With the weather warming up, your practice space may be feeling a little hot or you could be tempted to bring your mat outside for a flow under the sun. While sticky PVC mats offer lots of grip to keep you and your mat from sliding all around the floor, they’re not the safest for the environment. Organic mats, on the other hand, offer benefits of their own right and help reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re thinking about making a switch, check out these natural beauties made of cotton, cork, or jute.
Cotton might not be the first material that you think of when shopping for a new mat, but we’re here to tell you that they deserve to be on your radar. While it’s true that, on average, it takes 10,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) organic cotton is in a league of its own. With strict environmental and social constraints placed on GOTS-certified fabrics and the different farming practices associated with organic cotton, it uses up to 91 percent less water than nonorganic cotton and 62 percent less energy to produce. Plus, organic cotton mitigates the risks of water pollution, since it must be grown without harmful chemicals, greatly reducing the harmful effects of runoff saturated with pesticides. Finally, when you’re ready to move on to a new mat, those made of organic cotton will be entirely biodegradable; leaving them in a compost heap instead of a landfill speeds up the process.
In terms of your practice, many cotton masks will come with a non-slip feature; they’re naturally absorbent, just like any rubber mat; and they can be used anywhere, making outdoor practice possible. You will be sacrificing on padding though, because they’re known to be pressed down over time. If you’re looking for a slip-resistant mat with sustainability at the forefront, look no further than an organic cotton mat.
The Organic Non-Slip Yoga Mat by Brentwood Home is an excellent option. They’re made from 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton, include a non-slip base made from natural rubber, and is 5mm thick which rivals many natural rubber mats to start out with for cushion.
Cork mats are another sustainable option. Cork comes from the outer bark of evergreen oak trees and is harvested by being stripped from the trunk or branches with an axe. Evergreen oak trees regenerate their outer layers every nine to 10 years, meaning the cork can be harvested many times over their 150-year lifespan. Bonus: Cork groves—which are primarily found in the Mediterranean—absorb millions of tons of CO2 every year, and they actually protect the surrounding landscapes from desertification. Further, cork can be recycled or composted, so it can be put to use in a new prop such as a block after your time with the mat is over, or if it’s composted, it won’t sit in a landfill for 100 years like its PVC counterpart.
When practicing, you’ll notice that cork mats are naturally very grippy. The open cell structure of cork allows sweat to absorb quickly, which reduces the slippage of your hands and feet in the middle of a sequence.This structure also adds a nice cushion to the mat, mimicking the pliability of foam while remaining completely sturdy and natural, which is helpful for practicing outside. Plus, cork mats are antimicrobial which aids in keeping your skin clean when practicing. The only downside? Cork mats can be on the pricier side, and are noticeably more expensive than PVC alternatives.
The Air Cork Yoga Mat by Yoloha is 6 mm thick and extra grippy, which makes it perfect for hot yoga or vigorous vinyasa flows, while still being suitable for more ground-based styles such as Yin yoga.
Jute mats are relatively new to the yoga space, but they’re making significant strides in sustainability and practicality. Jute is a sturdy vegetable fiber, and the second most-produced plant-based fiber after cotton. These mats are thin and light, making them excellent for carrying around when you’re on-the-go or practicing on the beach or a park. Jute mats are also exceptionally breathable, making them great for when it’s really hot outside or in the studio.
As for sustainability, they’re completely biodegradable and recyclable, so they can be repurposed for use in a handbag, a decorative rug, or decomposed. Most of the world’s jute is grown in Bengal and has been used for centuries when making textiles. It absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen just like trees do, except jute stalks grow to maturity in four to six months, making them practical for farmers to cultivate and harvest regularly.
When practicing on a jute yoga mat, you may notice that the surface feels rough on the skin. This texture adds grippiness to the mat and makes them a good alternative if you’re allergic to latex, but it can take a few sessions to get used to. As for their portability, their lightness takes away from their cushion since many are around 3 mm thick. Jute mats make for great travel mats, but won’t provide the support you need if joint pain is an issue.
The Gaiam Performance Jute Yoga Mat gives you the best of both worlds, being an all-natural jute yoga mat with 5 mm of cushion to keep you safe. It’s still grippy and lightweight, but isn’t as thin so carrying it around with you may feel like most other mats.
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