Mats for the practice of yoga come in a variety of lengths, materials, thicknesses, colors and styles. While there is no set guideline by yoga gurus, the standard size for a mat is 24 inches wide and 68 inches long. However, practitioners should choose a yoga mat based on their preference and comfort level. Yoga was developed to be practiced on any lightly padded surface, but you do not necessarily need a mat at all. Yoga can be performed on the grass, a carpeted floor or any even surface that is not slippery. Yoga mats provide a bit of "stick" so that your hands and feet do not slide when practicing asanas.
When shopping for a yoga mat, you will notice most mats come in the standard size. This size mat is widely available because it best fits all types of yoga. Beginners may want to choose the standard size mat until they become more accustomed to the postures. Yoga mats also come in 72-, 74- and 84-inch lengths. For tall individuals, 6 feet or taller, you may want to invest in a longer mat, which will provide more coverage.
The standard size yoga mat comes with 3 mm of padding. Some skilled yogis prefer a slightly thinner mat, at about 1.5 mm of padding. For people who have knee problems, lower back problems and wrist issues, mats are made with extra padding to help protect sensitive parts of the body. Look for a mat with 4 to 5 mm of padding.
Yoga mats come in three kinds of "tack" or "stickiness." A light tack mat has a minimal amount of stickiness, just enough to prevent your hands and feet from sliding. Light tack mats are most often used in fast-paced yoga classes such as vinayasa. High tack mats have more of a non-slip surface and are mostly used in hot yoga practices such as Mosha and Bikram. Specialized mats have the most anti-slip properties and are recommended for yogis who sweat a lot or have an above average amount of natural oils in their hands.
Standard yoga mats are made out of vinyl or PVC. If the mat is not marked "eco-friendly," you can assume it is made out of vinyl. Eco-friendly mats will be marked and are made out of recycled rubber or organic cotton. For those with latex allergies, opt for the standard vinyl mat, since rubber can exacerbate latex allergies. Yoga practitioners who are accustomed to a sticky mat will also need to stay with the standard mat -- vinyl mats have the best tack. Eco-friendly mats tend not to be treated with the same chemicals and offer little or no tack.
L.P. Biersdorfer has been writing about sports, travel and pop culture for more than 20 years. She has been published in "CosmoGirl," "Racing Milestones," "Florida Magazine," "New York Moves," "The Financial Playbook" and Motorsport.com. Biersdorfer also contributed to the 2004, 2005 and Silver Screen editions of "Trivial Pursuit."