I'm off to Yoga! What do I wear?

By Stefan Camilleri

The monetisation of the yoga practice has transformed yoga from a kooky spiritual endeavour to both a lifestyle and a commercial enterprise for big and small business. In this transformation, yoga fashion and apparel has become a billion-dollar global industry. Due to this we have gained many more options for what we can wear while we practice. We can observe in this both positive and negative. Positive, because we can now express ourselves with our clothing and dress in a way that makes us comfortable. However, there are some down sides.  

Firstly, yoga is becoming involved with fast fashion, and hence becoming part of the consumer culture many of us are seeking to avoid.

Secondly, too much choice is not always a good thing. There’s something to be said for the simplicity of the old days when we didn’t have to worry about what we were wearing or feeling like the yoga studio was a place where we need to look a certain way or fit in.

In the past, male yogis wore nothing more than a small groin covering for modesty as they practiced. As yoga evolved into what it is today, and was performed by bigger mixed groups around the world, styles like Ashtanga and Iyengar Yoga dictated what was appropriate clothing to wear when practicing. This, by today’s standards, would be considered functional if not unfashionable. The idea was to wear clothes that avoided distraction for both yourself and others with a sense of Indian modesty, while at the same time ensuring your teacher could see your legs, the outline of your body and your elbows for easy corrections. 

Rules for Yoga Wear?

Some more traditional studios have dress codes on their doors just as they did 50 years ago outlining these rules. They are:  

·        Chest and midriffs should be covered (some studios will say shoulders as well)

·        No pants, and shorts should be as short as possible to expose the legs

·        In some traditions like Kundalini, clothing should be white to signify purity

·        Nothing trendy - No viable brands, nothing cool, nothing ‘out there’, no leggings and definitely no cleavage 

With the fashion industry now impacting what we wear there are many options for those who don’t want to dress like it’s 1960 in India. The choice gives us freedom of expression, opportunity for comfort, as well as the potential to wear things that could distract us from our practice. 

Guidelines for Balance

·        What you wear should not distract or get in the way of any movement or posture

·        Clothing should be light and breathable

·        Where possible keep your elbows and knees exposed so both you and your teacher can see what’s going on  

·        Leggings are fine as long as they fit well and don’t restrict your movement - baggy pants should be avoided

·        Try to avoid any visible or obvious brands or logos that could distract 

·        If your shirt doesn’t stick to your torso and moves around, particularly in inversions, tuck it into your bottoms 

·        Hair should be tied up and out of the way to avoid distraction

·        The process of manufacture and distribution of your yoga clothes should not harm the planet or others

·        You need enough clothing so that you can have clean and fresh clothes for each practice, but not so many that it becomes an ordeal to choose what to wear

·        Simply put - Dress in clothing as simple as your ego will allow

Remember that your yoga practice isn’t a fashion show, and the clothing you wear should assist the practice and not distract. As much as your ego will allow, take the whole; ‘trying to be cool and fit in,’ aspect out of your yoga preparation and dress practically and simply. 

Words by Stefan Camilleri

Senior Yoga Teacher, Yoga Teacher Trainer

Yoga, Body, InspireByron MagazineYoga