Communal Yoga Mats: Beware of Germs
By ABBY ELLIN
Published: July 27, 2006
GREG E. COHEN, a podiatrist at Long Island College Hospital, hears the
same story a lot: women complaining about a flaky red bump or a
persistent itchy patch on a foot. By the time he sees them, they’re
embarrassed and horrified. A few years ago, Dr. Cohen, who also has a
private practice in Brooklyn Heights, didn’t know what to make of it, but
these days he doesn’t blink an eye.
Lars Klove for The New York Times
“The first thing I ask is, ‘Do you do yoga?’
” he said. As often as not, the answer is a
TREAD CAREFULLY Health clubs and
gyms vary widely on the practice of
cleaning yoga mats.
In the last two years, Dr. Cohen said, he
has seen a 50 percent spike in patients
with athlete’s foot and plantar warts. The
likely culprit? Unclean exercise mats, he
Gyms have long been hothouses for
unwanted viruses, fungi and bacteria, a
result of shared equipment, excessive
sweat and moisture in locker rooms. Many
facilities provide disinfectant so clients
can wipe down machinery, but they are
often less diligent when it comes to
exercise mats. It’s common to see staff
members clean a stationary bike. It’s rare
to see them disinfect a mat.
This is starting to worry many yoga practitioners who go barefoot on high-
traffic mats. Half a dozen kinds of yoga-mat wipes are now sold nationwide,
and new products like hand and foot mitts, to protect serial mat borrowers,
have hit the market.
Because yoga is more popular than ever, it could well be a coincidence that
health-care professionals like Dr. Cohen are seeing more infections. In
2005, 16.5 million people practiced yoga nationwide, up 43 percent from
2002, according to Yoga Journal.
Research has not confirmed the link between unclean yoga mats and
fungal, bacterial and viral infections better known as jock itch, plantar
warts and staph infections. Nor can dermatologists and podiatrists