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.


Clear Away Your Harming Habits

Ahimsa Awareness Yamas

Sarah Jamieson Yoga


I love spring. One of the wonderful things about spring is that it can bring about a spirit of renewal – a desire to clear away the old and make space for the new. Spring Cleaning is a common renewal practice for many of us – we go through our homes and get rid of unwanted things, clean deeply, reorganize, and make space.

The practice of yoga can be thought of as the Spring Cleaning of our thought patterns and habitual behaviours. According to yogic philosophy, all of our suffering is a result of not being able to see or understand our true nature, and avidya is the Sanskrit word that describes this ignorance of our true nature. In the state of avidya, we don’t see that, as human beings, we are inherently compassionate, generous, and peaceful. Avidya is a result of our patterns and habits and our persistent unwillingness to see and know anything other than what our habits have trained us to see and know. Through the yoga practice, we clear away these patterns and habits so that we can get closer to an understanding our true nature, suffer less, and experience more joy.

How do we clear away habits?

The yamas, the first limb in the classical practice of yoga, are five ethical practices intended to slowly move us away from avidya and closer to an understanding of the inherent beauty and interconnectedness of all life. The yamas are practices of restraint, but they don’t teach us to restrain ourselves because what we’re doing is bad or wrong. Instead, the yamas teach us that restraint is actually a way to gain awareness. Stephen Cope put it eloquently in The Wisdom of Yoga:

“With each moment of restraint, the mind becomes a little more transparent. A little more reflective. A little more still. A little less reactive.”

Before the days of New Year’s resolutions, the yogis already understood that human willpower was not a very effective or long lasting way to change behaviour. To change your habits, you first need to understand and address what is motivating your behaviour. The yogic teachings prescribe restraint as the most effective way to gain this understanding. They assert that there is an incredible amount of power in the act of restraint.

Spring cleaning with ahimsa

This spring I encourage you to explore this practice of restraint through the first practice of yoga – ahimsa (non-harming). Ahimsa is the first of the yamas, and the practice is to restrain your harming behaviour so that you can begin to understand the motivations behind it.

Whether it is in the way you speak to yourself or your partner, or in the way you care for your health, your home or your planet, begin to notice moments where you feel inclined to act, speak, or think in a way that may cause harm. Pause in that moment. Compassionately remind yourself that you are a beautiful human being. Remember that the first limb of yoga is ahimsa because everyone struggles to move through the world in a non-harming way. You are not bad or wrong for doing harming things – you are human.

Holding all of this compassionate and understanding, ask yourself, “What am I truly trying to accomplish with this action or these words?”

The answer to this question might be hard to face at first. You might find that you are trying to protect yourself or realize that you are terrified. You might encounter strong emotions that you were completely unaware of.

But the wonderful thing about the power we meet in the moment of restraint is that it has a way of empowering us. In that simple moment of not reacting, we often realize that we don’t need to run, hide, or lash out in the way that we have been habitually doing. We have the strength to face what comes up. There is space for reflectivity and for asking questions, and there is the space to take a deep breath.

Something else that we tend to miss in the state of avidya is our interconnectedness with all of life, and how, as a result, my harming of myself, you, or the planet is harming myself, you, and the planet. As the yoga practice deepens, so does our appreciation for the fact that we are all in this together. As you begin to slowly clear away your harming habits, you are supporting yourself, this planet and every living creature that resides upon it.

It is this acknowledgement of our deep interconnectedness that is expressed when we say the word Namaste.


Photo Credit : Chris Yakimov

Lean into Change

Ishvarapranidhana Yamas Yoga

Sarah Jamieson Yoga

“All we know about the future is that it will be different.
Perhaps, what we fear is that it will be the same.
So we must celebrate the changes.”
– Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We’ve all heard people say it, and we’ve maybe even said it a few times ourselves: “I don’t like change.”

But, I want to challenge anyone who simply says they don’t like change. How many people wouldn’t like to suddenly have an extra $10,000? Do you know any one who doesn’t like getting an extra hour of sleep at Daylight Savings time? Would you ever turn down an extra week of vacation time?

We like change – we sometimes even love change – when it brings us things that we want. But sometimes change brings us misfortune, pain and suffering, so avoiding change feels like playing it safe. We feel like we can trust the status quo.

But the truth is that there really isn’t a status quo. The future is unknown, as Judi Dench’s character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says: “All we know about the future is that it will be different.” Even if our circumstances don’t change much, we change in them. We start to look older and, as a result, the world around us changes how it responds to us. Being in the same job for 5-years is a very different experience than having been in the same job for 25-years, and we are different as a result of having that experience.

Most of us know this already. We know that change is inevitable. We know that change can bring wonderful things and that change can bring heartache. Change is certain. When we say, “I don’t like change,” what I believe we are really expressing is the very common human experience of struggling with the uncertainty that the certainty of change brings to our lives.

I struggle with uncertainty. I love you and the thought of losing you feels unbearable. The thought of that pain makes me want to freeze time and hold onto this moment as hard as I can. Because you might not be in the next one.

I struggle with uncertainty. I cannot feel at peace with the amount of money that I have because the future might bring a tragedy that prevents me from supporting myself. I need more money to protect myself and my family.

I struggle with the uncertainty of it all. It overwhelms me. I am afraid of being hurt. I am afraid of being alone. I am afraid of seeing the people I love suffer. I am afraid of losing the people I love.

I struggle with uncertainty.

There is a part of the classical yoga practice called ishvarapranidhana; this practice asks us to trust in what we cannot see or know. Most simply, it asks us to trust in the future, to loosen our grip on the attachment we have to our actions leading to specific outcomes. The practice of ishvarapranidhana requires that we give up the illusion that we can control what will happen to us and to the people around us.

Our struggle with uncertainty and our desire to protect ourselves and the people we love from pain sometimes leads us to live life with a cautious rigidity that shuts us off from the wholehearted human experience. We have an endless stream of catch phrases with which we endeavour to knock ourselves out of this gripping place: “Dance as if no one was watching, sing as if no one was listening,” “Live as if you were to die tomorrow,” and “What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?”

Brené Brown, one of my favourite writers and speakers, powerfully reframes the question above about failing, and asks: “What’s worth doing even if you fail?” The value of failure aside (perhaps for another post), the fear that our actions won’t lead to our desired outcome keeps many of us frozen. But our actions don’t predictably determine the future. The truth is that terrible things might happen no matter what you do, so lean into change. Explore it. Trust it. Take advantage of it.

Feel it when it breaks your heart – so you can feel it when it fills your heart with joy.

Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov