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Yoga and the Environment


ďIf you have done something meritorious, you experience pleasure and happiness; if wrong things, suffering. A happy or unhappy life is your own creation. Nobody else is responsible. If you remember this, you wonít find fault with anybody. You are your own best friend as well as your worst enemy. (99)Ē
― Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

Investing in earth friendly yoga gear isnít just trendy, it is in accord with the philosophies behind the practice of yoga, as found in the Yoga Sutras -- an ancient collection of Hindu texts that make up the foundation of yoga practice. The Sutras introduce Ashtanga Yoga, which illustrates through eight limbs (or steps) how we, the yogi, should relate to ourselves and our outside world. This may be an oversimplification of a very complex and dynamic philosophy and if you are interested, I found a free electronic version you can read in full online.

The first limb, Yama, prescribes how we relate to the outside world. Non violence, truth, abstinence, and non-materialistic beliefs are some of the tenets of this step. Obviously, this includes protecting and caring about the earth and mother nature, as care for the environment would be harmonious with belief in a simple, peaceful world. In todayís world of air conditioned, fluorescent-lit offices, 45-minute commutes, and humming computer screens, itís sometimes hard to integrate these beliefs into every aspect of modern living. I, for one, have never heard of an eco-friendly laptop (hint, hint, Apple!). 

For me, I try not to cut corners where I donít have to. I take my scooter to work when the weather is nice (100 miles to the gallon!), visit the local farmers market instead of the big box grocery store chains when purchasing produce, and buy eco-friendly yoga accessories. Going green in the yoga equipment department is important to me because not only do I find a more serene state of mind while meditating on a eco conscious yoga mat made from natural materials, the product holds up a lot better than a flimsy ⅛ inch mat made from PVC.

The first yogis in ancient India used to practice on soft grass outside. Today, and especially in the Western world, most people practice yoga in a gym, studio, or at home -- necessitating the use of a non-skid mat. Most mats on the market today are made from PVC, or polyvinyl chloride: a type of soft plastic that can be made softer and more flexible with the addition of phthalates. Phthalates are harmful to the environment because they do not achieve a stable adhesive bond when they are mixed with plastic and are released into the atmosphere where they linger. They are also, in general, not biodegradable. Phthalates are potentially harmful to the body. In product testing on animals, phthalates were linked to adverse health problems: birth defects, horomone levels, metabolic interference, and possibly cancer -- definitely not things that you want to be thinking about while meditating or doing yoga!

TPE mats are a second type of plastic mats. TPE stands for Thermal Plastic Elastomer: a newer rubber-like plastic composed of carbon and hydrogen (among other things). TPE mats are free from PVC, phthalates, and latex. TPE is also biodegradable and recyclable. That being said, they are still made of plastics and chemicals. Plastics and chemicals that are not as harmful as PVC, but not exactly earth friendly, either. Some people are allergic to rubber, so TPE yoga mats would make a good alternative to PVC for those with rubber allergies.

I am fortunate enough not to have any type of allergies, and can indulge myself in environmentally friendly yoga gear. The most common type of eco-conscious yoga mat is one made of natural rubber or natural rubber and jute. Rubber comes from rubber trees and jute is a plant fiber that is spun and woven into an all-natural fabric. A truly eco friendly yoga mat will be composed of 100% rubber or a combination of only rubber and jute. However, most eco mats are a blend of natural rubber with PVC-free and phthalate-free foam. My two favorite rubber-based eco friendly yoga mats are the Dragonfly Natural Rubber Performance Mat and the Jade Fusion Mat

There are drawbacks to choosing an eco friendly yoga mat... they are generally more expensive than PVC or TPE mats. You can expect to spend about the same as a performance mat: $50-$100, depending on brand. Rubber is much denser than plastic which is great for professional yogis or performance type practice, but not so great for carrying around: most weigh around 7 pounds! Also, rubber smells kind of bad. Have you ever been inside of a tire store? The smell isnít awful, but is quite pronounced and kind of hard to get rid of. Airing your mat out for a few days should get rid of most of the smell. Lastly, natural dyes and materials will fade in prolonged sunlight exposure. Grab a yoga mat bag to store an eco mat in and this shouldnít be a problem.

Rubber is the most popular, but not the only environmentally-friendly option for green yoga mats and props. Yoga Accessories sells a yoga mat made from organic cotton, yoga blocks made from recycled cork or recycled wood, yoga mat bags made from upcycled Vietnamese rice bags, Mexican yoga blankets made from 100% recycled fibers, and sustainable yoga apparel. We also enable a fair trade policy and ethical code of conduct.

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