Practicing yoga is a crucial component of my daily routine—it keeps my body and my mind healthy. There are many health benefits to yoga, including reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, alongside improvements in headaches, pain, cardiovascular conditions, asthma, and diabetes. Yoga also helps you keep a healthy body mass index, and boosts strength, balance, and flexibility. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
There’s just one catch—your yoga mat could be placing both you and the environment at risk. Whether you practice to relax, get a great workout, or both, you are going to want to think twice about what could be found on your yoga mat. Here are some of the top offenders.
1. Polyvinyl chloride
Most yoga mats are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—one of the most toxic plastics. PVCs are known carcinogens according to the World Health Organization, and they release volatile organic chemicals (VOC) into the air during their entire life cycle. They can cause developmental problems, liver and nervous system damage, and respiratory and reproductive issues.
Phthalates are usually added to your yoga mat to make it softer and more flexible. These chemicals are a big deal to me, because they are hormone disruptors and can therefore increase your risk of hormone positive cancers (think breast and ovarian cancer). They also increase asthma and allergenicity, metabolic disorders, behavioral changes, and reproductive disorders.
3. Thin, slippery mats
Your body cares about which yoga mat you use. A thin mat that allows you to feel and connect to the floor may actually be hard on your knees or other areas of the body during certain poses. One of the best ways to avoid injury is to ensure that your mat can absorb impact and provides enough traction—even if you start sweating.
Yoga mats are the perfect environment for tiny bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When is the last time you cleaned your yoga mat? Without properly disinfecting the mat between each class, you are putting your body at risk of colds and flus, staph infections, fungal infections, plantar warts, and so on.
Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is regularly used in yoga mats to make them flexible and stretchy. However, ADA is known to increase allergies, skin problems, and asthma. Get this—you won’t just find ADA in your yoga mat. It is also found in food, especially pieces of bread, pastries, and pizza (where it is used as a bleaching agent and to make the dough more elastic).
6. Bisphenol A
We’ve all heard of Bisphenol A (BPA) and its presence in plastic bottles. Unfortunately, some yoga mats contain BPA, and therefore you are potentially exposing yourself to this hormone disruptor every time you touch your mat. It has been linked to a wide variety of problems such as infertility, breast and ovarian cancers, obesity, diabetes, behavioral changes, and early puberty in children.
7. Heavy metals
Heavy metals (such as lead and cadmium) can be found in some yoga mats to make them more durable. Both of these heavy metals can damage the nervous system and may be very difficult for our bodies to process and remove because they tend to accumulate in some of our organs.
Unfortunately, the list goes on. We are exposing ourselves to these toxins and germs through inhalation, and especially skin contact. Picture how many times your skin directly makes contact with your mat—quite often, isn’t it? To make matters worse, your pores open up during exercise, allowing for an easier route into the body through absorption. Not at all what you had in mind when you chose to attend a yoga class, right?
What do I recommend?
I’m often asked which yoga mat is the best one. The criteria will vary from person to person, depending on whether you need at mat that is hard, soft, slippery, or sticky, but the one thing I suggest is to choose one that is eco-friendly and made of natural rubber, fair-trade organic cotton, or hemp. Keep in mind that it’s smart to look for a mat that is free of phthalates, heavy metals, BPA, and PVCs.
When it comes to keeping your mat clean, there are so many options out there; it really depends on what the mat is made of. For instance, some mats don’t work well with essential oils, as these oils will block the pores of the mat. Check with your mat brand to be sure before purchasing a yoga mat cleaning product or making one yourself (which you can do using vinegar, tea tree oil, and essential oils).