Many people in the West think of yoga as a form of exercise; it has become increasingly popular with people trying to get fit at home during lockdown. There are lots of free classes you can join online, and you don’t need much (if any) equipment. If you’re thinking about buying kit to enhance your home practice, it’s important to make sure that the yoga kit you buy is sustainable.
The philosophy behind yoga
There’s more to yoga than the poses (or ‘asanas’). Yoga is part of a rich Indian spiritual tradition. The Yoga Sutras, widely regarded to be the authoritative text on yoga, is truly ancient. It is believed to have been put together over 1,700 years ago with the writing itself a collection of much older wisdom. A key idea in this text are the five Yamas, which, once mastered, will help an individual to cultivate inner peace. They are:
- Ahimsa: not causing harm
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: not stealing
- Brahmacharya: moderating the senses
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness
Sustainable yoga practice
So what does this all have to do with sustainability? Well, without getting into a deep philosophical discussion, we can see that the yogic principle of Ahimsa clearly lines up with sustainable ideas about not harming the environment. Can you truly practice yoga on a mat made from harmful plastics, generated in a polluting factory, halfway across the world? Arguably not. But have no fear! To help you improve your practice, I’ve collected a list of some of the best, sustainable yoga kit and equipment available.
As with all sustainable buying guides, the first step is to work out what you truly need. The most sustainable thing to buy is nothing—could you make do with something you already own?
Before you invest in lots of yoga clothes, think about when you’re going to be practising. If like me, you practice at home, first thing in the morning, you may as well stay in your pyjamas. Pyjamas are often made from soft, stretchy fabric, making them comfortable to sleep in—and ideal for yoga! Likewise, if you’re practising just before bed, pyjamas will probably do the job. If you use old clothes that are no longer appropriate for wearing in public but are still very comfortable, as pyjamas, then you get bonus sustainability points!
Of course, if you’re going to a public class, then pyjamas might not be the best idea. For eco-friendly sportswear, there are lots of slow fashion brands you could consider. Organic Basics, Yoga Matters, and Asquith London are all worth checking out!
Sustainable yoga mats
The next, and possibly most obvious, piece of kit is your yoga mat. As always, think about what you really need. Some yogis believe that mats can hinder your practice. Before purchasing a mat, try practising without one and see if you notice the difference! If you think you need one, try one of the eco-friendly yoga mats.
The vast majority of modern yoga mats are primarily made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a by-product of the oil industry, with environmentally toxic chemicals like Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DHEP) added to make the mats feel ‘soft’ and ‘sticky’. As well as being harmful to the environment, many are concerned that PVC mats could harm human health. To keep costs low, many manufacturers base their operations in China and Taiwan, where there are fewer environmental protections.
Traditional fabric mats
Things haven’t always been this way. For the vast majority of the time that people have been practising yoga, chemical compounds like PVC were not available. Traditionally, yoga mats were tiger or deer skins, treasured items that were taken from animals that died from natural causes, or woven rugs. Of course, we do not support buying tiger skins—but you could certainly consider a traditional, woven yoga mat. Traditional cotton mats are available from Monsoon Blooms and Yogasana.
Tree rubber mats
Do you slide around too much on a fabric mat? If you want a sustainable alternative to PVC that retains the feel of PVC, tree rubber mats are a good choice. Tree rubber mats are compostable, so when they wear out, they don’t contribute to landfill. UK-based company EcoYoga make their mats out of tree rubber and jute. This is the mat I use—I find it softer than the PVC one I used before, and while it’s not ‘sticky’, I have no trouble gripping. Similarly, Jade Yoga also offers tree rubber yoga mats, traditional cotton mats, and woven grass mats. They plant one tree for every mat sold!
Another popular option is cork yoga mats. Cork yoga mats are slightly softer than other mats and thus ideal for long practices. Damaged cork mats can be sanded down to look good as new, meaning that your cork mat will last that bit longer. Finally, as cork mats are made from the bark of the cork tree, they’re completely biodegradable. You can buy cork yoga mats from Juru, CorkYogis, and Cork Space.
For our American readers, consider Suga. Suga makes their mats using recycled wetsuits. This company has (at time of writing) prevented 12,574 wetsuits from going to landfill. While you can order these to be shipped to the UK, the environmental impact of transatlantic shipping is likely to be too significant for this to be a truly eco-friendly option.
Other sustainable yoga kit
Beyond your clothes and mat, you may find that you need a yoga brick to help support you in certain postures. These blocks are usually made from plastic foam. Before buying a yoga brick, have a look and see if you can make a substitute from a cushion or a large book. If you truly need one, Yoga Studio sells one made from recycled foam offcuts, leftover from the manufacturing of other foam products. Ekotex also sells a block made from 60% recycled material. If plastic foam just isn’t for you, Manduka sells cork wood yoga blocks.
If you take your own kit to a public class, you’re likely to want a yoga mat bag. Of course, no discussion of sustainable yoga kit would be complete without a discussion of our yoga mat bags. They’re made of 100% hemp, which is much more sustainable than cotton. We also donate 10% of our profit to Yuwa, a Nepali youth empowerment charity.
How do you make sure that your yoga practice is sustainable? Let us know in the comments, below!