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Down-Dogging It: Is Your Yoga Mat Harmful to Your Health?

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Practicing yoga can be a great way to stay mentally and physically fit. I’ve talked before about the many benefits of yoga in previous posts, so I won’t repeat myself here. But if you practice on a standard yoga mat, you may be inhaling harmful chemicals and thus negating some of the good you’re doing.


That’s right: believe it or not, most yoga mats are made of polyvinyl chloride, an environmental toxin. The base ingredient in PVC, vinyl chloride, is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. During the manufacturing process, plasticizers are added to make the yoga mat soft and sticky. Among the most common additives are lead, cadmium, and a class of hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates.


When the mat is new, these additives can off-gas while you’re practicing (!) and will seep into groundwater when you throw your mat in the garbage, before it winds up in a landfill. Because PVC is not biodegradable, it will remain in the landfill, where it will pose another environmental hazard: sometimes landfills catch on fire, and if your yoga mat burns, it will release dioxin, hydrochloric acid, and other toxins into the air. Lovely.


It’s unlikely that the gym or studio where you practice has invested in environmentally friendly (safe) mats, since they can cost twice as much as standard (toxic) mats.


Investing in your own mat has other important benefits. Dermatologists and podiatrists are reporting an increase in the number of yogis (practicing on public mats) complaining of skin rashes, mainly athlete’s foot and plantar warts. This is largely because most public mats are not cleaned as regularly as you might like. One of my yoga instructor friends even found a shard of dirty glass embedded in a yoga mat at a local gym. Which is, of course, dangerous and gross.


So save the environment and your health with your own eco-friendly mat. 


But don’t let your old PVC mat wind up in a landfill. Instead, clean it and bring it to your local animal shelter for use as bedding. Other animal-inspired ideas include using it as a nonslip pad under food and water dishes, or as a car seat cushion for your pet (no hair, no scratches on your seats). You also can use it to kneel on during gardening, cut shapes out of it to make bases in baseball, or use it as a seat cushion at a sporting event or picnic. Be creative, and you’ll think of other great uses! Namaste.

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