The number one rule of yoga? Do no harm.
Yoga shouldn’t physically injure you—if it does, you’re doing it wrong and you need to practice safer alignment.
It also shouldn’t injure or harm others—it is a practice of love and universal acceptance.
But when your yoga practice is hurting the environment? That’s when a lot of us turn a blind eye.
In our consumer culture, the yoga market is a cash cow. Americans spend over $16 million a year on yoga classes, mats, clothes and related equipment. Yoga is no longer just a lifestyle, but it has overflowed into fast fashion. Atheleisure is ubiquitous and there is always pressure for us to get more new, new, new. But stop a minute and consider the effect all that yoga gear has on the environment.
It is tempting to buy cheap yoga mats, but they are more harmful than you may realize. Modern yoga mats are loaded with plenty of plastic-based nasties, but the one of main concern in PVC plastic. Not only are these bad for you (they contain known carcinogens and phthalates—not things you want seeping in to your sweaty back), but PVC plastics are non-biodegradable, which means they will leach toxins into the environment for years to come. How’s that for ‘do no harm’?
If you are bringing a reusable water bottle to class but still using a cheap, old mat, do some research. Yoga mats are technically environmental pollutants once you’re done using them. And since cheap PVC mats don’t boast quality or longevity, think of all the yoga mats you will be dumping into the environment over time.
When buying a new eco-friendly mat, know that some mats claim to be eco-friendly, but always double check. Polyester-based mats will not biodegrade once disposed, meaning they aren’t as green as they claim to be. And be aware that good eco mats can get pricey! The temptation to buy a cheap mat is a powerful one, but a better made mat is going to last a lot longer and be kinder to both you and the planet. If you can, look for mat made with natural rubber, which is both incredibly grippy and sustainable. Make sure it has enough thickness for you, but don’t opt for anything too heavy as it might make you less likely to use it.
I use and swear by a Jade Harmony mat, which is made from super-grippy, sustainably-harvested natural rubber and comes in a beautiful array of colors. Gone are the days of my hands slipping and sliding in downward dog, which means my mat has actually improved my practice. Talk about bang for my buck! (Bonus eco benefit: for every mat purchased, Jade plants a tree.) Of course, if you have a latex allergy you should avoid natural rubber. Opt instead for a cork mat.
And if you are looking to recycle an old yoga mat? You can repurpose old mats in your own home easily, or you may be able to recycle PVC mats by sending them back to the manufacturer to be shredded down, melted and reused.
A mat is an integral part of your yoga practice, so make sure it aligns with your core values. Don’t sacrifice your health. Don’t sacrifice the planet. Know what’s in your mat.