Yoga Mats – How do you choose?

A short article highlighting the three most important things to think about when buying a yoga mat.

Ow! …… you’re supposed to be serene but, your ankles are digging into the floor, your knees are killing you and your yoga mat stinks. Why did you bother!

But, don’t give up on the asanas yet, just buy yourself a decent yoga mat.

Most of us start off with a cheap, thin, sticky yoga mat from the local sports store. But there’s such a huge range of yoga mats available online – how do you choose?

Here are the most important points -

Safety
Don’t slip up. Make sure your new yoga mat is safe. Decent grip is essential in a yoga mat. Yoga sticky mats grip the floor and provide good grip for your hands and feet but, sweat can be a problem. If you perform the more active or hot styles of yoga you should consider more absorbent yoga mats or yoga towels (these are a thin fabric covering designed to provide extra grip on top of other yoga mats).

General sports workout mats don’t work for yoga. I’ve tried them, don’t waste your money. They tend to be too hard, too soft or too slippery.

There are serious health concerns over the potentially harmful and environmentally damaging chemicals used in some yoga mats. PVC is used in the production of most yoga mats. The manufacturing process is environmentally damaging and the yoga mats themselves can give off toxic chemicals over time (including phthalates). Many of the eco-friendly yoga mats use latex and rubber instead. These are natural products but some people have allergies. New materials are used in some of the premium yoga mats which solve both these problems. Make sure you do your homework.

There is some debate over viral, bacterial or fungal infection from dirty yoga mats and it is possible to buy antimicrobial (Microban) yoga mats.

Comfort
Yoga mats provide a cushion between the hard floor and your body. The thicker the mat you buy for yoga, the more comfortable it will be. Cheap, sticky yoga mats are thin at usually 1/8th of an inch, and your knees and ankles can push through to the floor (ouch). Premium yoga mats are usually 1/4 inch thick and much more comfortable but, if your yoga mat is too soft you lose your balance. Look for a combination of comfort and firmness.

Style
Style is much more than just a choice of plain or patterned. You can go organic, eco friendly, ethnic, natural, bio degradable or high tech, budget or premium, American, European, Japanese, Mexican or even authentic Indian. Patterns and colours are virtually unlimited and you can even have your yoga mat custom designed and printed. Alignment yoga mats are printed with lines to help your posture.

Don’t be limited by size. Yoga mats are usually 2’ by 6’ but you can buy longer yoga mats (good for taller people) and wider yoga mats. Then you have a choice of materials; sticky, eco sticky, cotton, wool, jute, rubber, or even lavender filled fleece and faux leather!

Search the internet, choose what suits you best and make your yoga practice even more of a pleasure.

Oh, and don’t forget the yoga mat bag …………..!

Mats Yoga

Grow your own natural yoga mat!

Should I just buy a cheap mat for yoga?

If you want to buy a discount yoga mat make sure it’s a discount eco yoga mat and not a cheap pvc yoga mat

Everyone I know started practising yoga with a standard discount sticky yoga mat.  Dirt cheap and easily available you can understand why they are the default choice but, if you care about your health and the future of the planet, you need to think twice before making that purchase.

The majority of discount yoga mats are made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) most of us are so used to PVC products that we don’t give this a second thought but, we should.  Let me tell you why.

PVC

PVC is one of the most environmentally unfriendly materials ever produced.  It’s starting to be called the ‘poison plastic’. Most European countries have banned certain uses for health and environmental reasons. Most major motor manufacturers are phasing out the use of PVC in motor cars because of the environmental and health implications.

Phthalates

PVC is rigid in its original state so chemicals called phthalates are added (in large quantities – up to 60% by weight) to make the PVC flexible.  The phthalates are not chemically bound to the PVC so they leach out over time.  Phthalates have caused cancer, infertility, testicular damage, reduced sperm count, suppressed ovulation and abnormal testicular development in tests on lab animals.  They may also be linked to asthma and autism and are known to cross the placenta from mothers into developing embryos. These chemicals are constantly leaking out of your PVC yoga mat.

Dioxins

Apart from the phthalate leakage, PVC is apparently safe to use but, PVC production is the largest user of chlorine gas in the world.  Chlorine has some particularly nasty by-products.  Dioxin is one of these and is known to cause cancer in humans and is the most potent synthetic carcinogen ever tested on lab animals.  Dioxins damage the immune system, reproduction, development and the endocrine system and have also been linked to birth defects, endometriosis, inability to carry pregnancies to term and decreased fertility.  There is no ’safe dose’. They are soluble in fat so they build up in the body and concentrate higher up the food chain. They also cross the placenta and concentrate in breast milk.  Dioxins are now so widespread that they are found in the tissues of whales, polar bears and probably every human on the planet.  They do not naturally degrade, so they continue to build up in the environment.

Ethylene dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) are used in the production of PVC and both cause cancer in lab animals. VCM causes cancer in humans and increased risks of liver, brain, breast and testicular cancer are found in workers involved in production.

Heavy Metals

Mercury is used in the production of chlorine and large quantities are released into the environment.  Mercury causes neurological, developmental and severe reproductive damage.  Other additives can include lead and cadmium.

The saddest thing is that we don’t need to make plastics from toxic chemicals.  Henry Ford was producing plastics from soya beans in the 1930s!

If you still want a PVC discount yoga mat, you can buy them everywhere.  But why would you?  Buy a discount eco friendly yoga mat instead!

See the other articles on my blog for much better choices.

Check the facts here -

Our health and PVC: What’s the connection

Environmental impacts of PVC building materials




Mats Yoga

Trying not to ruin it

The Shakti Acupressure Mat

If you’re looking for something different in a yoga mat then the shakti mat is definitely that …… no pain, no gain?

What’s it all about?

The shakti mat is a soft padded organic cotton mat covered in plastic spikes.  Over 6000 of them!  It comes in either orange or green and was designed by a  former massage therapist.

Swedish Om Mokshananda used to be called Jonathon until, he visited the Himalayas and India to develop his yoga and meditation practice.  When he came back he designed the shakti mat based on a bed of nails.  It’s made by local women in Varanasi, India and profits go back into the community there.

The spikes on the shakti mat encourage your acupressure points to realease a cloud of happy endorphins, releiving stress and providing balance.  Regular use of the Shakti Mat may help you to achieve deep relaxation and renew your overall health and wellbeing.

Does it work?

Apparently so. It helps relieve muscle tension and insomnia and just revitalises you. 40 minutes a day is recommended but 10 minutes is the minimum.

Does it hurt?

Yep, although you lay a sheet on top of the shakti mat at first, which helps.  After a few minutes blood rushes to the acupressure points and the pain is replaced by heat.  Like those more punishing yoga poses, it’s worth it though.

How much is it?

You can buy a shakti mat online for about $40.

Where can I get one

Amazon of course …..  click on the photo to check it out here -

The Shakti Mat (TM) at Amazon






What are yoga mats made of?

You might be surprised to know what goes into yoga mats  – yoga might not be as healthy as you think.

Apparently, yogis used to sit on tiger skins, as a representation of the domination of the ego. Not a choice many of us would make today but, what are the alternatives and are they safe?

Standard Sticky Yoga Mats
These are cheap and cheerful but with some serious health and environmental concerns. The majority of standard yoga mats are made of PVC. To make them flexible they have phthalates added (as much as 60%). Phthalates are not chemically bound to the PVC so they leach out over time. Phthalates have been proven to cause genetic abnormalities to the sexual organs of male rats. In humans the feminisation of boys may be linked to exposure in the womb. The phthalate industry argues that there is no evidence of the same effect in humans but why take the risk?

This isn’t a scientific article, it’s about yoga mats, I like to take a balanced view of “scare stories” but I have been so surprised by the research I’ve done into phthalates and the environmental impact of PVC production. That I’ve written another blog post about it called ‘discount mats for yoga?’. If you have the time, check it out for yourself and make your own mind up but, I wouldn’t buy a PVC yoga mat again.

Eco Yoga Mats
These are foam type yoga mats that look and feel similar to standard sticky  yoga mats but, they are generally non toxic, environmentally friendly and biodegradable. Many contain latex (a natural rubber product) but some people suffer from latex allergies so beware.

TPE and PER are new plastics without the health and environmental concerns of PVC and without the allergy problems of latex. They combine grip and comfort with often impeccable eco credentials.

Rubber Yoga Mats
Natural rubber is a renewable resource tapped from rubber trees. Rubber yoga mats provide excellent cushioning and grip with durability. Perfect if you’re concerned about the environment but, some people complain about the smell and again they may not be suitable for latex allergy sufferers.

Jute/Seagrass Yoga Mats
Jute and Seagrass are also used in yoga mats. They are natural, hard wearing and sustainable but hard on their own, so they are usually combined with rubber in yoga mats to provide the padding and the grip.

Wool Yoga Mats
I have seen sheepskins recommended as yoga mats. These would be very comfortable for some poses but, unless you can grip the wool between your toes, very slippery. Felted woollen blankets can also be used as yoga mats but again grip and comfort is a problem.

Cotton Yoga Mats
Cotton yoga mats come in two main types -

The traditional decorative mat made of tightly woven cotton is good for the absorption of sweat in ashtanga yoga and grip increases as the mat gets wetter. Many people like the traditional look and style of these yoga mats but they are much thinner than foam yoga mats and for this reason most are used on top of a foam yoga mat. Be aware that many yoga mats advertised as ‘traditional’ are in fact made of man made fibers. Not necessarily a problem, but do your homework if you’d rather have natural cotton.

Stuffed or futon style, extra thick cotton yoga mats are great for comfort and, perfect for relaxation but, virtually impossible for balance.  They are designed for restorative yoga and meditation and are generally used only for sitting and laying on.  They’re too bulky for a yoga class and unsuitable for standing poses but fantastic for relaxing at home.  They will also slip on wooden floors so you may want to put a sticky yoga mat underneath.

If you want to redesign your home some people have entirely replaced sofas and chairs with extra thick cotton yoga mats.

They are usually made with a cotton outer layer and stuffed with padding. This padding could be natural or man made and can give off toxins so again, do your homework.

If you practice yoga you most likely care about your health and the environment.  In which case choose a yoga mat that reflects those concerns.  There are plenty of healthy choices, but it definitely pays to stay informed.

Pass Up the Poison Plastic – the PVC-Free Guide for Your Family & Home




Mats Yoga

How much did your yoga mat cost?



Six of the best eco yoga mats

A short article giving you some pointers to buying the best eco mat for yoga.

Here are six of the best eco friendly mats for yoga that won’t damage your health or cost the earth!

BEAN PRODUCTS
Bean Products Inc has been proudly manufacturing eco friendly yoga mats in the USA since 1987. Based in Chicago, IL, they describe themselves as “passionate about our planet and crazy about comfort”.

Their Extra Thick High Density Clean PVC Yoga Mat is long at 72 inches and double thick at ¼ inch (6.3mm). It comes in a range of colors and is also washable. This eco yoga mat is a low priced, high performance, easy care, premium eco yoga mat that is environmentally friendly. It is manufactured using an ecologically safer method of production and is made of PER (Polymer Environmental Resin). It does not contain dioxins, toxic phthalates or heavy metals.

AURORAE
Dennis Ingui, President of Aurorae started this New Jersey based company from the passion he developed for yoga as a cancer survivor nine years ago.

The Aurorae Eco Yoga Mat is 72 inches long, ¼ inch thick and comes in a range of colors with a focal point icon to aid concentration. It’s manufactured from a newly designed eco friendly material and is good value, easy to care for and durable. Machine washing on a hot setting is actively encouraged to break this eco yoga mat in.

MANDUKA
Based in California, Manduka have been producing what is generally recognised as the ultimate mat for yoga for the last ten years. If you want the best, and don’t mind paying for it, many people think this is it.

The legendary Manduka BlackMatPRO Yoga and Pilates Mat is so durable it carries a lifetime guarantee and is well known for its dense cushioning and fabric finished non slip surface. It comes in 71 inch and 85 inch lengths, is 26 inches wide.  The Manduka BlackMatPRO though, is a heavy yoga mat, ¼ inch thick and weighing 7lbs (making it less transportable than lighter mats).

The company is firmly committed to environmentally friendly production but, the BlackMatPRO does include PVC.  However, it is so durable that you may only ever need one Manduka BlackMatPRO.  This is arguably better for the environment than buying and throwing away possibly several yoga mats over your lifetime.  Manduka also produce a more eco friendly natural rubber and sea-grass mat known as the Manduka eKO Yoga Mat

JADE YOGA
Jade Yoga grew out of Jade Industries, a company that had been making non-slip natural rubber products since the early 1970s and developed the Harmony, the first natural rubber yoga mat, in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

Jade Yoga’s most popular premium eco yoga mat, the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat comes in either 68 or 74 inch lengths and is 3/16 ths of an inch thick providing a good balance of traction and cushioning. It is made of natural rubber and contains no PVC.

AGILE
Agile Fitness was founded By New Yorker, Jim McDade, in 2006 and is dedicated to providing home workout programs via the internet but also produces exercise equipment.

The Agile Fitness Eco Yoga Mat is made of recyclable TPE, so it’s PVC-free, latex-free, durable, lightweight and biodegradable. It’s a comfortable yoga mat, ¼ inch thick, 24 inches wide and 68 inches long.

NATURAL FITNESS
Chicago based and founded in 2007 to provide a response to the low quality and environmentally harmful products seen in yoga and pilate’s studios.

The Natural Fitness Professional Natural Rubber Yoga Mat is, of course made of rubber and is 24 Inches wide by 69 inches long and 3/16 inch thick. This eco friendly yoga mat comes in a variety of two tone colors and is natural and bio-degradable.

All of the above are eco friendly yoga mats and they range in price from around $15 to getting on for $100.

Most of these companies sell their eco yoga mats direct to the public or through any the hundreds of online yoga supplies stores but, the easiest and cheapest way to buy eco yoga mats online is to use Amazon.com where you can also read through the hundreds of customer reviews for opinions and feedback.



Mats Yoga

The Eskimo Nebula in the constellation Gemini



How long wide and thick should a yoga mat be?

A short article helping you to choose a yoga mat that suits you perfectly.

The answer to the question of course, depends on how long wide and thick you are!

I’m just under 6 feet tall and 185 pounds. My feet or my head end up off the end of a standard yoga mat and my knees and ankles press painfully through to the studio floor. A towel under your joints is one answer but the better solution is to buy a bigger, thicker, more comfortable yoga mat.

Thickness

Standard discount yoga mats are about  1/8th of an inch thick and are usually too thin for comfort. Some stuffed cotton yoga mats are so thick they will even double up as occasional beds but, leaving health and eco concerns aside the most important thickness issue is balance. Many yoga postures call for a solid footing and good balance. If your yoga mat is too soft balance becomes much more difficult.

Most premium yoga mats are at least 1/4 of an inch thick but many also provide extra firmness to make up for this. If you like the grip and the construction of your standard yoga mat but, your weight pushes you through, or you suffer with arthritis, joint pain or simply sensitive ankles, elbows and knees, then you will really appreciate the much more comfortable 1/4 inch yoga mats.

The type of yoga you practice does have an impact on the type of  yoga mat you buy. With more active styles being more suited to thicker yoga mats.

Length and width

My guess is that the standard 2 feet wide by 6 feet long yoga mat was designed for petite women and limited studio space. Don’t be restricted by this. Yoga mats come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Up to 7 feet long and 3 feet wide is not at all unusual and, it’s possible to buy 6 feet square, or even round yoga mats (though I think my studio would charge me for the extra space!).  If you can’t find a yoga mat you like you can even have one custom made.

A longer yoga mat is great for taller people and you can buy shorter yoga mats for children. Wider yoga mats are good for keeping more of your body off the floor and in cramped classes can gain you that little bit of extra arm room.

Don’t be tempted to buy a general exercise mat for yoga. I’ve tried them and  they don’t work. The combination of grip, comfort and firmness needed in yoga is almost unique, and yoga mats are designed with this in mind.

A better yoga mat may only cost you $15 but it may make all the difference to your yoga practice. Talk to other yogis and yoginis, check out other peoples yoga mats and search the internet to find the perfect yoga mat for you.

Avoid cheap PVC mats the chemicals used in manufacture can damage your health.







Mats Yoga

Sometimes you need an extra thick yoga mat




How to wash or clean a yoga mat

A short article giving you the information you need to keep your yoga mat sweet and clean.

Sweaty, smelly and slightly disgusting after yoga? Well, YOU can jump in the shower but what about your yoga mat? Yoga mats are made of all sorts of things so it is always best to follow your manufacturer’s cleaning instructions but, here are a few guidelines.

Standard Sticky Yoga Mats

I’m not given to preaching but, if you bought a cheap PVC yoga mat to start out with please read up on the health hazards of phthalates and the environmental impact of PVC production. Read my article ‘discount yoga mats’ and you probably won’t bother to clean that yoga mat, you’ll just throw it away and buy a decent one. Enough said.

Eco Friendly Sticky Yoga Mats

Many of the premium eco yoga mats are fully machine washable at high temperatures but, if you’re not sure, machine wash at a lower temperature or, for the more faint-hearted, try just wiping your yoga mat with soapy water or give it a cool bath (I take mine in the shower)

NEVER TUMBLE DRY!

Many yoga stores sell solutions, sprays and wipes specifically for cleaning your  yoga mat but normal cleansing wipes will do just as well.

Cotton Yoga Mats

The big advantage of cotton yoga mats is that they should be easily machine washable. I’d recommend a low temperature as they can shrink and, be careful of natural colors running.  Again, if you’re unsure, hand wash your yoga mat in the bathtub.

The deep, thick, padded cotton yoga mats will come with specialist cleaning instructions from the manufacturer.

Rubber/Latex/Yoga Mats

Always follow the manufacturers guidelines.  These yoga mats are biodegradable so must be stored and washed with great care. They will degrade more quickly if left in the sun so don’t leave them in your car.

Keeping it clean

  • Your skin is naturally oily so wash your hands well before using your yoga mat
  • Lemon is a natural cleanser so mix fresh lemon juice with water to gently clean your yoga mat. If you keep this in a spray bottle in your yoga bag you can do it straight after yoga.
  • Avoid the use of lotions or creams on your hands or feet before yoga
  • Keep a cotton towel with you when you practice yoga to wipe sweat from yourself and your yoga mat.  I use a golf towel.  It’s about 3 inches wide and 4 feet long and doubles up as a strap.
  • Yoga mat bags are not just for decoration, many are designed to absorb sweat, so maybe invest in a yoga mat bag.







Mats Yoga

Time to wash that Yoga Mat