When investing in a yoga mat, it's important to consider the durability and practicality of the materials involved. Many praise cork yoga mats for their high levels of quality – but are they actually non-slip?
As a popular substance used in coasters and shoes, you can expect cork to exhibit a significant amount of grip. While it's easy to see how cork stands up against slipping when you try to run your dry hand across it, you may wonder if it continues to display such forces when water is involved. Why does this matter? Every yogi, at some stage, has slipped in their downward dog due to sweaty palms. Additionally, yogis who practice hot yoga often find themselves slipping on their yoga mats, thanks to all the sweat. Let’s try to understand the interaction between cork and water in a lot more detail.
The science behind cork
Typically, water makes things a little slippery. That's why you always see "wet floor" warnings or hear about cars slipping around during thunderstorms. Cork is incredibly special, as it remains incredibly slip-resistant, more so when it's wet.
Benefiting from the unique physical properties of cork is easy! To understand the underlying mechanisms behind these properties of cork – you are going to have to delve into some science. While the exact chemistry and physics behind the wonders of cork are rather complex, there are some basic explanations that can offer a bit of understanding for the subject.
One main property that contributes to the anti-slip nature of cork is the fact it is "hydrophobic". Hydrophobic1 translates to "fear of water". While cork doesn't need to worry about "fears" in the literal sense, this term refers to how the substrate reacts to water on a molecular level.
Materials which are hydrophobic repel water, they are considered water resistant. This doesn't mean that they can't get wet, but on a microscopic level, they don't entangle with water and get soaked. Next time you open a bottle of wine, check out the cork plug. You would see that the plug would be discolored, but it would not absorb the wine.
If you've ever gotten water or sweat on your cork yoga mat, you will notice how the water seems to pool on it rather than soak through it was it would with a mat made out of fabric. Ok, so you must be thinking - if cork doesn’t absorb water, then should it not become more slippery? The interaction of liquids with cork creates a special interface (almost like a very thin layer of wax) which magnifies hydrophobic forces caused due to the interaction between the wet cork and human skin. This property can facilitate complex surface interactions that encourage gripping. This is not the only factor contributing to the grip, though.
A lot of materials are hydrophobic (glass, metals, plastics etc.). So, why don’t we see glass yoga mats in the market? Cork is also soft and flexible, unlike other hydrophobic materials (imagine using a glass yoga mat). In terms of physics, this measurement could be looked at as the "Poisson's Ratio"2. Cork has an impressive value of nearly zero.
This means that it can be compressed while still keeping itself in shape. In comparison to other elastic materials, it's incredibly good at maintaining its shape despite different levels of pressure being applied at different angles. This is actually what makes it such a great tool for sealing wine. Unlike other elastic materials, such as rubber, cork can withstand the pressure applied by the bottle without bulging on either side, causing it to get clogged up.
In terms of a yoga mat, cork facilitates a lot of friction. Even under compression, it maintains contact with your body in a way that helps create a non-slip surface. This ability to maintain grip in wetness is just one of the many reasons why people love cork. Cork is an incredibly durable and elastic material that creates a comfortable and long-lasting yoga mat. Due to some of the same forces behind grip facilitation, the material is also easy to clean and resists mold or water damage.
Ethically, it also remains one of the most popular sustainable and eco-friendly materials to help you reduce your carbon footprint with every use. While there are countless different materials yoga mats can be constructed from – there is a reason many people choose cork over the alternatives.
To summarize, cork is a perfect material for yoga mats because it exhibits the perfect balance between water resistance and flexibility. Additionally, the softness of cork lends itself to a luxurious feel, without creating a negative impact on our planet.
Does it really matter if my yoga mat is non-slip?
Investing in a non-slip yoga mat is incredibly important. You want to make sure that you can maintain poses without the worry that you will slide out of place.
Constantly sliding on your yoga mat can be incredibly frustrating, as it can reduce your confidence and ultimately interfere with your progress. When maintaining positions becomes difficult, it can impede on your relaxation and technique improvement.
Aside from the general annoyance, slipping yoga mats can pose more than a mere inconvenience. If you need to worry about slipping or falling, especially during more advanced poses, you risk injuring yourself or others around you. It also is generally not comfortable for your skin to constantly be sliding across surfaces.
While there are other materials which would allow you a "non-slip" experience, the interactions cork has with water are something to take into consideration. Due to the physical nature of yoga, your mat will likely encounter a lot of liquid.
Whether you like to use your mat directly on the grass or in the comfort of an enclosed studio, sweat is a substance you can always count on being part of your yoga experience. On the wrong surfaces, sweat can be a slippery substance that disrupts your yoga experience. Do you think a non-slip yoga mat is important? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
1. Cork Composites: A Review, Luis Gil, Materials (Basel) 2009 September, 776-789.
2. The Poisson Effect in Cork, M.A.Fortes, M. Teresa Noguira, Materials Science and Engineering, December 1989, 22-232.