A little help getting started... making educated choices about a yogi's first decision, the mat.
As yogis and yoginis, as we become aware of the subtle ripples that every breath makes and that every step imparts. The space we feel hours later in a meeting, after having taken the time that morning to follow the breath to your ever-present bastion of self-love and healing. These ripples start at the genesis of our practice, at the decision to dive in and do it. Often, in the modern world, this starts with purchasing a mat. Thankfully, there are some people in the world who are dedicated to helping the mindful consumer make the best decisions regarding choices like this. ConsumerAdvocates.org has taken the time to put together a resource about the current mats available and what their features really mean for the environment. Check out their in depth article here.
In yoga, respecting ourselves, others, and the Earth is a core belief of practice. Which is why it's so surprising that one of the main tools, our mats, are often made with harmful materials. No matter where you are in your yoga journey, there are plenty of reasons to consider an eco-friendly mat:
PVC is Terrible for the Environment
If you've ever picked up a cheap mat for yoga, chances are it was made with Polyvinyl Chloride, also known as PVC. So, what's the problem? A lot, actually.
PVC can cause health issues, as well as have a negative impact on our environment. Throughout its life cycle, PVC is a toxic pollutant. It doesn't just emit known human carcinogens and other toxins when it's made, but it's nearly impossible to recycle. It takes hundreds of years for PVC to break down and even if it's incinerated, the resulting emission is just as hazardous. Yet, nearly 50% of mats are made with PVC.
However, finding a true eco-friendly mat can be tricky. Some companies claim their products are made with earth-friendly, PVC-free materials, but recent testing by Consumers Advocate found that's not always the case. Two out of the 10 self-proclaimed “friendly” mats they tested were made of PVC.
You'll Get the Most Out of Your Practice
Wellness is an essential part of yoga. And while it’s normal to stretch and strain a bit, it's never normal to feel pain. If you're hurting during class, your mat might be the culprit.
A quality mat will typically offer a good grip that can keep you from slipping and help you maintain balance (which is perfect for sweaty Bikram or Ashtanga sessions.) It should also provide enough cushion to prevent your joints from aching.
Cheap mats tend to be on the thin side, which can lead to a lot of pain during table positions, kneeling or lunges. Quality mats tend to be more expensive but they also ward off a lot of injuries and strain. In the end, if you want to get the most of your practice, investing in a good mat is worth it.
It might sound scary, but several studies have found a connection between phthalate exposure during pregnancy to birth defects and other complications for pregnant women. It's even scarier to think phthalates are used in a whole host of everyday products — like vinyl flooring, cosmetics, and medical equipment — and yoga mats made with PVC.
At least two studies from Harvard found that exposure to the chemical can increase both the risk of miscarriage and developing gestational diabetes. Particularly, the phthalate that's often used to make plastic more durable and flexible. Sound familiar?
While we know prenatal yoga offers all sorts of awesome benefits to both baby and mama-to-be, sourcing the right kind of yoga mat is critical. Look for mats made with all-natural materials, such as cork or natural rubber.
Regardless of your level of commitment to practice, ability, or skill, the principle of ahimsa entreats us to cause no harm—in thought, speech, or action, to any living being, including ourselves, and can also be applied to our planet.
Thus Spake Maek Dec. 7, 2020 (with the help of Wally at Consumers Advocate)