As Lara Sengupta was searching for a better way to be connected to the ancient Indian knowledge, she came up with CorkYogis. To add depth to her own passion for yoga, the company that specialises in sustainable cork yoga mats and bags hand-made out of recycled sarees, also helps human trafficking survivors rebuild their lives. While Lara is keeping busy making the world a better place, the cork yoga mats outperform others with technical benefits that keep yogis' poses strong in that hot Bikram class. We enquired about the yoga philosophy and social mission behind the new ethical yoga company made to last.
Why is cork such a good material for yoga mats?
There are quite a few reasons, I'll start from the technical benefits. Most yogis have experienced the awkward 'slipping' during their yoga class, as soon as the hands start to sweat. Whereas with cork, when you sweat, the grip actually increases due to the hydrophobic quality of cork. As a result, our mats keep your poses strong throughout your entire practice. Cork is also naturally anti-bacterial, so it doesn’t absorb smells and bacteria, like standard rubber yoga mats. Cork yoga mats are by far the most hygienic mats on the market.
Then we have a list of sustainability factors. Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree. Getting the bark off the trees without harming the trees is a fairly skilled practice. Cork will grow back every 8-9 years, when it can be harvested again. We think yoga is best practiced on a natural surface, as it allows the yogi to be connected directly to nature during their practice. A few years back, there were a lot of repercussions about cork being over-harvested and that we should stop using cork. However, it is literally impossible to over-harvest a cork tree, as the bark has to grow back to a sufficient thickness for it to be harvested. We are also supported by cork associations in Portugal for coming up with innovative ways to use cork.
"We think yoga is best practiced on a natural surface, as it allows the yogi to be connected directly to nature during their practice."
Can you tell us about the Destiny Foundation and delivering your social mission?
The Destiny Foundation is a charity me and my family met years ago while we were visiting relatives in India. They work closely with rehabilitation of young human trafficking survivors, which is a demanding job. Many of the girls don’t know how to read and write, making it very difficult for them to financially support themselves and find freedom. We work with Destiny to support their hugely important training programs. We support two courses, literacy and sewing, and our customers get to choose which course they would like to support at checkout. The literacy course helps the girls get back their reading and writing skills, and the sewing course is there to teach them at least some employable skills. We also provide jobs by employing the women to make our yoga mat bags. Each bag is hand made out of recycled sarees.
"When I practice yoga, I feel more connected to my true purpose and my constantly busy mind settles for a short while."
On your CorkYogis mat logo, it states ‘Piece for Peace’. Can you expand on what it signifies?
‘Piece for Peace’ was something I came up with in the early days of the brand. I thought it was a nice way to describe how every piece we sell provides peace for one girl, by giving them the vital support they need to create a happy and dignified future for themselves.
You write that you were looking for a way to feel connected to something deeper and bigger than just the physical postures in your yoga practice. In what ways do you believe it is possible to find new depth relevant for the practice? In other words, where do you find your yoga inspiration?
I think, when doing yoga, it's super important to be connected to something bigger and deeper. I started yoga 6 years ago to help me deal with anxiety and depression, so it has always been something more meaningful for me. When I practice yoga, I feel more connected to my true purpose and my constantly busy mind settles for a short while. It was always more than exercise for me. I wanted to create a community that helped people connect their yoga practice with creating a better life for themselves and a better life for others. Recently, I was in India on a very traditional yoga retreat, which was mind-blowing. They talked a lot about yoga being very much about discipline and philosophy. A key thing they said was, ‘If you're doing yoga and your life and happiness is not improving, then you are not truly doing yoga’, which I thought was a really powerful statement. They also made jokes about Western yogis that can stand on their head in various impressive ways, but cannot sit still and meditate for 5 minutes!
"A key thing they said was, ‘If you're doing yoga and your life and happiness is not improving, then you are not truly doing yoga’, which I thought was a really powerful statement."
You write on your Instagram profile that “We wanted to use yoga as a tool to destroy the illusions of differences between race, culture, age and nationality and realise that we are all the same. Love connects and fear divides.” Can you tell us about the ideology and values behind CorkYogis?
I think the big thing I wanted to address is that the girls in India, who have suffered these tremendous injustices of human trafficking, are facing the same heartache as girls in the UK that have suffered abuse. A lot of people ignore terrible things happening all over the world, because it is too awful to look at, and they feel like they can’t make a difference. But they can make a difference. Many women come out these experiences being strong, grounded, passionate and inspirational. It is not a lost cause! I want to create a way that connects us all and allows UK yogis to empower girls in India, and at the same time the girls in India can empower our UK yogis with their stories. We are trying to reflect these values through our brand, but it is altogether a huge learning curve. We are constantly working out better ways to talk to our customers and how to tell our brand story in the right way.