A great yoga practice is grounded, and the floor beneath your feet - and head, hands, butt and back - is part of a satisfying experience. The "best" flooring option depends on your studio, yoga style, and available resources. However, there are excellent choices for every budget, preference, and situation.
What's Your Practice
A hot yoga studio has different requirements than a home studio. A rented space may offer few alternatives. A green sensibility will dictate how you cover the floors. A tight budget or an allergy to elaborate maintenance protocols limits your decision. Familiarize yourself with the best qualities of common yoga flooring choices to determine which one is right for your studio. Hot yoga is an exotic species, and a home studio may or may not be a designated yoga space. Consider sensible and economical choices to make either of them - or your public hatha yoga studio - work brilliantly.
A hot yoga studio is maintained at temperatures around 105 degrees Fahrenheit with an ideal 40% humidity level. But the humidity level fluctuates with the number of sweaty bodies in class, and that sweat makes things slippery. Maxed-out moisture is what you get, and the wear and tear on a wood floor should be part of your calculation. Laminate, which can crack and peel, is not a good choice for hot yoga floors; rubber is waterproof but needs a rigorous cleaning routine. Marley or engineered wood will work and wear well. Engineered wood can handle the humidity better than hardwood.
Home Sweet Home
At home, major maintenance shouldn't be a big concern, and personal preference ranks right up there with cost. Remember that some flooring increases the value of your home - hardwood, reclaimed wood, engineered wood, bamboo, and cork are most easily reconfigured by a new owner, who may have other uses for your peaceful Zen room.
Terra Firma Underfoot
Put your yoga studio on solid footing with the best choice of floor material for style and space. Comfort and cleanliness rank right up there with affordability and aesthetics when making a selection. Don't be afraid to explore the features of innovative and hybrid materials to accommodate hot yoga classes or cut down on maintenance and expense. The best yoga flooring is the one that can support your Sun Salutations and your thriving business efficiently and elegantly under the mat. That might be engineered hardwood, bamboo, cork, or a fitness-friendly surface like marley. Review the many choices for yoga flooring to determine which matches your situation and your budget.
All the following are great flooring options for yoga studios.
Hardwood is the hands-down favorite choice of studio owners and yogis for its timeless beauty, elevation of indoor air quality, durability, and barefoot-friendly surface. Wood is naturally shock-absorbent and with the right protective surface, non-skid. Maple, oak, pine, hickory, and walnut can be sanded and refinished to remove scuffs and scratches, but extreme humidity and constant wetness will cause the wood to swell and possibly crack. Hardwood floors need constant humidity monitoring in a hot yoga studio. Installing a new hardwood floor is expensive although not as pricy as reclaimed wood. Mind Body Green likes hardwood as a carpet alternative in "...A Healthy, Sustainable Home" and recommends the use of FSC certified wood, which is sustainably harvested to respect the ecosystem.
Concern for the environment is a strong motivation for searching out reclaimed wood providers to create beautiful studio floors that come with the evidence of their own history. But the romance will cost you more than a new hardwood floor because finding, matching, and preparing old, used wood with cracks, nails, paint, and discolorations requires more labor than milling new lumber. That said, a studio floor of reclaimed chestnut, hemlock, poplar, walnut, cypress, or cherry wood is the perfect complement to the bare brick walls or industrial concrete of a loft studio in a recycled factory, a studio in a re-purposed barn, or a home studio in a period house. The fabulous, one-of-a-kind floors should be sanded smooth and even, and free from major gouges and cracks. It's a good idea to have a walk-off mat at every door to the studio to catch abrasive dirt and protect the finish. Yoga Journal gives "green" reclaimed wood home studio floors a thumbs up, adding that a water-based sealant is healthier than oil-based polyurethane.
What's greener than bamboo? The renewable resource is surprisingly durable and mimics a hardwood floor in many ways. Bamboo is dirt-resistant and durable, non-allergenic, shock-absorbent, good-looking, and more hard-wearing than hardwood. (Bamboo is a woody grass.) Brushing and damp-mopping will keep a studio floor clean, and any scratches or other slight damage can be erased with a dab of mineral oil or a light buffing. Ethically harvested bamboo isn't cheap, but it's a less expensive choice than hardwood and a light, attractive flooring option. Travel + Leisure Magazine specifically mentions Miami Life Center's bamboo practice room floors in the highlights of the #4 pick in their "25 Top Yoga Studios Around the World."
Also renewable, cork floors offer cushioned resistance; they absorb impact as well as sound. The material installs easily and is anti-microbial. Cork contains a substance called suberin that repels the viruses and bacteria carried on the skin and released by sweat. Cork is a more economical choice than hardwood and the sound-dampening property of the tiles or overlay means noise or music from one studio is muffled or nonexistent in the studio next door, a handy advantage when there are multiple classes scheduled at the same time. It's a low-maintenance flooring that is kind to joints and easy on the eye. Cork is one of the green flooring materials Yoga Journal points out in its "The Popularity of Green Yoga Studios" article.
Marley is a popular dance floor with "give" to protect joints from jarring and yogis who fall out of crow pose from bruising. Originally only non-skid vinyl, marley formulas are now hybrid synthetics and come in a variety of colors. Rolls of marley can be taped down instead of permanently installed - a nice benefit for a studio owner who may be contemplating a move and would like to take the floor investment to a new location. Dance Magazine interviewed a number of professional dance studio owners who had all chosen marley for its good "feel," safe surface and slight springiness that is kind to an active exerciser's body. What enables you en pointe is just as forgiving for pigeon pose or warrior II. Marley is a workhorse and a fine studio choice, but not so elegant for a room in your home.
The following options offer a great value as yoga flooring.
Engineered wood is catching on. The material is real wood, configured from a variety of woods as a veneer with varied grains. It lasts well and looks good, is more moisture-resistant than traditional hardwood, and the high quality version costs almost as much. The material is a hybrid of laminate and wood - a real layer of wood veneer glued to a core of plywood or high-density fibreboard (HDF). The core keeps it stable in variable temperatures and humidities, a consideration in hotter, wetter spaces that are not suitable for hardwood. Because it is a structurally stable, durable wood floor, engineered wood represents a good investment - long-lasting with a high resale value.
If you think linoleum is something that belongs to your grandmother's world, think again. The smooth, natural tiles or planks are completely renewable, nontoxic, and environmentally friendly. It's friendly to yoga students, too. Linoleum is pressed from a mix of linseed oil, jute, cork powder, flax, wood flour, and natural pigments. It comes in an infinite number of hues and designs - a plain color would be your best option in a serene yoga studio. It has no "bad" chemicals to out-gas, contains no petroleum products, can be damp-mopped, and comes cushioned (usually with cork) so it can be laid over an unforgiving subfloor. The oxidation of the linseed oil inhibits the growth of staph and salmonella bacteria, and linoleum is recommended as safe for those with allergies or respiratory ailments. Because linoleum is all-natural, it does react to extremes of humidity by slightly expanding and contracting. This can be controlled by regulating the humidity in the studio year-round so any expansion or contraction is undetectable.
Rubber is tree sap, and rubber flooring can be made from recycled material so it can't get too much greener. It's waterproof, stain- and scuff-resistant, tough as nails, shock-absorbent and slip-resistant. Rubber flooring was developed for high-traffic public spaces, designed to wear like iron. But it can be gouged and scratched by abusive treatment; a floor that isn't made from interlocking tiles would be difficult to repair. The material is affordable, comes in sheets, two kinds of tiles, and a limitless array of colors and designs, including realistic stone. Rubber is easy to clean but excessive sweat will stay on the surface, so it requires special maintenance in a hot yoga studio. Spry Living, in their "The Nation's Best Hot Yoga Studios" round-up, gives California's two Red Dragon Yoga locations a shout out for their "non-absorbent, non-slip, recycled rubber floors that are steam-cleaned daily."
Eucalyptus is a hard-wearing floor material, similar to bamboo in green bona fides. The fast-growing tree has a distinctive grain, with visible knots that resembles mahogany. It resists dents - it's tougher than red oak - and costs less than half the price of fine hardwoods. HGTV recommends engineered eucalyptus for rooms subject to high humidity -- your topical yoga lanai or your local hot yoga studio, perhaps. It's very stable and thick enough to withstand several rounds of sanding and refinishing.
There are also some very inexpensive options.
The multilayer synthetic flooring looks like wood and costs far less but doesn't offer wood's significant resilience or durability. Laminate is an imitation, a thin, photographic representation of hardwood or bamboo that's about 3/8-inch thick and is bonded to a high-density fiber. It's made with tongue-and-groove edges for speedy installation, so a damaged section is easier to replace than most other flooring. Melissa Maker of "Clean My Space" notes that damp mopping or dry mopping will keep laminate clean, and it does take some punishment, so regular cleaning and maintenance will make it last. Laminate doesn't have wood's solid sound and feel and is not a long-term investment. However, it might be the perfect solution to a temporary or short-term studio arrangement.
Vinyl is a chameleon that adapts to any yoga studio with properties such as anti-fatigue cushioning, high-traffic, high-impact resistance, rapid surface moisture evaporation, and treatments to prevent out-gassing and make it odor-free and bacteria-inhibiting. It's also a petroleum product - PVC - and should be guaranteed phthalate-free and stable to a high temperature for studio safety. Responsible manufacturers are on top of that - your economical not-so-green choice can be a reasonably clean one. Mop-down ease and a wide choice of colors are pluses. Vinyl comes in easily installed sheets that are usually glued down and heat-welded together by professional flooring experts.
Carpet, Concrete, Stone, and Ceramics
In short, avoid these. If your studio floor is any one of these surfaces, your best bet is to cover it with a more forgiving or more easily sanitized, cleaned, and dried material that will withstand heavy use, moisture, and high temperatures. You want to encourage a focus on the yoga postures - not on a funky, nasty-smelling, cold, or really hard floor. Covering a sub-par floor can raise your yoga space to a new level of cleanliness and comfort that is safe and welcoming to your students. In your home, when replacing a floor is not an option, a quality natural material or laminate that can be laid over the existing floor provides a suitable surface.
Under the Mat
One of yoga's objectives is to ground the barefoot body in a stable posture connected to the earth. In your indoor practice space, that's whatever covers the floor. The right material feels good underfoot, has resilience and give, and contributes to a sense of wellbeing as you flow through a sequence or sink into the floor in savasana. You can work with the space you have, within budget, to find the floor that comes closest to nirvana for you or your students.