March 13, 2014

What’s That Smell? ~ Lenora Degen

Yoga Mat

How to wash our yoga stuff (and other things that might be stinking up our class):

I had hoped my first yoga article would be more enlightened and enlightening than this. I’ve been teaching yoga for about a year now, and practicing regularly for eight years. Being very close to so many people encouraged me to write this rather personal article. I hope it helps a studio or instructor “air” some difficult situations without pointing fingers.

We’ve all been there. Class starts to heat up and suddenly we almost pass out from a hideous odor that no human being could ever create without enlisting the help of a biochemical warfare expert. This is a common, yet often avoided topic. No one wants to discuss it—especially we sensitive yogis—but it needs discussing.

First Step: Is it me?

No one wants to be the culprit, but face it. It’s got to be somebody! If we are smelling body odor, it might be us. It’s very natural, really. We are sweating in an oven; there will be consequences. Even the most hygienic person’s sweat has an odor. It’s the excessive stuff we’re talking about here.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take a quick shower before class, or avoid certain foods. For people with allergies and other sensitivities, try researching natural alternatives to the deodorants on the market. Some common causes of strong body odor are:

1. Alcohol

Ever take a hot class on a Sunday morning with some folks who overdid it on Saturday night?

2. Tobacco

Most smokers don’t even realize how they smell, being immune to the scent. Before I quit, I had no clue. If you are a smoker, please wash your clothes and hair and use some strong mouthwash before class.

3. Other smoke

Hey, I live in Colorado and marijuana is legal. It doesn’t mean we all want to smell it during class. Read tobacco advice above.

4. Diet

This could be an imbalance of a nutrient, low blood sugar or overindulging in strong spices.

Eating too soon before class is not good. We should feel light in class, not like we feel after Thanksgiving dinner.

We should avoid foods that are hard for our bodies to digest. Everyone passes gas, in yoga and outside of yoga class; it’s natural. If we are knocking people out when we do it, we should probably examine our diet.

5. Clothing

Certain synthetics or “non-breathable” fabrics are culprits. They hang onto odors and some repel detergent in washing. Breathable fabrics are best.

If we have an item that is hard to get smelling clean, contact the manufacturer to see if there is a cleaning suggestion.

One more thing: We all have our own scents that we have become used to. Just because we don’t smell it, doesn’t mean those around us don’t. Not to make you paranoid, but please follow these guidelines even if you don’t notice any offensive odors coming from you.

Second Step: Is it my mat?

Wash your mat. Follow the guidelines from the manufacturer of the mat. They differ according to the materials. There are fancy sprays out there, but most yoga instructors I spoke to use simple dish liquid or laundry detergent.

We may be able to put our mat in the washing machine, but many people use the tub or shower. Drying our mat is the hard part. Outdoors is best, when possible, but always hang it and allow plenty of time to dry. It’s great if we have two mats so we can leave one drying while using the back-up.

Don’t leave your wet, stinky yoga mat rolled up in your car, especially with a damp towel rolled up inside it. Take my advice.

Don’t ask me how I know. Wanna buy a car?

Third Step: Is it my towel or other accessories?

Non-skid towels such as Yogitoes are great inventions, but for goodness sake, wash them every time you wash your clothing. They hold odor even more than a mat. Don’t wad them up and toss them in your car (again, don’t ask me how I know) or roll them inside your mat or yoga bag for a period of time.

Towels have a tendency to smell okay when they are dry, letting us think perhaps they have one more class left in them before the wash. But once they get damp again, look out. It’s worse than we could have imagined.

For regular towels, heavy-duty washing is fine. For special products like non-skid towels, socks or gloves, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets as they can undermine the skid-less part of our expensive non-skid items.

Yoga etiquette is part of what keeps us all practicing and loving our practice. Breathe deep and enjoy.


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Editorial Assistant: Paige Vignola / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Images via Scottius Polke and Becky Stern

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Lenora Degen