Budding yogis looking for a budget mat should make a beeline for the Gaiam PVC yoga mat range. This mat is made from PVC but is latex and phthalates free (Gaiam says it's '6P free', i.e. free of six of the phthalates commonly found in yoga mats) so it's less harmful to the environment than some other PVC mats.
The design is available in a range of thicknesses, lengths and widths, and a selection of prints and colours. I have the Chakra Print 4mm mat in standard size. This particular design is aimed at yoga practitioners who wish to bring an element of spirituality to their practice – the reminder of the body's energy system, the chakra system, is there right under your feet and hands as you move through the yoga postures.
These mats come with Gaiam's lifetime guarantee, but I've been using mine regularly for three plus years and it's still going strong. In fact in terms of value for money, this might be the best yoga mat around. Read on for my full Gaim yoga mat review.
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Gaiam yoga mat review: performance
I've had my Gaiam Chakra Print Yoga mat for three years. It's been used extensively in that time and has always been my go-to mat for my own practice. It's only really in the last few months that I've noticed some wear and tear signs such as the mat starting to get a bit flaky where my feet are constantly aligned in things like downward dog and warriors. But I think after 3 years of heavy usage, this mat is a great investment and stands the test of time.
Let's talk about this mat's non-slip surface. It has a light, tacky feel to it which provides the grip. This tackiness isn't distracting during a practice but it definitely has a unique feel compared to other PVC yoga mats. It actually feels 'sticky'. The non-slip has lasted the whole time I've had my mat and I would argue, has even gotten better the more I've used it. This mat is my trusted ally when teaching now for its guaranteed non-slip properties (as it helps me to avoid any embarrassing moments when all eyes are on me…).
The Gaiam Chakra Print Yoga mat is classed as a lightweight mat and measures 68" L x 24" W. If you're taller than 5ft 6', this mat won't be a good choice for you, and you'll want to go for one of Gaiam's longer/wider versions, which add an extra 10" to the length and 2" to the width.
Gaiam yoga mat review: comfort
Gaiam's PVC mats are available in a range of thicknesses, going right up to 8mm (although availability may be an issue for thicker models). The one I use, and would recommend, is 4mm thick. This offers the perfect level of support for sensitive joints if you're already practising on a softer surface, like a carpet or rug. However, it doesn't offer a lot of support if you're practising on a hard floor so that's something to bear in mind.
Sometimes it's worth going for the thinner mat and using a blanket or yoga towel when you need to support your sensitive joints as a thinner mat makes standing postures, especially balances, much easier! This 4mm mat means you don't feel your foot sinking into the texture of the mat when balancing or standing and instead leaves you feeling connected to the floor beneath the mat. It gives you a firm base to work with. This is a quality I really like but it isn't for everyone.
Gaiam yoga mat review: design and colours
Gaiam offers a wide range of colours and designs in this material, although I haven't spotted a design that includes guidelines to help foot and hand placement, which is a shame as this can be useful.
My Gaiam Chakra Print Yoga mat comes in light purple. It's bright and airy background colour allows the colours of the chakras to shine. Beginning with a red mandala at the bottom of the mat, representing the lowest chakra, Muladhara, and rising through the chakras and their corresponding colours until you get to the top of the mat. At this point, we see the 'Aum' or 'Om' symbol encased in a purple mandala symbolising the crown chakra, Sahasrara.
Within each of the mandalas on the mat, you will see symbols. These symbols represent the seed mantras of the chakras. From the bottom of the mat to the top, these are: Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om and Om. The detail on this mat is impeccable. The chakra colours stay true to the chakra system and don't deviate from that. It feels authentic and that gets a thumbs up.
I love that the Gaiam Chakra Print Yoga mat offers you the chance to stay connected with the deeper purposes of yoga and perhaps may even entice the buyer to learn what this mat symbolises. They act as a constant reminder of the direction your practice can take.
Gaiam yoga mat review: verdict
The Gaiam yoga mat honestly has some of the best non-slip I've ever experienced, especially for a mat in this price range. The same can be said for its lifespan; I never expected a mat in this price bracket to last three years but it's still going strong. Plus, although it's PVC, it's free from latex and phthalates meaning it isn't as harmful as some other PVC mats when it does come to the end of its life.