Things to consider when choosing a yoga mat!
As an instructor and student who rolls out the mat quite regularly, I know what features I prefer to support my practice. However, considering the many styles of yoga and workout routines that involve mats, I wanted to see what other yoga professionals thought, including those that have been at it practically since the time mats debuted (despite the practice of yoga dating back over 5,000 years, the yoga mat hasn’t been around all that long).
In the end, my top choices were pretty easy to grip. There is no perfect yoga mat, and no single mat fits everyone. If you’re looking for the best yoga mat that will support your asanas and be your new place to call OM for a lifetime, the Manduka PROlite is the way to go. It gets my top pick because its durability and versatility are unmatched. However, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, the Jade Harmony Professional Mat is made of 100 percent rubber, and offers great traction and support.
With over 50 hours of research on dozens of yoga mats, I focused on the properties and composition of the mat and how this applies to the various styles of yoga. I surveyed the masses, consulted with over 10 yoga professionals with years of experience on mats, and personally put many mats through hours of testing.
The process was sweaty, and reconfirmed that choosing a yoga mat is akin to choosing your wine — some get better with age, and it all comes down to personal taste. To help find the best yoga mat for you, I’ve also recommended top picks for specific formats, some of which include my top choices and others which do not.
My yoga mats aren’t pampered, and they’re used in a variety of styles. One week, I’m traveling to practice yoga in Mexico, and the next, I’m instructing 50 students outdoors on the beach or in a park in New England. I consistently practice a vigorous vinyasa both in and out of a hot room, and teach a gentler flow to athletes who are new to the practice.
There are a number of important features across the board that make some yoga mats better than others, and these factors are useful to take into consideration before purchasing your own. In total, I spent over 50 hours analyzing yoga mat reviews, scouring online publications, and researching the technology, history, brands, and the various qualities of top yoga mats. I drew from previous experience and surveyed over 100 yoga professionals, teachers, and students (of all levels and practicing styles) to get an idea of what people look for most.
I consulted with 10 yoga professionals, including “Boston’s 2014 Best Yoga Instructor” Sadhana Studio Owner, Glen Cunningham, who has been savasana-ing on a mat for over 15 years; Orange County’s Core Power Yoga manager and instructor Lacey Calvert; and international yoga teacher Goldie Graham. I also tapped popular blogger, YouTuber, and traveling yogi Candace Moore, as well as Rasamaya Studio owner and yoga instructor, Carrie Tyler, who is a 20-year veteran of teaching movement.
An initial 30 products were taken into consideration after analyzing reviews from Amazon, REI, and Yoga Consumer Reports. I also consulted some 50 publications (like PopSugar Fitness, Mind Body Green, and Outdoor Magazine) and popular yoga blogs (like Ekhart Yoga, Yoga Journal, and DoYouYoga). I further narrowed the list down to 15 of the best yoga mats based on my criteria of positive reviews, experience, recognitions, and ultimately what other yogi consumers had to say. This strategy helped me get to a manageable number of top products so I could physically test each myself.
I took the research to different studios and tested the mats in temperatures both over 100 and below 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I also tested on a carpet, on a hardwood floor, and in the comforts of my own home. I received feedback from fellow yoga students, and for a week, observed how the top mats appeared and were performing for others in class. Then, it was time for me to get on all the top yoga mats and put them each through a standard 60-minute yoga class. I used the mats in two different formats, restorative and vigorous, and in both heated and unheated conditions. I continued to test the mats at home through various poses and practices. (Tough work, but hey — someone has to do it!)
In my survey talking to other yoga teachers and students, responses demonstrated that the drawbacks to current mats were heaviness, difficulty in cleaning, poor traction, and a short lifespan. The data also proved that the majority of people desire stickiness and comfort. So with the intention to find the best yoga mats for the masses, I focused on a mat’s ability to provide the right amount of traction, density, comfort, and stability. Other criteria that came into play were weight, size, eco-footprint, and color assortment. I also wanted to make sure I factored in price, even though most buyers said they were willing to pay up for the aforementioned qualities.
Manduka PROlite: Best Overall
If you want a mat to last you a lifetime, and can also tick the boxes for grip, portability, and comfort, the Manduka PROlite is the way to go. This mat beat out its category contenders for longevity by a landslide. It’s an extremely durable, high-performing mat that’s stamped with a lifetime guarantee. Yoga teachers everywhere (including myself) agree that the Manduka PROlite gets better with age the more you use it, similar to a baseball glove. I’ll get upside-down to that.
The PVC material and density of the mat make it competent under any condition — outdoors, in a heated room, in a non-heated studio, and with gentle-to-vigorous practices — which can’t be said for the majority of the mats tested here. I took this mat through a multitude of restorative and standing poses, sun salutations, arm balances, and inversions.
I’m not the only one who ranks this mat at the top of the list. Boston’s 2014 Best Yoga Instructor and Owner of Sadhana Studio, Cunningham, has been using the Manduka Pro series mats for 14 years.
I’ve been using Manduka mats since 2001 and I still think they make the best overall mats out there in terms for grip, comfort, thickness, feel, size, and durability. I’ve been teaching for over 15 years and see a lot of ‘mat shrapnel’ on the studio floor, but I’ve never seen a Manduka Mat get worn out.
Glen CunninghamOwner of Sadhana Studio
In asanas that tend to be slightly harder on the knees, like Ustrasana (camel pose) and Anjaneyasana (low lunge), this mat provides just the right amount of support and cushion to feel ease and comfort throughout the pose, even when held for long periods of time. The mat also provides stabilization and joint protection during asanas that require more stability, balance, and impact (think: Tree pose, handstand, and jumping back to chaturangas). At the same time, it won’t compromise the ability to feel stable and connected to the ground.
As far as texture, grip, and comfort go, I give this mat two thumbs up. The slip-resistant traction kept fidgeting to a minimum. The surface, which isn’t super sticky, allowed for gliding transitions through quick vinyasas. The transition to take my foot into or out from a lunge felt effortless compared to when catching or sticking on mats made from a different textile (like some of the natural rubber mats did).
Other than the first couple of uses during the “break-in period,” the manual labor for this mat is practically nonexistent. Its closed-cell technology makes it incredibly easy to clean and wipe down after class, and with a weight of around four pounds, it’s light and easy to carry. The mat comes in an assortment of colors and in two different sizes (71 and 79 inches) to accommodate style preference as well as the taller yogis out there. It’s fairly pricey for a yoga mat, but with a lifetime warranty, it provides outstanding value.
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