The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you, due out Fall 2011 from New Society Publishers. The book follows my attempts to rid everything potentially toxic from my life.
I have, for almost twenty years, been extremely inflexible. I don't know exactly when it began but it was sometime around the time I started running in my early twenties. With the increase in muscle came a decrease in flexibility in spite of all the stretching I felt like I was doing. I've known people who rarely stretch, but yet who are much more flexible than I am and I've never quite been able to figure out why.
My inflexibility causes me a lot of problems, most notably with my knees when I am running (which I don't really do anymore because of some foot issues) and most painfully with my back. My tight calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and a number of other lower body muscles and tendons all end up pulling on my back, causing me a lot of issues with back spasms and strains. If I stay on top of stretching and make sure I do it every day, then I can keep most of my back pain at bay. Even if I skip a day, I'm setting myself up for pain later.
The recent increase in exercise meant I really needed to stretch twice a day and by that I mean a combination of classic running stretches as well as yoga. The problem with yoga is that most yoga mats are made out of or are backed with PVC. We had three yoga mats in the house because the kids were big into imitating my yoga practice for a while. The mats didn’t get a tremendous amount of use, but they were still present, off-gassing dangerous chemicals (like phthalates, lead and cadmium) into our rooms.
If I stretched in the living room, there was enough padding under the rug that I didn't need a mat. However, if I wanted to do anything that required a sticky mat, it was an issue and I slipped on the rug. Fortunately, there are yoga mats that are made out of non-toxic Thermal Plastic Elastomer (TPE), rather than PVC. If I want to take a yoga class, I could bring my own non-PVC mat, but I’d still be in a room full of people using, most likely, PVC mats.
All that deep breathing just meant that I'd be deep breathing in a room full of PVC particulates. I hated to do it, but I donated all three of our yoga mats. Since I still needed at least one mat in the house, I ordered a TPE-based mat. The one really nice thing about the new mat was the fact that it didn't have that "new mat" smell. And, I ended up avoiding yoga studios until the project was over.