Yoga is an excellent way to improve flexibility and strength as a runner – but you need the right kit to get started. We ask yoga teacher Kate Alex what we need to look for in a yoga mat, and share our best reviewed yoga mats
Yoga mat or exercise mat?
First things first. Do you even need a separate mat for yoga and stretching? Really, it depends on what you plan to do with it.
Exercise mats are thicker and usually more foamy. They’re designed to protect your joints from impact with the floor when doing explosive movements such as squat jumps. They also provide a helpful barrier between you and the floor when doing exercises on your front or back.
Yoga mats are thinner, giving you more traction with the floor. They usually offer some anti-slip properties, and are longer, which allows you to do full-body yoga movements.
If you’re just looking to do a few post-run stretches and some core work, an exercise mat will more than suffice. But if you’re planning on doing a yoga class or some of the full-body yoga stretches (think Downward Dog) then a yoga mat is definitely necessary.
Still not sure about yoga vs stretching? Try our guide to sports yoga!
What to look for in a yoga mat
OK, you’re ready to start shopping for a yoga mat. What should you be looking for? Here’s everything you need to know.
Arguably the most important part of choosing a yoga mat. For a beginner or intermediate yogi, the grippier the better. This is especially true if you have sweaty hands (like me!). The last thing you want to be doing is sliding around on your mat when you’re trying to concentrate on what your teacher has to say.
If you’re more working on more advanced yoga moves, you might want to steer clear of the grippiest mats. You’ll be more used to finding good grip with your fingers, and grippy mats can get in the way when you’re working on things like jump throughs and handstands.
Design & markings
Some mats offer lines and diagrams that you can use to help you with alignment during poses. Personally, I love these as as it helps me to be consistent in things like lunges and Warrior poses. But, it can also be distracting. If you’d rather relax into your yoga class, opt for a plain mat.
How thick should a yoga mat be? As we mentioned, you definitely don’t want it to be very thick or foam-like.
Usually yoga mats are between 4mm and 6mm thick. Which you choose is entirely up to you. If you like to be able to connect with the floor (especially useful in standing and arm balances), then a thinner mat will be for you. If you have any knee issues, or find that your joints get sore when pressed against the floor, then a thicker mat will be perfect.
You can also get very thin yoga mat toppers. These are usually too thin to use alone, but ideal to pop on top of mats supplied in the gym or studio.
Some yoga mats are more portable than others. If you’re often going to take yours to a class or outside, then buying one that comes with a carry strap or case will be helpful. If you’re only going to use it at home, that will be less important.
There are really good yoga mats available, whatever your budget. We’ve included some different budget options in our reviews below to help you decide how much you want to spend.
If you’re not sure that yoga is for you, a cheaper yoga mat is always a good place to start. Even if you eventually upgrade, you can always use your first mat for al fresco yoga or yoga events.
How to clean your yoga mat
Right, you’ve chosen your yoga mat, you’ve started to use it. Now, how do you clean it? Some manufacturers will give specific advice for their mats, so always read the label. Generally, I like to use a cloth soaked in water and a small amount of washing up liquid. Give the mat a good wipe, making sure that no residue is left from the washing up liquid. Air it well (over a line or clothes horse). For an extra bit of relaxation and antibacterial protection, I often finish mine with a spritz with a mix of tea tree oil, lavender oil and water.
Ready to get started with yoga? Here are 3 yoga poses for runners
Our favourite yoga mats
LULULEMON The Mat | From £78
These lovely Lululemon mats come in a variety of thicknesses, which means you can find the perfect mat for you. The top layer is made of rubber which meant that it was nice and grippy – no sliding about in Downward Facing Dog – but it not so sticky that I couldn’t move around with ease. This mat is plain (no alignment markings) but as you use it more and more, you can start to see where you’ve been putting your hands and feet, which is a lovely way to stay consistent in your yoga poses.
LIFORME Year of the Tiger mat | £108
This is definitely the queen of yoga mats – as it should be, judging by the price. The quality is just exceptional: it feels heavy and sturdy, is totally non-slip, and lays completely flat when rolled out without any annoyances. It was the perfect depth for me and I found it really comfy without being too soft. Not to mention it’s an absolute work of art – I love the design, and it feels like a really quality bit of kit.
TOPLUS 1/4 Chain Print mat | £28.43
I started using this yoga mat after I become a lockdown convert, and it’s seen been a faithful friend over the last couple of years. It’s really cushioned and reliably non-slip. It’s also made from TPE, which is a more eco-friendly option if you want to avoid latex or PVC. I must admit that two years down the line it’s starting to show some signs of wear, but it’s lasted brilliantly and is the most comfortable mat I’ve ever owned!
The best travel yoga mats
YOGO Ultralight Folding Yoga Mat | £55
This is my go-to holiday yoga mat. Unlike lots of mats, which roll up, this cleverly folds down into a rectangle and clips together with an in-built strap. It even has a handle! The mat itself is more grippy than other travel mats I’ve tried, thanks to a textured rubbery surface that holds firm under feet and hands. I especially loved the fabric on the underside of the mat. It’s water-resistant, which means no stains when practicing in more exotic locations and no seeping of moisture from grass or sand. It’s also incredibly lightweight, making it ideal as a topper for studio mats, and easy to get into your suitcase without stealing too much weight allowance.
The best cheap yoga mats
CORE BALANCE Double Layer yoga mat | £14.99
This mat is currently on sale at 50% off – and even before I knew that, it was going to score highly. It’s a little thicker than your average yoga mat; not off-puttingly bouncy, just reassuringly cushioned. It doesn’t stretch, it’s lovely and long, so great for yoga, and it’s anti-slip. It has a lovely feel to it too – I mean, it doesn’t take the pain away from a plank, but at least it doesn’t add to it. It also comes with a strap for carrying and storing it, and it doesn’t curl up or under at the end when you roll it out – big plus. And my one comes in a very fetching pink and purple (other colours are available). For a penny under £15, what’s not to like?
DARE2B Yoga Mat | £20.95
This is a good-value, no-frills mat. It was a little on the thin side, but I prefer that to something that’s too padded. It has a slightly tacky-feeling surface, which felt a bit odd at first, but it proved its non-slip worth in a sockless yoga class. It’s also a great length – you won’t find your feet hanging off the edge in shavasana. Overall, it’s a great price and is all you need for an at-home workout.
MYGA Entry Level Yoga Mat | £13.99
Perfect for beginners, this Myga yoga mat is excellent value for money. It’s only 4mm thick, but still does the job when it comes to comfort and support, and this makes it super easy to transport. It’s easy to clean, looks lovely and is a fantastic cheaper option if you’re looking for an entry-level mat for yoga, Pilates or other shoeless workouts.
The best sustainable yoga mats
THE FORM Pro Round Yoga Mat | £85
This round yoga mat is a little bit unusual but lots of fun and great quality to boot. If you’ve ever felt a bit constrained by your yoga mat (or ended up kicking the person next to you in the face!), this is a great option. The circular design gives you loads of extra space to move. If you ever practice Mandala yoga (a type of yoga where you frequently turn around on your mat) this is ideal. I loved the texture of this mat. It’s lovely and soft, with a sweat-activated grip to help you when you start sliding. It’s also made from sustainably-sourced and recycled materials, which is always good to know! I love the design as well – it has alignment markings, and the imagery is very calming when you’re relaxing in Child’s Pose. The only thing I would say is to avoid if you’re very tall, as it is slightly less long than other mats.
WILLOW Kew Tropics yoga mat | £69
I’m really impressed with both the elegant style and ethical credentials of this mat. It’s comfortable for stretching, as it’s made from 4mm thick naturally biodegradable tree rubber, as well as being PVC, silicone and phthalate free. What’s really cool about it though is that it’s a super absorbent microfibre mat. This means that, as you start to work, you don’t lose your grip. In fact, as you sweat, I’d say it becomes even grippier which makes it that bit easier to hold your static stretches.
YOGIBARE Paws Extreme Grip Yoga Mat| £74.95
This mat does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a mega grippy mat that will see the sweatiest of yogis through any kind of yoga class. What I love even more is the stuff you can’t tell by using the mat. Yogi Bare is a UK-based business, and everything they do is sustainable, from non-toxic dyes to recycled materials. Some of their mats plant a tree with every purchase, and they also offer a yoga mat recycling service. Tall yogis, listen up: this mat also comes in an extra long and wide version, giving you all the space to move through your vinyasa flow.