Best. Yoga Mat. Ever.

Best. Yoga Mat. Ever.

Ahimsa Asana Living Yoga Yamas

I bought my first yoga mat at a discount store. My main objective: find the cheapest one possible. It was a simple purple mat. There wasn’t anything special about it – except for the experiences I had on it.

Fast forward a few years into my practice, and buying a yoga mat was a much bigger production. Cost was still a factor, but there was a lot more things to consider. Grip, or stickiness, probably mattered most. After that, weight was a key issue. I wanted a mat that was solid and durable, but I didn’t want my shoulders to hurt from carrying it to and from the studio. But then of course, some of the lighter mats didn’t have enough cushioning. Purchasing a new mat had become a much more involved process.

Fast forward a few more years into my practice, and things are even more complicated! I find myself getting all philosophical about yoga mats.

Philosophy and mats – what?

The classical practice of yoga, as laid out by Patanjali in the yoga sutras, is an eight-limb practice. The postures, known in Sanskrit as asana, are one limb of the practice. The first limb, the very foundation of the practice, encompasses five practices that relate to how we engage with ourselves and the world around us. The first of those practices is the practice of ahimsa, or non-harming. In practicing ahimsa, we endeavour to restrain from harming ourselves, other people and animals, and our planet.

So, if a mat is harmful to the planet, is it appropriate to call it a yoga mat?

The problems with PVC

My first bargain mat was a simple purple mat made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and it will likely be on this planet longer than I am. If you aren’t familiar with PVC, here’s a brief introduction:

Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Workers in PVC manufacturing facilities and residents of surrounding communities are at risk from exposure to these chemicals which contaminate the water, soil and air around these facilities.

The manufacture and incineration of PVC also creates and releases dioxins, which cause a wide range of health effects including cancer, birth defects, diabetes, learning and developmental delays, endometriosis, and immune system abnormalities.


Here’s some more information on PVC from the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green:

Polyvinyl chloride is known to off-gas hormone disrupting phthalates. Phthalates are used to soften plastics. A study by the Centre for Health, Environment and Justice found that these chemicals are released into the air inside our homes, contributing to indoor air pollution. PVC shower curtains can release as many as 108 volatile organic chemicals. Some of these chemicals are associated with developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems.


When we start to consider the harmful effects of PVC, it becomes clear that some yoga mats are not very yogic.

Explore less harmful mat options

The great news for yoga practitioners is that more and more mats are being made without PVC. Jade Yoga Mats, for example, are made with natural rubber and contain no PVC or other synthetic rubbers. Natural rubber is tapped from a tree, like maple syrup, and it is a sustainable, renewable resource. The company also plants a tree for every yoga mat they sell.

For me, a fantastic yoga mat supports my asana practice and my ahimsa practice. I don’t want the legacy of my practice to be plastic pollution. I practice yoga to support our collective health and well-being. A mat made with PVC is out of line with my intentions.

A mat that support my asana practice and our collective health and well-being – that is easily the best yoga mat ever.


10 Ways I Will Use Less Plastic

Ahimsa Awareness Living Yoga

Photo credit: Natesh Ramasamy,

A woman I know committed to living a year without acquiring any new plastics in 2010. Her name is Taina Uitto, and reading about her plastic-free adventures on her blog Plastic Manners had a huge impact on me; it made me realize how much plastic I used on a day-to-day basis. I have used considerably less plastic over the past 4 years because of her influence, but I have by no means been living plastic-free.

I recently went to see the premiere of a documentary film From the Waste Up: Life Without Plastic that she and her brother made about her transition to a plastic-free life. I have been re-inspired, and I am ready to commit to a further reduction of my use of plastics.

When Taina’s project began, I was primarily motivated to reduce my plastics use because of the devastating impact this non-destructible substance has on the environment and on the animals that mistake it for food. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about how plastics affect our health. Plastics contain harmful chemicals that leach into the bloodstreams and tissues of almost every one of us, including newborns. I am now motivated to protect myself and my family from plastics.

I’m also inspired by the lifestyle of the people in Taina’s film. She challenged a number of other people to live plastic-free for a year and told their story in her documentary as well. Everyone found the lifestyle change challenging in the first couple of months, but as time went on, all the challenge participants told similar stories about life slowing down and feeling simpler. The message was clear: all these convenient, disposable products that are supposed to give us more time somehow do the opposite.

Here are some health-friendly and planet-friendly choices I am going to make:

1. No plastic shopping bags or disposable coffee cups

These days I use re-usable shopping bags and travel mugs 85% of the time, but every so often I will take a bag or a disposable cup out of convenience. Moving forward, if I can’t get something without creating this waste, I will go without.

2. No Take-out Trash

I don’t buy a lot of “To Go” food, but when I do, it is usually sushi and it creates a mountain of garbage – the foam/plastic containers, the soy sauce containers, and the plastic bag it comes in. I am going to save myself the cringe moment I have in response to the amount of waste, and either eat-in or use my own containers to take out.

3. Buy bulk with my own containers

At Whole Foods, you can bring your own containers, get them weighed, and use them to buy bulk (and then they deduct the weight of the container at the checkout). I have a lot of weighed containers, and when I do a bulk shop for bulk items, I take them all in and save the plastic bags. It’s awesome when I do – it is a great conversation starter, and most of the containers already have the bulk codes on them, so I don’t have to worry about noting down numbers. But when I want a small amount of one or two things, I have been taking the plastic bags and creating the unnecessary waste. I am going to stop.

4. Slowly transition plastics out of our kitchen

We were blessed with an infestation of pantry moths a few months ago. Why blessed? Because it prompted us to buy a ridiculous number of mason jars, and transfer most of our food storage to glass containers. We still have reusable Ziploc containers and various plastic tools in our kitchen. I would like to actively seek alternatives.

5. Buy plastic-free spray bottles and dish soap dispensers

Over the last couple of years, I have largely transitioned to homemade cleaning products – both for my home and for my body. But I put these homemade products into plastic containers. It’s better for the environment because they are not single-use containers, but I’m still touching plastic every time I use them. I would like to find alternatives that are friendlier for me.

6. Collect my plastic waste for a month

I believe awareness is empowering. If I collect my plastic waste for a month, I will learn more about the kinds of plastic pollution I am producing, which will help me figure out how to use less.

7. Give packaging more consideration in my purchasing decisions

I tend to avoid the blatantly horrible packaging – like toilet paper from Costco, where each roll is individually wrapped in plastic. But, I also have organic olive oil from Costco, which is in a plastic bottle, and olive oil is readily available in glass bottles. I am not going to factor out things like price or whether something is organic or local, but I am going give plastic packaging a bigger voice.

8. Try a plastic-free toothbrush

I vividly remember reading about Taina’s first experiences with a bone and boar bristle toothbrush. It did not make me want to use one. I feel a little queasy even thinking about it now. But, my ideas about what is gross and what is not have been challenged and proven wrong many times before (see point #11 for an example). So perhaps a year from now the idea of sticking a plastic stick in my month and rubbing it against my teeth and gums will disgust me instead.

9. Learn more about the different types of plastic

Most of us are familiar with the recycling symbol – the three arrows forming a triangle. But, what do the different numbers inside the recycling symbol mean? From my initial research, #2, #4 and #5 are considered okay for limited use, but #1, #3, #6 and #7 should be avoided. I look forward to learning more so I can make better informed decisions.

10. Shop for new plastic-free habits at The Soap Dispensary

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about The Soap Dispensary, but I haven’t shopped there yet. The Vancouver store featured quite prominently in Taina’s documentary because it helps people live plastic-free with a lot more ease. I am looking forward to making a trip to the store and learning new ways that I can use less plastic.

11. Have a plastic-free period

This extra point is to promote a plastic-free lifestyle choice I made a couple years ago. I went plastic-free on all products related to menstruation, and it is one of the best lifestyle decisions I’ve ever made. I started with Natracare Products, which are organic and plastic-free disposable products. They are fantastic, but the cost pushed me to consider non-disposable options like LunaPads and the Diva Cup. I now use a combination of the three – depending where I am and what I am doing. Somehow taking plastics and toxins out of menstruation transformed the experience from something kind of gross to something natural and almost beautiful. I know it may sound super corny, but it happened.

I have a feeling that these other lifestyle choices are going to end up feeling just as good!


The Yoga of Dealing with Difficult People

Living Yoga Yoga

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” – Ram Dass


Every month I write a piece for the YYoga blog. A member of the marketing team sends me a list of topic ideas, and I pick one. The topic I picked for March was: Deal with that difficult personality gracefully – and it was initially a difficult one to write about. After thinking about it for a few days and trying a number of different approaches, I woke up this morning with the clear sense that the best way to write this piece was to simply share ideas.

Here are some thoughts I have about how to be more graceful when you find someone difficult to deal with:

See the bigger picture

Last October, I wrote a piece about why it is challenging for us to focus on the things we are grateful for. Simply, it is because we are programmed to hone in on the things that are potentially threatening to us. Scientists refer to it as a negativity bias.

If you have ever been in front of room full of people for any reason, you can likely relate to the tendency to fixate on the one person who doesn’t seem happy with what you are doing. The room might be full of ninety-nine happy and encouraging people, but if one person is scowling and crossing their arms, that one person has a way of capturing 99% of your energy. This is the negativity bias in action.

A first step in dealing with difficult people more gracefully is to stay present with the reality that this difficult person is only one of many people in your life. It is easy to let difficult people become “energy vampires”. Train yourself to focus more on the supportive people in your life and be mindful about how much energy you give to the people you find difficult.

Acknowledge your role

We are inside our own heads. We have access to our own thoughts and intentions. With this insider scoop, it can be easy to side with ourselves in a difficult interpersonal situation and blame the other person for the difficultly. But, it takes two people to create an easy or difficult interaction, and, in any given interaction, we are only ever going to understand half of what happened.

Because we don’t have access to the other person’s thoughts, we might not be able to see or understand how we are contributing to the situation, but we increase our capacity for grace when we hold space for the possibility that we are doing things to make the interaction more difficult for the other person.

Find the good

If our interactions with another person are difficult, we can easily fall into the trap of seeing them as a difficult person. We even speak about difficult people like there are people out there that are universally difficult. It may be true; it may not. But, we don’t increase our own capacity for acting with grace when we fail to see what lies beyond the difficultly.

The next time you find yourself labelling a person as difficult, take some time to consider what else you know about this person. Maybe they are exceptionally creative? Do they have a knack for making other people laugh? Paint a bigger picture so that you can more easily honour them as another human being when you interact with them.

Own your behaviour

When we feel like other people are being difficult, it can be very easy to be difficult back. Instead of making a concerted effort to behave in a way that aligns with our values, we might revert to more passive aggressive behaviour, like making snide remarks. It is also easy to feel justified in our reactive behaviour when we only know our side of the story.

One way to manage this tendency to be difficult back is to commit to holding yourself accountable for your behaviour. Other people can make us feel things, but they can’t control our actions. You might feel justifiably angry in response to someone else’s behaviour, but anger is an emotion and you are responsible for how you respond to both the emotion and to the person who provoked it.

Be emotionally curious

Difficult behaviour often stems from unexpressed emotions like failing to tell someone we are angry or that our feelings have been hurt. Our emotions have a way of creeping to the surface, and they can be quite dangerous when they aren’t acknowledged.

If you are able to be in a difficult interaction without taking things personally, you might also start to consider the possible unmet emotional needs of this person. You might have more success finding ease in the interaction if you address their emotions before their words.

Talk about the difficultly

If you are comfortable being vulnerable in the relationship, talking about the difficulty you are experiencing can be a giant step in the direction of finding more ease. Things are often much easier to handle when they are acknowledged.

Accept the challenge

But some people are just difficult!”

I don’t know if it is true, but it can feel like it! Sometimes I try everything I have outlined above and more, and the interactions are still challenging. What I am trying to learn in these circumstances is how to accept and appreciate that some people will be more challenging to me. It doesn’t mean that there is a problem with these people; it doesn’t mean that I am not evolved enough to find ease with this person. It also doesn’t mean that the relationship is not worthwhile.

Sometimes we just love people who are harder for us to relate to. Sometimes the fatigue and the frustration that can come along with more difficult relationships are more than worth it in the end.

Stay grounded in your intention

Why are you persisting in this difficult relationship? Work? Family? There are lots of reasons why you might persist in difficult relationships, but take the time to clarify why you are sticking with the difficult ones in your life.

Some people fall into the trap of wanting everyone to like them, and they will persist relentlessly to make relationships work for the sake of their own ego or their own sense of ease. Make sure that continuing a difficult interpersonal relationship is a wise use of your energy.

Difficult interactions can be great learning opportunities. They challenge us to look at things differently and to think more about how we come across. They test our courage and our compassion. Difficult and challenging experiences of human interaction also help us to see the beauty and magic in moments of deep human connection.

And sometimes the difficult interactions turn into the beautiful ones.

Sarah Jamieson