It was Annie Piper who started it. Standing in front of the room at Kula in loose overalls, she said to the class, “I’m just tired of yoga clothes.”
And it got me thinking: I’m sick of them, too.
Then as I was taking out the garbage in my yoga clothes a few days later I caught my neighbor’s husband checking me out, and thought: Hmmm, I actually hold myself to something higher than how good my butt looks in this get up. I mean it’s one thing to attract the male gaze in running or sexy clothes of any kind (fine!), but it’s another when you’re wearing yoga clothes. As a practitioner and teacher, I try to practice and live a life true to me and not overly indulgent, one that is focused inward first.
When talking about glamour in our culture, poet John O’Donohue said, “There is always a symmetry…an intimate connection between the way you are inward with yourself and the way you are outward—and I believe there is an evacuation of interiority in our times… That when we put our energy outward, it is taking something from inside of us; we are secretly debilitating ourselves.”
Then I found myself standing among the hundreds of yogis, mostly teachers it seems, who attend the Yoga Journal conference (another subject to ruminate on, for sure) every year, and everyone was wearing the tight leggings, including workshop leaders. And everyone waschecking everyone out. I ran into another journalist there, and we talked about the experience of waiting for the workshops to begin— watching everyone dully watching everyone file in in their designer yoga clothes. It’s essentially a booty show.
How can you not compare yourself to everyone else? That’s what’s going on. It’s probably half unconscious at this point in yogasexydom. How do you clear your mind at the Hilton midtown when everyone is anxiously waiting for the marketplace to open so they can line up for not-so-greatly or not-at-all-reduced asswear?
It’s hard to argue with pretty clothes. And really what’s the big deal, right? But I believe it is quietly undoing our intention and our practice. At minimum, it’s dulling our spiritual temperament, relegating it to a lower rung.
Once upon a time ago, a yogi could be spotted by their traditional clothing: the dhoti. Guess what? It’s comfortable! And it’s breathable.
But let’s go deeper: Think about how you’d feel in looser clothing—no doubt less self-conscious of the image you are projecting. And why should your image be imprinted on everyone else’s consciousness? There’s subtle force at work here: Look. At. Me./Stop! Looking. At. Me.
How do we really turn the gaze inward (or maintain our drishti for that matter) when we are all wearing sheaths? Or when the person on the mat in front of you is wearing almost nothing? Chitta Vrittis be raining down… Or you become numb.
Alas, yoga is an inside job. It’s an inside job that leaves you feeling good, and that goodness shines through, past your biceps, delts and butt, and it lights up those around you, and if it doesn’t then you might as well be doing something else.
And it goes much deeper of course. We’re living in the sad manifest of capitalism and the mass commodification of women’s bodies. Call me a hippie (Oh no!) but I can’t help but think we’d be friendlier to each other in, um, slightly looser, softer clothing. Let’s say you don’t fit the perfect hard body shape, it can be intimidating to walk into a room where everyone’s lean musculature is on parade, and intimidation just has no place in the yoga room.
I’m not giving up my pretty leggings, especially the ones with the big butterflies that I bought at the conference last year (it was my first time…), but I’m not wearing them to practice anymore. I’ll wear them out and about, but on my mat I will wear something looser and more humble. I will prepare my body and mind for practice.
And when I teach I will spend a more time on pranayama and meditation if the room is cluttered with those leggings with the sheer parts at the knees and hips. I mean, come on.
Will I stop wearing comfy tanks? Not today, but the time might come sooner than later…
And before I forget: Thanks, Annie. You said the overalls weren’t that comfortable, but you woke up this yogi. I’ll be coming back to flow with you in something more… flowing.
“We ask you to wear white so that you will reflect what is outside and go within yourself—
that’s what white clothes can do for you.” —Yogi Bhajan, 1975
--Kathleen Kraft is a poet and yoga teacher living in Jersey City.