Yep, yoga is great. It’s the best! But with millions of souls squeezing into millions of studios worldwide, a global economy for equipment is erupting and when it comes to mats - it seems the earth doesn't always matters so much. So whether you're a nervous navasana novice, or a pinchamarayasana pro - make sure you find an eco-mat for your flow.
Your yoga mat needs to be durable, so it can bear your physical body in practice day by day. It also needs to be biodegradable so when our bodies are gone, we can return the materials to Mother Nature harmoniously. It needs to be good vibes, so our subtle bodies can continue to ascend without the weight of chemical pollution, health risks and environmental degradation.
The only way to nourish your soul as your glide through your practice is on mother nature's unadulterated natural materials.
Rubber, cork, hemp, organic cotton are all awesome natural, sustainable substances derived from renewable resources that are biodegradable, and well suited friends of the earth as well as your asanas.
Here are some mat recommendations based on my experiences.
P V C
Most yoga mats are made of poly-vinyl chloride, or PVC - easy to produce, durable, good grip and above all, cheap. The plastic is made soft and supple with pthalates and stabilized with lead and cadmium.
However these pthalates are egregious endocrine disruptors that mess with our reproductive systems increasing infertility in men and women, and the lead and cadmium can damage our brains and will never break down in our bodies.
PVC can never be recycled and also ‘off-gasses’, which means it casually releases a gas called dioxin - a known carcinogen. It's chemicals slip into our soils and make their way to groundwater polluting the planet deeply. Imagine what it does to our skin, and inner systems.
PVC is a nightmarish substance certainly not well suited to a serene or sustainable yoga session. It's best to avoid such substances when sitting on the mat and look for something more salubrious.
T P E and P E R
TPE (thermal plastic elastomer) and PER (polymer environmental resin) are touted as ‘eco-friendly’ foams because they can be recycled into new forms (though I'm pretty sure there is nowhere that industrially melts down the millions of old yoga mats into something useful again).
However, their base material is plastic, so they are ultimately made from petroleum - that little eco - fiendish fossil fuel.
These substances are lauded as free from Bisphenol-A (BPA), PVC, lead, phthalates, dioxins, and other toxic chemicals. But neurobiologists report that “almost all” commercially available plastics such as these leach synthetic estrogens. And contrary to popular belief they leach all the time, not just when they’re exposed to conditions like heat (which we've learned happens in microwavable food containers, the steam of a dishwasher, or in the sun’s ultraviolet rays).
According to this research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPAs - so whether you're breathing through billowing plumes of BPA or these 'BPA-free' foams, you're in for a blooming dangerous practice.
R U B B E R M A T S
Rubber is the most sustainable, sensational surface for your sun salutations. It is epically eco-friendly and radically recyclable.
Rubber starts off its life as a milky residue ‘tapped’ from para rubber trees. Grown in Brazil, Malaysia, India, Thailand, and Indonesia, these trees drink carbon from the air and are carefully cut on their outer surface, drained for a period of time, and then allowed to heal naturally - the secretion of the latex is a part of the tree’s natural healing process. The natural latex is then strained, diluted with water, treated with acid, rolled into sheets, and then air dried to make it ready for use. In mat form, it provides perfect grip and durability, though it isn't suitable for those with latex allergies.
Jade Harmony Mat
Jade is a genuine gem of a company. It is family run so they don't answer to shareholders, and they have high ethics and morals in their very fibres. Their mats are made in a most sustainable manner with natural rubber tapped from trees in the United States, so they avoid the risk of abusing production labour overseas and are in compliance with all environmental and labour laws.
Jade is in partnership with Trees for the Future and plants a tree for every mat sold, with over one million trees planted so far. They support a network of Community Partners with a view to bring yoga to those who might benefit, but might not otherwise have a chance to try - from schools to prisons, hospitals to shelters. Every Earth Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they give a percentage of sales to environmental charities and those that help support abused children. They use cool colours to collaborate with causes, releasing pink mats for breast cancer awareness, education, research and support, saffron mats for those who suffer from autism and their teal mat goes to ovarian cancer research and support.
I use this mat for my self practice at home as it's thick, rubbery goodness is dead comfortable - I absolutely love it. They're reasonably priced and reassuingly aware of social and environmental issues.
Liforme is a British company started by James Armitage after an epic journey of self-discovery and rigorous research. He manufactures high-performance, biodegradable yoga mats using natural rubber for the base layer, and ‘eco-friendly polyurethane’ for the top layer. Their manufacturing process eliminates the need for toxic glues through heat bonding to join the top and base layers.
James even organises delivery logistics with a company chosen for their ethical credentials (the company is based in the UK and is the first carbon neutral courier company in this country; which aso donates 10% of profits to charities which protect the environment and endangered animals).
The innovative alignment guidelines are actually etched in to avoid the potentially toxic print of inks. Many of my favourite yoga teachers and studios stock Liforme and Friends of the Earth also accepted a planet-friendly partnership based on James's good vibes.
Liforme mats are a little heavy in weight for my cycle travel round London, but I love this company and their beautiful mats which manifest a magnificently moralistic practice after you purchase.
T R A V E L M A T
eKO SuperLite travel mat
Though Manduka does perplexingly use PVC in some of their products, they are very transparent and their intentions are certainly rooted reputably in environmental responsibility. They produce loads of products including blocks and bags, towels and straps using natural materials from renewable sources, recycled plastic bottles, recycled fabrics and foams.
Their beautifully thin travel mat is a true friend for globe trotters. It weighs only 1kg and folds up like a towel, or rolls into a radically thin column ready to be strapped inconspicuously to your backpack. Made from biodegradable natural tree rubber, it is manufactured with zero waste and no harmful plastics. The colourful mats are also completely free of toxic chemicals, dyes and phthalates.