by Sydney Solis
Yoga mats. They are indispensable for practicing, at least in the West. I often wonder if Sadus in India ever use any. I hear that in Cuba people don’t even have yoga mats but use flattened cardboard boxes instead. My own yoga mats have quite a history.
The first yoga mat I ever had was light blue and squishy. I purchased it from teacher Patricia Hansen whose hatha yoga class I took in 1993 when I was a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She gave me a B for a final grade in yoga because I flunked the midterm exam on yoga philosophy. I was furious! I thought yoga was for the body! I was just there for stress release! Now I love yoga philosophy, and part of that philosophy is that I buy very few things, hang on to everything, reduce, reuse and recycle and eschew America’s throw-away culture. I did finally throw out that mat out after usage had worn it down to the threads. You could see the impressions where my feet stood!
Ten years after graduating college I became a yoga teacher, and a friend got me at discount a ton of Hugger Mugger mats to tote around to my kids yoga classes. Hugger Mugger was all the rage about 10 years ago. They had great yoga clothes too. I still have many of the mats. They are still pretty squishy, lightweight, colorful and I can just throw them in the washing machine and they come clean. They have lost a lot of their grip from washing and wear and tear, but they still come in handy when you need a mat for a bunch of kids at a family class! I sp
end summers in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, and I had accidentally left some mats out in my father’s backyard. The mats were a mess after 9-months of rain and snow and not sure I could salvage them. I thought about the landfill and where my first yoga mat ended, so could not throw it away. I thought they might make great weed barrier coverage in the garden. Currently my father is using them as a cover for his outdoor grill. I will see if they can wash up in a machine when I am back in Boulder this summer!
Ok, ok. You may be wondering. What kind of a person leaves yoga mats outside for 9 months? Do I take care of things or not? Generally, yes, but hey, I’m a single widowed mom with two kids running her own business! Stuff gets disorganized, messy. That’s why we do the yoga, right? Help us deal! So you will pardon the mice or some creature that ate at the edges of the colorful Gaiam yoga m
ats I purchased to make my kids yoga DVD, Storytime Yoga® The Peddler’s Dream (which was featured on PBS in 2008 I am proud to report!!!) I was living in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and I stored the mats outside on the gallery porch of the house where I practiced and taught yoga. The Gaiam mats to this day still have a decent grip, although not “sticky” and they clean up easy in the washing machine. They are pretty thin and I need to double them up on a hardwood floor or concrete.
I found out a few years ago that yoga mats are made with PVC, polyvinyl chloride, and that freaked me out. I thought about some Chinese wage-slave who has to inhale those fumes during the manufacturing process just so I can do yoga. A cardboard box was sounding like the best mat for me! Plus what about kids? I teach kids, so there are a bunch of kids yoga mats out there. Kids roll those things up, roll around on them, turn them into blankets, maybe even lick them! Making sure they are non-toxic is essential.
I met the original founder of Lazy Lizards Kids Yoga mats years ago when they were not PVC free. The mats are really cute and perfect for pint-sized yogis, and I loaded my little grand-nieces and nephew up with some mats that are now PVC free. Thanks goodness! Considering these chemicals to make mats are showing up in food, egads! Eco is so important! Not that I think little kids need their own yoga mat and be encouraged to consume yoga. I think it’s a consumer mentality to have kid-sized yoga mats (remember the cardboard box! Better for the imagination, in my book!) I think adult yoga mats are fine for kids. Kids don’t need stuff. Sure, a mat will mark the spot for a kid, but really we are trying to teach yoga and attention and body awareness, not MY YOGA MAT. But kids need yoga and connection to good adults to model good ethics and practice. But hey, it’s America where citizenry is equated with consumption, and the Lazy Lizard mats are cute. I think they are more for parents than kids! And they make great gifts. Looking online, spiritual materialism has crept into yoga mats. Hindu Gods are even a fashion accessory, and some people were not amused and sued to have Ganesha taken off pants. (Agreed! Wear Ganesha on the inside!)
But I digress. Back to yoga mats. The more I researched PVC, the more freaked out I got! This woman wrote a nice summary of yoga mat toxins in her blog. Here is the low-down horror story on toxic foam for kids.
Continuing on my yoga mat evolution and reincarnation, I got a free Manduka yoga mat when I taught kids yoga at the Telluride Yoga Fest back in 2007. This mat was awesome, albeit heavy. I loved the thickness for my bony knees to protect against hard floors, but lamented the weight so when I travelled, I tucked in a Hugger Mugger or Gaiam yoga mat in my suitcase instead. (Every time the TSA inspected my bag and I got a little card telling me so. They must have thought my yoga mat was a shotgun, especially when I bent it slightly to fit. Ditto being scanned as a carry on in a yoga mat carry-case. The TSA sent it through twice, her eyebrows looking seriously mystified at the potential contents, and I ultimately was ordered to remove it from the carry bag. “Oh! A yoga mat!” the TSA agent laughed in relieved surprise. “Do you do yoga? That’s great!”
I digress again. I still have that Manduka mat. It is like an iron horse. It has survived being left out in the rain, even years of my dogs laying all over it. It survived the laundry machine, however, that may have killed its grip as it’s rather slippery. But I still won’t give up that mat just yet. It makes a great outdoor yard mat. A Muslim friend who was visiting recently covered it with a blanket and used it to pray out door in the garden.
Manduka is made with PVC, but its Pro mat does feature an eKO mat PVC, which is eco-friendly! Manduka’s website says, “The Manduka PRO Series is known as the Taj Mahal of yoga mats, the most sustainable mat on the market for 10+ years. Made of an eco-certified PVC material and manufactured emissions free, this mat is a durable eco-friendly choice.” Now I don’t know about it being the Taj Mahal of yoga mats, but my knees say Thank you, Jesus! when practicing on hard floors. The Manduka mat is also biodegradable. Wow! I guess I could ultimately really could use it as a weed barrier in my garden, huh? Manduka had a yoga mat recycling kit, but no longer offers it. They suggest you still recycle it through.
Finally, 2014; enter the Barefoot Yoga Hybrid Eco Mat. I needed a new mat, and the universe provided. Barefoot sent me a yoga mat to review. I am rarely influenced by advertising and brands. I am not into image or look. I cannot tell on the road one car brand from another usually. My kids kept yelling, “Fiat, Fiat!” or “Slug Bug, Slug bug!” And I learned about the brand of those cars that way. Would I buy the Barefoot Yoga eco yoga mat? Yes, and here’s why. (I would buy some of their cute clothes online too, if I were a 25-year-old. HINT to yoga clothes makers. A massive market of 40 + yoga consumers is growing older all the time and loving yoga more and more we don’t want to look like a 25-year-old and likely won’t be caught dead at one of these yoga conferences where everybody looks 25-years old and a tattooed lizard!)
I do like this little yoga mat. It’s lightweight, and the color is beautiful. A sea blue green that reminds me of the Caribbean Sea. It’s super sticky and great grip. It is thin and lightweight. I carried it with me to a Energy Transmission yoga day with Amrit Desai in Orlando. It was great to double up and sit on. Knees are always a problem, but hey. It doesn’t have a funny smell, as I found out during child’s pose, and I like that it doesn’t have a lot of texture, so it’s smooth to the touch. Here is some good eco news from the company:
Our signature Hybrid mats combine the best of eco-friendly and traditional mats. They are better for the environment and your health than traditional PVC mats with long lasting performance. The mesh scrim (the “skeleton” of the mat) is made from 100% recycled polyester, which contributes to its longevity and strength. Our Hybrid Mats do not contain phthalates or heavy metals, and the method of production is completely non-toxic and latex free.
The wrap covering this yoga mat is made from eco-friendly POF (Polyolefin), which is a poly resin and completely bio-degradable. The sleeve insert is also printed with soy-based ink. A long-lasting, high quality, affordable, and no nonsense yoga mat for every type of yoga.
Now I know there are other eco-mats out there on the market, and I’m sure yoga mat biz is cutthroat these days. Researching the web, people rate Barefoot well for eco yoga mats. It’s downside other reviewers said that because it’s made of natural fibers is that it may not be durable. Well! We shall see, considering I’m so hard on stuff. It says it’s not machine washable, which bothers me, as you know of my care problems that a machine wash tends to solve. Since it’s the new baby on the block, the Barefoot Eco mat stays inside and pampered like a poodle. So I will update you on wear and tear and washing over time.
I also crammed the Barefoot Yoga mat into my little suitcase when I recently went to the Florida Storyteller’s Association Story Fest. It bounced back to its crease-free shape instantly! I can’t say that about other mats I’ve had! So the TSA won’t freak out when I cram it in my suitcase when I leave for St. Croix this Thursday!
Would I buy this mat if it were not given to me free to review? Yes. I really value eco products. It is essential. Even the shrink wrap was eco friendly and the text on the info sheet was made with soy-based inks. Those kinds of values are important to me and it creates brand loyalty. Eco consciousness and sustainability are the future (as it should have always been from time immemorial.) My health is important to me, are the kids I teach as well as the workers’ of the world. I don’t want them breathing in toxic chemicals and I don’t want slaves making my products in China and harming their health either. (The Barefoot hybrid eco mat was made in Taiwan and was told the factories are good to their workers. That is so important.) When I did child’s pose, I could breathe deep, knowing I was not going to come down with lung cancer. So in a competitive yoga world, how to stand out? A good product and ethics. Ethics of a fee-good company and the story of where that product came from. So kuddos to Barefoot. It’s a good brand, a good product and a great company. That gives me a good feeling when I am on that mat. I will have to get a fresh supply of Barefoot Yoga mats for new kids yoga classes I’m teaching at the Light House Children’s Museum in DeLand, Florida.
Ok, so now the old yoga mats will really now become weed barriers under rocks in my father’s yard!
Namaste and Have a Magical Day!