Say NO to Toxic Yoga Mats
What comes to your mind when you think of ‘Yoga’? Bends and twists, flexibility and balance, deep breaths, and meditation? But what is the purpose of all these practices? What is it that you as a Yogi experience during your practice that inspires you to continue the practice? Is it just limited to how fit and healthy your body feels? Or how calm and peaceful your mind feels after an hour-long practice?
There is a reason why Yoga is considered a lifestyle and not just a physical or mental practice. The reason is its ability to transform you from the inside out. It is a process of building self-control, self-awareness, and awareness of everything around you. Almost all the yoga teachers we have featured and interviewed have spoken about this transformational power of Yoga.
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”
There is definitely a connection between those who practice Yoga and those who make conscious choices to maintain a balance in their body-mind-spirit as well as in their surroundings.
Does Sustainability Matter?
You may probably cringe when you come across images of marine debris, of sea creatures strangled in plastic or a bird or fish corpse with a stomach full of plastic. You may have also taken the initiative of avoiding single-use plastics and applaud the efforts taken by your government to ban plastic bags.
You may feel inspired to take action when you see people use and throw their plastic straws, plastic cups, and littering the beaches. When you watch updates on plastic pollution and its fatal effects on soil, water, marine species, birds, and cattle, you probably hear a voice within you say ‘wish people could be more considerate and responsible.’
But what happens when you step on your yoga mat or use your foam block for alignments?
As you progress in your practice, you will soon realize the importance of a good mat with a good grip. Soon you will start looking for mats that are easy to clean and maintain and are anti-slip.
But what about what goes into making those mats that come in close contact with your skin? What is the surface that you rest your face on to take deep breaths and relax, made of?
What goes into making your Yoga mat MATTERS!
Did you know?
Most of the common yoga mats found online or even in Yoga studios are made of PVC, TPE or foam. In these, the majority of yoga mats in use today are made from polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC, which is widely considered as one of the most toxic plastics and is also called as poison plastic. It is cheap and also gives the required sponge-like cushioning which may feel comfortable but is certainly not ideal.
Before we dive deep into the many harmful effects of PVC, here is a little information on TPE and foam, which some companies claim are non-toxic and eco-friendly because they use recyclable plastic.
Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), sometimes referred to as thermoplastic rubbers, are a class of copolymers or a physical mix of polymers (usually a plastic and a rubber) that consist of materials with both thermoplastic and elastomeric properties. You can say it less harmful than PVC and an alternative but it can be bio-based or synthetic.
Both foam and TPE no doubt involve a chemical-heavy production process and also fail to give you an anti-slip surface when wet. Also when subjected to repetitive usage, TPE can deform permanently. Though TPE mats claim to be PVC free, being a petroleum product, it contains the following:
- EPDM [ethylene propylene diene monomer (M-class) rubber, a type of synthetic rubber]
- Bromine Flame Retardant
- Antimony Trioxide [another flame retardant]
- Polypropylene [a nontoxic plastic]
- Proprietary Stabilizers (which is ?)
Because yoga has become a billion-dollar industry, the manufacturing processes of these materials is sometimes considered a “trade secret.” This means that the toxicity level, carcinogens released during manufacturing, sources & quality of materials, etc. are sometimes not really known, measured or verified.
As suggested by the Ecology Center, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, yoga mat brands should better investigate the suppliers of their mats and label their products with accurate information rather than vague terms.
As a yoga practitioner, take the first step towards conscious living by not encouraging the production of PVC mats.
- PVC products off-gas volatile compounds and, when burned in an incinerator, emit toxic smoke.
- Phthalates and toxic metals are added in large quantities to make mats sticky and durable. Both can seep in with mat use and cause cancer.
- The heavy metal most commonly found in PVC mats is lead and others include arsenic, mercury, cadmium, etc. Many governments have banned lead in household products because of its devastating effects on our health.
- Lab tests show that chemicals constantly leaking out of PVC mats can cause damage to the liver, reproductive system, central nervous system, and respiratory system.
- PVC production is the largest user of chlorine gas & its byproduct Dioxin is known to cause cancer in humans and is linked to damage in the immune, reproductive, and endocrine system.
- Even if your yoga mat is labeled ‘Phthalate-free’, other harmful additives used to soften the mat can disrupt the hormonal system.
- The process of manufacturing PVC mats is toxic, it is also toxic to the end consumer when in use and it remains toxic to the environment when disposed of.
- When PVC is burned, the chlorine produces extremely toxic and persistent dioxins that end up in soil, fish, animals, water, air, and ultimately in our bodies.
What is the impact of your yoga mat on the environment?
PVC is not easily recyclable and it does not biodegrade. The toxic chemicals found in these mats have been known to leach their way into the ground and into water systems, and polluting our oceans. Dioxins do not naturally degrade and are now so widespread that they are found in tissues of whales and polar bears. Plastic can take more than 600 years to fully break down (turns into smaller microplastics) and fish and birds end up feeding on plastic.
According to a 2015 study, an estimated 19.4 billion pounds of plastic wind up in the world’s oceans each year.
Over 80% of ocean pollution comes from land-based sources of which 75% comes from waste that remains uncollected and 25% leaks into the ocean after it’s been collected. (Ref: Ocean Conservancy).
The vast swirls of plastic rubbish visible on the sea surface represent just the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath are the masses of microbeads and broken down particles of plastic that become food for sea creatures.
Your PVC yoga mats, when washed or discarded, may release plastic into the water. It also impacts air quality in the room and the air you breathe as it emits toxic gas. Enhanced awareness, reduced plastic use, massively improved waste management, and most importantly – your willingness to switch to a sustainable lifestyle is the need of the hour.
At present, incineration and landfill are the common municipal waste plastic management methods. In reality, recycling is a complex issue that is affected by many factors, including consumer behavior and the need for markets for recycled plastics.
Yama and Niyama
Kindness, compassion, self-discipline, balanced lifestyle, self-inquiry, etc are all your natural self-expression and the practice of Yoga helps enhance these qualities. This is beautifully explained in the step by step guide of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, in which the Eight Limbs of Yoga cover Yama and Niyama in detail.
Niyama roughly translates to restraints or things we should avoid keeping the wellbeing of the environment, society, and the world at large in mind, and the other ethical code, i.e., Yama is about things we should do to fulfill the responsibilities towards ourselves, such as maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, commit to daily practice, being content, practicing austerity and surrendering to the process or transformation.
Though the practice of Yoga asana does not force one to strictly adhere to these rules nor is it compulsory that one has to be aware of these values before starting their Yoga journey, these values naturally unfold in due course of time, revealing themselves in the way you begin to think, act and speak.
Thus one who practices Yoga regularly is on a path to greater awareness as he/she becomes flexible in the body as well as in the mind, and is willing to embrace a few lifestyle changes to embrace ahimsa (non-violence), compassion, kindness, and happiness. It teaches you to let go of all that holds you back through the beautiful process of self-acceptance and self-love.
Still not sure if you should switch to all-natural yoga mats?
The practice of Yoga is not just that for the unity of mind-body-soul; it is in experiencing oneness with all the elements of life, of existence, of this creation. Think about the increase in the use of plastic yoga mats … about how these are made and where do they finally end up?
Apart from being harmful to your health and the environment, PVC and synthetic mats also have a very short life span. They are also very difficult to clean and maintain and thus become a breeding ground for bacteria after a few months of practice. Soon, these mats also begin to chip and flake. Thus Yoga studios find the need to replace them very often. Instead, why not encourage Yogis to bring their own mat and even better, why not provide them with eco-friendly alternatives?
Another common problem with PVC or even TPE and foam mats are that they become extremely slippery with use. While practicing Yoga you shouldn’t be worrying about your sweaty palms and feet. That is normal and is absolutely okay! What is not okay is a slippery surface! It can lead to distraction as well as injuries. Imagine losing balance in a downward dog or trikonasana?
Apart from choosing all-natural yoga mats, opt for mats with durability, good grip, easy-to-clean, and washable features. An anti-microbial surface is certainly an added advantage. Not many people are aware of eco-friendly alternatives so don’t hesitate to talk about going green to your yoga buddies.
The change begins with YOU!
Small changes can make a big difference. Let us start by avoiding the use of PVC products in Yoga. Let us together create more awareness about the harmful effects of PVC yoga mats and about keeping the world of Yoga PVC free. With the growing number of Yogis globally, the world should become greener, isn’t it?
As a Yogi, you have the compassion and power to make a positive impact, to influence, to create awareness, and to inspire. The good news is that you have an array of eco-friendly alternatives to choose from without compromising on the main features of a good mat, which is, excellent grip, easy to clean and maintain, and durable!
Ever wondered where your local yoga studio gets the mats from? Most of them are toxic and cheap quality. Don’t hesitate to talk to them about its harmful effects on the environment. If you are a yoga studio owner and natural mats don’t fit your budget, then embrace changes like asking every student to carry their own mat for TTCs and regular yoga classes and create awareness about making conscious choices in your yoga community.
Cork, natural rubber, cotton, jute, etc are few of the most popular natural and non-toxic materials that are found in some of the best natural yoga mats. JURU Yoga is committed to the cause of making eco-friendly & good quality yoga mats & props.
JURU Yoga is committed to the cause of making eco-friendly & good quality yoga mats & props. And you don’t have to pay through the nose for biodegradable mats any more -:)