You'd think that yoga and environmentalism would go hand-in-hand, right? I mean, the whole philosophy of yoga is dedicated to creating union between body, mind, and spirit, and fostering an awareness of ourselves as intimately connected to the rest of the world—basically, it sounds like a tree hugger's paradise.
But as yoga has boomed in the Western world, so has the consumption of yoga mats and props—according to market research company Technavio, the U.S. yoga and exercise mat business is expected to climb from $11 billion to $14 billion in 2020. The truth is that the majority of those products are made up of pretty environmentally unfriendly stuff (that dirty old mat you threw away is likely going to a landfill and will stay there... forever).
Most yoga mats are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), release vinyl chloride (a known carcinogen), as well as dioxins, phthalates, and other substances that may contribute to a whole host of health issues. Consider all of the companies producing props and stretchy pants with substances like these, and well... suddenly practicing yoga doesn't seem all that green.
So how can you form a true union between your love of yoga and your desire to be gentler on sweet Mother Earth?
For starters, consider the amount of waste your practice creates: Make sure your yoga purchases are made with environmentalism in mind by shopping for items made with sustainable materials like jute, bamboo, cork, or recycled rubber. And get to know the companies that are dedicated to producing products without harming the environment—there are a ton!
You can get started with these eco-friendly yoga mats and props. We've tried to select affordable items (all mats are less than $100), but a word to the wise yogi: Yoga Outlet offers discounts on many of the brands listed below. We'll see you on the (sustainable) mat.
Yogasana calls its mats the "world's most eco-friendly," and indeed, they might just be. They're handwoven (using zero electricity!) in India and are made of 100-percent cotton—which rocks because if you've ever taken a hot yoga class, you know your mat can turn into an ice rink once you start sweating. Cotton is sourced from local farmers, and even the residual dye water is treated and used to water local vegetable fields and fruit orchards.
Environmental responsibility is woven into every aspect of Jade Yoga's mission. Made from renewable rubber trees, none of its mats contain PVC, EVA, or other synthetics. Plus, to go the extra mile in reducing its carbon footprint, the company plants a tree for every mat sold—since 2006, through its partnership with Trees for the Future, more than one million trees have been planted.
Jade makes awesome, sustainable blocks and straps, but the Harmony mat is the most popular product, beloved for its non-slip stickiness and grip. However, given that it's 100-percent biodegradable, if you're a gung-ho yogi who practices a lot, you may experience this mat degrade faster depending on how hard you work it. (Worth it!)
Manduka mats have become a studio staple in the yoga world, trusted for their thickness and durability. All Manduka products are eco-friendly, from toe-socks to blocks, but the crown jewel is the Eko mat—it's made from non-Amazon harvested tree rubber, with non-toxic foaming agents and non-toxic dyes. It's substantial, sticky, and fully biodegradable.($66; amazon.com)
Made from all-natural rubber and jute fiber, Barefoot Yoga's Original Eco yoga mat is rougher to the touch than many, but that also means it's naturally non-slip. Given the superior traction—and the fact that it's made with no chemical additives—you'll find this mat at the top of all eco-friendly yoga must-have lists. The company also makes really awesome, hollow yoga blocks from sustainable bamboo.($90; barefootyoga.com)
Made with sustainable rubber, which comes from renewable, non-Amazon sources, the Para yoga mat from Hugger Mugger is sticky, grippy, and durable. The company's mission is built around sustainability, so you can rest easy knowing that you'll get the familiar support of a traditional sticky mat without junking up the planet. (Bonus: The name is super cute.)($85; amazon.com)
One of Prana's best products is the E.C.O. yoga mat, which is an acronym for "earth-conscious offering." Though not biodegradable, it is fully recyclable, as it's made with 100-percent thermoplastic elastomer (say that one five times fast) with a toxin-free manufacturing process. It's also UV-, PVC-, and chloride-free—and priced at $48, it's among the more affordable of the eco-friendly mats on the market.($48; amazon.com)
With sustainability at the center of its mission, Juru makes mats from cork, and straps from 100-percent cotton, so all of its products are eco-friendly and recyclable. The company is based in India but offers free global shipping on mats so you can get a great product without a crazy shipping cost. Fun fact: Cork is naturally antimicrobial, which means that means all of Juru's cork mats require far fewer cleaning products—another environmental win.
You know those little non-slip nubs on most yoga towels? Well, they're made of silicone, which is non-biodegradable. In addition to great recyclable mats, Kulae makes an awesome, 100-percent recyclable towel called the zuSKa towel (the Sanskrit translation for zuSKa is "dry"). It's made of non-fading, super-absorbent microfiber, is latex- and silicone-free, and is as resilient as you are in that final balance pose.($68; amazon.com)
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