When a PVC mat is no longer useful, what happens to it?
If yogis are supposed to be tree-hugging and earth-loving types…trying to make the world a better place – one downward-dog at a time - why do so many yoga practitioners use ‘sticky mats’ made of harmful PVC-containing plastics?
Not only are sticky mats bad for yogis and the environment, but they interfere with the purity of a harmonious yoga practice. Why is yoga practiced on plastic and rubber yoga mats?
Why Do Yogis Use Rubber/Sticky Mats?
Perhaps the invention of the plastic/rubber mat happened out of convenience or maybe out of ignorance. Sticky mats do work well for keeping the student stable during poses and they also prevent slipping on the slick floors of yoga studios. Nonetheless, there is more to mat yoga than contorting the body into unnatural and often uncomfortable postures for ninety sweaty minutes.
Why do the asanas at all, what’s the ultimate goal? Most people practice yoga because they want to connect with that source of energy that’s alive deep within their tired, busy souls. Or to be at peace with the sense of “oneness” that connects us to the universe. Instead of enhancing our yoga practice, the use of a synthetic rubber mat blocks the yogi from achieving that subtle unity with the earth’s energy.
There is a way around this unforeseeable obstacle. Using an eco-friendly yoga mat made of natural materials— such as a cotton or wool yoga mats — provides an eco-sustainable source of support for the student and allows the subtle energies to flow during the asanas. The benefits of using an eco yoga mat are far more advantageous than the convenience of a synthetic slab of plastic.
First There Was Yoga – Then There Was Plastic and Rubber
Question: If the advent of yoga predates the invention of plastic and molded rubber…why is modern yoga practiced on plastic and rubber mats? The origin of the so-called ‘Sticky Mat’ seems to have evolved out of a need to prevent slippage on a wood floor in yoga studios. But this ‘need’ for stability has gone from the idea to help prevent sliding to an asana crutch as yogis stick and sink onto their rubber/plastic mats. What was the original intent? What were the goals of the practice envisioned by yoga’s forefathers?
Hatha Yoga at Its Essence
One meaning of the word hatha is ‘force.’ But a deeper understanding reveals a gentler understanding, not so much about the physical body alone but a cosmic truth, the universal energy fields, the sun, and the moon. The word ha means the sun; the word tha means the moon.
This is not the sun that rises in the east or the moon that shines brightly on an uncloudy night. The sun is the right nostril breath, and the moon is the left nostril breath. In this way the practice of hatha works simultaneously on several levels: physical but most importantly spiritual.
Hatha yoga was devised by the Raja Yogis as a preparation for meditation and both physically and psychologically as a process of purification. One understands the essence of hatha if you understand physical yoga as a preparation for spiritual liberation. What happens in the body first happens in the mind. Every act one performs with the body begins as a thought planted in the mind, not by forced effort but by fixing the consciousness on the infinite.
The original goal of hatha yoga is the conquest of the mind and body. Much of our energy is spent trying to conquer or change events outside of ourselves. The real challenge is to gain mastery of the mind and body. Self-discovery, self-conquest this is the true goal of yoga. The strict asceticism of yoga in ancient times (extreme physical practices) has given way to a comfortable asceticism. Maybe sometimes too comfortable, with the use of spongy-soft yoga mats. There should be some exertion, some effort to achieve the desired results of controlling the mind and the body. Slowly and slowly the yogi who practices hatha yoga regularly will begin to gain mastery over extraneous desires, like food and overeating.
Yoga Helps with Mastery of The Mind
Yoga helps to refocus energy and redirect it towards more purposeful goals.Through yoga, one learns to gain control of the mind, the senses, and the body. This mastery allows one to sit longer for mediation…to make the body a vessel that’s fit for the worship of The One. If the mind and body are not sufficiently purified it is a hindrance to one’s spiritual practice. This gentle tapas (exertion) is where the practice of hatha yoga fits in with the teachings of the great master, Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Patanjali is the father of modern yoga. The Yoga Sutras (a collection of196 Indian aphorisms on the theory and practice of yoga) talk about the posture being steady and comfortable. Sutra 47 talks of the asanas of physical culture and the asana of meditation. The asana is perfected, made steady and comfortable through relaxing, not by forced effort but by fixing the consciousness on the infinite. The ha-sun and the tha-moon, the breath rhythm used together with the relaxation of the body and the mind, help in perfecting the asana (posture).
So Says the Gita
This same emphasis on a firm posture is highlighted in The Bhagavad Gita, one of the oldest and most sacred yogic texts. It states the importance of using natural materials during the practice of yoga. Chapter VI verse 11 (translated) states: “The yogi’s seat, in a clean place, should be firm (not wobbly), neither too high not too low and covered first, with kusha grass, then with deer or tiger skin, then with a cloth.”
The Bhagavad Gita makes a valuable point. Kusha grass was once used as insulation against the damp earth. These days we have nice, dry yoga studios. The use of natural materials, however, is still important. Think of your “foundation” and what it’s built upon. The stronger and more grounded your connection to the earth, the better the results achieved in your practice.
4000 years ago, the first yogis in India were performing miracles based on the strength of their yoga practices. Much of that powerful yogic energy has been lost in the West, overtaken by form-flattering yoga clothes and sculpted bodies. Step back, take a deep breath and remember the founding fathers of yoga, the masters who wrote the Bhagavad Gita and Master Patanjali. The use of natural materials represents yoga at its origins.
Cotton Flows – Rubber Blocks
In meditation, the importance of a cotton or wool shawl is to insulate the body against the pull of the earth currents. Yoga is a prelude to meditation, during which the mind tries to withdraw the energy of the life force from the senses to the soul. It’s about trying to control the mind. The use of natural yoga mat materials helps to insulate the body and helps to reverse the downward and outward pull of the earth’s currents and increases the inward and upward draw of the life force. Using a cotton mat or wool rug may help to achieve more satisfying results in the practice of the asanas.
For the same reason we remove our shoes and socks before yoga, we should look to remove obstacles that keep us from balancing and grounding to the earth. Some yoga socks can provide an alternative without giving up the grounding. A sticky mat provides no connection to the earth; it acts as an insulator and blocks the subtle energies produced by the poses.
A cotton yoga mat can aid in deepening your practice.
If yoga means union, clearly, using rubber/plastic yoga mats impedes this very process.
Rubber Yoga Mats
Latex is a polymer. Materials such as proteins, fatty acids, resins, and inorganic materials (salts) are found in natural rubber. Polyisoprene can also be created synthetically, producing what is sometimes referred to as "synthetic natural rubber". Some natural rubber sources, such as Gutta-percha, a plastic substance from a Malaysian tree called a percha tree, is used as a permanent filling in root canals. Natural rubber is an elastomer and a thermoplastic. The rubber is vulcanized,(cured/hardened) The final properties of a rubber yoga mat depend not just on the latex polymer, but also on modifiers and fillers, such as carbon black, factice, and whiting.
Plastic Yoga Mats
Plastic yoga mats are made using a wide variety of synthetic and semi-synthetic polymers. The first mass-produced plastic yoga mats were made out of PVC. Polymers are macromolecules used to make plastics and other resins due to their wide properties. The current state of our planet obviates the need to reduce PVC. The harsh effects of this compound are discussed in this blog: What is Azodicarbonamide? 9 Facts
If the essence of yoga is “oneness”, using a yoga mat made of synthetic materials is antithetical to this goal.
An Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat Should Have These Qualities
Made of Natural Materials
Made Sustainably & Ethically
Not end up in landfill
When choosing the best mat material for your yoga practice, why not choose a mat made of natural materials like cotton or wool. Choose a mat that’s free of synthetic chemicals that allows optimum energy flow that leads to a more perfect union = yoga.
Choose an eco-friendly yoga mat and experience the benefits. Learn more about how to choose an eco-friendly yoga mat.
Try this experiment: Place a rubber mat and an eco-friendly cotton yoga mat side-by-side. Stand on the rubber mat, in tadasana, then on the cotton mat. Breath | focus | calm | flow. Do you feel a difference? You be the judge.