Eco yoga mats suck

Published on February 27, 2012 by      Print
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By J. Brown

Saving the planet aside for a moment, if a yoga mat doesn’t actually keep someone from slipping then what’s the friggin’ point?

Replacing the old tapas mat knock-off from the pharmacy with the rounded-edge nerf mat from Lululemon might be better on some level but, the fact remains, they are both useless when it comes to practicing yoga.

I feel bad for all the new years resolution newbies coming in with these symbolic mats tucked under their arms. I’m sure it was a very thoughtful gift from someone. I always say the same thing: “Is that a new yoga mat? Cool! Just so you know, sometimes a new mat can be a little slick. If you’re sliding a lot then I may give you a studio mat to use today instead.” But what I am really thinking is: “I’m sorry. Someone got you a total piece of shit mat and if you’re serious about establishing a yoga practice then you’re probably going to want to get yourself one that actually works.”

I can remember a time when there was only one option: that light blue mat with the dirty feet stains on it. When I opened a yoga center and needed to equip the studio, I decided to go with this old standard, just in a darker color. Yes, I know. They have PVC in them. With that blasphemous admission, I’m betting some readers are already getting their backs up to make a comment on the horrors of vinyl but, before you get your Birkenstock’s all in a bundle, hear me out.

Fact is, I have the same twenty-five mats that I started with four years ago. If I had gone with the politically correct Jade Harmony mats then I would have needed to replace them three times over by now. Considering the high cost of those mats, for a small independent studio, it’s just not financially viable. Not to mention, I find that rubber smell horribly off-putting.

The Jade Harmony mat also suffers from the same downfall as the basic Gaiam mat which, while not eco either, is reasonably priced. However, the way those things get to crumbling, I’d be sweeping up those annoying little pieces of mat every night quicker then you can say ashtavakrasana.

Truth be told, my old-school mats with the PVC in them came from Germany and were subject to the European OEKO-TEX 100 standard, which means the entire manufacturing process is subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny and prevents them from containing heavy metals and DOP softeners.

Regardless of what raw materials they start with, the methods used for manufacturing yoga mats are trade secrets. Without knowing the process and what other mystery ingredients are added to the mat to keep it intact, we really don’t know what the biodegradability and recyclability of the product is. I have had occasion to stand next to a rubber tree and it didn’t smell anything like a yoga mat.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to make a case for the glories of PVC. I do a lot around the center to be “green.” I pay extra for the Seventh Generation toilet paper. I use a steam mop. I make due with the eco-friendly glass cleaner even though everyone knows it doesn’t work half as good as Windex.

I’m just not convinced that eco yoga mats represent an honest effort to help our environment. Call me cynical but it feels like another convenient marketing hoax that makes people feel good and is a boon for business.

When even just a little bit of perspiration turns what is intended to be a stabilizing surface into the equivalent of a wet banana, you got a lot of nerve calling it a yoga mat. In fairness, some folks just got sweaty palms. I find that laying a belt twice across the mat can sometimes provide a “stopper” and some additional grip. Outside of doing down-dog and maybe a full wheel, a strong case could be made against the need for a yoga mat altogether. I rarely use one.

Ceding that some people really do need a little traction for safety sake, I’m just saying that things are relative and there’s a whole lot a people buying a whole lot of yoga mats, eco and not, that aren’t worth a piss.

About J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. He usually keeps his peeves to himself and tries to be more restrained but has been feeling a bit pent up and thought that Recovering Yogi might be a safe place to vent. His regular stuff can be found at

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  1. anna says:

    CRAP. I must be doing this yoga thing wrong. I got my Jade mat as a TT graduation gift to myself back in 2007 and I still have it. It’s a little worse for wear but it holds up just fine. Heck, I managed to score two more that I use as travel mats. They’ve accompanied me to several trips to the desert (Bonneville Speed Week if you must know; NOT Burning Man) and they’re holding up fine too. Am I not practicing hard enough?

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      You probably are practicing hard enough.

      It is so dependent on the style and level of yoga. My guess is if you are constantly defying gravity with your practice, it will hardly make an impact on your eco mat. Vinyasa at advanced beginner level (grounding and repetition-intensive) caused me to go through 4 Jade Harmony yoga mats in 3 years, and gifted me with a more severe latex allergy than I’d had in a lifetime.

  2. Kanani Fong says:

    There’s such an obsession over which mat to get. Sometimes I think there’s the cool kid camp and the not cool kid camp. I dislike it greatly when I see someone selling a beginner who has only taken one class a $100+ mat. Good lord! Just go over to TJ Maxx and pick up one for $9.99. It’ll do the same thing, and the point is to get people on the mat, not create divisions over who has what. One thing a lot of yogis don’t consider is that people with latex allergies will suffer greatly from using a rubber mat. Mainly their skin will begin to itch, eventually they’ll break out in hives. It’s always worth asking people –especially those new to yoga if they have a latex allergy.

  3. falguni says:

    year ago, before sticky mats, we did perfectly well with cotton blankets and dhurries. actually, cotton dhurries provide quite a bit of traction and are very absorbent. hmmm. might be time to abandon my much-slipperier-than-it-used-to-be jade mat!

  4. Danielle Stimpson says:

    I have a severe latex allergy, so no matter what case someone could make for the Jade mats I am a living testament to the fact that they are not right for everyone. Some people will get itchy rashes, others like me will get what look like burns and an asthma attack from breathing closely to it in certain poses.
    While not someone who practices the asanas, I have worked in and around yoga studios for many years and have found that if a new mat is just too shiny to grip, a few tumbles through the washing machine (a front-load NOT a top-load as you will break the agitator) breaks them in nicely and usually does the trick.
    In short though, I agree-there are a number of “mats” out there that are at best useless.

  5. Westley Anson says:

    Here is something I have always wondered and have contemplated about if I ever opened a Yoga Studio. Why have mats at all? If you have ever been to a gymnastics center they actually have rubber floors which are easily cleaned, long lasting, and just as comfortable as your own personal mat. I am curious if this has ever been thought about by Yoga Studio Owners?

  6. lisa says:

    I just wonder where all of the “bad” yoga mats went. Donated to the poor or thrown into a landfill to contaminte the soil and water? Jeeze, nice job “ECO” mats!
    I still have and use my old “bad” non-eco yoga mats because they haven’t biodegraded, when they do I’ll look into something else.
    Also, good thing I’m not licking them or eating off of them.

    • anna says:

      Find an animal shelter near you! They love using old yoga mats to line kennels and cages.

      I also knew someone who made outdoor welcome mats from discarded yoga mats.

  7. EcoYogini says:

    Some eco-mats definitely are greenwashing- such as the ‘TPE’ bs (thermoplastic elastomer…. do you see the non-eco word in there?). However, I would argue that for the typical yogi practitioner (i.e. non-ashtangi, 2-3x a week practice and less) a jade mat will last the lifetime of their practice. Further, Jade Harmony mats plant a tree for each mat sold, and are made from non-synthetic, sustainably harvested rubber trees.

    See- it’s not just about the health benefits of not inhaling the off-gassing of pvc from your mat, it’s also decreasing your environmental footprint. The pvc mats last a long time because- well, plastic is forever. After you have passed this world, your mat will keep living- and most of that plastic will break down into smaller bits to be eventually ingested by smaller organisms- leaching into the soil in landfills or into our waterways.

    When accounts of yogis range from 18-30 BILLION, i’d say that’s a lot of pvc yoga mats.

  8. Jamie says:

    Wow! It’s interesting how folks have such widely difference experiences with mat performance. I got a Jade rubber mat because I rented one for a hot class and I didn’t slip around on my mat for the first time ever!

    (I’d previously had a Manduka mat and the towel, but I don’t sweat enough in the right places to make the towel sticky and the Manduka mat alone never stopped being slippy, no matter how much I used and cleaned it. Before that I had a Barefoot mat that didn’t wear well and a Gaiam mat that is, indeed, super slippery. And my first mat was, yes, one of the PVC jobbies and it’s still in pretty good shape 20 years later – I just got tired of the bruises on my knees from the lack of padding and/or the sore wrists I got when doubling it up with another mat.).

    I’ve had the Jade mat for almost 3 years now and it’s still in great shape, and rarely slippy, so I’m constantly recommending these mats to others. Now I’ll be sure to add a caveats that some folks find them crappy and off-putting, if not downright allergenic! Seriously, though, it’s good to remember that everyone’s mileage may vary.

  9. Jamie says:

    Oops, I mean “different” experiences!

  10. Jenifer says:

    THat’s interesting.

    My experience of the german plastic ones vs the Jades are completely different.

    My german mat ‘died’ within a year of daily use (doing vinyasa). The feet and hand places ‘pilled’ off down to the nylon fiber beneath. The studios where I practiced said I couldn’t bring it because they had to sweep up some much mat debris.

    My Jade Harmony was gifted to me (used from a studio — used for 2 years before I got it) 3 years before I left it back in the US (too heavy, couldn’t bring it in my luggage because I had to bring the car seat for the kiddo!). It still looked brand new when I gave it to one of my students who always borrowed a mat from the studio or a friend. As far as I know, she’s still using it with no problem.

    I tried to import several Jades for our small studio (I know the company and could buy in bulk at a merchants/wholesale price), but the shipping cost more than the mats, and so also did the tariffs once they got here. Those mats are heavy. LOL

    Anyway, I ordered from a local company — the manduka mats, the thinnest ones since we are on carpet (not my preference, but it came with the offices!) — and the ones that I bought a year ago — that are used for 3-5 classes per day — are still going strong. The new ones (we expanded our room and needed more) of course are doing well, too.

    I suspect that we will get another year out of the older ones (two years total) before needing to recycle them at the animal shelter and into the compost bin — and I’m looking into a jute/rubber one made “locally” — Taiwan — that is being organized by some awesome teachers in Australia. They are working now to get fair trade natural rubber — the jute already is and so is the factory where they are made — and of course these are organic as well. I don’t know how “ecofriendly” the factory is, though.

    For myself, my preference is to use a cotton rug — i.e., “an astanga rug” — which would work well on my carpets, and I’m considering it as an alternative going forward.

    The primary use of the mat is to demarcate space in the room for the practitioner, and to prevent their hands from slipping — both of which is accomplished by the cotton rug, and in particular on an industrial carpet.

    On hard wood (or similar), the rubber mats create a ‘stick’ both ways — sticking to the carpet and letting the practitioner ‘stick’ to the mat.

    But if I’m going to continue with carpet — and I am because I don’t own this space and am not putting in an expensive fixture — the organic cotton rugs from India might be an easy option.

    • Jenifer says:

      Ah, price points. Also worthwhile:

      First german mat (2001) — free from the lost and found, retail price $33 US.

      First astanga rug (2001) — free from lost and found, retail price $45 US.

      First Jade Harmony mat (2007) — free from studio replacing mats, retail price $55 US.

      First batch of Mandukas (2010) — $79 NZD each (bulk price)

      Second batch of Mandukas (2012) $66 NZD each (bulk price)

      Potential Australian Eco-Mats (jute/rubber) $75 NZD or AuD each (retail — can’t remember if it was NZ or AuD, though).

      Current prices of cotton rugs? I’m going to have to seriously consider it. :D

      Mat recycling — hobby since 1999. Uses for recycled mats:

      1. take the centers out and use them as extra padding for knees/etc in yoga classes;

      2. use the manky ends as

      2A. ground cover under pathways (weed control) or around sensitive plants (remember that it may leach into the water/whatnot — so use it around non-edibles);

      2B. under the litter box to keep it from sliding around;

      2C. animal beds/comfy stuff (great idea to donate these bits to shelters — so long as they are not over-pilling);

      2D. bond several together (simple spray adhesive works nicely) and make a nice comfy knee pad for gardening/yoga/floor scrubbing, whatever.

      There are others. I’m constantly recycling people’s mats into other things. I even made a manky bag out of one. It was good for carrying ‘wet stuff’ like a bathingsut from the beach and stuff. Still, manky.

      • Prajna Vieira says:

        My last Jade mat that I’d worn out has made an excellent grip-pad to keep my futon from slipping in the frame! I also cut old mats up and put them under the little foot rugs in my kitchen to cushion my feet while I wash dishes or cook.

        • Jenifer says:

          oooh! Those are good ones. I’m thinking that they might do well under pots, too — uhm. . . plant pots. I don’t know why I just thought of that, but whatves. :)

  11. Jamie says:

    BTW I have sent some of my old mats to these folks, although I realize shipping a mat is not the most carbon neutral thing to do:

  12. Karen Whittier says:

    I want to throw my 2 cents in to this great discussion. I came to yoga later in life after many years of pounding pavement running. I was shocked how fast I started feeling better! I decided to go through teacher training as I knew I wasn’t the only Boomer who’d lived and breathed the “No pain, no gain” mantra.

    Concurrently I was busy training and participating in 3 Day Walks to raise $/awareness for breast cancer. I’d done several before as well as many single day events. It felt good to support women, but I was frustrated in that the list of women I was walking for kept growing. I wanted to do something to prevent breast cancer from happening in the first place.

    It was while I was out on a long training walk the phrase Embrace Activism came into my head. I liked the feeling of empowerment it gave me and that it was a call to action. I thought about health & wellness. I know one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cancer (and many other diseases) is to include regular exercise into your lifestyle. For me, yoga is an ideal form of exercise. By the time I got home I knew what I was going to do.

    Embrace Activism is the online source for premium yoga products with a CAUSE. Mats come in Awareness Color lines with pink for breast cancer of course being the first. I wanted to give yoga students a way to use their practice not only to improve their health & wellness but to make a difference in others as well. My first career was as an engineer…perhaps that experience influence how my products were made.

    I agree that a lot of the eco-mats have some practical drawbacks even while they purport to be good for the Earth. For me, yoga brings us back to wellness. So, I could not in good conscience go with the old standard PVC mat. Besides raising money for charities* I wanted Embrace Activism to encourage more people to yoga. With PVC mats at one extreme and rubber mats at the other I took aspects of both to come up with a mat that doesn’t contain heavy metals or phthalates and is latex-free. The consistency and texture of the mat provides a non-slip, stable surface. Because I envisioned those recovering from illness and/or older individuals starting up with yoga, I wanted to provide a mat with more cushion. So while a standard 3mm mat (or no mat at all) might be just fine for younger students, Embrace Activism mats are 8mm. Yes there’s a new mat sheen that can be a bit slippery, but that seems to wear away fairly quickly.

    Embrace Activism mats are not as durable or indestructible as PVC mats but they seem to hold up just fine for yoga 2-3x/week. I have also partnered with to give people as responsible disposal option.

    To add to the post quoting prices, Embrace Activism mats are priced at $50 US and come in a large, carry-all yoga bag. *$5 (10% of purchase) is donated to a charity the consumer chooses.

    I believe yoga can be the gateway to overall health & wellness. Have you had a friend or family member go through breast cancer? Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to help?

    Health, Wellness & CURES!!

  13. Barb says:

    I started yoga at age 13 using a dhurrie, which was all there was at the time. Later I tried a mat at some classes but it never felt right (nor did the classes, but that’s a different story.), so I continue with a dhurrie and do my practice at home, going on 40 years now.
    I’m so glad I started at a time when yoga was about much more than mostly obsessing about what kind of mat to use, what to wear to class or who has the best body. Yoga has been around for a very long time without the need for plastic mats, special clothes or ‘name brand’ classes.

  14. Kimberly Johnson says:

    my favorite line:
    “When even just a little bit of perspiration turns what is intended to be a stabilizing surface into the equivalent of a wet banana, you got a lot of nerve calling it a yoga mat.”
    i agree that most of these “eco-friendly” personal acts are more gestures than actual game-changing actions.

  15. Kanani says:

    What we tell our veterans coming: The best mat is the one you can buy with cash and still have money leftover to purchase groceries, and pay the rent or mortgage.

    • Amanda says:

      Kanani – Yes!!! Me too! Same for yoga clothes. ;) Though I am looking for mats for my studio and am glad to get these opinions to weight in…

  16. WTH? says:

    I’m lucky because I have the original Manduka black mat, purchased about 20? years ago. It was made in Germany. It’s no longer produced by Manduka because the lost the rights to produce it (patent issues with the German company I guess).

    The mat is still in nearly pristine condition, although I’ve worked the heck out of it. I never plan to buy another.

    I did have the first Manduka “travel” mat, it was purple. Nice, but no cigar. It wore out in a few years.

    So I would say, get a good solid mat, even if you have to spend more than you like (if you’re really committed to a long-term practice.) You’ll never have to worry about it again!

    Anyway, it worked for me.

  17. WTH? says:

    So, I forgot to mention my main point! Just get a great mat, eco or not, because it’ll last a long time if it’s quality. My vote is for longevity, even if it’s not a particularly PC stance.

    • Tori says:

      Longevity ended up being my focus as well. It took me a couple of years (3 mats’ worth) of regular practice to realize that I was wearing holes in Certain Type of Mat A in about 8-9 months time. When I started really researching and shopping around, my first question was, “What type of mat is going to be left with me, cockroaches, Twinkies, and duct tape after Armageddon and/or the Zombie Apocalypse?”

      I do not claim that the mat I have purchased is objectively the most durable. However, I do feel like purchasing fewer mats over the course of my lifetime (which, as you can tell from the statement above, I intend to be a while yet) is as much a factor for me as is what goes into any one mat I purchase.

      • David D says:

        When I try to explain this to people they look at me like I”m a martian. You have to consider the *full* impact of your choices to determine their impact on the environment, not just a single factor like what it’s made out of. For mats, if the “eco” mat wears out faster, then you have to question whether the manufacturing and transportion for the mat and the raw materials, etc., etc., really balances out the supposed negatives of the “less green” mats. I don’t consider myself a greenie, but, after looking closely at the issues, I choose a less “material friendly” mat that will last a lot longer. I have been severely questioned about this and have been met with blank stares when I try to explain.

  18. indiana says:

    or you could just make a yoga mat by felting a stack of wool together.
    breathes, doesn’t slip, doesn’t smell bad
    when it wears out, can be used as a nitrogen rich slow-release fertilizer mat under your lemon tree [provided it hasn't been coloured with toxic dyes]
    and then
    you can get some more exercise by making another one :)

    and all the $ you save on yoga mats can go towards another indulgence. like gin.

  19. nathan says:

    mat discussions sometimes sound like yoga clothes discussions. i have a fairly cheap gaiam mat i have used for several years now. but i also practice outside without a mat. on hardwood floors without a mat. and other places without one. frankly, using nothing or using a carpet you already have would be most eco-friendly. there’s so much consumerism floating about in yoga circles, though, that even suggesting going without a mat sometimes probably is pushing taboo.

    • Prajna Vieira says:

      Not taboo at all! There’s a whole bunch of yogis out there enthusiastically practicing without a mat. I see it in my classes sometimes and I don’t mind, as long as they carefully clean the floor after class. I actually think studios should consider a “Marley” floor, like the kind used in ballet studios.

  20. Prajna Vieira says:

    I actually think the era of “rental mats” needs to go. Gross! I like Rusty Wells’ policy at his SF studio: they have a few loaner mats for newbies or special situations, but after these are all taken, there are mats available to buy. Not everyone can afford a Jade mat, a Lulu “The Mat” or a Manduka Pro (all awesome in their own unique ways), and we all started out with shitty PVC mats. What really surprises me is some of these weird “fitness” mats beginners bring in. These range from waaaaay too small (like, a cat could do yoga on it), to way too thick (seriously, like an inch thick and squishy. Makes for very creative balancing), to way too big (I have seen a couple of people come in lately with an XL pvc mat that is literally 3 feet wide! Personally, I have a variety of mats, rugs and towels that I use for different situations, depending on how sweaty I’m going to get and how stationary or flowy the practice is. But I teach full time and practice every day so for me it’s practical.

    • jill z. says:

      I found my mat 6 or so years ago on top of a trash can in Brooklyn- took it home and gave it a good scrubbing and it is still fine. I also use to fashion a mat holder out of twine to carry my mat around. I love to look good and all, but as Yogi’s we should be representing non-consumerism. Who else will??

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  22. Steven says:

    The so called German mats made from PVC have a PVC coating manufactured according to Oeko-Tex 100 Level 2 certification. Beneath the PVC coating the following materials are used (manufactured to the same Oeko-Tex 100 Level 2 certification): 79% cotton and 21% PES (polyethersulfone).

    At the end of the day, this mat will have a reduced environmental impact, as per the amount of energy used to manufacture the mat, when considering its extended life and the number of mats thus produced.

    In addition, these “German” mats have natural bacterial and mold resistant qualities, and remain minimally allergenic.

    Not bad for a 20+ year old product.

    This is not to say one should not buy a rubber mat, TPE, etc. in cadence with their practice, lifestyle, etc.

    Designing and producing yoga mats is rather insignificant in the world of manufacturing. Granted, we choose our battles, but if one wishes to consider toxins in manufacturing, well, we could begin to look at pharmaceutical companies, or the planned obsolescence built into the cell phone and computer industry as a place to start. . .

  23. Little Branches says:

    Let’s face it – the most eco friendly yoga mat is a second hand one. Period. I am starting a small yoga studio and I have so far sourced about 7 second hand yoga mats (all as brand new, 5mm mats – testament to the plethora of good intentions out there) but I am having to face the fact that I cannot obtain enough mats to fit out the studio in time and I will have to buy. Longevity is important, but then you are also suporting the companies to continue making mats out of such fabrics which doesn’t seem to be considered here. If it was just for my personal practice – I would never buy a new mat again when there are so many available second hand that are like brand new – even eco mats! Though the decision as a studo owner is just not that easy unfortunately!

  24. Eddy says:

    Great post. I’m guilty of buying the Jade Yoga Mat (which I love by the way). I sweat profusely during a class and found myself switching yoga mats all the time. I do slip on a Jade Yoga mat (along with every Yoga mat I’ve tried) but I found by putting a micro-fibre towel at the top of my mat stops my hands from slipping and I have quick access to my towel to wipe the sweat from me as well :)

  25. Andrea says:

    I’m confused now. I’m from Germany where the expression “German mat” is unheard of. What exactly is a German mat?? My two cents otherwise: I bought a mat at the Sivananda yoga centre for less than 30 pounds about five years ago and have used it daily, also to demonstrate to students in class. It holds up nicely! :)

  26. Kim says:

    Just a side note on your eco-cleaner for windows. Skip the vinegar crap. Use good old isopropyl alcohol you can buy for about $1 anywhere in the US and dilute it with water. You’ll have the cleanest mirrors and windows you’ve ever had… and loathe windex for it’s slimy film that’s lasts for decades. I know this isn’t adding to the mat discussion, but hey…. :)

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