When Richard Rosen and Rodney Yee opened the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California, more than 20 years ago, there weren't a lot of choices when it came to yoga mats. "We used to buy this green mat by the roll and cut it ourselves with scissors," Rosen remembers. "I suspect it was used for carpet pads. The mats lasted about three months, less after we brought in an Ashtanga teacher—the jumping would trash the mat in a few weeks." In desperation, they switched to thick black rubber mats, the kind that cushion cooks' feet in restaurants. "They made the room smell like a tire factory," says Rosen.
Shop for a yoga mat today, and you'll find mats in a variety of colors, patterns, and materials, including lots of options manufactured with the health of the planet in mind. Made from a variety of natural materials as well as eco-friendlier synthetics, these mats are an alternative to ones made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has raised concerns because of the toxicity of the additives—phthalates and lead, among others—used as softeners. Overwhelmed by the choices? Check out our rundown on the latest in environmentally friendly mat materials.
JUTE: A plant fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. Jute is usually combined with another material, either natural or synthetic.
BETTER BECAUSE: Jute is a renewable, biodegradable resource. The fibers give the mats added traction.
FOUND IN: Barefoot Yoga Original Eco Yoga Mat (made from jute and natural rubber)
NATURAL RUBBER: A material derived from rubber trees.
BETTER BECAUSE: Mats made from this renewable resource are biodegradable. They feel soft and grip well.
This common plant fiber creates a soft, durable fabric mat.
BETTER BECAUSE: It's a renewable, biodegradable material. Cotton absorbs sweat in steamy classes and is comfortable in restorative poses.
FOUND IN: Gaiam Organic Cotton Yoga Mat, Hugger Mugger Yoga Rug
SYNTHETICS: Man-made polymers, including thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), made without toxic ingredients.
BETTER BECAUSE: Most are either degradable or recyclable.