I finally received my Eko mat from Manduka, and have been practicing with it for about a week. Now that I’ve taken it out for a test spin, I feel that I can write a more informed review about this new mat. (These were my initial thoughts about the Eko after noodling around with a demo mat at my studio.)
A lot of people were perplexed as to why Manduka felt the need to introduce a new mat. After all, the Black Mat has reached legendary status among yogis, especially among Astangis and Flow practitioners. It seems to last forever, obviating the need to buy a new mat every six months or so, which is the case with most other mats. Also, it’s easily the sturdiest mat out there, just thick/dense enough to provide support, but supple enough to provide a little bit of protection to the joints.
Probably the primary motivation for introducing a new mat was to make more money. People who buy the Black Mat really don’t need to buy a new one for years. One of my yoga teachers has been using her mat for six years, almost on a daily basis, and it’s in mint condition. This means that there are tons of people out there who love Manduka, but who are not buying any of their products anymore. In essence, Manduka made the Black Mat too well. If you sell a product that lasts a lifetime, you’re eventually going to need to find some other way to get people buying stuff from you again.
The other main reason Manduka introduced this new mat is that many people were unhappy with the fact that the old Black Mat is not an “eco-friendly” mat. The new Eko, as the name suggests, is much better for the environment. It’s fully biodegradable, which is something that a lot of yogis are very concerned with. In fact, I know many yogis who refused to buy a Manduka Black Mat, and instead went with Hugger Mugger or Jade mats, simply because they are better for the environment, even if they aren’t better mats.
So what’s the new Eko like? It is a little squishier than the Black Mat, but not so squishy that you lose the feeling of being in contact with the ground. This is really important for lots of yogis, especially for anyone who does lots of arm balances and handstands. Also, despite what a lot of people think, the Eko has almost the same exact dimensions/specs as the Black Mat. They are both 71 inches long. The Eko is 5mm thick (0.19685 inches), whereas the Black Mat is 1/4 inch thick, so the Eko is slightly thinner, by about 25%. Although it’s thinner, the Eko weighs exactly the same as the old Black Mat. I don’t think they (yet) have a longer version of the Eko, but I imagine that if the standard one sells well, Manduka will soon introduce a longer version for the taller yogis out there.
The thing that struck me the most about the Eko mat is how amazingly sticky it is. It’s almost too sticky! I’m curious to see how well the stickiness holds up over time, but so far the Eko seems to be noticeably stickier than the Black Mat. This is good for me, because I’ve actually had a problem with sliding on the Black Mat. I have very dry hands, and when my dry hands come into contact with the dry Black Mat, they can start sliding out from under me, especially in Down-Dog early in the practice. The Eko mat, in comparison, is so sticky that sometimes I find my foot or hand getting caught. This isn’t really a problem, and, in fact, I think it’s helping me to stop being lazy since I can no longer drag my limbs along the mat as I transition between poses.
One final consideration, especially important for Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga practitioners, is how slippery the Eko gets when you sweat on it. In my limited experience so far, it does get pretty slippery, but not any more than the Black Mat. So if you do a very sweaty yoga practice, you will probably still need to use something like Yogi Toes with the Eko.
Even better than the old Black Mat. The only possible downside is that it might not last as long. The obvious comparison to the new Eko is the Jade Harmony Mat. I think the Eko is better. It’s thicker, longer, more substantial, and stickier. It also doesn’t smell as bad, which may sound like a silly point, until you’re in Dog-Down inhaling the noxious smell of rubber into your nose.