Yoga for Pain Relief: Yoga Mat Guide
By Western Berks Physical Therapy on December 9th, 2019
Choosing a Yoga Mat for Pain Relief
For many of us, yoga is much more than just a simple pastime, it’s a practice that provides natural pain relief. So, if you’re already one of “us” and are familiar with yoga for pain relief, it’s time to get familiar with what yoga mat you should actually be practicing on.
We know it’s tempting to buy the cheapest yoga mat at the store, but if you’re using yoga in addition to physical therapy for pain relief, you’re better off learning to choose wisely. For example, buy a mat that’s too thin (like many plastic mats tend to be) and you could cause more damage to your joints if they’re already injured. On the other hand, buy a mat that’s too smooth and it won’t provide enough traction to properly hold onto poses, especially when you’re sweating, making falls or injury much more likely.
Know where you stand (literally)
There’s another more important factor to consider when shopping for your mat: what it’s actually made of. As it turns out, almost half of all yoga mats (and definitely most of the budget mats) are made from a plastic called polyvinyl chloride, otherwise known as PVC.
PVC is used to make anything from pipes to kitchen cabinets to –you guessed it– yoga mats. Unfortunately, PVC’s popularity speaks nothing of its worrying problems and potential risks. First, studies show that it could be harmful to your health, especially if you’re expecting. To make it softer and more pliable, manufacturers often add plasticizers called phthalates, a number of which were found to be toxic (and even carcinogenic) to the human body.
Experts found that PVC can actually leach out these chemicals, especially at warmer temperatures—such as ones you might find in yoga studios, for example. In fact, in 2017, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) went so far as to ban the use of some of those phthalates from children’s products, as some studies found links between exposure during pregnancy and certain birth defects.
This type of plastic is also very harmful to the environment. PVC creates enormous amounts of contamination in its production process by releasing toxic chemicals into the air and water. It’s not exactly biodegradable either, which means that these mats –once disposed of– will lie in landfills for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
Out with the old, in with the new
This has driven many yoga mat manufacturers to seek alternatives that are healthier for the human body and for the environment. These newer yoga mats—although often more expensive than the PVC counterparts—offer enormous advantages to both our body and planet.
So, while these mats might seem pricey when compared with the most popular yoga mats, the difference in quality is more than worth the investment. A good mat that can provide the support and cushioning you need—without exposing you to toxic materials—can be the key to sticking with your practice for years to come and reaping the full benefits of this time-honed tradition.