The hidden disease spread in the yoga class

I joined the yoga bandwagon many years ago to attend the heated yoga classes. Nothing like a sweat session to get me to stretch my body to places that a typical day cannot get to.

My job as a dentist requires that I sit in the one place all day long. Spending a great deal of time bent over people’s heads trying to see into the dark recesses of the mouth doing the precise work of a jeweller.

So yoga is a great way to stretch the body back to normality and prolong my working career. And put the mind into a more relaxed space. 

Another part of my job is to oversee the management of hygiene practices in our clinic. We are QIP Certified, which means that we have been assessed and maintain the highest standards of hygiene in the dental industry. When it comes to hygiene, I can comfortably say I am an expert. 

One thing I do not understand is the way that people clean their yoga mats.

  1. Finish the class and get a spray bottle. 
  2. Grab a sponge that someone else has used. 
  3. Spray the bottle into the heated room and re-use the sponge to wipe down your mat.

How NOT to clean your yoga mat

Step 1: Spring up and grab a spray bottle.

After the last ‘Om’ signalling the finish of the class, spring up and grab a spray bottle full of a liquid, usually a eucalyptus and water mixture or some equivalent. 

Why not?

To clean your mat correctly, you need to use a detergent wipe, not a disinfectant. A disinfectant must sit for at least five minutes for it to be effective; otherwise, it only covers the bacteria and does not clean it. Detergent wipes include baby wipes.

Step 2: Grab a sponge from the communal sponge tub.

Why not?

These sponges typically have not been disinfected between classes. The sponges are left in dark, damp and heated storage to fester. Such conditions foster the growth of fungus, harmful bacteria and viruses.

Step 3: Spraying the mat

Use the spray the bottle to profusely spray on the sweaty yoga mat into the heated room and re-use the community sponge to wipe down the mat.

Why not?

The aerosol spreads around the sweat, skin flakes and saliva that have been on the individual mat, which then enters the cycle of the air system for everybody to breathe in. The sponge is then shared around to all the individuals to share, spreading their sweat, skin, saliva, bacteria and viruses.

Step 4: Roll up the yoga mat and store until the next yoga session.

Why not?

Dark and damp surfaces provide ideal conditions for undetectable fungus to grow. When the yoga mat is rolled out again, these fungal spores are released into the yoga room. The mat needs to be appropriately cleaned and air-dried before storage to ensure a healthy surface for the next yoga practice.

Essendon dentist explains hidden disease spread in the yoga class

Why NOT spray your mat in the yoga room?

The spray from bottles supplied in the yoga room is considered to be an aerosol. Any airborne particle, or aerosol, can be defined as a small droplet usually 5µm or less in diameter which can remain suspended in the air for some time.

The Australian and New Zealand Dental regulations state:

“Diseases may be transmitted via the airborne (breathing) route. Airborne dissemination may occur by either airborne droplets or dust particles. Airborne transmission includes aerosols which may be generated during certain procedures, including manual washing. Microorganisms carried in this way can be widely disbursed by air currents through ventilation or air-conditioning systems. Immunosuppressed patients are particularly vulnerable to infections caused by this.” AS 1386.1

The yoga studio is also a work environment. With the poor practices of infection control in the room, all Work, Health and Safety Rules are broken for your employees (yoga teaches). It is only a matter of time before someone sues a studio on medical grounds.

Yoga centres are just waiting for someone to get ill, link it back to the air system of the place and then have a government authority to shut you down. And you can imagine the speed that they will allow you to reopen will be like a tortoise on a hot day with no water. And also the legal action/costs against the centre. Insurances then get involved and watch your premiums escalate. And once this happens to one studio, all studios will then be audited. It will be mandatory to report or register your centre. The paperwork, cost and person-hours in this are enormous.

Techniques of cleaning should be designed to avoid the generation of aerosols.

  • The yoga room is a sanctuary for yoga practice, not cleaning. A designated space outside the yoga practice room could be created for the purposes of mat cleaning.
  • Mats are to be cleaned with single-use detergent wipes to prevent aerosols from being created. Baby wipes are great for this, and sporting gyms frequently use them to clean equipment.
  • Mats need to be aired to dry before rolling up and storing, thus preventing fungus and mould growing on the mat surface.
  • Fresh air is allowed to circulate in the yoga practice room after each class. Running the air-con with the fresh air function to flow throughout the room may be an option. Air-con units would need regular maintenance and cleaning.

Last ‘Om’

Clean air in our yoga studios, so that we can meditate and exercise in peace and cleanliness, is a fundamental necessity. Picture the next time in your yoga class as you breathe in deeply and “om”. What is the quality of the air you are inhaling? 

By Dr Agim Hymer