Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.
One of the principal tenets of yoga is the concept of ahimsa, or doing no harm. This encompasses more than just being nice to one another or doing charity work — it expects yoga practitioners to love their neighbor, yes, but also to understand how they affect the world. But what does that actually mean in a Christian context? Well, to live in the grace of God is also to be mindful of one’s actions, to look to Jesus as a role model. And this includes exhibiting compassion, showing favor to the dispossessed, speaking truth, being patient, and sacrificing oneself and one’s comfort, all out of love.
So for yoga practitioners, ahimsa and living with grace are intertwined. While much has been written about the benefits of yoga as a spiritual practice, and how it promotes a connection between the mind and the spirit, there are also concrete ways to be mindful of the planet and the communities on it. For instance, have you ever really thought about your yoga mat? Where it comes from, and how it was made?
Thirty-six million Americans practice yoga every year, with the number only going up. While it’s hard to put an exact number on how much of that is being spent on mats per se, it’s safe to say that the best-selling mats are usually the least expensive. And unfortunately, these cheap mats are usually not the best for the planet. From being made out of non-renewable materials which lay in landfills for decades-plus, to wearing down quickly due to their shoddy quality, purchasing these mats isn’t doing your wallet or the planet any favors. When you also factor in that almost half of all yoga mats are made out of PVC, with a higher proportion of this being composed of those cheap mats, the effect of our buying behavior becomes even more palpable.
But what’s the big deal with PVC? It’s used in a multitude of different applications, from building materials to thermoses. Well, it turns out there may be a lot of things wrong with this. The manufacture of PVC releases an approximate 500,000 pounds of vinyl chloride into the air every year — and that’s just in the U.S. Dioxins, another cancer-causing chemical, is also produced and released during manufacture, but also during the disposal of PVC, especially if it’s burned in one of the 72 incineration plants currently operating in the United States.
Lastly, in order to make a tough material such as PVC pliable enough to make yoga mats, it needs to be treated with chemical plasticizers known as phthalates, which has been found to be linked to birth defects. Now, we don’t wish to be accused of fear-mongering, and it must be said that many of the PVC products currently on the market have been treated with alternative plasticizers...but is the risk really worth it, especially if you consider that phthalates leach out in the heat?
So, what’s the alternative to buying a PVC mat? The team of researchers at ConsumersAdvocate.org, a consumer review website, had that same question and dedicated over 300+ hours to trying to answer it. Working in conjunction with the Ecology Center lab in Ann Arbor Michigan, they purchased and tested 11 yoga mats made from eco-friendly materials, and arrived at some surprising conclusions. If you’d like to learn more about what they found, visit their Yoga Mat page to read on!