Another question that I get asked in every class, of course, is about choosing a mat to do Thai bodywork on. When I started The Naga Center back in 2005 I had to put some serious thought into this because I wouldn’t be just getting one mat, but many for my students to practice on in class. Here is the criteria I used when choosing a mat:
• As non-toxic as possible. This rules out all polyfoam petrochemical mats, which is most of them. Petrochemical mats (most of the foam or rubbery ones) off-gas toxins for their whole life, so having client’s faces lying on them just doesn’t fit in my ideal of health care.
• As eco-friendly as possible. This once again rules out petrochemical mats. Also, unless you get organic, cotton filled mats, because cotton is a high pesticide crop.
• Comfortable and durable. Most cotton and kapok filled mats will flatten over time in the middle where people lay the most. And the beautiful Thai roll up mats that are usually filled with kapok (sometimes cotton), while gorgeous and Thai, tend to come apart at the stitches.
What I Use
In the end I settled on using 100% natural latex mattress toppers. They come from rubber tree plants, which are tapped for the rubber much like maple trees are tapped for syrup. This makes it a natural renewable resource. The proteins that some people are allergic to in latex are washed out, so they are safe for latex allergies (my son is allergic to latex and used to sleep on one of them). They are super comfortable and very durable so long as they are kept covered (a cloth sheet material cover is enough), but will begin to biodegrade very quickly when exposed to the elements. I’ve had some for well over ten years and they are still great, but I’ve seen them start to disintegrate within a month of being left uncovered. To me this is wonderful as it shows me that they are truly biodegradable. And they are a lot cheaper than many of the products marketed to massage therapists.
Of course, there is an ecological price to everything. In this case, we don’t have rubber tree plantations in north America, so there is global shipping. I have not found a mat that is perfect, but these come the closest. You can buy them at most natural bedding stores. This company has good prices and you can get an organic cover to go on your mat from them, but if you do an internet search for 100% natural latex mattress toppers you’ll find them being sold by many companies. Make sure they are 100% natural as otherwise they will have some toxic fillers.
For most massage spaces I recommend getting a firm twin or full size mat that is about 2 inches thick, or 3 inches thick if you have knee issues. If the mat is too thick then the therapist and client can end up on too great of a height difference in moments when the therapist is more on the floor. A full size mat is ideal, but twin size works for smaller spaces.
If you do outcalls I recommend using a cheap tri-fold gym mat. They are lightweight, have a carry handle, and are durable. They also wipe clean easily. They do not meet my normal criteria as they are petrochemical products, but the natural latex mats are kind of a floppy dead weight and so aren’t as easy to move around. Beware of products that are marketed to massage therapists for outcall work. There are a lot of glorified yoga mats being sold at exorbitant prices out there. Seriously, you can get a gym mat for about $50 -$75. They use them in Thailand all the time and they work well.
One of the things I love about Thai bodywork is that it is folk medicine. It does not require a bunch of fancy expensive equipment. You can heap a bunch of blankets on top of each other and do a Thai massage on them. You can get a cheap camping pad and do massage on it. What I’ve talked about here is my thought process in choosing my ideal Thai massage mat, but if you aren’t ready/able to spend $150 to $200 on natural latex, you can use anything. Keep it real and give a great massage.