Learn why having the right yoga mat is incredibly important with Kendra from exhale first yoga as she shares her expert recommendations with us!
All of us who have worked or practiced in a yoga studio have shifted to a home or outdoor practice this past year, (thank you Covid) which means no more mat rentals. If you're like me when I first started out doing yoga 10 years ago, your mat is likely stretchy, super thick, about $20, and bright orange. While color preferences are totally your own choice, the real problem with these stretchy mats is that they aren't great for yoga poses.
For example: in Downward Facing Dog (you know, the classic "yoga pose"), your hands and your feet press into the mat, while your weight plus the upside-down "V" angle of your body creates a force that tries to push your hands AWAY from your feet. With a stretchy mat, this actually happens. Your hands and feet stretch the mat longer which causes your body to tense up, grip, and sometimes hold your breath as you try not to splay out flat. Or even if your mat isn't stretchy, but is really slippery, this same thing happens. Ideally, we want our yoga mats to enhance our poses, not make them more challenging. And these tense, freeze-don't-fall responses from our bodies don't allow us to breathe into a pose (and can also put us at greater risk for injury). A yoga mat's structure and grip is incredibly important to a safe and beneficial yoga practice.
I've tried quite a few of them over the years I've been practicing, and now teaching, yoga. While grip, structure, and function are vital components, I also value the environmental aspects of our mats. We place our skin (including our face!) on yoga mats, often when we're warm and our pores are more susceptible to toxins. Therefore, the fewer chemicals, the better. And a yoga mat that wreaks havoc on our environment and the people living in it is not in alignment with what yoga stands for—union, togetherness, connectedness. As a yoga student, teacher, and member of our world, I'm sharing my favorite yoga mats and yoga companies with you!
Lululemon: The Reversible Mat 5mm As a hot yoga instructor, I can tell you I genuinely love this mat, and I’ve used it exclusively for my practice the last 5 years. It’s reversible, with coordinating patterns on each side. One side has an extra layer that absorbs sweat, so your hands won’t slip (at all!) during downward facing dog, no matter how sweaty you or the mat become. The other side is great for less-sweaty practices, and has a little more cushion. The mat has an open-cell structure that creates the sweat-absorption and grip, so you’ll want to clean it with non-toxic, natural products. How I clean mine: fill a spray bottle with water and a few drops of fragrance-free, bleach-free laundry detergent, and spray all over. Then take a soaking wet cloth and scrub it down. Air-dry, and it’s good to go. As for sustainability though, not so much. While I appreciate that it’s 61% natural rubber, the 15% polyurethane is what makes it so incredibly non-slip. Manduka: eKO Yoga Mat 5mm What I love most about this mat is the environmentally-conscious aspect. No toxic chemicals are used to soften the natural rubber, and the tree rubber itself is harvested with sustainable practices. The grip may not be as impeccable as the Lululemon mat, but the fact that your face isn’t pressing against chemical components in child’s pose is definitely worth something. Plus, the patterns are chic, and most won’t show sweat. It’s a closed-cell mat, which means it won’t absorb whatever you use to clean it with. I clean mine with any non-toxic spray cleaner designed for yoga mats. JadeYoga: Harmony Mat I love that this company’s mission comes through with this mat. While it’s not the best for hot yoga or sweaty palms (again, that closed-cell structure doesn’t absorb moisture) it IS great for giving back. JadeYoga plants a tree for every mat sold, and donates to certain causes and charities depending on the color of the mat you choose. Their 4.7mm Harmony mat is made from natural rubber, is created sustainably, and works really well for the less sweaty among us. Clean yours by filling a spray bottle with water and a big splash of white vinegar, then spraying the mat liberally and wiping it down with a damp cloth. Brentwood Home: Organic Non-Slip Yoga Mat While the priciest of these listed, I am SO excited to try this one out. Brentwood Home is one of my favorite brands (their parent company Avocado Green Brands is a B-corp too!) and I have all of the other yoga products they create. I haven’t been able to try this mat out personally yet, as it’s a very new product, but I do know that it’s all organic, climate-neutral, FSC-designated (meaning: it’s sustainable, environmentally responsible, and socially beneficial) and certified vegan. Smooshing your face against this in a pose is like smooshing your face against an organic pillow: no bad stuff. The colors are soft, trendy shades, and the pattern is subtle. I’m most excited about the texture of this one, as it’s unlike the other mats I’ve seen on the market. This mat is foldable, washable, and biodegradable. I’m eager to try some asanas on it!
*** Thank you Kendra for sharing your yoga knowledge and experience with us. Your advice to commit to healthier mats has made a world of difference in my practice—I am able to hold my poses much longer than before, while feeling less strained and stressed! You are such a gifted yoga instructor and I look forward to taking many more of your virtual classes on my new and improved mat.