How to choose a yoga mat?
When you want to practice yoga or do a proper exercise, one of the most important things you need to do is to choose the right mat. There are many types of yoga and workout mats on the market, and it can be quite overwhelming to find the one that suits your needs. Proper research is the right thing to do!
As you might be aware, the owners of Asana Singapore love to workout. We have extensively tested most of the products on the market, and we feel it is fair to share an objective view of what is available.
Try to avoid impulsive decisions, and make sure you understand the pros and cons of each type. It's essential to pay attention to details and the product specifications. If the product is not described adequately, request an explanation directly from the seller. Many, even well-known brands, will not tell you the full truth when it comes to the properties of the material and the environmental impact of the yoga mat material. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you get started.
The market has boomed in recent years, and there are numerous yoga mat materials available. Because of the wide choice, it is also relatively easy for brands to confuse customers with meaningless buzz-words and hide what's truly relevant. The material of the mat should be the single most important factor to take into consideration. Here are some of the most popular materials for yoga and workout mats:
- PU / Polyurethane / PU Leather
- Natural Rubber
- Synthetic Rubber
- Fibers - Jute, Hemp, Cotton, Suede
The list does not end there, and you can find different qualitative categories for each material type. Many mats consist of two or more materials. For example, a popular bottom layer is made of natural rubber, while the top layer can be from fibers, polyurethane, and other materials. More extreme example, supposedly "eco-friendly" cork yoga mats coated with PVC. An apparent contradiction, but you will see these kinds of claims quite often. Usually, this is due to a lack of proper examination of materials before turning them into products for consumers.
Before we jump into the details of each type, let's define what characteristics to look out for when choosing the best yoga mat or workout mat material.
- Non-slip, non-skid
- You want to have a good grip when doing a workout, dry, or sweaty.
- You want the mat to stay where you place it, regardless of the ground surface.
- The environmental impact*
- You want to minimize the impact of the production and disposal of the material.
- You want the material to last a long time, so you avoid wastage.
- Advanced properties
- Lightweight material, especially if you want to use it as a travel mat.
- Antimicrobial layer, which prevents mold.
*Let's make this clear. None of the yoga mat and workout mat materials on the market are 100% eco-friendly nor sustainable. Anybody telling you this is just trying to deceive you. Our company's stand is to minimize the environmental impact of our products through proper weightage of the pros and cons of each material and making sure we use low-carbon-footprint transportation methods. We have conducted extensive research through reliable scientific resources on the effects of individual substances on the environment. With this consolidated information, we have evaluated which materials have the least environmental impact end-to-end (from production to disposal), considering longevity. Lastly, we have carefully selected those with characteristics that match what active and fit people value in a workout mat.
PVC Yoga Mats, Vinyl Yoga Mats
Does a polyvinyl-chloride sound like something you would want to do your workout on? Probably not. Yet, PVC is one of the most used materials for a yoga mat.
These mats are dirt cheap to manufacture and are thus sold for prices that range from super affordable to extremely overpriced - depends on the brand. As you can imagine, a considerable downside exists. PVC as a material is proven to be a toxic chemical, and its production process causes significant environmental harm. Most PVC mats contain phthalates, lead, cadmium, and other nasty stuff detrimental to health. As people get more conscious and smarter about these things, so do some companies that claim to have "eco-friendly" versions of PVC yoga mats. The fake "eco-friendliness" can apply to a part of the manufacturing method or the processing of the material, but not the material itself. A toxic PVC is still a toxic PVC. PVC is NOT biodegradable.
PVC mats are usually thick and bulky, so they do provide plenty of cushioning. But ask yourself - am I buying it for sleeping or for a workout? If you are not sure, try to do a plank on your bed, and you will get an idea of how this mat feels.
These mats also do not provide much grip, especially when you are sweating during workouts. On top of that, PVC mats and its other derivatives (PER) absorb sweat, which isn't very hygienic. Over time, if you regularly apply weight pressure, the material deteriorates and sags, so the cushioning thins. If you are looking for a mat to enhance your workout, this is not it.
Asana Score: 1/10
Don't do this to yourself.
Expert advice - notice how most brands selling "eco-friendly" yoga mats use buzz-words to try to convince you of what a yoga mat isn't rather than what it is. - "Our mat does not contain phthalates, latex, silicone, rubber, toxic resins, gases..." - Et cetera. It's 99% bs! Most of these fake eco-mats are made from PVC or TPE in a rural factory in China, which has no environmental standards.
Cork Yoga Mats
Good cork yoga mats have, in most cases, two layers: cork surface and a natural rubber bottom, which means a 100% vegan, and biodegradable option. These properties also make them an attractive choice for environmentally conscious people.
Cork mats provide surprisingly reliable cushioning, and do not absorb water (duh - think about your wine bottles), dry fast, and offer quite a good grip. Some sellers claim the grip gets even better if you sweat, but we do not have the same experience.
Cork mats are typically quite thin so that they can be packed light and tight and are thus also suitable as travel mats. These yoga mats should last you for a couple of years and are a pretty good value for money.
Unfortunately, some brands knowingly or unknowingly sell cork mats coated with plastics. These types are usually more affordable, and it's quite challenging to tell just by looking at it. Cork material naturally contains tiny holes, and if you fill them with plastics, you get a smoother feel. Please do your due diligence and verify this with your supplier or check out our 100% Natural Cork Pro Mat with alignment lines!
Asana Score: 8/10
Low environmental impact. Solid grip. Thin and light.
PU Leather Yoga Mats
Polyurethane is a versatile and robust material. You can find it's applications in most daily life products - sports clothing, shoe soles, tennis grips, watch straps, car interior, furniture, et cetera. Good quality PU is safe, non-toxic, fully recyclable, and end-to-end, far less harmful to the environment than most of the other types of materials on this list. It is very durable and will last you the longest.
After extensive testing, we can safely conclude that PU is by far the best material for your yoga mat. Be careful tho, as the quality varies significantly. The originating country of the polyurethane matters a lot because it defines the environmental impact, the strength of the material, the longevity, and the grippy texture of the mat.
As a rule of thumb, when a PU mat cost around 100 USD, it's material comes from China. Don't immediately get the wrong impression as these can be very reliable mats. You can expect medium-grade material, solid grip, OK moisture-wicking properties, and proper cushioning. The slight disadvantage is longevity, as due to the relatively low density, the surface material fades in a couple of years and might occasionally develop mold after extensive use.
If you are the type who does not want to compromise, there is another solution - high-grade eco-polyurethane. This material comes from Europe, and it is 100% vegan and biodegradable. This top-quality PU mat surface material combined with a 100% natural rubber bottom layer is the undisputed king of yoga and workout mat materials! Extremely dense and strong material provides an excellent grip and moisture-wicking properties in any condition - hot, cold, sweaty, or dry. You can use it for a variety of workouts. The cushioning is just as fantastic - firm and stable, while considerate to your knees and joints. It's exceptionally durable and long-lasting. Top-quality PU mats are on a pricier side, but you get the best product on the market. This type of polyurethane is also not easy to obtain, so not many brands are selling it. Feel free to check-out our Crow Pro and Plank Pro mats, which are using this premium material and have a special antimicrobial layer preventing the formation of molds.
Medium-Grade Polyurethane 8/10
Very good grip, stability, and moisture-wicking. Perfect cushioning.
High-Grade Eco-Polyurethane 10/10
Minimal environmental impact. Exceptional grip, stability, and moisture-wicking properties. Perfect cushioning. High longevity.
Fibers - Jute Yoga Mats, Cotton Yoga Mats, Hemp Yoga Mats, Suede Yoga Mats
These materials used in many yoga mats are all-natural fibers and are super eco-friendly and biodegradable. Nobody can dispute that, right?
Well, have you ever thought about how a roll of jute, cotton, or hemp form a durable yoga mat? It's PVC or PET coating! Yes, this is just another trick to make you think you are saving the planet while selling you the worst kind of plastic. It is fair to mention some suppliers use PER, which is a substance derived from PVC, which might be less harmful to the environment, but it is far from eco-friendly, as they proclaim. And let's make this clear again, this type of PVC or PET (polyester) is NOT biodegradable.
For the workout itself, the characteristics copy PVC mats. Sweat completely absorbs into the mat. Some people like this, but we think it's not hygienic. Fiber mats are also close to impossible to clean. The grip is good, thanks to the sticking fibers, but the mat is skidding on any smooth floor surface. Jute is also pretty rough and might scratch your body.
Fiber Yoga Mats 3-5/10
Fake eco-friendliness. Below average properties. Only if you can't afford better.
Most of the good mats on the market have a natural rubber bottom layer as it is the most suitable material ensuring the mat holds firmly placed on any surface. The rubber prevents it from skidding. As it is 100% natural, it is also biodegradable, and the overall impact on the environment is relatively low.
Having the rubber layer also on the top of the mat gives you the same advantages during your practice - stability, good grip, ample cushioning. However, it will also make the mat quite heavy and bulky, not comfortable to carry it around. Natural rubber takes a long time to dry after the sweaty workout or washing. For some people, one of the downsides can be the funny smell of the natural rubber, especially when new. It can be a bit off-putting, but if you let it air for a few days, it will gradually disappear. Last but not least, if you are allergic to latex, stay away from this mat.
Natural Rubber Yoga Mats 6/10
Low environmental impact. Good grip and stability. Very heavy.
"Expert advice - "99% latex-free!" or "Does not contain natural rubber latex!" are scientifically inaccurate statements. Remember that natural rubber always contains latex, and even the synthetic version is not guaranteed to be completely latex-free. If you are allergic to it, it's better to avoid these products."
Synthetic Rubber - NBR Yoga Mats (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber)
Nitrile butadiene is a synthetic, extremely strong type of petroleum-based rubber with very low flexibility. These mats are typically super thick (1 cm or more) hence provide an excess of cushioning, but for most people who take exercising seriously, this is a huge downside. You will feel like sinking, and it makes it difficult to find balance. NBR can be easily refurbished and will eventually even biodegrade. Properties are similar to natural rubber.
Natural Rubber Yoga Mats 5/10
Firm grip and stability. Extremely heavy.
TPE Yoga Mats
A thermoplastic elastomer is a very broad term, but typically, it's a synthetic material, blended from various types of plastics and rubber. Therefore, it combines the characteristics of PVC mats and Rubber mats. If you have to buy the TPE mat, we suggest you first inquire about the source of the material and the production process standards. You might get lucky and buy one of the safer synthetics, but you might equally get one of the toxic ones. It's a bit like having a cocktail without knowing what the ingredients are.
Its impermeable texture does not absorb sweat or dirt. TPE mats are easy to clean, but they are very slippery to use when sweaty.
Natural Rubber Yoga Mats 2/10
Obtaining truthful information about the material composition is an agony. Very slippery.
The length and width of the yoga mat can play a significant role in the quality of your exercise. There are many different sizes to choose from, and the decision ultimately depends on personal preferences.
From our experience, the bigger the surface area, the more comfortable and enjoyable the workout. It's similar to choosing a bed - most people would prefer a king-size over a small single bed.
The average height of women in Singapore is 160 cm and of men 171 cm. Worldwide, it is not much different - 160 cm for women and 172 cm for men. We recommended the mat to be at least 10 cm longer than your height; otherwise, it can become annoying having to adjust yourself to the size of the mat during a workout. If you are above 185 cm like one of our team members, bad luck, you just have to adjust :). There are no quality mats on the market in that category, because they will become heavy and bulky.
What applies to length applies for width as well, and it is even more noticeable. The average person's shoulder width is 38 cm, but you need plenty of space on top of that if you want to do certain poses comfortably. Even for a simple push-up, you are going to need at least 60cm width. We find 68cm to be the best simply because it provides enough real estate for any kind of workout and almost any person's body type.
Choosing the right thickness largely depends on what material of the mat you want and what is the quality and the properties of it. In general, the more cushioning you have, the more difficult it is to balance your body, and the heavier the mat gets. We find cushioning between 2.5-5 mm to be ideal. 2.5 mm is mainly used for travel mats, as it allows for light and slim packing. If you have sensitive joints or if you are heavier or muscular, go for 4.5-5 mm. If you like the real feel, good contact with a floor, go for 4-4.5 mm. Anything above 6 mm is madness unless you want to use it as a picnic seat in the park.
Asana Ultimate Mats
We chose a length of 185 cm, a width of 68 cm, and a thickness of 4.2 mm for our ultimate mats. These dimensions provide more than enough real estate for the vast majority of people and give the right cushioning for an effective and enjoyable workout.
THE ALIGNMENT LINES
There are "intelligent" mats that have alignment lines to help you maintain the body in the right posture and perfect your balance and positions. They offer intelligent markers that give you precise locations where to put your feet and hands. If you want to know more, we suggest you check out our page dedicated to infinite designs.
A yoga mat can cost anywhere from $30 to $600. If you don't want a toxic piece of plastic and you care about the environment, search above USD 100 (SGD 140) plus. The range between USD 100 to USD 250 (SGD 350) is where you can find high-quality products. Price above USD 250 should include a diamond to justify the price.
Congratulations! You are now well equipped to make an informed decision when choosing your workout and yoga mat. Leave your thoughts as comments!
If you have any more questions or feedback, feel free to contact us directly.
Team Asana Singapore
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