When your eco-friendly yoga mat is toxic

When your eco-friendly yoga mat is toxic - deciphering marketing speak to find a safe yoga mat | Living Consciously Blog

Over the past month, I have been on the search for a new yoga mat to take with me on retreat to complete my 225 yoga teacher training. For the past year, I’ve been using the prAna Indigena natural rubber mat (affiliate link), which I love! Barely any slipping. But, because it is all rubber, it is 7 lbs. Not ideal for squeezing into a carryon in a plane. And we’ll be sitting on the mat during our classroom times, instead of a chair. The prAna is 3-4mm thick, which is fine for my regular practice (I don’t need cushioning), but I wanted to move up to a 5mm thickness for the retreat.

Unfortunately, I’ve found the process of buying a toxin-free yoga mat fraught with difficulties, primarily in the form of deceptive marketing language. Sure, if you search Amazon or Google for “eco-friendly yoga mat”, you’ll come up with plenty of options. Or what companies present as viable options. But how do you really know if your yoga mat is toxic or not?

The phrase “eco-friendly” in the description of a yoga mat does NOT mean it is free of toxins

Here is a list of things that I have found companies to claim as eco-friendly in yoga mats:

  • uses PVC, but was manufactured within EPA standards for emissions at the plant
  • part or all of the mat will biodegrade (eventually)
  • eco-friendly manufacturing processes
  • doesn’t use 6 of the highest-toxin phthalates banned by the EU (which are NOT banned in the US)
  • marketing copy attaches the word “natural” to materials such as “polyurethane”
  • uses the phrase “eco-friendly” but does not disclose the materials of which the mat is composed AT ALL

Can you see what is wrong with each of these?? It’s possible that none of these mats are actually toxin-free!  It’s all marketing speak that means nothing. I will outline the problems with each of these bullet points.

Eco-friendly manufacturing processes. A phrase that could mean anything. It could mean that they recycle the trash in their break room. It could mean that they use low-flow toilets at the manufacturing plant. Or that they have an LEED-certified building. It could ideally mean that the plant producing the mats disposes of waste properly. That would be nice. However, “proper” disposal of chemicals does not equal ethical or environmentally friendly — remember that it is often perfectly legal to dump your toxic sludge into ponds and lakes as long as you have the proper permits. There is a huge amount of leeway in the claim of eco-friendly manufacturing, so much that it literally means nothing to me when making the decision to purchase the mat or not.

Biodegradable mat. There’s also a lot of wiggle room here because the most common phrase is “biodegradable components”. Meaning that only a percentage of the components used in the mat might be biodegradable. It might be 10%, 20% or even 50%. And perhaps it’s 100% — great! But I still want to know what chemicals the surface contains, regardless of whether they biodegrade.

Of course I want to buy a mat that is environmentally responsible in both manufacturing process and when it comes to the end-of-life of the mat (i.e., I want it to be fully biodegradable without leeching toxins in the breakdown process). But equally or more important is avoiding toxic chemicals coming off the mat when I’m using it.

PVC free. Definitely something I look for, but unless the company discloses what the mat IS made of, it’s not enough. The most common alternatives to PVC in a yoga mat are polyurethane (a highly off-gassing plastic, see the paragraph about phthalates, below), or Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPEs). TPE is a blanket term for any number of materials.  Here is a breakdown of all the materials that fall under the name TPE, including some forms of PVC! So just because the mat claims to be PVC-free doesn’t actually mean that it is. Even if the TPE’s used are PVC-free, they are wide open to contain plastics with phthalates.

Free of the Big 6 phthalates. Phthalates are a big deal to me because they are hormone disrupting chemicals. They are most often inhaled through the off-gassing of plastics, because most plastic contains chemical phthalates for softness and flexibility. Throughout the lifetime of a plastic, the surface constantly releases these chemicals as the material slowly breaks down. Plastics are not stable chemical products — you may have noticed that plastic becomes more brittle as it ages, due to the phthalates leaching out as the chemicals return to their original states. The phthalates released from plastics are not only inhaled, but also absorbed by the skin. The feet have the most pores in the body, and our feet are in constant contact with a yoga mat. So avoiding phthalates in your yoga mat is VERY IMPORTANT!

There are hundreds of chemicals in the phthalate family. The EU has identified 6 phthalates that pose such a severe risk that they have been banned in EU countries. They have not been banned in the US. While it’s definitely a positive step for a company to make a mat without the top 6 most toxic phthalates, it doesn’t mean they didn’t use the hundreds of other phthalates available. So the marketing tactic of avoiding the Big 6 is really not enough to protect our health on the mat.

In the end, I have come back to the conclusion that I came to when I bought my current mat several years ago: the only truly non-toxic mat is one that is made of pure natural rubber. The prAna Indigena mat is one option, but the other mats prAna makes, including the E.C.O. mat, are not rubber. The not-so-E.C.O. is made of TPE’s and the prAna site contains no information regarding what components the company chose to use, whether PVC or phthalates or synthetic rubber.

I have finally settled on a Manduka eKo Lite mat, which I have experienced at the studio where I practice. It is all rubber but a tad lighter (~ 1-2 lbs lighter) than my current mat. It is, unfortunately, about the same thickness. I will definitely be bringing my grippy yoga towel (affiliate link) to sit on, and looking for another one at local stores.

What yoga mat to do you use and why? Do you know what your mat is made of?
 

Living Consciously Holiday Gift Guide 2014

I’ve never done a Holiday Gift Guide before, but this year I really learned about some great brands and products that I think will truly help you give (or receive) this season in a way that will help you live more consciously in 2015, so I had to share! Please note that I do have an affiliate relationship with some of these brands, or that I might have received free products the first time I tried them, so that I would know whether I wanted to recommend them to you. I have noted which and what applies with an asterisk or affiliate relationship marked in parentheses.

My hope is that you will be able to find some amazing non-toxic gifts for anyone on your list, while giving back (see Soapbox Soaps) and supporting small businesses.

Happy Holidays!

GiftGuideKids2014v2For the Kids

Bendi Baby Yoga Mat (affiliate link) – A yoga mat specifically made to be as tall as your child and light enough to carry! Comes in two sizes: Baby and Tot. Make sure to follow them on Instagram, they have some adorable pictures!

Kids Yoga Stories – I used these books when I taught Kids Yoga and the kids LOVED them. Now there is also a set of flashcards with children doing poses to make learning the yoga poses easy for kids. I’d also recommend signing up for the weekly newsletter on this site, which comes with really neat pose sequences that you can do with your child at home.

Mama May I Shop* – An adorable boutique of handmade, sustainable toys for all ages. My kids (ages 3 and 5) absolutely LOVE telling stories to Daddy and I at night and listening to us make up stories for them with Story Starters. These handmade wooden dice have pictures printed on them in eco-friendly ink. You roll them and make up stories! They come in a metal tin with a little notebook for recording your best stories. Other toys we were interested in included play silks, Fairy Friends, and the assortment of crayon wallets!

Musical Instruments – More of a general suggestion, I wanted to include this because we recently purchased both a child’s guitar (affiliate link) and a full junior drum set (affiliate link) for our son, even though I honestly thought we were insane to do it (especially when it came to the drum set). But it hasn’t been a terrible idea, actually. I have noticed he has much better rhythm and it gives him a constructive way to use his energy. We started at the age of about 2 with this simple Melissa & Doug music set (affiliate link).

 GiftGuideAnyone2014v2Eco-friendly non-toxic gifts for anyone

Vitamix blender (affiliate link) – Although this is more of a dream item for most people, it’s absolutely worth the price tag, in my opinion! I got mine for Mother’s Day this year (2014) and still use it every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Make your own nut milk, nut butters, soups, hummus, smoothies, and even juice with your Vitamix to avoid additives and preservatives in processed foods. For ideas, check out my Vitamix recipe Pinterest board.

Board & Batten Farm to Skin* – A new concept in luxury skin and body care, this company has a “Farm to Skin” philosophy — their products are created from raw materials taken from their own farm in Florida. On their site you can purchase soy candles, charcoal soap, body creme, and a full skin care line, all packaged beautifully and ready to gift. I have tried the “Begin Again” facial buff made of organic quinoa and fruit enzymes and loved how simple yet effective it was! If you just can’t decide on a gift, try a pre-assembled gift set bundle.

Soapbox Soap Holiday Bundle* – One of my favorite discoveries at ShiftCon this year, Soapbox Soaps are in the business of giving back to those in need year-round. Every time you purchase a soap, body wash, or body lotion from Soapbox Soaps, they will donate an equivalent value to someone in need. For example, buy their famous charcoal soap and they’ll give a bar of soap to someone who doesn’t have access to soap. Buy a body wash and they donate an entire month’s worth of water to areas with no access to clean water. For a bottle of lotion, one year of vitamins to undernourished populations. My favorite item for gifting is the Holiday Gift Bundle, the purchase of which provides a bar of soap, a month of water AND a year of vitamins to someone in need!

Dolly Moo products – I won a package of Dolly Moo products in a yoga challenge this year and the scrubs quickly became my favorite. I love that the body products are made of ingredients I recognize and that all the scents come from essential oils. She also makes dried sage smudge sticks for cleansing the home. The company has a lovely Instagram page and is very committed to the yoga community in particular. Bonus: the scrubs also stand in for shaving cream on legs, leaving your legs luxuriously moisturized! Two products for the price of one!

Living Consciously Blog's Non-Toxic Gift Guide Stockings Stuffers 2014 Non-toxic Stocking stuffers/Secret Santa suggestions

Nutiva O’Coconut coconut nuggets – I loved finding these low-sugar (3g) GMO-free Fair Trade treats in my ShiftCon swag bag so much that I ordered more of my own from Vitacost.com. Flavors are Original and Hemp & Chia. The ingredients are healthy but the taste is like candy! They can be difficult to find locally, but if you have a Natural Grocer or Whole Foods near you, try the treat section. Or just buy through Vitacost (affiliate link).

Dang coconut chips Dark Chocolate – Coconut chips dipped in dark chocolate! Yum! Fair Trade, GMO free, and low in sugar. Very easy to find at any local health food store, but also available on Vitacost (affiliate link).

Miessence Rose Monsoon Hydrating Mist – The brand is committed to 100% organic skin care ingredients, and it’s a great place to find any body products or even probiotics, but their moisturizing rose water spray is something that everyone can use! Just this week I spent too much time in front of the fireplace and felt smokey — I sprayed a fine mist of the rose water all over my hair and face and the smokiness was gone! An instant mood brightener during hectic holidays, you might actually want to grab some for yourself as well as your friend. There is a discount with a purchase over $150. Be sure to click on her “Special Offers” for botanical perfumes currently more than half off!

Earth Mama Angel Baby Lotions – Not just for new moms and babies anymore! Here’s my last-minute pampering suggestion: Earth Mama has come out with 2 brand new lotion scents that make great teacher gifts, and you can run to your local Sprouts or Target as late as 10pm the night before and grab a bottle for $10! Put it in a cute bag with a note about how you trust your little one with such a great teacher every day and you’re done! They have all kinds of great stocking stuffers, from relaxing herbal teas to non-toxic lip balms (which are our family’s personal favorite chapstick option!) If you do want to buy online, you can always buy from Amazon (affiliate link) or directly from their web site.

 

* All items marked with an asterisk were given to me to sample by the company at some point in 2014. I liked them so much that I proceeded to purchase them with my own money and/or use them regularly. I did NOT get paid to mention any of them in this gift guide.