Yoga For Germaphobes: 5 Ways to Avoid Bacteria

I think we’ve always been aware of the potential bacteria lurking in the places where we exercise, but never wanting to pay too close attention.

As an instructor and practitioner of hot power yoga, as well as a former now-getting-back-into-it gym junkie, I have finally decided to at least educate myself on what to be aware of as I work out in these public places.

What I found out was exactly the kind of information I was afraid of.

First of all, if you’ve ever taken a hot yoga class, not just a heated Vinyasa but the class you take inside what feels to be a sauna, then you’ve watched how much body sweat accrues within the hour.

It’s gross yes, but the class itself is absolutely wonderful. All your internal organs are purified, releasing toxins and rejuvenating the systems working within and for your body.

Although these workouts are beneficial, there’s something we germaphobes should know. Our yoga mats are absolutely disgusting. Housing over 50% of infection-causing bacteria, they’re a breeding ground for viruses and multiple different illnesses and infections such as the common cold, strep, pneumonia, septicemia, skin diseases, and dare I say more.

Rutgers’ Professor of Medicine, Dr. Robert Lahita, agrees that our yoga mat is "a very fertile source of infection, mainly because people sweat on them and they rarely are cleaned. A yoga mat is a perfect incubator for many of our skin infections."

Having been studied to hold more than eight times the bacteria of a toilet seat, after just one class our mat carries over 25,000 culture-forming units per square centimeter! Susceptible individuals can even potentially catch viruses including staph, strep, herpes, and even MRSA. Not too hard in a crowded moist studio with skin-to-skin contact and a potentially unclean environment.

Yes, I’m rethinking this practice too. However, I’ve found some good information too.

Since our yoga mats, and yes I didn’t even mention the public mats, attain all these germs from spending a ton of time in humid rooms, absorbing our body heat and sweat, there are ways to maximize our chances of avoiding illness and infection.

Below are the five I found:

1. Only Use Your Own Yoga Mat

Yoga mats are made of open or closed cell materials that can either repel or absorb moisture. Both types of material have their pros and cons, which you can learn more about in How to Choose Your Yoga Mat, but both are still susceptible to holding a magnitude of bacteria. Whether you have a natural rubber mat like me that’s open cell and absorbs all sweat (hard to clean but amazing for hot yoga), or a PVC yoga mat that’s closed-cell and easy-to-clean but commonly slippery, using your own is the best way to at least avoid other people’s germs.

This way not only do you have control over how clean your mat is, but you know if it’s dirty, it’s your own dirt.

2. Use a Yoga Towel

If nothing else, using a yoga towel is the most preventative way to keep your yoga mat germ-free. This allows most of your body sweat to be absorbed into the easy-to-wash towel versus into your absorbent or hard-to-clean mat.

Using a mat towel also helps to extend the life of your mat, as it acts as a protective layer for all activity.

3. Wash Regularly

Yes, this does mean you too, but also importantly your yoga mat. Investing in good non-toxic mat wipes or a spray can prevent bacteria from living on your mat for too long. Typical bacteria can live up to two days on any surface, while viruses can last for weeks. Sanitizing your mat after each use is a necessity to not only keeping you away from the germs, but also keeping your mat healthy.

{Ionic silver coating produces a shiny appearance}

4. Self-Cleaning Yoga Mats

Wait, what? Yes, there is a special silver coating that aids in not only evading bacteria from penetrating into your mat, but also from remaining on its surface. This yoga mat is called an Antimicrobial Yoga Mat. Yoga Direct does carry this type of mat fortunately. It is an open cell super sticky yoga mat made with an added layer of ionic silver, which is resistant to bacteria and helps eliminate odors.

5. Change Out Your Mat Annually

Even with a yoga towel, our yoga mats, especially when used for hot power yoga, can out run their lifetime quickly when constantly placed in a humid and moist climate. Storing your mat in a cool place is ideal to help evaporate any held moisture within the material, but after time passes, even the best yoga mat needs an update.

It’s good practice as a yogi to replace your yoga mat annually to keep your practice clean and lively. I know I personally become very attached to my yoga mat with continuous use, so this step of the process is difficult when you’re used to a certain familiar surface to detox and find balance.

After finally opening myself up to the hard truth about how much germs are carried in a yoga studio and on our yoga products, following the five guidelines above will help keep peace of mind as I continue my daily practice. I hope these were also helpful for you!