You know when the yoga teacher has you in a holding pattern in downward dog, and all you can think about is how yummy your yoga mat looks?
Neither does anyone else — except fast-food retailers like the sandwich chain Subway, which put a chemical used in yoga mats into its bread. The Los Angeles Times reports that the chemical, azodicarbonamide, is “a plastic-based additive used as a bleaching agent in the bread at Subway, the buns at McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food restaurants.”
Subway has announced that it is in the process of removing azodicarbonamide, which is also used in the soles of shoes, from its bread recipe, though the the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have both approved azodicarbonamide for use in food. That doesn’t mean it’s safe for use in yoga mats.
As someone who has lately begun to spend a fair amount of time with my face very close to a yoga mat, I’m curious what exactly I’m getting myself into. Here are six reasons yoga mats could be hazardous to human health.
The World Health Organization said in 1999 that the chemical’s effects on humans haven’t been studied comprehensively, but that it has been shown to cause asthma and other respiratory symptoms, as well as skin sensitization through exposure other than ingestion. So you don’t have to eat or inhale it for it to irritate your body. Laying on a yoga mat could do the job.
Some mats, particularly the cheap ones, contain a host of other chemicals that do you no favors. BuyingYogaMats.com has compiled a scary list that includes:
Inhaling PVCs has been known to cause liver damage and cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency considers it a carcinogen. Yoga teachers are very big on inhaling, so this could be a problem.
According to BuyingYogaMats.com, phthalates have caused
cancer, infertility, testicular damage, reduced sperm count, suppressed ovulation and abnormal testicular development in tests on lab animals. They may also be linked to asthma and autism and are known to cross the placenta from mothers into developing embryos. These chemicals are constantly leaking out of your PVC yoga mat.
Take this with a grain of salt, though, since extrapolating from the effects on non-human animals to humans is not reliable.
4. Heavy Metals
Many yoga mats contain heavy metals like mercury and lead. On the slim chance that you never got the memo about these being bad for you, just know that mercury poisoning appears to have killed Isaac Newton, and lead poisoning probably killed Beethoven.
These and other substances that are either in your mat or are released during production of your mat are also very much not eco-friendly and can sicken the workers who produce yoga mats. What about non-cheap, PVC-free mats?
5. Other People’s Germs
Shared yoga mats can spread diseases well beyond colds and the flu from one person to another. Problems communicable by mat include plantar warts, athlete’s foot, and skin infections. For this one, it really is best to buy your own (non-toxic) yoga mat and bring it to classes.
Switching to a different form of exercise isn’t much of an improvement. Pilates uses the same mats. Running can cause joint damage and seems to be responsible for sudden inexplicable heart attacks. Gym equipment has other people’s germs all over it. Cyclists risk car collisions and most of them have to sit on seriously uncomfortable seats.
Maybe I’ll just stay home on the couch.
Photo credit: Ron Chapple studios