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.