What’s in a yoga mat?

Our expert's guide to finding the best, eco-friendly yoga mat.

Credit: Flickr / lululemon athletica

A guide from Vancouver yoga guru Insiya Rasiwala-Finn on finding the best (eco-friendly) yoga mat: why you need one, what to look for, which mats are the highest quality and most eco, and where to buy them


If finding your style of yoga class and/or teacher from the hundreds displaying their offerings in Vancouver wasn’t overwhelming enough, try finding the ideal yoga mat.


What, you thought yoga was supposed to be this peaceful, bliss-inducing activity? Well, take a breath, a slow, deep one, maybe even a couple.


With this guide, I’ll try to demystify what exactly to look for in something that has become an essential part of a yoga practice: the sticky yoga mat.


Expert’s guide to finding the best (eco-friendly) yoga mat

Plus: Choosing the right type of yoga for you at Vancouver’s best yoga studios and teachers >>>


Why is my yoga mat important?

Well, really it allows you to define the space in which you practice, and a good yoga mat can almost feel like an extension of your yoga asana or pose.


If you’re wondering why to invest in a lowly yoga mat, I have one word for you—especially if you’re planning on going to a hot yoga class—“sweat.”


The modern sticky yoga mat was not used by the ancient yogis who pretzeled themselves in their loincloths in the India of 5,000 years ago. It was invented as recently as 1982 by a yoga teacher named Angela Farmer, who cut a roll of carpet padding and began using it to practice on in her Iyengar style yoga classes in Germany. 


She found that it particularly helped her balance while in various standing yoga poses. Since that original carpet padding-mat—which Angela’s father then sold, making him the first yoga mat retailer—yoga mats have come a long way. You can find them in various materials and possibly in every colour under the rainbow. They come plain, patterned and can even be custom printed to brand your logo or message onto a mat—yes, just what you need for your escape into stillness.


But seriously, lets get down to the basics.



Eco yoga mat

What to look for in a yoga mat


Yoga mats are generally sized 24″ wide by 68 to 72″ long, with longer variations available for the big and tall crowd. In depth, they range from 3 mm to 5 or 6 mm.


As a yoga teacher who has worn out at least 15 yoga mats in my lifetime, here are some qualities I look for in a yoga mat for a general hatha or flow/power style practice. 


(Hot yogis and Ashtanga practioners generally prefer the cotton mysore cloth mats or towels, a selection of which are available locally at Half Moon Yoga and at lululemon athletica stores).


Grippy-ness or stickiness:

How much traction can I feel when I press and spread out my fingertips and toes onto a mat, or is it just a slippery slide?



Does the mat feel comfortable and springy. When I press downward with my full body weight, is there a bit of spring and a cushiony feeling, or can you just feel the hard edge of the floor below.


Before using, wash your yoga mat

Lastly, remember that all sticky mats will be slippery when you first purchase them, so it’s a good idea to wash your mat first either with a lemon-and-warm-water solution or with light natural soap and water. 

I strongly recommend against washing a yoga mat in a washing machine.  The shower will do nicely. Remember to dry the mat as thoroughly as you can and after a few uses the mat will lose its initial slick feel.


Can the mat retain its shape no matter how much I jump, glide and slide on it? Or is it floppy and not retain much of its core shape.



How strong is the mat and how long will it last. Generally, the thicker the mat the more durable it is, but that may not always be true.



Carrying your yoga mat to and from class can be a chore. Given that yoga mats weigh anywhere from 2.3 lbs to a whopping 7 lbs, finding a mat with a weight that you can handle easefully is essential to making your mat something you will use over and over—and will help you keep your yoga resolution.



Unfortunately most of the early generation of yoga mats were and continue to be fashioned from PVC (poly vinyl chloride, also known as vinyl), which has been linked to everything from cancer and fertility issues.


To avoid the toxic offgassing of PVC, especially with a product I am about to entrust my entire body to, I try to stick to the eco-friendly options available in the market, which I have waded through to present My Top Eco Mat Picks



Good eco-friendly mats range in price from $40 up to more than $100, so considering how much you would like to spend given your usage and preferences is a good idea.


Click: Skip ahead to Insiya’s top 5 eco-friendly yoga mats available in Vancouver >>>



Insiya’s top eco yoga mat picks


To avoid the toxic offgassing of PVC, used in most commonly found yoga mats, I stick to the eco-friendly options available in the market, which I have waded through to present My Top Eco Mat Picks.



1. Manduka Pro mat

Weighing 7 lbs this mat is best for a home practice unless you don’t mind lugging its heft around. Many yoga practitioners consider this mat to be a sustainable alternative since it’ll last you a lifetime of yoga.



I’ve owned a Manduku Pro for the past seven years and it doesn’t even have a dent in it. Yet, I do worry about this mat’s PVC content—which, though minimal, is still a toxic component in a product I am going to lay my body on. The company says the percentage of PVC in its mats is negligible and also affirms that they are produced without emitting any toxic gases during manufacturing. And, due to their superior wear, they are less likely to end up in landfills. 


The mats are backed with a lifetime guarantee and the company also offers a “recycle your mat kit” with the purchase of a new Manduka mat, sending you a mat-bag-sized shipping bag addressed to Recycle Your Mat, an organization dedicated to finding an end use, including upcycling, for old yoga mats.



Materials: OekoTex-certified PVC

Size: 71″ long; 26″ wide; 1/4″ thick

Weight: 7 lbs

Cost: $95 

Available at lululemon stores across the Greater Vancouver area and at www.manduka.com


2. Manduka eKO mat

Manduka eKO Mat

I recently switched to Manduka’s eKO mat. Fashioned from natural (non-Amazon) tree rubber the eKO mat has a a grippy yet cushiony, sea-grass texture that is comfortable yet sturdy to use—meaning, it does retain its shape.


The natural rubber has a strong smell when it’s new but does diminish over time.


I like the density and thickness of this mat. The Manduka eKO mat is also available in a lite version which is great for travelling.



Material: Made from non-Amazon harvested, natural tree rubber; no PVC or toxic plasticizers

Size: 71″ long; 26″ wide; 3/16″ thick

Cost: approximately $75

Available at www.manduka.com


3. Halfmoon Eco Mat Deluxe

Halfmoon Yoga Deluxe Mat

A light, comfortable mat from local company Half Moon Yoga, the Halfmoon Eco Mat Deluxe mat is made from TPE (Thermal Plastic Elastomer), an eco-friendly alternative to PVC that is decomposable, recycleable and hypoallergenic. 


The mat’s closed-cell structure also prevents bacteria and fungal growth resulting from sweat. 


Halfmoon tells me the mat’s manufacturing process produces no phthalates, toluene or heavy metals, and production waste is recycled directly at the factory.


I love that you can purchase this mat in various colours and that it is light enough to travel with. 


The downside: it is definitely not as durable as dense Manduka mats. With heavy use, you will probably need a new one in about five to six months.



Material: TPE (Thermal Plastic Elastomer); contains no PVC

Size: 72″ long; 24” wide; 5mm thick (also available in a 3mm version)

Cost: $50 

Available at the zen-inducing, Half Moon Yoga store on Granville Island or online at www.halfmoon.bz


4. Jade Yoga Encore mat

Jade Yoga Encore Mat


One of the first yoga mats made from recycled rubber, Jade Yoga’s Encore mat is manufactured in the US under strict FDA guidelines. To further the impact of your dollar, the company will plant a tree with every mat that you purchase.


I find that Jade’s mats have good traction, but prefer the more dense rubber texture of the Manduka eKo mat. You also have to be careful about exposing this mat to direct sunlight for a long time, as the rubber surface’s open cells start to disintegrate… so probably not the ideal yoga mat for a tropical retreat.



Size: 68″ long; 24″ wide; 3/16″ thick

Weight: approximately 4 lbs

Cost: $65.00

Available at YYoga studios around Vancouver and www.jadeyoga.com


5. Prana Revolution mat

Prana Revolution Natural Sticky Mat

If I could justify owning another yoga mat—something I cannot right now, given that I have a yoga mat with a lifetime guarantee—I would be inclined to test out the new Prana Revolution mat, a sturdy, heavy, natural rubber mat that may become the eco substitute to the Manduka Pro mat that has now become the standard in serious yoga circles.


Designed by yoga and climbing apparel company Prana from Colorado, in conjunction with well known Anusara yoga teacher and founder John Friend, the Revolution mat seems to both talk the yoga talk and walk the yoga walk, blending sustainability, durability and style.



Size: 78″ long; 30″ wide; 4mm thick

Weight: 9 lbs

Cost: $119

Available at Inner Space Yoga and at www.prana.com