“Hot Bod” is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.
It’s unavoidable: No matter how “low impact” the workout, I’m but a sweaty drip machine. Little puddles of perspiration inevitably pool on my yoga mat after I exercise. But I’m not looking around my world for problems to solve, so I never thought to check if there was anything to accommodate my sweat — until I stumbled into a solution. Last winter, I’d clocked that my yoga mat had endured three Presidential administrations and, like our democracy, was visibly cracking. On a first trip inside a store that sold more than groceries, I grabbed the only yoga mat for sale. It was cork, which is not a material that I knew yoga mats could be made out of. I guess it looks sophisticated, there’s something sort of “temperate climate” about it, something very Greek about cork material, no? I thought, and I wasn’t wrong. All my problems were about to be solved.
After the cork mat, my life was different and my life was dry. Previously — on all exercise mats, including my retired professor emeritus mat — my sneakers would start slipping around after a while. I always found myself in a little dance of lying down in vaguely different spots for my lower-back waterfall to drench. But the B MAT — gentle cork on top, rubber on the bottom — was a warm, mellow experience. Famously, cork has been employed to stop liquid, namely wine, in its tracks; it continues to have such power to this day. Cork’s impermeability is often called hydrophobic: It resists liquid. I don’t know if it was absorbing sweat or wicking it to some unknown locations, but my workout surface was desiccated.
I knew that cork recovered impressively after being compressed, mainly through Champagne-stopper encounters, but the mat just confirmed: Cork is a notably springy, buoyant surface. Cork cushions with such inherent elasticity, it’s as if nature itself has offered us an exercise mat (it hasn’t; nature will offer us no more things). Plus, as if it was meant to be stared at while holding a plank for 80 seconds, cork has a captivating, trippy organic pattern to its composite structure.
Because cork is harvested from the bark of trees (so no deforestation or damage to the trees), it’s both a renewable and sustainable material. There’s something distinctly non-engineered about the cork, which feels particularly nice now, as most of my workouts involve technology to some extent. This is flawed and romanticized logic, but the cork just feels ancient, natural, everlasting — and therefore antithetical to technology.
Perhaps because cork wishes to be stuck inside the neck of a wine bottle, my mat is stubbornly prone to rolling up and must be flattened under four heavy books every time I unfurl it. But we all have our little needs and our little powers. And compared to a drippy flat plane — for this sweaty creature over here — I’d much rather lie myself on a dry surface, whatever the ripple.