The best yoga mat for you will be comfortable, functional, and fit into your budget. There are many types of yoga mats, made of synthetic and natural materials. There are also a wide range of decorative mats, but yoga demands different characteristics from the mat. Different styles of yoga call for different characteristics as well, so it's important to take your yoga style into consideration before making a purchase. The thickness, stickiness, size, type of material, and ease of washing are the features which should guide your choice.
Typically, a yoga mat is 0.125 inches (3.17 mm) thick. Travel mats are even thinner, as little as 0.0625 inches (1.58 mm) thick. Although thinner mats are usually lighter and easier to pack, they do not provide the comfort of thicker mats. If you find that you are often uncomfortable during your yoga routine, due to excessive pressure on your elbows, knees, or hips, then you may need a thicker mat. It should not exceed 0.25 inches (6.35 mm), however, since thicker mats can effect connection to the floor or cause instability while holding positions.
After deciding on the thickness of your mat, consider the amount of stickiness you need for your style of yoga. Stickiness is the grip of the material. It keeps you from sliding while holding positions, but also restricts ease and fluidity of motion. Aerobic intensive workouts often require higher stickiness than other types of yoga, but a mat with less stickiness is more suitable for traditional meditative yoga. The stickiness of a yoga mat depends on the material from which it is made.
The classic yoga mat is usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is man made. Other materials used for yoga mats are natural rubber, cotton, jute — a grass fiber, and cork. Natural rubber and PVC mats have a high level of stickiness and durability, and they do not absorb moisture. Cotton and grass fiber mats do not have a lot of stickiness, which may make achieving certain positions difficult. Compared to PVC and natural rubber, cotton and grass fiber mats wear out very quickly and must be replaced often.
Often, the stickiness of a mat and its tendency to absorb moisture are inversely related. Mats with high stickiness often repel moisture, which is usually a desirable trait, since moisture often creates a foul odor when it becomes trapped in the material's fibers. Since mats will come into contract with moisture regularly from your workout, make sure that your mat is easy to clean. Look for machine washable fiber mats or PVC and natural rubber mats that can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. Avoid mats which require dry cleaning, since this is costly and causes excessive wear and tear on your mat.
Whatever thickness, stickiness, and material you chose for your yoga mat, you will find that there are a variety of styles and sizes available for reasonable prices. Chose a mat that is large enough for every type of position, including lying down. If you are exceptionally tall, you may have to have a custom mat cut to get the correct length. Mats come in almost every imaginable color, and many have attractive prints or weaves. A more decorative yoga mat, or a mat made of special material, may cost more than other yoga mats.