The wrong yoga mat could make for a bad spiritual and physical foundation in a person’s journey to meditation and stretching.
Yoga mat prices run the gamut — from $7 to more than $200 on AmazonAMZN, -2.09% — and, even for something as simple as a mat, yoga experts say the cheaper mats won’t be good for your warrior pose or your downward-facing dog or, in some cases, your health. “You get what you pay for,” said Sadie Nardini, founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga.
Spending more than $100 may seem excessive, but those mats will likely last longer because they’re made of more durable material or come with guarantees — Leigh’s mat cost $120 six years ago when she bought it, which comes out to $20 a year. “I’d rather invest in a mat I’m going to really love and practice on than go through mats year over year,” she said.
But you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to get a quality mat, Nardini says. A good price range is anywhere from $50 to $100. What’s more, expensive mats may come with perks from their manufacturers, such as quality guarantees or easy replacements if a mat deteriorates, said Angela Leigh, program manager at Pure Yoga in New York City.
The wrong mat doesn’t just make a yoga session more difficult — it could also lead to injuries, said Gerald McGwin, an associate director for the Center of Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Almost 30,000 Americans went to the emergency room because of a yoga-related injury between 2001 and 2014, according to a study McGwin worked on last year.
Typical injuries included sprains or fractures. While these injuries weren’t attributed directly to the mat, “you can easily see where the mat played a role,” he said. Having the right sports equipment is critical in most sports and physical activities — and yoga is no exception. In some cases, a cheap mat that becomes slippery from sweat can easily someone to lose their footing, he added.
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To avoid that problem, some mats are designed to be sweat-proof, either by absorbing moisture such as cotton or because they can be easily wiped dry. Although a mat that soaks up sweat will lead to a less slippery yoga session, it’s important to wash the mat thoroughly after each use — or at least every few uses — because mats can hold bacteria and cause infections if not cleaned, McGwin said.
Yoga mats will usually advertise if they are nonslip or sweat-resistant. (One yogi set out to find the best mats for hot yoga on YogaOutlet.com, which is sure to get someone sweating during a session). He chose an $88 Manduka eKO mat for hot yoga. “The mat’s closed-cell surface has a horizontal wave pattern to help you maintain your grip,” he wrote.
The texture should feel comfortable for yogis’ hands and feet, said Angela Leigh, program manager at Pure Yoga in New York City. A thinner mat can be better for balance, while a spongy mat go easier on elbows and knees. The classic yoga mat is 1/8-inch thick, but can be anywhere between 1/16-inch and 1/4-inch. Mats that are on the lower-end of the price spectrum will be spongier than others.
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McGwin’s yoga mat cost $120, he said there are decent mats for $50 to $75. Mats with a more pebbly texture tend to harbor more bacteria than mats that are slick and smooth. In addition to the sweat and grip, material, stickiness, eco-friendliness, according to Gaiam, a yoga mat company. In the zen world of yoga, overlooking color and style are (probably) only an “ummm…” away.
Most mats on the market are made of PVC, a type of vinyl, but there are other, more eco-friendly options, including cotton and jute, which could be more expensive than PVC mats. They don’t grip as well to the floor, but they do to the body, which makes it easier to hold poses. As this site says without stretching credibility, “The yoga mat is your sanctuary and domain.”