in a PVC mat, it is impossible to recycle and is harmful to the environment. The sticky coating on PVC mats which provide the initial grippy feeling, is a layer of toxic chemicals that are not only unpleasant to the nose, but also stay on your hands and feet so it is advisable to wash your hands after your yoga session.
Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) mats are a newer alternative to the toxic PVC mats. These are made from the same materials as PVC mats, but without the toxic phthalates and are recyclable.
photo: The natural rubber yoga mat provides stability and grip, allowing the weight to be pushed back into the feet from the hands during this downward dog pose. Picture uses the Lacy Bloom Milochie yoga mat.
Natural Rubber Mats
These mats are a popular alternative to PVC mats and offer outstanding grip and so are a great choice for standing poses where stability and grip is essential. Rubber mats tend to be on the heavier side, however thinner ones can be easily folded making them easy to transport and fit into normal sized bags. They also lie flatter on the ground, allowing you to hold your poses with more stability and greater accuracy, preventing further slipping. Increasing the thickness of a rubber mat won't necessarily add much cushioning, but for most poses this can be a benefit as it allows the pressure to be distributed more evenly. Rubber mats are made from the milky latex found in the bark of rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) which is collected and turned into rubber. Despite some rubber mats claiming they are Latex free, it might not be enough to prevent an allergic reaction for anyone sensitive to latex. Since rubber mats come from the rubber tree they are also biodegradable and should be stored away from direct sunlight.
Rubber mats are a good choice for those requiring grip and stability, which are important factors for practices such as Hot Yoga, Ashtanga and Iyengar Yoga or various flow/Vinyasa styles. For these traction, grip and stability are vital to ensure a smooth transition into the various poses as well as working correctly into them so that you get the full benefit. If your mat is at all slippery you will find yourself constantly adjusting your hands and feet. Since you will be working so hard you are also likely to start sweating more, and in places like your hands and feet this will further hinder the grip of a mat. Rubber mats tend to be quite a cooling material and since it does not have a sticky surface it also feels drier on your hands and feet allowing more grip. Those practicing hot yoga will often place a towel on their mat for extra sweat absorption and there are even yoga mats on the market that are a hybrid model of this combination.
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) Mats
TPE mats contain both plastic and elastic properties made from polyester, polyurethane or polystyrene compounds which can be found in many different products including medical catheters and are recyclable. TPE mats are a good alternative to PVC mats if you are looking for cushioning. Although TPE mats don't generally offer considerably more grip than a PVC mat and are also quite bulky (therefore not easily transportable), they are a more environmentally friendly alternative. As well As PVC and PER mats, TPE mats require a little extra attention when it comes to storing and treating them. As they have quite a delicate surface, and often appealing to cats, they can be torn and damaged by nails (and indeed cat claws) as well as any other sharp or rough surfaces.
Restorative classes require less grip and stability from a yoga mat, as you are primarily laying and sitting on the mat. In this case cushioning, warmth and comfort are more important factors when considering which yoga mat to choose.
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