Yoga Stuff

The Best (and Worst) Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats

A lot of students at Bloomington Power Yoga have been asking me to recommend a good yoga mat. I have some difficulty making a recommendation because it’s not exactly clear what makes for a good yoga mat. Probably the criteria will vary from person to person, but one thing that has come up a lot is that people want to practice on an eco-friendly mat. Those stinky, toxic, PVC-laden mats from the local sporting goods store are a big no-no for most serious yogis, so I’m going to restrict my recommendations here to eco-friendly mats.

Quite a few companies offer eco-friendly mats these days. I’ve practiced on a number of them over the years, and I thought I’d compile a review of all of the ones I’ve tried in one, easy-to-read guide. Of course, the views expressed here are just the opinion of one yogi, and my assessment should be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve also listed a few mats that I haven’t tried, but would like to.

I considered four different categories when reviewing the eco-friendly yoga mats: performance, durability, cost, and smell. Taking these factors into consideration, I then “ranked” the mats according to my own preference. Of course, the things I prefer in a mat may not be the same as what the next yogi prefers, so my recommendations should be taken in the appropriate light.

Performance: Eco mats can be soft or hard, slippery or sticky, rough or smooth, and all of these factors affect one’s practice. My personal preference is medium thickness, medium hardness, and slightly sticky and slightly rough. I practice vinyasa flow and ashtanga, so my preference is largely dictated by the unique demands of those style of yoga. People who practice other styles of yoga may have entirely different needs.

Durability: A concern with eco mats is their durability. Because they are made from natural materials, not industrial strength plastics, they tend not to last as long as conventional mats.

Cost: Eco-friendly mats tend to be more expensive than conventional mats. But, I think, they are worth the extra money, both for the environment’s sake and for one’s own health (it’s probably not a great idea to be breathing fumes off plastic mats which are off-gassing who-knows-what).

Smell: Many eco mats smell. The smell is usually from the natural rubber, and it can often be so intense that it actually affects your practice.

1. (TIE) Manduka’s eKO Mat and Barefoot Yoga’s Original Eco Yoga Mat: I felt these two mats were the best, and roughly tied. The eKO Mat by Manduka has been my mat of choice for well over a year. It’s durable and quite sticky. The thickness is just right, and it is firm but not hard. Lately, though, I’ve been using the Original Eco Yoga Mat by Barefoot Yoga more than my eKO. It’s made from all-natural rubber and jute fiber. The surface is noticeably rough, but, for me, this is a good thing. The jute fibers provide a nice, natural solution to slippage, but they are not so rough as to cause discomfort. Both mats are highly durable and substantial enough for the most vigorous of practices. The pricetag on both mats is a little steep, but, when you take into account their excellent performance and durability, they are well worth the money. Finally, while both mats have a noticeable odor, especially when they are new, the smell wears off over time and becomes a non-issue pretty quickly.

2. Lululemon’s Supernatural Yoga Mat: To be honest, I didn’t get to use this mat a lot, but in my limited usage, I liked what I saw. Last year, I did a number of in-store demos at the Lululemon store in Beverly Hills, and they provided this mat to me to use. In total, I’ve probably only practice 10 or 12 hours on this mat, but that was enough for me to get a sense of its qualities. The grip is solid, and the mat is pretty substantial; not quite like Manduka’s mats, but still heavy and sturdy enough so that I felt “grounded’ while practicing. The price is very competitive on this mat, too. Of course, when it come to Lululemon there are additional considerations to take into account when deciding whether or not to buy their products at all. (Personally, I like many of the people who work at their retail stores, but I have serious moral reservations about the corporate entity and its owner.)

3. Manduka’s Black Mat: Technically, this is not an eco-friendly mat. But I included it here because of its remarkable durability. Some of my yoga teachers have been using the same Black Mat for 7+ years! This sort of durability is unheard of with respect to any other yoga mats, eco-friendly or not. If you care about the environment, one way to be environmentally responsible is to buy something that will last. If you have to buy a new eco-friendly mat every six months or every year, just how eco-friendly is this? It might be better for the environment, and for your wallet, to buy a Black Mat and use it for years and years to come.

4. Jade Yoga’s Harmony Professional Mat: This mat probably has the distinction of being endorsed by more celebrity yogis than any other. It’s fairly durable–mine lasted about a year and a half before it started falling apart–but certainly not as durable as some of the other options on the market. My biggest problem with the Jade mat is that it’s an “open-cell” mat, which means it’s maybe a little bit better with respect to its non-slip properties, but it’s also a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria. Sweat is absorbed easily and readily into this mat, and it’s difficult to clean. If you practice a sweaty style or yoga, I would strongly discourage you from practicing on the Jade. For other styles of yoga, though, this might be a great option. One warning: It stinks, and it will stink for a long time.

5. Prana’s E.C.O. Sticky Mat: This mat might be good for some styles of yoga, but it certainly wasn’t good for vinyasa flow or ashtanga. After about two weeks of daily use, a chunk ripped out from the center of the mat. If my experience with the Hugger Mugger mat is any indication, once the first chunk of mat falls off, it’s only a matter of time before the whole mat falls to pieces. Unlike other eco mats, this one is made from TPE, or thermal plastic elastomer. I’m not exactly sure how this counts as eco-friendly, but that’s what Prana claims. Also, this mat did smell quite strongly when I got it, not unlike a new plastic shower curtain. The smell dissipated quickly though, at least compared to other mats, and now it is no longer really noticeable.

6. Hugger Mugger’s Earth Elements Mat: The worst of the eco-friendly mats I’ve tried. This mat started falling apart after just one use, literally. Within a few weeks, larger and larger chunks were flying off. Another teacher at Bloomington Power Yoga also gave this mat a try, and dislikes it for the same reason. The whole thing fell apart in less than six months. This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a disposable yoga mat–not exactly eco-friendly at all!

Some other mats to consider:

– Gaiam’s Earth Lovers Mat: Haven’t tried it.

– Prana’s Natural Yoga Mat: Haven’t tried it, but it looks more promising than the E.C.O. mat.

– Prana’s Revolution Natural Sticky Mat: Haven’t tried it, but it looks more promising than the E.C.O. mat.


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