I recently caught up with a friend who just started hot yoga. "I contracted a pretty bad infection at my hot yoga studio. I was using one of their studio mats. I nearly lost a finger!" he said as he showed me a bandaged hand.
It’s a scary thought. Could your daily yoga practice actually be detrimental to your health and wellbeing?
Alright, let’s deal with the really cheap yoga mats. Most yoga mats are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is known to be the most toxic plastic on the planet. PVC is toxic during every stage of its life cycle. It is toxic during its manufacture; it is toxic to the consumers; and it is toxic during its disposal. Then there are other harmful chemicals used in the manufacture and dyeing of yoga mats:
BPA - exposure to which has been shown to have harmful effect on the brain, behaviour and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.
Lead – which can cause permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system in children. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage.
Phthalates – which can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.
Dioxins – which may result in skin lesions, such as chloracne and patchy darkening of the skin.
Other chemicals found in mats recently such as organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) have been linked to infertility in adults!
And these are just the chemicals – there is a whole biological ecosystem flourishing on your yoga mat which can cause you harm. And your heated studio provides the perfect conditions for these germs and microbes to breed and multiply.
A yoga mat can be a rolled up giant Petri dish.
Bacteria can survive on the surface of your yoga mat for several days and viruses can linger for several weeks. Making skin contact with a dirty yoga mat covered in germs and bacteria can lead to skin infections, acne, toenail fungus and even transfer of the herpes virus and staph and strep infections in susceptible individuals.
So what can you do about it?
First, invest in your own yoga mat (instead of using mats supplied by the studio) and clean it regularly. There are plenty of yoga mat sprays in the market. We recommend making your own with 10 parts water and 1 part vinegar. Feel free to add essential oils such as tea tree for a nice scent.
Second, get a good quality yoga mat. Many reputed yoga companies such as Jade and Manduka supply non-toxic rubber yoga mats. Some of these mats may come with anti-bacterial coatings. We have even seen a few mats that come with an added layer of ionic silver which is resistant to bacteria. However, these coatings have been known to wear down with time and use.
Then there are naturally innovative options like cork yoga mats. Cork is antimicrobial. It naturally resists mould, fungus and bacteria. It is easier to keep clean than any mat surface and it will also naturally resist odour. Cork has demonstrated high antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, with a bacterial reduction of 97% after 90 minutes of incubation. A more reduced but time-constant antibacterial action was also observed against Escherichia coli.
So our yoga mat essentially corkblocks Staph and E. Coli
A good quality cork mat provides a simple solution to a relatively complex problem. Being a natural material, the cork surface is free from the aforementioned cocktail of chemicals. The inks used for printing designs can be plant based. And the base can be made from sustainably tapped natural rubber to offer the right combination of grip and support. Why go around researching chemicals and coatings, when nature can already provide the solution? Learn more about the materials used in our cork yoga mats here.