Before the late 1980s, there was no such thing as a yoga mat. The small but dedicated population who practiced yoga cobbled together an array of towels, blankets and foam pads for practice, but mostly we used whatever surface was available. Back then there were very few dedicated yoga studios. We practiced in church basements, YWCAs, gyms and school classrooms—where we had to move desks to clear a space. We practiced on linoleum, vinyl, concrete, wood, carpet—you name it.
It was rustic, to say the least. So when Angela Farmer discovered that the nonskid texture of European carpet underlay provided a safe, consistent surface for practice, we (the yoga community) were all over it. Sara Chambers, founder of Hugger Mugger Yoga Products, began importing these newfangled mats and pretty much everyone in the U.S. who practiced Iyengar-style yoga used them. They took a whole lot of the struggle out of standing poses and Downward Facing Dog in particular.
Because these mats were not really designed for yoga practice, after a few months of use, the spots where you place your feet in standing poses would begin to peel. In 1990, the peeling problem drove Sara to look for a better alternative. She found a USA-based company to develop a nonskid mat that would hold up to years of practice. The Tapas® Original Yoga Mat, the first-ever mat dedicated to yoga practice, was born. We’re proud to say that the same domestic company still makes our Tapas® and Tapas® Ultra Yoga mats.
So Many Yoga Mat Choices …
For a long time, choosing a mat was pretty simple. There were two basic styles, thin and thick, and only a small array of colors. But as the practice population has grown exponentially, so has our commitment to making mats designed to accommodate all kinds of practice and all kinds of people. We now have more than 60 choices!
For some of us our yoga mat becomes a refuge, even a friend, over time. How do you choose a mat that will become a treasured practice companion?
There are several factors that play into determining the perfect yoga mat for any individual: traction, thickness, eco-friendliness, price range and color/design. Here are some things to consider:
The grippiness of your mat determines how stable you will feel in your yoga practice. For many people, PVC-based mats, such as our Tapas® Original and Tapas® Ultra mats have the strongest sticking power. (If you’re concerned about practicing on PVC, it may be comforting to know that our PVC mats have never contained heavy metals or phthalates.)
When you first unwrap your PVC mat, you may notice that there’s an oily film on its surface that makes it slick. You can easily wash this off with a tiny bit of soap and water or some of our PureMat™ Mat and Gear Wash.
Your body chemistry can determine how well a mat works for you. People whose hands and feet are dry can use pretty much any mat, but if your hands and feet sweat, we’ve found that the Sattva Jute and Earth Elements mats work well. Placing a Yoga Towel on any of our mats can help absorb perspiration. My personal favorite for maximum stickiness is the Para Rubber Mat.
All our mats, except for the Cotton Yoga Rug, are intended to have nonskid surfaces.
Some like it thick; some like it thin. Mat thickness is largely a personal preference, but the kind of yoga you practice can also be a determining factor. If you practice lots of standing and balance poses, you might want to veer toward a thinner mat because you will likely feel more stable and balanced with less padding. However, there’s something to be said for challenging your balance on a thicker mat as well, especially if you’re looking to improve your balance. If you practice more seated and supine poses, a thicker mat will provide more comfort for your bones. Thin mats are generally around 1/8 inch thick, and most thicker mats are 1/4 inch thick. Our Tapas® Travel Mats are super thin at 1/16 inch.
Extra Cushy Mat: Ultimate Cushion Yoga Mat
Ahimsa (non-harming) is the cornerstone of the whole system of yoga. Because of this, many of us strive to live harmoniously with our Earth. But choosing your yoga mat with sustainability in mind is not quite as cut and dried as you might think.
If the thought of your yoga mat sitting unscathed in a landfill for centuries is not to your liking, you might want to veer away from PVC. All our mats, except for Tapas®, and Tapas® Ultra are made from sustainable materials. However, because these eco-friendly mats are designed to biodegrade, they will not last as long as non-biodegradable material.
If you choose a PVC mat, you probably won’t have to buy another one for a very long time, if at all. In my studio, we still use mats that were among the first batch of Tapas® Mats made in the early 1990s! That said, with proper care all Hugger Mugger mats are tested to be durable and suitable for long-term practice.
Jute/PER: Sattva Jute
Cotton: Cotton Yoga Rug
Most of us want to get the most value for our money. Investing in quality, even though it might cost a bit more at the outset, is always a good policy. It’s true that you can buy cheaper mats at big box stores, but most of these mats are neither sticky nor durable. The adage, “You get what you pay for,” is absolutely true. In the long run, buying a mat that you will be able to practice with for years to come is far more economical—and more sustainable—than going for the cheapest possible mat, struggling with its slickness and continually having to replace it.
Quality has always been our highest priority. Even our least expensive mats, our Tapas® and Tapas® Travel, Gallery Collection and Nature Collection mats, will give you many years of practice time. While the biodegradable mats live shorter lives than the PVC ones, with proper care, they still will last years. If you plan make yoga a part of your life, it’s worth it to invest in a high-quality mat.
$41 to $60: Tapas® Original 74 in., Tapas® Original 80 in., Tapas® Ultra, Tapas® Ultra 74 in., Tapas® Ultra 80 in., Nature Collection, Nature Collection Ultra, Gallery Collection Ultra, Sattva Jute, Yoga Towel, Cotton Yoga Rug
Practical considerations aside, some of us just love to practice on a mat that looks great. If you spend much time at all practicing sun salutations, you’re going to be looking right at your mat a whole lot of the time. Why not be inspired by the color and design?
We all have our color preferences, and there are many, many solid colors to choose from, some bright and warm, others cool and relaxing. Many people love the look of our striated Para Rubber, Para Rubber XL, Nature Collection, and Nature Collection Ultra mats. We developed these mats in the 1990s, and they’ve been a very popular choice ever since. After receiving requests for printed mats, we developed our Gallery Collection. These beautiful mats feature hand-drawn designs by local Salt Lake City artists. Our designs are specially conceived so as not to interfere with practice, leaving the sticky mat surface exposed where you need the most traction.
Need a Longer Yoga Mat?
For taller yogis, these five mats come in longer lengths:
Visit our Yoga Mats page to look at your choices.