Yoga: The Union of You and the Planet

practicing yoga on mats

practicing yoga on mats

Sarah Smarsh and Simran Sethi are writing a series on the impacts of everyday things. They will be posting previews on Green Options before launching the posts on Huffington Post.

Who doesn’t feel better after a yoga class? Yoga is the union of the body, mind and spirit.It stabilizes the nervous system, decreases blood pressure, increases flexibility and endurance, and opens you up in ways that you may not have imagined.

Simran used to be a yoga teacher. She loves the practice even though she hasn’t spent much time on her mat lately. (“Yoga on the inside, baby!”) Sarah gets her yoga on every week and knows it does her body good.

But, as any student knows, the real practice starts when you walk out the door. That’s also where the rubber hits the road and your practice takes its toll on the environment.

Oh brother, that again? Yes, my dear yogin, that.

The majority of yoga mats are manufactured in Taiwan and made of poly-vinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC makes a great mat due to its grip, durability and price point. But, unfortunately, there is no safe way to create, use or destroy these mats.

PVC isn’t just in yoga mats. It’s in kids toys (which may soon change), sex toys, shower curtains, fake Christmas trees, IV bags and more. That new car (or new yoga mat) smell is the scent of plastic softened with pthalates and stabilized with lead and cadmium.

PVC became the plastic of choice because it’s cheap, but considering the impacts on environmental and human health, it’s actually priceless. PVC can’t be recycled due to the toxins embedded within it, and when it’s incinerated or buried in landfills it releases dioxin, a known carcinogen. Pthalates have been known to impact boy bits in utero and swimmers once the boys become men, and lead and cadmium damage our brains and never break down. Not exactly the impermanence we’re after in yoga.

Read more on the Huffington Post.

Thanks to the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lacey Johnston for research assistance.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

  1. monica

    I’ve often wondered what my yoga mat was made of, but part of me didn’t want to know. I recognized that odor, the “chemical” smell when I opened it as being potentially toxic and because of it had a tendency to avoid it. Now the dilemna is, should I keep it, or throw it out and take up more landfill space and release more toxins into the environment?!It’s ironic that an item sold to promote wellness can make you sick, and sad.

  2. Simran

    I have really struggled with this, too. I especially worry about the spots that wear out on mats. You know, right near our heads! So, here’s the thing. The mats exist. They aren’t going away. The number one thing I suggest doing is letting your yoga studio or mat provider know that you will not be purchasing these mats again. If you are going to swap out your mat, I would suggest passing it along rather than dumping it. The mat will actually cause the most problems when it starts to break down in a landfill or get incinerated.
    Sorry to be such a downer, but as a former yoga teacher, this one especially wrecks me.

  3. Heather

    Here’s an idea for re-using your old PVC yoga mat: How about cutting it up and using it as padding on the bottom of tables, chairs and other furniture so they don’t scrape the hardwood floors? I’m sure there are plenty of other options to keep your carcinogenic mat from stinking up a landfill. If anyone has other ideas, please share them!

  4. Simran

    I would love to hear ideas, as well. I am not convinced cutting them up would be the way to go b/c I just wouldn’t want all those mat particles floating in my air. . . .

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