Your Yoga Mats Are Actually Poisonous
Written by Aurora Hinz, Edited by Willa Tsokanis
Traditionally, Yoga was used simply as a spiritual exercise; like meditation. Yoga unarguably has strong ties to the beliefs of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The spiritual practice is meant to give you a divine connection with your body; something that is completely unique to you and your experiences in your physical being. It did not involve doing Yoga with goats and it definitely didn’t involve cult Yoga celebrities, or exclusive (and expen$$$ive) studios. How people like the Housewives of Beverly Hills or the Kardashians caught onto the practice will never fail to confuse me. According to David Gordon White, an American Indologist published by Princeton University, a study found that around 16 millions Americans practice Yoga every year.
Accompanying those 16 million Americans to their yoga studios are mats mostly made of PVC or rubber. Not to mention their plastic clothing (my nemesis in fashion and in life, athleisure) and plastic water bottles. Nothing says zen-like endocrine disrupting chemicals… AM I RIGHT LADIES? How did we get here? Yoga got mainstream. In White’s essay, he goes on to explain that we have modernized the ancient tradition of Yoga - not much of what we think of Yoga today was the same as the original practitioners and healers were teaching. How healing is something if it’s suffocating our planet in more plastic?
The cheapest options are like the rest of the world, the worst for you and the worst for the planet. One study published by the Journal of Endocrine Disruptors stated that due to the increasing use of phosphorus-containing flame retardants (PFR’s) and the widespread human exposure ( it’s in 90-100% of our urine) of those chemicals, scientists found that our fertility is being affected. PFR’s are commonly used in car seats, Yoga mats, sofas, and anything else that relies on a polyurethane foam base cushion. The unique things about this is that, obviously, we do not need to eat our yoga mats, car seats, etc. to be affected by this chemical agent. The PFR’s are able to move through direct contact, kind of like the way we think of bacteria, and may even be able to go into the air you breathe. YOU COULD BE BREATHING IN YOUR YOGA MAT.
Within the past few years (beginning in 2014), the public has become more aware of the “yoga mat ingredient”. According to a press release published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) the “yoga mat ingredient” is azodicarbonamide, or APA, which is a chemical frequently used by the plastic industry because it acts as an industrial “chemical foaming agent”. Along with being found in various things like yoga mats, APA was also present in around 500 different foods sold in the United States. You may be asking yourself why this matters. If it’s in that much of our food and used by brands like Pillsbury, Tyson, and Wonder, PLUS the oh-so-wonderful FDA approved its use as a food additive in 1962 it MUST be safe to consume right? Well, we all wish Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies were better for us then they really were, and in this case of added ADA’s it’s especially devastating. Thanks to “International Chemical Assessment Document 16” published by the World Health Organization, we now know that when workers are exposed to large doses, or handles large doses of this synthetic additive may result in “occupational asthma” and the sensitization of the skin (ex. dermatitis). One case study from the WHO’s document found that,
“Eight out of 13 workers exposed to azodicarbonamide for more than 3 months after development of symptoms also developed sensitivity to previously well-tolerated irritants (e.g., sulfur dioxide and tobacco smoke), which persisted for over a month after removal from exposure to azodicarbonamide. In five individuals, this airway hyperreactivity persisted for over 3 years
Due to California’s legislation known as Proposition 65, many people were shocked when they found their new yoga mats coming with tags that said things like “This product may cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.”. Proposition 65 has been in place in California since 1968 and requires companies to indicate whether their household products have been proven to cause any of the latter. Since companies often do not make special labels for products that get sent to one specific state, this often results in these warning labels being seen throughout the entire country. “The Prop 65 labels only tell you that a product has something in it that might cause cancer or affect reproduction.” the American Cancer Society explains, “They don’t say what the substance is, where it is in the product, how you might be exposed to it, what the level of risk is, or how to reduce your exposure.”. Here are the American Cancer Society’s tips on how to get more information about what is inside what you own.
Now, this isn’t to say there are not sustainable options out there if you want to use a yoga mat. The main takeaway from this is to make sure you’re not buying or using a mat made of PVC. I also make the mistake of overlooking household objects’ sustainability factors or even health factors due to their convenience and price. My roommates are constantly reminding me that I should not, in fact, be microwaving plastics - even if they are microwave safe - because who wants to take the risk and put your trust into products that really do not have your health or well-being in mind? Yoga mats are the next insidious plastic that we should be researching more, asking more questions about, and expressing an overall concern about which chemicals are truly necessary for our household products.
We all know that even if you’re doing a steamy yoga class, the chances of your mat catching on fire are slim to none anyways. This raises the question: why is there flame retardant in your yoga mat that can contaminate the air that you breathe? We should be asking that of manufacturers, of scientists, of anyone who could give us an explanation on why our safety does not matter - why do we have to continue to be the guinea pigs? Whether you’re a hipster in Brooklyn, a goat loving yogi, or even a Kardashian, none of us deserve to be poisoned - without our knowledge - by an exercise tool.