Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Eco Yoga Mats Don't Suck

A little birdie over on another yoga blog site created some discussion regarding the usefulness of investing in an 'eco' yoga mat. The perspective was really two-fold: that eco yoga mats are of poor quality compared to pvc and thus won't last long and that owning an eco yoga mat is an empty eco-gesture.

I claim false on both accounts.

Let's take a closer look shall we?

Myth 1: Eco Yoga mats are of lesser quality than pvc.

Firstly, I'd have to say that those yogis who report cycling through their 'eco' yoga mats within a few months or under a year of practice have a few things they should elaborate. Stating what type of 'eco' mat is important. There are some poor quality rubber mats out there (just like there are some crappy pvc mats). Also, exposing your rubber mat to the sun will further increase the breakdown of the rubber. TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) yoga mats aren't even truly 'eco' (check out 'My mat is made of copolymers' for more deets on TPE greenwashing), also accelerated flaking from sun exposure and are of lesser quality.

However, Jade Harmony (and my prAna revolution mat) are both higher quality and if cared for properly should last the length of your yoga practice.

Further, for the most part they're yoga instructors who partake in a full daily practice (or even several times of day). Hold up your hand if you practice a vigorous, hand gripping, foot sliding and body jumping asana 5 to 7 days a week (or more). Keep your hand up if you're a yoga instructor. Although becoming a yoga instructor is becoming the new 'it' thing, they remain a small percentage of yogi practitioners and do NOT represent the typical yogi.

The slippery complaint really just has to do with the first few practices and use. It fades away and I only ever notice a bit more 'slip' after I wash my mat- it goes away after the first post-wash practice.

Myth 2: Eco Yoga Mats are an empty environmental gesture and don't really make a difference.

According to different sources (most recently npr) between twenty and thirty MILLION people practice yoga in the United States alone. If we're conservative and add another 10 million for Canada, maybe another 10 million globally and take the lower USA number- that's 40 million people with a yoga mat. 40 MILLION YOGA MATS. (and that doesn't include studio mats and those people who have two, or three mats)

The Manduka black mat weighs 7lbs.

That's 280 million pounds or 127 005 metric tonnes of PVC

Polyvinyl chloride (pvc) yoga mats last forever because of just that- plastic lasts FOREVER. By this I mean not one piece of plastic ever created that hasn't been burned (releasing toxic flames into the air we breathe) since the 1960's has yet to disappear from this world. Every single piece of plastic is still in existence, either in complete original form leaching chemicals into the soil where it rests, off gassing into the inhabitant's home or has been transformed into tiny plastic bubbles (nurdles) that are being ingested by aquatic life and thus eventually humans (The World Without Us, Alan Weisman).

Since as far as we can tell plastic will last forever, and pvc is one of the most difficult plastics to recycle (Greenpeace) many pvc mats will end up in the landfill. Often landfills catch on fire, and once pvc burns it releases an extremely toxic chemical called dioxins. These chemicals have been found to be extremely dangerous to humans (known carcinogen) and bioaccumulate- discovered in the majority of American women's breast milk (wiki and Ecoholic 2006).

Your pvc yoga mat will continue to pollute this earth after you and your yoga practice move on to the next part of your spirit journey.

During her amazing lecture at Dalhousie University on Monday, Dr. Vandana Shiva spoke of the social culture of 'individual vs community' in response to the question: "How can we make a difference?". She answered that the competitiveness and corporate culture of the western world has encouraged the false belief that we are alone. That we are individuals.

This isn't true. We are not single individuals; as a social being we interact, we communicate, we create change. We are part of a community of ever increasing circles in this pond we call our home.

280 million pounds of toxic pvc isn't insignificant. Making the decision to bring your yoga practice into alignment with ahimsa (non-harming) of our planet and our health isn't insignificant.

Instead of fostering a feeling of helplessness, or isolation, we need to start recognizing our amazing ability to connect and foster change. 

And that's why Eco Yoga Mats Don't Suck.

article and photograph copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. I think people should just buy less of everything. And consider ways to do asana practice without a mat sometimes. The wear and tear on a mat can be greatly reduced if you practice outside a few days a week (during good weather), for example. You're right that Brown's post was kind of simplistic and misleading. I'm just a bit jaded with yoga culture, which is so steeped in buying expensive products and spending piles of money on workshops and retreats. If it were just eco mats, I'd say great, go for it! But I feel a little like Brown in that middle and upper class folks seem to think that buying more of "the right thing" is environmentally intelligent. Which is just false.

  2. @Nathan: I agree 100%. We do live in a culture where eco-consumerism has begun to overshadow the real problem- consumerism.

    That said: perhaps I was being a bit sensitive to his title, but I found his commentary was that eco-mats aren't good quality, don't last, are expensive and thus aren't really the green option compared to a pvc mat that is cheaper and will last longer.

    Since his alternative was pvc, i take issue with that. If his alternative would have been any other 'eco' option- like jute, cotton/cloth or like you said- nothing, I wouldn't have been so miffed.

  3. I think eco-friendly mats are great since it gives us a sense of being environmentally friendly. However, having no mat at all and just feel bare grass would also be more nature friendly.

  4. My prana natural rubber mat has lasted longer than any non-rubber mat that I have ever bought. Sure, it's a bit worn, but it's going on 3 years and I'm sure it has another 3-5 in it, maybe more!

    It was expensive though, and I wish there were eco options that were more accessible to more people!

  5. This is why I like to borrow a studio mat and leave my own mat at home...whether out teaching or taking a yoga class. I get more wear out of my own mat with home practice,and more of the yoga studio's community vibe/ perspective with a borrowed mat.You know, kind of like walking a mile in someone else's shoes...Yoga started out without pvc or rubber mats, so there's gotta be a way to kick it old-school. I would rather model being conservative with my yoga purchases,eco- or not,using what is perfectly good at that moment. That said,I am already eyeing the backyard for some practices with a beach towel.


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.