A yoga mat is a basic piece of practice gear. You have your own or you use one at the studio. But your yoga mat may be the least healthy part of your practice. "Yoga Journal" estimates that people spend nearly $27 billion a year on yoga gear and classes. But there are growing concerns that the increased popularity of yoga is putting people and the environment at risk because conventional yoga mats may not be safe.
The mat marks out your space in the studio, keeps you working in a focused area, cushions you against a hard floor, keeps you from sliding in poses, and is a barrier against dirt and germs, particularly if you use your own mat and clean it regularly. You may love your mat. You may have personalized it, painted it, kept it clean with TLC. But the likelihood is that the mat you use for your healthy yoga is made of unhealthy PVC.
PVC is inexpensive, easy to clean, flexible and durable, takes colors well, is non-skid, can be altered to be “sticky” so you are non-skid, and it’s widely available. When people appreciate the selection and bargain prices, when businesses have a major investment in the manufacture of PVC mats, and when PVC mats perform in every way just how you need them to, there has to be a pretty compelling reason to change.
PVC Health Concerns
The compelling reason to change how yoga mats are made is concern about PVC. According to the CDC, polyvinyl chloride can cause damage to the liver, reproductive system, central nervous system and respiratory system. The process of making PVC produces dioxin and PCBs, both carcinogens. PVC products off-gas volatile compounds and, when burned in an incinerator, emit toxic smoke. The chemicals added to mats to make them “sticky” are phthalates, and to make them durable, toxic metals. Both can leach out with mat use and both cause cancer.
The alternatives to PVC yoga mats are out there. Hemp, jute or cotton mats are plant fiber so they do not off-gas and will eventually break down and be recyclable. The certified organic mats are the safest bet for healthy material and a manufacturing process that doesn’t degrade the environment. Rubber mats come from rubber trees, completely biodegradable. Hybrids use a combination of plant fiber and rubber. And synthetic plastic mats like TPE and PER claim to be toxin-free.
A downside is that these mats are usually pricier than PVC mats. Another sticking point for some people is that they are not very sticky, although some are made with a non-skid latex backing. Rubber mats can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people and some object to the rubbery smell the mats give off. Synthetic plastic mats can be manufactured with compounds that are unhealthy and some even contain PVC. (reference 4)
If you can’t afford to replace your PVC mat yet, or you don’t want your old mat to end up in an infinite landfill, get creative. Cover the PVC mat for practice with an inexpensive fiber mat or towel to minimize your exposure but still provide some cushioning. And use old mats as non-skid carpet padding under rugs instead of discarding them in the trash. (reference 1)