My Conundrum with Yoga Mats

by Nyamka Bayanmunkh in


In the previous post I wrote about why I practice yoga and how it helps me put things into perspective. Today I want to share my small adventure in finding the perfect mat. Thanks to minimalism I try to think about everything that I choose to bring into my life. I applied the same thinking in my decision to buy a yoga mat, as I didn't want to buy a yoga mat that I wouldn't use often. After practicing on a wooden floor for a few months I decided that it was time for a yoga mat.  It was an established habit and a newly purchased yoga mat will be put into good use. A mat would be softer and more comfortable. Plus everyone seems to do yoga on colourful and pretty mats. From my experience in yoga classes, I knew I didn't want a plastic-y smelling mat. Off I went shopping for mats, but the ones I found were all a bit strange smelling. The shop assistant people kept telling me the smell will wear off after a few weeks. I didn't really want to wait two weeks for my mat to off-gas like it was some toxic material. Since I didn't know much about yoga mats, I thought a little research will help and I found a few interesting information along the way.

     1.Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a common ingredient in yoga mats & it's not planet friendly. 

PVC is not biodegradable and very hard to recycle and as a result very little is reused. Plastic recycling companies classify PVC as a contaminant because it's hard to sort it from other plastics. Vinyl chloride used to make PVC is a known carcinogen, and workers in PVC plants have elevated health risks. If I got a mat with PVC and used it as long as I could and discarded it, it would remain in landfill indefinitely. If the landfill caught fire, PVC would release toxins into the air. Firefighters want to minimise PVCs used in building constructions due to the hazardous fumes PVC releases when it's heated.
     2. Because PVC is rigid in room temperature plasticisers such as lead, cadmium, and phthalates are added to make mats soft and flexible.
Certain types of phthalates used in children's toys and cosmetics are banned in the Europe Union due to concerns about it's disruption to the endocrine system and it's ability to produce healthy levels of hormones. I know we aren't eating the yoga mats or melting it and slathering it on our skin, but what worries me is the gasses that are given off as a natural by product and where they go. If it's in the air it's not good, and if it seeps into groundwater it's not good either, we may not notice these things but these things indirectly affects us.
     3. Flexible and soft yoga mats are a very recent thing.
In India where yoga originated, yoga was practiced on halfa-grass, or on bare earth, and sometimes on rugs that were made from animal skin. When yoga became a thing in the west, cotton mats were used and later on to prevent the cotton mats from sliding on the wooden floors rubber mats were introduced. I had it my head that yoga and yoga mats were inseparable from each other, and in order to be a 'real' yoga practicing person I needed a yoga mat.

To conclude, knowing some of the dangers associated with PVC I couldn't get a conventional mat. I didn't want to use something that had so many hidden costs to the environment. Plus, when I looked online I found better alternatives to PVC mats. There were mats made from natural rubber which are recyclable and flexible. There were ones made from cotton and wool, but they're probably not so good for those hot yoga sessions. There were also ones made from a mix of natural rubber and jute (jute is also recyclable and biodegradable) which looked decent. In the end I decided to go mat free for the time being. While yoga mats are very handy for some people and certain types of yoga cannot be done without a mat, my practice isn't suffering due to a lack of a mat. Wooden floor and grass in the park serves me fine for now. If the yogis before me were fine without a mat, I should be able to follow in their foot steps. If I decide to go back to hot yoga I will consider getting my own mat, and when I do, I will know to check the ingredients of my mat before I buy it!

With love and simplicity,