Athlete's foot, which is a fungal infection, has become a public health problem in yoga studios. Since fungus thrives in moist, damp environments, sticky mats make the perfect breeding ground. The symptoms of athlete's foot include cracking and peeling skin, itching, soreness, and, sometimes, blisters; if unchecked it can lead to toenail fungus, which is characterized by blackening of the nails.
The best way to avoid getting athlete's foot is to bring your own sticky mat to class and wash it regularly. If only public mats are available, make sure that the yoga studio staff regularly sanitizes the mats to prevent an outbreak of athlete's foot.
John Douillard, who practices <a href="/health/ayurveda">Ayurvedic medicine in Boulder, Colorado, and is the author of the book Body, Mind & Sport (Crown, 1995), is also the director of player development for the basketball team the New Jersey Nets. As director he has successfully treated numerous cases of athlete's foot. He recommends applying an infusion of neem leaves to infected feet. Neem is a multi-purpose Ayurvedic herb that is especially effective against skin diseases.
To make an infusion, add 1 tablespoon of neem leaves to 1 cup of water and boil down to 1/4 cup liquid; strain out the leaves and let cool. Add a few drops of garlic oil and tea tree oil (which also have antifungal properties) to the infusion. After showering, swab the neem leaf infusion on the feet and blow dry. Ideally, you should wear open shoes, such as sandals, that leave the feet exposed to air. If that's not practical, wear cotton socks and keep shoes dry and clean.
Once the fungus has infected the toenails, it can be stubborn to treat; therefore, Douillard advises taking neem internally. Neem can be purchased in capsules at natural products stores, Ayurvedic pharmacies, or on-line. Follow the dosage recommendations on the label. Be diligent in the treatment regimen; toenail fungus can take up to a year to cure, warns Douillard.