Dec 242010
 

As with all yoga instructors,  we are asked for our opinion on yoga mats frequently. And sometimes,  a short answer is not possible. So, thus is the impetus for this article.

A yoga mat to a true yogi is like a running shoe to a marathon runner,  or tires to a race car driver.  Does a surgeon use a knife from the Dollar Store when they perform a surgical procedure?

The major considerations and “high standards” for buying a yoga mat should include:
  • Is the mat manufacturer an Eco-friendly organization with a community and environmental based mission statement?
  • Where was the mat manufactured?
  • What materials, chemicals or toxins are used in the mat?
  • Has the mat been tested or certified for toxin safety?
  • Does the mat have a good ‘non-slip factor’ when it becomes wet from perspiration?
  • Is the mat foam based or does it have a density factor to it?
  • How durable is the mat or does it end up in landfill after a few years of use?
Buyer Beware – be careful when reading the marketing language used in advertisements for yoga mats.  There are some very specific things to be looking out for,  and yes,  it does get confusing!  The purpose of this article is to make you aware,  not to endorse any single product or company.

First things first –

What materials is the mat made from?

Suggestion: Consider eco-friendly companies with high standards

Remember,  you will be spending a lot of time on your mat.  Your sweat at times will even be dripping on the mat then mixing back onto your body and skin.  So,  it is well worth knowing what your face and skin are touching.  Read the label and investigate the raw materials used by the manufacturers.  Avoid mats made with hazardous chemicals,  especially if you have sensitivity to latex or plastics.  Beware if the mat does not list its raw materials or where it was made. Just saying it is latex free is not good enough! Ask for more details.

Another interesting question,  who made the mat?

Too many mats are produced in places where  manufacturers have no concern for employees,  community or the environment.   How many mat advertisements discuss their manufacturing process? – Almost none.  But some do.   This is an area we as consumers and yogi’s can make a difference by simply asking questions and not supporting these types of products or manufacturer’s.  I am very surprised the yoga community has not demanded more ‘high standards’ when it comes to this area.  But I am!

I am partial to eco-friendly products,  as well as manufacturers that also give back to the community.  It is not surprising to find eco-friendly manufacturers to be outstanding employers and great charitable companies. Hybrid mats that have been thoroughly chemically tested and Oekotex Certified are a good choice too.

Rubber and jute mats are the most eco-friendly mats you can purchase. They also provide the best natural sticky and holding functionality as well. However,  rubber usually weigh more,  costs more and some may be allergic to rubber,  or not like the smell of it.  Jute  is not as comfortable on the knees and has a rope feeling to it.  It does however provide excellent holding power and absorbs moisture nicely.

Hybrid mats are the most common mat purchased since they usually are the cheapest in cost,  lighter in weight,  and softer to the knees. The biggest concerns with hybrid mats is that most are not eco-friendly,  many are loaded with PVC chemicals,  most are foamy and spongy,  and the over-whelming majority of these mats become slippery from perspiration.  In addition, very few are durable and end up in our land fills after a few years of use.

It is about density NOT whether it is a thick or thin mat

Remember: Density is the key, not thick or thin

Consider no less than 3/8 inch, 5mm or 6.2mm thicknesses for ideal protection and functionality.  Less than that,  you are better off not using anything.  Mats thicker than 3/8 to 1/4 inches and issues surface with the mat becoming too spongy and cushy,  not mentioning the weight of the mat.

Cushy mat concerns

A mat that is very cushy may feel great on the knees,  but is not very stable in downward dog, warrior and balancing sequences.  As a matter of fact,  studies have shown cushy mats can cause distress in the wrists,  knee and hip joints.  Just look at the knee problems in the NFL from playing on the new playing surfaces that are filled with pieces of recycled tires.  The right balance of a mat should include firmness and a good ‘non-slip factor’ from your perspiration.  You do not want the feeling of sinking into sand and sliding on the mat.  For more comfort in knee poses,  consider folding the mat (doubling your mat) or adding another mat,  and even a towel under your knee for knee sequences than practicing on a cushy mat.

Also, as with thin or thick mats,  do not be deceived by 3mm,  5mm or 6.2mm thickness levels.  You can buy 5mm mats from 5 different manufacturers and they will all have a different feel to them,  yet they all say 5mm.  Density is the key, not thickness.  Conversely,  you can buy a quality 3mm mat that will have a better firmness than a 5mm standard mat because of the density factor.

The “Pinch-Feel Test”

Remember: Many yoga studios and instructors sell only one mat because of the financial incentives involved.

Think of two pillows that are exact measurements and depending on what they are filled with,  one can be firm and the other can be nothing but fluff.  So in other words,  it comes down to the “pinch-feel test” to determine density.

Unfortunately,  a variety of yoga mats are not a common item in stores so the ‘pinch-feel test’ is not an easy thing to do when shopping for a mat.  That is unfortunate,  but the truth.  And many yoga studios and instructors usually sell one mat because of the financial incentives involved.

This can become very confusing because density is seldom mentioned in the marketing language for yoga mats.   See for yourself and explore the language used in mat advertisements.

Safety is important

Remember: The slip factor is important

Why is safety a consideration?  When you sweat,  does your mat still grip or do your hands and feet slide on the mat?  The more you practice,  and even with a gentle flow class,  you will sweat at times.  You want a mat that will handle these conditions.  It is an important consideration in deciding what mat serves you best.  Slipping causes distress on your joints and can even cause injury.  But just as important – it is also a distraction when you are trying to concentrate on the pose itself.

Comfort in length

Besides mat construction and density,  mats also come in different lengths.  This is a consideration if your over 5’7’’ tall and your feet come off the mat in shavasana.  Generally,  the standard mat length is between 68 – 71 inches,  and many manufacturers offer additional mat lengths of 72,  74 and 80 inches.

An experiment for you

Remember: The overwhelming majority of mats are not very good, and are nothing more than a piece of foam with a semi-gloss finish that becomes a skating ring from sweat that end up in the landfill after a few years of use,  yet yoga students will pay a hefty price for them.

So,  look around in your classes and inquire with other students about their mats.  Remember, everyone becomes attached to their mat,  so be aware of that. See if the yogi knows what their mat is made of?  Do not let the logos,  flowers and colors attract you,  feel the mat and see if it is like a sponge or does it have a firm and dense feeling to it.  When you push hard on the mat with your fingers, can you feel the floor?   Or is it difficult to push and there is not much give to the mat?   Does the mat hold the hands and feet when it becomes wet from perspiration?  Try this experiment and you will be amazed of what you learn.  The overwhelming majority of mats are not very good,  and are nothing more than a piece of foam with a semi-gloss finish that becomes a skating ring from sweat,   yet yoga students will pay a hefty price for them.

Cost

Remember: Make your dollar speak volumes by supporting safe products and companies with high standards that support environmental causes!

Like anything,  the cost of a mat is a balance between price,  safety,  aesthetics,  durability and functionality considerations.  As previouslymentioned,  the eco nature of the mat,  the density factor,  the slip factor and life expectancy should be the things to consider.

Foremost,  you will find that paying for a quality mat will make a big difference in your practice.  You will feel more secure in your poses and feel much more grounded,  rather than having a spongy or foamy like feeling. You will notice that the correct muscles will be developed and your alignment will improve because you will be much more stable in your poses.   Not mentioning, quality mats have a life-span much greater than the ‘ordinary mats’.  Does an unconditional life-time warranty on a mat mean anything? Your yoga mat is your home and it is the only tool you bring to your practice!

Make your dollar speak volumes by supporting safe products and good companies with high standards that support environmental causes!

Advertising claims

There are many mats that are Eco-friendly  such as pure rubber mats, re-cycled rubber,  jute and many hybrid type mats.   I have listed the ones that are known to the industry,  have an excellent time-tested experience in the market place,  and are good reputable companies.  There are others as well, but these will give you an idea of what the standard should be.

There are literally hundreds of marketing ads for yoga mats.  And if you read them carefully,  you can learn a lot.   There is a lot of chatter and claims made. Notice the following sample ads below and some key words and phrases used  – thickness,  extra thick,  foam, durable,  PVC,  non-slip, similar in quality:

full 1/4” thick, it is one of the thickest mats on the market. You may see other mats listed as 1/4 inch mats, but they are actually 4.0 – 5.2 mm in thickness — noticeably thinner than our mat.”

“This the classic sticky yoga mat. It provides the traction and firm surface that you need to perform at your very best. Made of highly durable closed cell vinyl foam with embedded fabric mesh, the mat will perform at a high level for many years.”

“Our best-selling yoga mat, the 1/4″ extra thick yoga mat provides extra cushioning between the Yogi and the floor. A great choice for Restorative classes,and popular among Yogis who prefer extra cushioning to protect their joints in certain postures, these mats are made of extra thick, durable foam, and have textured, non-slip surfaces on both sides of the mat.”

“No other mat can compare to our top of the line Mandara Ultra Premium Yoga Mat. Similar in quality and design to the Manduka Mat at less than half the price! Our Mandara Mat is made from high quality denser PVC Vinyl closed-cell foam, giving it extreme durability and high resilience.”

Caring for your mat

Reminder: Clean and disinfect too! Many quality mats are NOT designed to be cleaned by the washing machine!

Do you sleep on dirty sheets ?

This is the most neglected area by yogi’s, yoga studios and even yoga instructors. It is a common practice that when class is over – everyone rolls up their mats and head to the exits.   You will find that quality yoga studios and instructors will either supply or sell mat cleaning supplies.  They will also remind students to clean their mats.

Also, NEVER use another person’s mat without cleaning it first.   Just think of where your mat has been used.  Believe it or not, it can be heaven for bacteria including fungi.  I know of many occurrences over the years with issues of fungi in the feet because of the floor and dirty mats.  Your mat should be cleaned after every class.  Remember,  just washing your mat cleans the mat, but it must be totally dried and not just rolled up damp.  What happens to rolled up damp clothes after many days?  You want your mat to be cleaned of bacteria too,  so use a cleaner that disinfects.

Many quality mats such as the Gecko and Manduka are NOT designed for the washing machine,  because of the biodegradable elements used in the mat construction. Quality mat cleaners are recommended for these type of mats.

Also,  most mats do not like direct sunlight,  so beware of that.

I have designed a product especially for yoga mats that also has 100 other uses as well.  The Yogi Coach Organic Mat Cleaner is a 100% organic product that cleans and disinfects.  A percentage of the proceeds goes to support and sponsor local charitable events.

Learn about this 100% Organic Cleaner and the 100 uses for this cleaner.

Mats to consider:

NOTE: The links below are directly to the manufacturer site, not a third-party site, with the exception of the daily grommet link.

Again,  I am not endorsing any one mat,  but rather guiding you to some of the best mats you can purchase for your money.  I am also offering some guidelines for you to consider when shopping for a yoga mat.

Be an informed consumer.

Support Eco-friendly products and companies that have a “high standard” for their employees,  communities and the environment!

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Yoga Mat by Jade – $64.95

A 100% eco-friendly mat that performs too

A made in the USA,  eco-friendly and all natural rubber yoga mat. The mat has extra-ordinary density and excellent grip factor. The company is eco-friendly too. A durable, safe and eco mat.  Learn about what this company does when you purchase a mat from them by The Daily Grommet – Learn about Jade Yoga Mat Company

The complete line of Jade mat products can be found here –  Jade Yoga

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The Gecko Mat by Ashtanga guru, David Swenson- $75.00

An Oekotex Certified hybrid mat

This is a German manufactured mat designed by Ashtanga guru, David Swenson. It was designed for the serious yogi with functionality, performance, safety and durability in mind.   Even though it is not 100% eco, it has been tested for harmful chemicals and Oekotex Certified.  David is very eco-friendly and explains his carbon footprint rationale in his design. The Gecko Mat is considered to be one of the best mats made.

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Manduka Mats

Manduka offers both eco-friendly and Oekotex Certified hybrid mats

This German made premium black yoga mat is also known as  “the Mercedes of Yoga mats”.

Manduka is renowned for their quality mats and have been making mats for many years.  Again, their mats are for the serious yogi.  They offer some lower price range mats, but I would stick with the 3/8 inch mat design unless you feel the extra firmness is not needed.  Much of their design has incorporated input from yoga instructors over the years.  They back their products up with a life-time warranty and their hybrid mats are Oekotex Certified.

PROlite® Mat – $68.00

Has a High Density Cushion for unparalleled experience, joint protection, and versatility on any surface (carpet, cement, hardwood floors).

eKO® Mat – $70.00

The eKO Mat is made of biodegradable tree rubber with cushion and grip that is kind to your body and the environment. Most durable, eco-friendly mat on the market

Black Mat® PRO – $90.00

The legendary Black Mat PRO (formerly known as the Black Mat) is celebrating 12 years as the world’s finest yoga mat. There is a reason the Black Mat PRO inspires such passion in its users. With its denser, thicker form, unparalleled comfort and cushioning, superior non-slip fabric-like finish, and simple, elegant design the Black Mat PRO will revolutionize your practice. And best of all, it now comes with a Lifetime Guarantee. When you want the very best yoga mat, the mat chosen first by yoga teachers throughout the world, there really is only one choice – the Manduka Black Mat PRO, for your practice and for our world.

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Natural Fitness

This is an example of a new player in the market that is US based with “high standards”  and also  “walks the talk.”  They offer a variety of yoga mats  at different price ranges that are all eco-friendly.  Natural Fitness also contributes in a positive way to the community and the environment. They have an interesting story – read more  here

Natural Rubber Yoga Mat – Divine – Red Rock/Moss – $79.99

Green your practice with a Natural Fitness Divine Natural Rubber Yoga Mat. Made from natural rubber, a sustainable and biodegradable material, these mats offer superb traction and a high-rebound dense cushion. The Divine Mat provides extra cushion for those who need it. Our mats are longer than traditional yoga mats and each has two colors. 5/16” x 24” x 75”. Red Rock/Moss color.

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