YOGA MAT MATERIALS AND ORIGIN
Yoga mat is definitely the first accessory we think of when we talk about yoga. The first tool we take when we start practicing yoga, as we become more experienced yogis choosing a mat means telling something about us.
The mat physically represents that personal space that we carve out for ourselves, it must have certain precise technical characteristics (grip, comfort, adherence to the floor etc) and also an aesthetic that inspires us during practice. But let's take a step back, let's see the history and evolution of this cult object of yoga.
HISTORY OF THE YOGA MAT
Yoga is an ancient discipline, yet the modern yoga mat, as we know it, was invented in the early 80's by Angela Farmer (student of the master BKS Iyengar), who after surgery had lost the ability to sweat from the hands.
Sweat is precisely necessary to obtain the grip needed to avoid slipping on a normal floor or on a cotton carpet. Looking for a solution to his problem, he had the intuition to use plastic, having seen by chance a non-slip PVC base for furniture mats, so the sticky mat was born, just the rough precursor of today's modern yoga mat, which was then developed and refined with different sizes, thicknesses, designs, colors and patterns.
Before the 1980s, how was yoga practiced?
Simply for centuries, yoga was always practiced on the ground, directly on the floor, on animal skins or on cotton cloths.
The modern yoga mat is therefore only a small parenthesis of its millennial history. In a discipline so devoted to harmony with oneself and the universe, one cannot accept to use tools that harm our planet. The yoga mat must be in line with a sincerely ecological and sustainable choice for the environment, its idea must therefore be revolutionized.
We've been practicing on plastic for years, it's time to evolve. #freeyogafromplastic #donotpracticeonplastic
What does the market offer?
Here is a list of yoga mat models on the market today based on material
with our ratings from 0 to 5.
- 0/5 : Plastics with high environmental impact from production (CO2 emissions, oil use) to disposal (non-recyclable material)
- 1/5 : Recyclable plastics with high environmental impact from production (CO2 emission, oil use) to disposal (End of life uncertain)
- 2/5 : Mix of plastic and natural material
- 3/5 : Natural material with high environmental impact in production, but easily disposable
- 4/5 : Natural material with criticality in the transformation (vulcanization process) easily disposable
- 5/5 Natural material potentially circular
In the high ratings we warn against Greenwashing risks
PVC YOGA MATS
The best seller is the most toxic to the environment. In 2020, PVC matting still had the largest market share in global sales. Why? It costs very little. The other side of the coin is that it is super polluting and what's more, its chemical composition does not make it a recyclable material. Despite mobilizations and a growing ecological sensitivity, many ignore that PVC has been defined by Greenpeace as the most polluting plastic in the world, PVC is still the market leader in yoga and pilates mats trampling any idea of sustainability. If PVC was last year (2020) the most sold material for yoga mats it must worry us, there is still a lack of awareness about it.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 0/5
PER or EVA YOGA MATS
Since PVC has gained a bad reputation in terms of environmental sustainability, the average uninformed buyer may well be fooled by the acronym PER, Polymer Environmentally Friendly Resin, which from the name would seem to be something different, but is nothing more than PVC masked with different additives.
The same goes for EVA ethylene vinyl acetate which is another product based on POLYETHYLENE, a type of plastic that is cheap and of low quality, but has a great environmental impact.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 0/5
TPE YOGA MATS
As an alternative many companies in the industry have turned to another material, TPE.
TPE is a thermo-plastic elastomer, a mixture of plastic and rubber, and therefore a material that deforms by exhibiting elastic behavior. The improvement over PVC is that it can be recycled, the disadvantage is that it is still a plastic. As documented by the OECD, only 15% of the world's plastics are actually recycled, 25% are incinerated and 60% end up in the environment! In addition, recycling plastics is not cost-free, it leads to further emissions and environmental damage.
In addition, plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely, but we talk about DOWNCYCLING, which is a recycling process in which the resulting product is of lower quality than the initial one, it becomes a product that can no longer be recycled and will become waste.
By the mere fact of being potentially recyclable, the TPE mat is advertised as environmentally friendly. So if you write on a search engine, "ecological yoga mat" will come out a whole range of products in TPE, which is passed off as environmentally friendly material. Theoretically less harmful than PVC, but do we really need to introduce new plastic into the world to do yoga? Can we call a product made from petroleum eco-friendly?
Producing a plastic mat generates CO2 emissions and only a small percentage is recycled. In 80% of the cases a TPE mat will do the same life cycle as a PVC mat, it will be burned or end up in the environment in the form of micro plastics. There is no such thing as eco-friendly plastic, because it introduces an indestructible material into the environment, a permanent waste that nature does not know and cannot dispose of.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 1/5
POLYURETHANE YOGA MATS
Polyurethane is a foaming polymer, very versatile, which is brought to a solid state by heat. It is produced by the combination of two main components - polyols and polyisocyanates, which are made to react with each other by means of an element of great ecological impact (hydrocarbons, CO2).
A polyurethane mat once its use is over presents a disposal problem. Like the other plastics mentioned above PVC, TPE also comes from petroleum and therefore has non-biodegradable components that remain in landfills or are dispersed into the environment in the form of micro plastics.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 1/5
CORK YOGA MATS
Cork is a super material, infinitely recyclable, very sustainable! Cork is one of the most environmentally friendly materials on the planet, rapidly biodegradable, easily reusable and completely renewable.
Cork is harvested from the Cork Oak by carefully removing the bark, leaving the tree intact, (no deforestation). As an added benefit it can also grow without much maintenance, no need for pesticides, watering or pruning.
Cork yoga mats offer a long list of benefits. While the surface is smooth to the touch, its traction increases with moisture, making it a great option for those who sweat during their practice. For those who practice in a studio, cork provides natural protection to some of the most common bacteria found in fitness facilities. The Sustainability Problem arises when we go to look at the bottom layer! We have to be careful about how it is paired. Usually with another material which can be a latex or synthetic rubber or plastic.
At this point the success of the mat depends on the quality of this material (better the natural latex) and if there are special glues that compromise the biodegradability. Often the bottom layer of the mat makes the ecological effort of this kind of mat useless.
Finally, as regards the grip, the texture of the mat is important. Cork can be processed in many ways, the grain is not always the same, so when buying it is good to pay attention that it is not too smooth.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 5/5
GREENWASHING RISK : Use of silicones or synthetic materials in the aggregation phase of cork milling, lamination with synthetic materials
COTTON YOGA MATS
Cotton must be organic because this crop makes extensive use of pesticides and large consumption of water (a cotton t-shirt uses the water that an average person drinks in 3 years).
Organic cotton must be GOTS certified, which in addition to ensuring sustainability standards guarantees the rights of workers, thus ensuring that your rug is not a fast fashion product built on exploitation.
We can find yoga rugs on the market that are traditionally used in ashtanga vinyasa yoga in the Indian city of Mysore. In this style of yoga these cotton yoga mats are still used today instead of the classic sticky mat. Cotton mats however tend to have little grip, especially for static or gentle styles of yoga and are thin, the knees are not well cushioned. Grip is more effective in humid environments such as Asian countries like India.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 3/5
LATEX YOGA MATS
We need to make sure that the latex is natural and not synthetic as a starting point. Latex is a complex emulsion obtained from some plants. So it is a liquid that needs a process called vulcanization to become elastic.
In this process can be added additives, catalysts and fillers, or plasticizers that make it synthetic, compromising the biodegradability and sustainability of the product.
Latex for example is white, substances are added to color it, it is necessary to understand what is used. Moreover, if the mat is 100% latex, it is necessary that the manufacturing company is an expert and qualified in this matter because latex degrades if exposed to sunlight and shrinks with the temperature range. It can therefore undergo an alteration in size due to the action of heat or cold.
Finally, be careful if you are allergic to latex and expose it to sunlight as it is particularly vulnerable.
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 4/5
GREENWASHING RISK : Vulcanization process with chemical and plastic additives
JUTE YOGA MATS
Jute is a plant to be considered environmentally friendly, for its speed of growth, for the very small amount of water it requires for growth, the low use of pesticides. It is a very resistant fiber that is used for clothes, bags but also for yoga mats.
In this case the advantage is to have a natural mat, with an effective grip and easy to clean. The final result depends on the way the mat has been designed. If other materials have been added in coupling that can nullify the positive characteristics of the fiber.
Among the limitations of jute mats are the excessive roughness of some textures that do not help in some positions on the knees that must be held for long periods of time in some styles of yoga (such as Iyengar yoga).
SUSTAINABILITY VOTE: 5/5
THE YOGA MAT OF THE FUTURE
The sensitivity of yogins will surely lead companies to develop more and more eco-friendly mats, and the ecological transition itself will lead to the development of natural materials that are still the preserve of a few.
So new solutions for practicing yoga in a sustainable way are to be expected, and it is this kind of research that we at Natmat26 are aiming for!
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