Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The not so zen yoga mat

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.


Becky said...

Wow. Now that is good information. As a yoga student and teacher, I'm gonna have to get me a non-toxic mat pronto and share the info with the swarms of yogis I know. Thanks!

Michelle said...

Interesting thoughts! I wouldn't necessarily have considered the matter of yoga mats.

Now... what's with the abuse of the poor word "issue"? Sounds to me like you have problems with your back, not "issues"....

Yes, I'm a pedant. Yes, that's my pet peeve. I still love you!

Brad K. said...


I took a yoga class in Colorado. (Thanks, Colorado Springs, Parks and Recreation Dept.!).

Our instructor told us to bring a mat - or an army-type wool blanket. I got one at the Army-Navy surplus store. Folded correctly (in sixths), it is square, and adaptable to other sized needs. It worked well for me, though wool does do some outgassing, too.

And no one had to chop down a PVC tree to make it. Just kidding. And I know that wool seeds take two years to mature, and take a lot of water that could better be used raising carrots. Just kidding again -- we raised a couple of sheep when I was in school, and watched the shearing a couple of times. I actually do know where wool -- and plastics -- come from!

Anonymous said...

I just learned the other day that there is a disease/disorder that affects tall, long-limbed people and causes them to be very inflexible on some parts of their body and very flexible in others. My brother-in-law seems to be one of these people. He is tall and long-limbed. His wrists are "double-jointed" but his backs and hips are extremely inflexible and cause him discomfort. Now, of course, I will assume that every tall, inflexible person has this problem!

Greenpa said...

Interesting. I've got the problem from the other end of the bell curve; my flexible bits are too flexy, and don't support me enough. Welcome to the world of biological variability; and the world of medicine, which doesn't want to have to fuss with individual variation.

"take two ibuprofen and call me in the morning" - is somehow supposed to be exactly what is needed, both by the perfectly normal 4'11/90lb young woman of oriental extraction, and the perfectly normal 6'4" 260 lb black linebacker.

And I was gonna suggest wool, too; but in a slightly different way- how about a sheepskin, wool side to the floor, so you're working on the leather side?

Yah, it might freak out a few folks; but. My guess is most people coming to yoga wear shoes and belts, and everybody survives. And you could always tell them; oh, no, it's a fake, made in Singapore...


Greenpa said...

oh, incidentally, Deanna; I met your doppleganger on Saturday, at a belated Earth Day thingy. Honest. 6'+, long blond/slender, your face, and sustainable as all get out. Great fun, but not, alas, you... :-)

Mary said...

Does anyone know how long the outgassing stays a problem? I have a pvc mat that I've had for several years and it has no odor. Since disposal of pvc is also a problem, I'd hate to get rid of this one to get a new non-toxic one if this one is no longer a hazard to use.

Anonymous said...

How is buying 3 mats and passing them on only to buy a new one a good idea?

Is offgassing an ongoing problem or "only" during manufacturing and as new?

Crunchy Chicken said...

Michelle - Ha! Well, that's what the editor is for. These excerpts are all rough copies from my manuscript.

Brad - You goofball.

Anonymous - My wrists are double jointed so maybe I have the same "issue".

Greenpa - Well, since I cut all my hair off a few weeks ago (need to update those pictures), it definitely wasn't me. Plus, I think I'd remember that.

Emma got her hair cut really short and was freaking out so I told her I'd cut my hair so she'd feel better. It worked. It took me a while to get used to the short length (about chin level) but I'm enjoying the quick dry times.

Mary - I believe PVC keeps "shedding" long after the stink is gone.

Anonymous - The goal was to remove hazardous toxic materials from my environment as part of my project. So I donated them for consumption by others who would otherwise be buying them new. I didn't go out and buy 3 mats only to replace them.

Sonja said...

This is very interesting as I just started with yoga and had noticed that some people asked around what to do to get rid of the smell. I haven't bought a mat yet since my teacher said we really don't need one, but I'll keep this in mind when I buy one one day.

Anonymous said...

The correct PVC link

Thanks! I'm off to read up.

Anonymous said...

I you want an eco-friendly TPE mat for your child too check out
So cute and so tiny!

Melinda said...

I keep thinking about this when I'm in my yoga classes. I've got a latex-free, PVC-free, biodegradable yoga matt... but not everyone in there does. So far I've just decided the good aspects outweigh the bad (learning in a controlled environment, being a part of a group full of energy, having a regularly scheduled class so I actually do it, etc).

Eco Yogini said...

I gotta say, the TPE stuff is kinda a load of crap... and a whole lot of greenwashing. (example: and more recently ).

Rubber mats can really be a better alternative (I adore my prAna revolution mat!).

Also, a fantastic place to recycle your mat:
OR check out Jade Yoga's 25 ways to reuse your yoga mat


(ps- I am also an "ungumby" and after seven years of yoga practice I can now touch my toes.... lol)

Anonymous said...

I am also not flexible and have found the most relief from Feldenkrais. It is the ultimate "don't get stiff as you get older" solution. Truly amazing to see that it is my mind more than my body that is stiff.