My Conundrum with Yoga Mats

by Nyamka Bayanmunkh in


Image

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,

Nyamka


Me, Yoga, and the Universe

by Nyamka Bayanmunkh in


Image

Yoga is an ancient tradition, dating back thousands of years ago. Practicing yoga helped the monks who wanted to detach from the trappings of the transient world, to quieten their body and mind, with the purpose to reach spiritual enlightenment. Knowing thousands have come before me with their practice is humbling. My first exposure to yoga was when I was nine. My mother woke up every morning at five and practiced yoga in the living room, while I slept. She credits her yoga practice for giving her the energy and health to look after her small daughter and get through her university degree in Cambridge.  Since then I dabbled in yoga here and there, but it never stuck until very recently. 

These days I practice yoga everyday in the morning alone by myself in my room. Before, I went to yoga classes for purely the physical benefits, and I got them. I had chronic back pain as a kid and practicing yoga healed it completely. Unfortunately, I was disengaged. I was detached from the mental and spiritual aspects of the practice, and therefore couldn't fully engage with yoga and was often bored during the sessions. I realise now, yoga is not something you understand after a few times of practice. Ancient masters spent their whole lives practicing in order to detach from the material world for just a few moments. Yogis spent decades in scholarship in order to understand the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga. No wonder I was disengaged and bored before, I had no knowledge of the vast history and philosophy behind yoga.

Sydney Yoga Mrs macquaries chair

Now, I take the word 'practice' in 'yoga practice' seriously. Where the point is to practice in learning to centre my mind, and maybe find calm. I will probably never achieve nirvana and be detached from the transient world, but that's okay. I don't really want to be detached from my material world. I need to be in this world to figure out my problems and solve it, rather than transcend it. While I may not transcend during my practice, it does put things into perspective for me.

I find that learning about yoga, and learning about the universe has a similar effect in my understanding of my place in the world. With yoga I am trying to center my mind to leave a what may be a illusory, and transient material world with the purpose of rising above my small problems and seeing the bigger picture. When I learn about the universe, perspectives are necessary to understand our existence. We humans have been on the earth for such little time compared to the total age of the earth. The earth is tiny in comparison to the rest of the universe. Even within the universe, the things that we understand (the atom based structures like people, animals, tables and chairs) only make up four percent of the universe. The rest is made up of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy. Keeping that perspective, relatively speaking we are pretty small. Although small as I am, I don't feel insignificant. I feel significant and incredibly lucky to be part of the things that consist of atoms and are intelligent, a tiny percentage of this dark and mostly unknown cosmos. Knowing this quitens the chatter in my mind and calms me. With scholarship and practice, my practice now engages me fully in mind, body and soul.

With love, simplicity and scholarship,

Nyamka.

P.S. Tomorrow's blog post is going to be about yoga too.