Yoga is a very rewarding activity that provides lots of benefits to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. However, aside from practicing precaution in doing the poses, you should also be wary of using the yoga mat especially if you are sharing it with someone else. While it is true that yoga studios are being cleaned and sanitized to retain the sanctity and purity of the space, the same can’t be said when it comes to their mats. Of course, this does not mean that you should entirely avoid doing yoga, but rather, understand why you might get infected from a mat and what you can do to avoid it from happening.
Experts agree that yoga mats are dirtier than your personal mobile devices like your cell phones. Fungi and viruses are easily transferred into the mat through direct skin contact. When the person using the mat before you has been sweating a lot, they are also shedding off bacteria from their skin and on to the yoga mat. Most of these bacteria are present in the oilier areas of the skin such as the forehead, chest, feet, back and stomach. If you think about it, these parts of the body are also the ones that come into frequent contact with the mat. As these body parts touch the yoga mat, sweat is transferred and so is bacteria. Sweat in the crevices of the mat also provides a comfortable living environment for fungi and viruses.
So what kinds of viruses and bacteria are present in the mat? Almost anything really, and by using a shared yoga mat, you are making yourself vulnerable to all sorts of infection. It can be as simple as cold and flu viruses or it can be as complex as herpes infection. You can also get acne when your face touches the bacteria-laden mat. And don’t forget the variety of feet and toenail fungi that the might be present in the mat as well. At worst, you might even be infected with staph or strep infection, which are not easily treated with antibiotics. While viruses only live for several hours, bacteria and fungi can thrive in the mat for days. If a person with infection touches the mat, then there’s a big chance that you will likely catch these infections when you use them, too. People with dry, cracked skin and wet skin are the ones that are most susceptible to these infections.
Unfortunately, communal yoga mats are not cleaned right after each session. If you are planning on using a studio yoga mat in your practice, make sure to bring a disinfectant spray to kill off bacteria and fungi. A liquid disinfectant containing alcohol or chlorine and detergent are your best bet. Meanwhile, homemade sprays containing merely soap and water won’t do you any good. You can also bring disinfectant wipes for additional measure.
Of course, the most recommended way to avoid contracting any infection is to bring your own yoga mat and to avoid sharing it with others. It can drastically reduce the risk of getting any bacteria, virus and fungi from others.
For extra protection, you can also use yoga gloves, wear yoga pants and shirts with sleeves to minimize direct skin contact with the mat. If your feet tend to get sweaty, you can use antiperspirant to keep them dry. As dry, cracked skin are the most vulnerable to contract infection, make sure that your skin is moisturized before going on the mat.
However, even if you are using your own personal mat, you should also be wary of infecting yourself. Yoga floors potentially contain a lot of bacteria and it can still be transferred to your own mat if you are walking barefoot around the studio. If you had already cured yourself from the infection, there is still the risk that you will be transmitting the same infection to yourself when you get back on the mat.
A regular yoga mat cleaning is important and you shouldn’t go on using your mat without washing it at least once a week. You don’t have to spend a fortune to clean it. A basic, do-it-yourself, natural solution made of part water and part vinegar is already sufficient in disinfecting your mat without damaging the material’s color and texture. Others prefer adding essential oils but you need to check with your mat’s manufacturer to see if oils won’t destroy the product.
To properly clean the mat, place the water and vinegar mixture in a spray and spritz on both sides. Wipe both sides with a wrung but damp sponge before drying the mat. Don’t use a lot of soap and water as the combination of both can only clog the crevices of the mat, leading to dirt and nasty smell. Once a month, you can also put your mat in the washing machine for thorough cleaning. Just use water without soap and then dry it on high heat. This once-a-month cleanup won’t damage your mat. Lastly, you can air dry the mat but don’t leave it too long under the sun. Doing so might destroy the material.
Hygiene plays a big role in your yoga practice. You have to constantly remind yourself that the mat that you are using is a hotbed for infections, viruses and bacteria. While the best option would be to get a personal mat, some people prefer using the studio mat because it is more convenient, particularly if they are going somewhere else after a class. If this is the case for you, you have to remember to be prepared when going to yoga class. Make sure that your yoga bag always has a supply of wipes and spray so you can disinfect the mat that you will be using before starting with the practice. And if you do have your own yoga mat, never forget to clean it regularly. These are very simple steps and one that you can easily do, so you can enjoy the benefits of yoga, without risking your health.