With New Years resolutions still clean and sparkly like a blanket of freshly fallen snow, one of the more popular spots for those wanting to embrace a healthy lifestyle is the yoga studio. With this increased interest in yoga also comes an increase in the numbers of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) yoga mats sold across the country. Completely at odds with the yoga philosophy of a healthy planet, PVC yoga mats harbor some serious health consequences. PVC products give off some 108 different chemicals within the first 28 days of use … that new car smell that many of find pleasant is the first sign of all those nasty chemicals going into your lungs and skin. Hello, aromatherapy anyone?
PVC is also at the receiving end of the nasty finger of blame for the consequences to communities where these products are made … and at the end of its life, disposed of. Chlorinated PVC has been found responsible for an increase in cancer rates where PVC production facilities are in operation. Chemical releases such as dioxin and other pollutants find their way through the air and into local drinking water. And after your New Years resolution is forgotten, that discarded yoga mat may find its way into a landfill, where it will sit for thousands of years ... or tragically, should it be incinerated, releasing more toxic gases into the air.
If that hasn’t convinced you that PVCs should go the way of the Dodo Bird, consider the price of oil, and know that oil needs to be purchased from the Middle East to produce a PVC yoga mat, not to mention the greenhouse gases and toxic emissions from the production of the mat and the environmental impact of shipping the PVC mat from the manufacturing plant to the store. This information should be as horrifying as the thought of eating a box of doughnuts right before a Moksha (hot) yoga class.
So there I was, resolutions in hand, looking at my fellow yoga classmates seeing (and smelling) a number of PVC mats in use, polluting the studio. Sure, I could discreetly lecture each individual on the evils of PVC and let it end there. Or … maybe I could bring a greater sense of responsibility and allow change to happen in a more positive way. I did some more research and decided that there were more environmentally friendly options to be had.
It’s true that natural rubber yoga mats are natural, sustainable, practical and safer than PVC yoga mats, but I’m really not a fan of that inescapable rubber smell. But … place a hemp mat on top of a rubber mat and you substantially reduce that nasty rubbery smell and help save the plant … one posture at a time. Or go with a natural rubber and jute mat and you have a biodegradable eco solution. Before you rush to fill the comments section, I acknowledge that there are many other sustainable materials used to make yoga mats. But this is my story, and at the time, I felt that two options were enough.
One company that has its feet firmly planted on the ground is Seattle, Washington- based Barefoot Yoga Co. They offer the Original Eco Yoga Mat … the yoga mat that was rated #1 by New York Times for environmentally friendly yoga mats. But the affordable Eco Mat contains a small amount of latex, so for those with latex allergies, try rawganique, the eco-apparel company. Besides their full line of hemp-based clothing, they also offer hemp-based bed, bath, bodycare and homecare ranges … including a sweet deal on a hemp mat/natural rubber combo. I’m always amazed how people will spend thousands of dollars on yoga classes, but ask them to shell out an extra 50 bucks to save the planet and they balk. So I challenged my yoga studio to rebate a portion of the price of a new Original Eco Yoga Mat or a rubber/ hemp yoga mat for every PVC mat turned in as part of a promotional amnesty campaign.
The benefit? In my town there are several competing yoga studios. As someone who has spent their life in the advertising industry, a competitive point of difference seemed like a good way to help my studio differentiate themselves from their competitors. Being able to promote themselves as the only PVC-free yoga studio set them apart, gave them an edge, and also provided them with a full years-worth of social media, publicity, promotion and advertising content. And in the end, it cost them under $5,000.00 bucks to become the only brand in town that practiced what it preached while garnering free publicity in the press, increased membership and excellent word of mouth from consumers. Heck it cost me nothing … a couple of hours of research and one a-ha moment. But by proposing a solution, rather than lecturing about a problem, I was able to bring a change that will improve the health of many yoga enthusiasts in my town for years to come.
Illustration by Matt Boswell