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?
 

#shifthappens and what happened there

 

#shifthappens ShiftCon social media conference

As I mentioned before, I spent the last weekend in Los Angeles, California with an amazing group of women (and I heard there were some men attendees, but I never directly spoke to any except Gary Hirshberg). We all have different areas of focus; real food, organic, living waste-free, toxicant avoidance, pesticide reform, fitness, wellness, or nutrition. But what we had in common is the desire to shift the paradigm in this country. You can see our social media conversations by searching the #shifthappens hashtag on your favorite social media platform (we’re everywhere!).

I learned from the speakers, discussions, and side conversations this weekend that what we need to do is ask for what we want. It’s that simple. It’s so simple that you can do it too!

We are all in different places on our journeys to live more consciously. When we learn that the things we eat, what we put on our skin, what we buy for our children contain toxins that are making us sick, we can choose to be more and more afraid, to withdraw further into fear and paranoia… OR… Or we can vote with our wallet and seek out alternatives. We can choose not to participate in this cycle of cheap chemicals.

But it doesn’t even have to be as difficult as changing brands: we shouldn’t have to stop going to Starbucks. Instead, we need to be asking Starbucks to change(I did this weekend and I got some Twitter flack for it, as did several others involved in the Starbucks #organicmilknext campaign). I heard over and over from people like Robyn O’Brien and Vani Hari that when enough consumers ask a company to make a change, they respond. Chipolte did. Kraft didSubway did. Disney did.

You might notice those are not small companies, but they changed their ingredients. Why? Not because of regulation or legislation — but due to consumer demand. Of course, we will still work on the legislative front. Right now there are GMO labeling initiatives in Colorado and Oregon. If you are in those states, please vote for labeling!

I, however, am not in a state that is ever likely to vote to label GMO’s. So all I can do is vote with my dollars and ask for change. I’m hoping to document a little more of both sides of my ongoing journey for conscientious change in the next few months, so stick with me!

I’d like to close this post with the trailer for a movie that ShiftCon founder has been working on. I will keep you posted on places you can see this film when it begins showing!

“A New Resistance” Teaser Trailer from Unacceptable Levels on Vimeo.

Conscientious Consumerism: Things to watch for when shopping for anything

You know that you’ve reached some kind of crunchy-person dilemma when you are standing in a giant store with an aisle full of options and do not find any acceptable choices for the item you came to purchase. I’m not just talking about food, although I certainly struggle with orthorexia in that area — but any item!

Small or large. Bed sheets. Slippers. Hand lotion. Paper towels. Wrapping paper. Everything.

When I say that I practice conscientious consumerism, what do I mean?

Questions that go through my head: where was it made? Were the workers treated fairly? What are the chemicals in it? What active chemicals will it leach when not in use? Were there pesticides used in it? Are there genetically modified (GMO) ingredients? Is there gluten or dairy in this? Can I make this instead of buying it? If so, is that crazy/do I even have enough time? Should I be purchasing something with this much unnecessary packaging? Is this made of plastic? If so, can I get a glass or stainless steel version?

Yep, all those things really do go through my head. And it’s true that I have walked out of even Target empty-handed because  I couldn’t answer some of those questions satisfactorily about the item I came for.

While you are pondering just how crazy I might be, I will provide you a list of things I look for when shopping and things I avoid. Follow at your own risk!
Conscientious Consumerism: Things to watch for when shopping for anything | ConscientiousConfusion.com

Avoid:

Phthalates (also called “Fragrance” in ingredients list)

Plastic

Trans fats (partially- or fully hydrogenated oils)

Soy or canola oil with unlisted source (likely GMO)

non-organic corn (GMO)

high fructose corn syrup

corn syrup

leather (when possible)

PVC (leaches phthalates/endocrine disruptors)

Single use items

Unpronounceable ingredients

 

Prefer:

Fair trade (better)

Purchase benefits a marginalized group (best)

Recyclable (better)

Reusable/refillable (best)

Small business

Workforce responsibility

Organic

Certified non-GMO

Handmade

 

That’s my short lists for now — have I left anything out that you look for or avoid? I’d love to hear your additions!

Unacceptable Levels: film to see

If you are one of those people who saw An Inconvenient Truth and had a change of heart about the environment, or saw Food, Inc. and started to think seriously about how you eat, chances are that you learn best in film form. I have a film for you to see!

Unacceptable Levels is a film about the chemicals in our bodies…and how they got there.

Unacceptable Levels Film chemicals

Some Unacceptable Facts film facts:

  • Autism now affects one in 50 children.

  • Cancer is the leading cause of death (after accidents) in children younger than 15 years in the United States.

  • In the last twenty years, the rates of asthma, allergies and ADHD are on the rise:

    • 400% increase in allergies

    • 300% increase in asthma

    • 400% increase in ADHD

  • $2.6 Trillion of the GDP is spent on treating disease every year.

Chemicals saturate our homes and environment amid a backdrop of a glaring lack of regulation. The film chronicles the results of the post-WWII chemical boom and details common avenues of exposure, from food to fluoride to toxic sludge.*

Ever wonder about chemicals in your day-to-day life?

What’s in the air I breathe? The water I drink? The food I eat? Even the things I put on my skin?

Ed Brown wondered these same things after his wife suffered two miscarriages (they now have two beautiful children). But instead of just wondering, he traveled around the country with his video camera to interview top minds in the fields of science, advocacy and law and learned there are unacceptable levels of chemicals in so many things. Including our bodies.

Approximately 200 synthetic industrial chemicals interact with our cells every single day.

Ed’s documentary dissects the ways chemicals saturate our homes and environment amid a backdrop of a glaring lack of regulation. It chronicles the results of the post-WWII chemical boom and details common avenues of exposure, from food to fluoride to toxic sludge. View the trailer for his award-winning debut film, Unacceptable Levels—about the chemicals in our bodies and how they got there—here.

If you live in Austin or will be there in August, you are in luck! There will be an Austin screening on August 5.

To find a screening in your area, visit UnacceptableLevels.com. New screenings will be added, so be sure to check back often.

For the rest of us, I wanted to give you a heads-up so that you can follow Unacceptable Levels on Facebook now (and also Twitter, if you’d like) so that you know when it is a) in wide release, or b) available on DVD.

I can’t wait for the film to come here so I can force everyone I know to see it! Help me spread the word!

 

forbes.com and cms.gov

NOTE: I was not compensated for this post. There are a few affiliate links to the films mentioned in the first paragraph which would give me several cents if you used the link to purchase those items from Amazon.

When eating clean is hard

But...This is Hard!

As I have struggled to adhere to the food avoidance diet for my son in the last 2 weeks, both my husband and I have occasionally questioned why we are making the effort to take this natural health journey at all. Why take extreme steps like visiting a naturopath and avoiding foods that everyone else eats with no trouble if no one is actually sick? Eating clean is hard! Shouldn’t we just live like the rest of the world and visit a doctor only when we are sick to get medicine that will make us better?

I asked our naturopath this question, and just this weekend my own experience proved that her response was spot-on. Here is what she said:

“This is a question I hear often. You are not alone! I think that a lot of people don’t know what it feels like to feel good…They numb themselves with food — remember how we talked about gluten and dairy acting as opiates? The brain gets foggy and sleepy [from what we eat] but we keep ourselves going with caffeine and sugar.

Everyone is born with toxins already in their body. What differs if each person’s threshold for these toxins. At some point the ‘garbage can’ overflows, sparking an immune reaction. The reaction can be to anything, but it is usually food because we eat all the time! Conversely, people who live cleanly, eat grain-free, dairy-free, etc. know what it is like to feel good. When they consume something bad, it stands out!”

First, let me say that my goal for myself and my children (I can’t speak for my husband, but I would hope…) is exactly that — to live cleanly so that our immune systems are able to react appropriately to legitimate threats of bacteria and viruses. I am particularly vigilant about phthalates in body products (endocrine disruptors), trans fats and artificial colors in food so that our immune systems are not constantly weakened from expending energy reacting to toxins. And I have seen the results over the years with my children. We have now gone two cold and flu seasons without anyone getting more than the sniffles or a mild cough.

Secondly, I had a chance this weekend to prove that eating cleanly actually feels different. I was visiting family out of town this weekend. We were celebrating two different graduations and Mother’s Day, so there were two separate cakes in addition to a huge amount of processed, packaged, sugary and salty comfort and holiday foods. There were fruits and veggies — not organic — served with plenty of creamy dips. And of course, even though I packed most of our lunches, we still had to eat some fast food on the road trip. These are all things that I usually only eat in moderation. Of course, I also had to leave my kombucha and green smoothies at home. And while I never judge my hosts bath and cleaning choices (I am thankful to have a shower and a nice, clean bed and shower!), I know that I was probably around more phthalates than usual. I wanted to get in some yoga or a workout of some kind, but I did not have the opportunity in time or location.

I knew all this was going to happen, and I was prepared to binge a little. I even thought it might be kinda fun. I wasn’t prepared for how my body would react! By Saturday, less than 24 hours after my diet had altered, I was texting my BFF about how sluggish and bloated I felt.

Poor eating text

Then Sharon’s words came back to me and I realized why we eat and live the way we do. Because we feel SO much better! I don’t love getting up at 5am all the time, but I do it, and it isn’t that bad. I don’t always feel like making bread or kombucha instead of taking a nap, but I do. But I am not running out of energy by 3pm, and I am not glued to the couch at 7pm. I don’t take any energy boosting supplements (unless you count NingXia Red, which is just highly concentrated fruit juices and essential oils) and I only have one cup of coffee in the early morning — no caffeine for the rest of the day. It’s because my body is functioning the way it should, for the most part, that I am able to recognize the symptoms of a cold when it starts and stop it without drugs.

I know there are a lot more steps I could take to eat even more cleanly (I still love carbs. SO MUCH.), but this weekend was a great reminder of why I go to “all that trouble”, even when it seems difficult to maintain sometimes.

How about you — what motivates you to eat clean and live green? And how can I help you in your next steps?