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A suitable rug or mat is an essential prop when practicing yoga, however, there are differing opinions between yogis on which one is better. So, what’s the difference between a yoga mat and a yoga rug?

A yoga mat is usually made from a non-slip material that provides better grip, plus they tend to be thicker which can be easier on your knees and hips when practicing. However, a rug is more traditional and feels more natural on your hands.

Most beginners will opt for a mat, however, certain poses such as upward dog and some movements such as jump backs can be improved with the use of a rug.

Keep reading to find out more about the similarities and differences between yoga mats and yoga rugs, plus some helpful tips when choosing.

What is a Yoga Mat?

Yoga mats are popular in the west for practicing yoga and can be found in most yoga studios or homes of yogis. They come in a variety of materials from rubber to PVC.

A yoga mat can be anywhere from 2mm up to 9mm with the thicker ones providing substantial cushioning against the floor and being much more durable, although at the expense of weight and portability.

Originally called sticky mats when they were first invented in the late 20th century, yoga mats are now available in many materials and with different uses such as travel.

What is a Yoga Rug?

Source: Wikimedia

Yoga rugs are less commonly seen in the west these days but head to India and you’ll find it’s what they use. If you practice Ashtanga, then you might be familiar with them but most others will not.

The yoga rug is older and more traditional than the mat, first used by the ‘father of modern yoga’ himself, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya much earlier in the 20th century.

They are typically made of cotton or jute fibers which are more natural and will normally be woven by hand.

Yoga Mat vs Yoga Rug

Benefits of a Yoga Mat

Let’s begin with the more common yoga mats and where they are advantageous over yoga rugs:

1. Yoga mats have more padding

One of the biggest benefits of a yoga mat over a yoga rug is the padding. A yoga mat will typically be anywhere from 2mm (for travel mats) up to 9mm or more.

This extra padding provides more cushioning when practicing your movements and can be much more forgiving to your knees and hips than a yoga rug would.

2. Yoga mats provide more grip

The second major benefit of a yoga mat comes from the grip that it provides. By their nature, yoga mats have a sticky surface (this is how you tell the difference between a yoga mat and an exercise mat).

There is nothing more frustrating than finally mastering a difficult asana, only to slip mid-flow.

A yoga mat will stop your palms and feet from sliding about as you practice, something that can occur when using a yoga rug, especially on a slippy floor.

3. There are more varieties of yoga mat to choose from

Yoga mats are more popular than rugs, at least in westernized communities, therefore there is a lot more choice. There are plenty of different mat materials to choose from (such as rubber, cork, TPE, etc) and they come in different levels of thickness.

Some people may argue that a yoga rug is easier to transport than a yoga mat, however, I think this depends upon which mat you buy.

There are plenty of yoga mats that are well suited for travel, whether this is transporting it to your local class or taking it away to practice whilst on vacation.

Benefits of a Yoga Rug

Now, let’s take a different view and discuss where a yoga rug is better than a mat:

1. A yoga rug is more traditional

The main benefit of using a yoga rug over a yoga mat is that it’s more traditional. First and foremost, yoga is not a sport, it’s a spiritual practice, so tradition matters.

Although I’m not suggesting that you return to the days of practicing on animal skin, yoga rugs have been used for much longer than mats.

This is even better if you can get your hands on a hand-woven design. For example, Jade’s Mysore yoga rugs are made by artisans in India where weaving is both an art form and an essential way of providing livelihood to these communities.

2. The cotton of a rug feels more natural

The feel of cotton under your hands as you perform each asana is undeniably better than the plastic feeling of a mat. Not only is it softer, but it’s more natural and feels like you’re closer to nature.

3. Yoga rugs are best for jump backs, jump forwards, and upward dog

Although yoga mats give you extra grip, that isn’t always what you want. Some movements such as jump back and jump forwards which are the hallmark of Ashtanga Yoga, require you to scoot your feet along during the early days as you develop your strength.

It is much easier to scoot your feet on a rug without getting cuts on top of them. It’s hard to describe but once you use a yoga rug, you will understand this.

It’s not just Ashtanhgha though, other styles of yoga such as Mysore, Power, and Hot Yoga can also be better suited to a yoga rug.

One particularly common pose is upward dog, a rug will allow you to slide your feet into the correct position, whereas the sticky surface of a mat will not.

4. A yoga rug is usually more absorbent

If you are attempting a more challenging routine, things can get sweaty and a yoga mat can easily become slippy. On the other hand, a good yoga rug will simply absorb moisture and keep your practice relatively dry.

That being said, cork yoga mats are growing in popularity, especially for hot yoga. The benefit of cork mats is that they are absorbent and the grip increases as it gets wetter so it’s ideal when things get sweaty.

5. Yoga rugs are easier to wash in the machine

If you’re familiar with Niyamas (the second of the eight limbs of Yoga), you’ll know of Shaucha which refers to the cleanliness of mind, body, and spirit. This helps us live a pure and positive life. So, having a clean yoga mat or rug is essential.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to keep a yoga mat clean, but I am saying that it’s far easier to keep a yoga rug clean.

With a yoga mat, you can disinfect it with some spray after each session, however, sweat and grime will build up over time so you’ll need to wash it.

Whilst there are some machine washable yoga mats, most are not. So you’ll need to fill a sink or bath with water and wash it the old-fashioned way. If you live a busy life like me, you’ll know how much of an annoyance this is.

However, if you have a yoga rug, these can easily be popped into the washing machine. By having several yoga rugs, you can alternate between them as you wash each one with your laundry.

So, Which is Best?

Ultimately, you’ll need to choose a prop that works best for you and there is no correct answer to this question.

A yoga mat is better than a yoga rug for most beginners, this is because they are better padded and provide more grip for mastering asanas. However, those looking for a more natural and spiritual experience will benefit from the traditional yoga rug.

In both cases, it’s important to find long-lasting products that are made with sustainable materials and practices. More on this below.

Are Yoga Rugs Better for the Environment?

Some yogis will claim that any yoga rug is better for the environment than a yoga mat, but, in reality, this will vary depending upon the mat or rug.

Yoga mats that are made from PVC or other plastics are undeniably bad for the environment. According to Greenpeace, PVC is one of the worse plastics for sustainability due to the release of toxic, chlorine-based chemicals.

Whilst others made from plastic, such as TPE (Thermal Plastic Elastomer) yoga mats, are better than PVC due to being biodegradable and recyclable, they are still plastic which comes from oil.

So, yes a cotton yoga rug is better for the environment than a plastic yoga mat.

However, not all yoga mats are made from such materials and many manufacturers have taken a sustainability stance with the introduction of eco-friendly yoga mats such as those made from cork or natural rubber.

Genuine rubber is made from natural materials (the rubber tree) and can be considered much more sustainable.

As with all products, sustainable sourcing is a much wider issue, so processes must be sustainable. Rubber has had a bad rep in the past for destroying natural forests to produce it so suppliers must source it responsibly.

The story is similar for yoga rugs which are traditionally made of cotton. This can be a sustainable product when sourced correctly, but it is known for having impacts on water resources where it is grown and processed (source).

So, in summary, both yoga rugs and yoga mats can be equally good for the environment when you make good buying choices.

Do Yoga Rugs Last Longer than Mats?

The jury is out on whether yoga rugs last longer than yoga mats.

Traditionally, it is true that yoga rugs last longer. The cotton material is better at sustaining wear and tear than a standard yoga mat which might wear out in places that you frequently place your hands and feet.

However, the production of yoga mats has come on a long way with new processes that make them last much longer. For example, several well-known yoga mat manufacturers such as Manduka and Gaiam now offer a lifetime guarantee which will replace work yoga mats for 10 years after buying them.

Of course, referring to the earlier section about being environmentally friendly, replacing a mat is clearly going to be worse for the environment than having one that lasts.

Again, whether it is more sustainable will be down to the brand you choose.

Can You Use a Yoga Mat and Rug Together?

Yes, it’s okay to use both a yoga mat and yoga rug together. You would typically place the rug on top of the mat. The rug would give you the natural feel and you’ll benefit from its absorbent properties. Meanwhile, the mat underneath will provide padding to help your knees and hips.

The obvious downside to this is that you’ll have to invest in both so it will cost more and you’ll have to keep both of them clean.