Long hailed for its positive effects on the mind and body, yoga helps build strength and flexibility, can help relieve stress and can improve overall mental and physical wellness.
Compared to other fitness activities, yoga requires minimal gear to get started. While most studios provide everything a beginner needs, investing in your own personal mat, yoga-specific clothes and a few other items can make your experience with yoga even more enjoyable.
Video: How to Choose Yoga Gear
Wherever you practice, a proper yoga mat is essential. Working on a rug, slippery towel or overly-soft gym cushion can lead to injury and frustration. Most studios and gyms offer mats for public use, but owning your own can be a more hygienic alternative.
While there are many options available, the vast majority of yoga mats work perfectly well for any style of yoga. Often, your choice will come down to personal preference. That said, understanding the differences will help you select a mat that fits your personal needs.
Yoga Mat Thickness and Weight
Yoga mats range from super thin and compact travel styles that weigh a mere 2 lbs. to cushy quarter-inch beasts that weigh up to 7 lbs.
If you’re not sure where to start, choose a mat that’s about 1/8-in. thick (or 3.175 mm), a pretty standard thickness. These mats are excellent for those in a strong, flowing practice. They allow solid contact with the floor, which helps with stability during a variety of poses. Compared to thicker mats, they are also less likely to catch and get in your way when you flow from pose to pose.
Thinner mats can help increase stability for styles of yoga with more active poses or balanced, focused poses. Look for mats with textured surfaces to maintain better grip when the poses get more strenuous.
Thicker mats provide extra cushioning and are best for more therapeutic practices. If you enjoy restorative yoga, a style with fewer poses that you hold longer, for example, you may prefer a softer, more cushioned mat. Thicker mats are also more comfortable for forearm and kneeling poses and for yogis with tender knees or achy joints. But they can be more difficult to balance on during standing poses.
If your yoga plans include air travel, look for a travel mat that’s specifically designed for portability. Travel mats are very thin and light and pack down smaller than traditional mats, so they’re easy to take along in your luggage. Keep in mind that you will sacrifice some cushioning with a travel mat.
Yoga Mat Materials and Durability
When selecting the material for your yoga mat, you can choose anything from inexpensive PVC to environmentally friendly natural rubber. Which material you choose will affect the mat’s price, weight, grip and durability. Generally, thicker mats last longer than thinner mats. That said, mat durability is also related to the material the mat is made from.
PVC is a plastic-based material that is highly durable, easy to clean and offers excellent floor grip. However, PVC mats are non-absorbent and can become slippery when you sweat heavily. PVC is latex-free, a benefit to those with latex allergies, however, it is not biodegradable or as environmentally friendly as other options.
TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) is a man-made blend, usually of plastic and rubber polymers. TPE mats may be more environmentally friendly than PVC, and some are fully recyclable. TPE mats are generally less durable than PVC mats of the same thickness, but still deliver good traction.
Eco / natural mats come from a variety of sources, including natural rubber, organic cotton, and jute. Compared to other options, eco mats are slightly less grippy on the floor, but their natural texture provides traction for your body. Eco mats lack the decade-long durability of PVC, yet they top the list if sustainability is your priority.
Coverage: While most comfortable fitness clothing will suffice for yoga, keep in mind that you may be upside down or wide-legged during poses. Form-fitting yoga pants and tops keep you from exposing more of yourself than you expect. They also allow greater ease of movement and prevent sleeves or pant legs from getting caught in twists or underfoot. Read more on How to choose Yoga Clothes.
Fabric performance: Depending on the type of yoga you practice, you may generate a lot of heat and sweat. Most yoga clothing is made from moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics that also offer quick-drying comfort, a nice feature especially for enthusiasts of hot yoga. These fabrics also won’t stick to you when you're bending and stretching.
Warmth: You may want a soft, flexible long-sleeve top layer to keep you warm at the beginning of class or during the final relaxation pose of your practice.
Covering your mat with a full-length towel adds longevity to your mat while improving hygiene. Different mat materials absorb sweat at different rates, but towels provide a machine-washable sweat barrier for easier and more effective cleanliness. Also, owning your own towel creates a hygienic layer between you and a studio mat that’s been around the block.
How they work: Most mat towels feature grippy nubs on the underside to keep the towel in place on your mat. Unlike a typical cotton bath towel, yoga towels are quick-drying and built to absorb moisture without sacrificing grip and stability during practice.
Most practitioners also keep a small hand towel nearby for wiping away sweat during the session. Again, high-absorbency, fast-drying towels are the way to go.
Establishing proper alignment early is critical to getting the most out of your yoga practice. Straps and blocks help newcomers who have limited flexibility achieve better alignment. Most studios have them on hand, and testing them with the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor will help you assess what works best for your needs.
While certainly not required, a yoga bag or simple lightweight sling keeps your mat from unrolling at inopportune times and lets you keep your hands free on the way to class (so you can ride your bike, carry your latte, etc.). A yoga bag can also protect your mat from rain, snow and dirt during transport, enhancing its longevity.
Some bags offer additional space for towels, accessories and a change of clothes, making the trip from home to studio more convenient.
Designed specifically for mats, these washes remove bacteria without eating away the outer layer of your mat. For just a few bucks, these fresh-smelling liquids improve hygiene and extend the life of your mat. Yoga mat cleaners are convenient, but it’s also easy and affordable to mix your own mat wash. Read more in our article DYI Yoga Mat Cleaner.