I had an interesting conversation at a yoga teacher training over the weekend about yoga clothes. The woman I was speaking with, who was an older woman, commented to me that when she first started studying yoga, yoga students were taught to be modest in their yoga dress. Today, however, you can often take classes where the female teacher is spilling out of her shirt with cleavage showing, or conversely, she might inadvertently be showing off her butt cleavage (and "tramp stamp") in the gap between her yoga pants and top in the back.
Some of this isn't necessarily the fault of the yoga practitioner - as I have complained quite often on this website, finding yoga pants that don't fall off your bottom is a challenge these days. But I digress.
Since I studied briefly at the Sivananda yoga center in Los Angeles, which is decidedly old-school and a throwback at this point, I too was told in that environment that modesty was a virtue. There, swamis and teachers would show up in loose garments that were the equivalent of spiritual nursing "scrubs" in hues of golden yellow and orange. The women would not be wearing make-up.
The old-school kundalini yoga teachers likewise dress modestly and avoid make-up. There is a remarkable difference between the almost elegant and regal clothing of a kundalini Sikh vs. the embarrassing and skimpy clothing you might see in the sexploitative kundalini yoga videos starring super skinny Ana Brett. Ana Brett will age someday, and perhaps only then she might finally realize that her selfploitation did nothing but set herself up for some serious freaking out once she got past 40.
It's a given that young, skinny attractive women have absolutely no clue the horrors that await for them once their age betrays their body. For these women, posing in skimpy yoga outfits and allowing themselves to be exploited in yoga booty videos and pictures on the Internet - primarily consumed by young guys wanting a cheap thrill - gives themselves a fake sense of accomplishment. "Look at me and my body! Look at the challenging yoga pose I can do!" Their Facebook pages are filled to the brim with "selfies" of themselves in crazy yoga poses. If they have a lot of male Facebook fans, they might be racking up "likes" the way a dog might collect fleas.
OK, yeah, do that when you are 80, and then we might be really impressed.
I know a woman like this in Los Angeles, who I used to be friends with. She has been a free-spirited vagabond living on her boyfriend's couches her entire adult life. She has gotten money, odd jobs, and tons of attention for being very, very pretty. She's one of those Facebook friends with the zillion pictures of herself. She's hitting middle age now, and I wonder what the heck is going to happen to her once she gets over 45 and can no longer stop the aging process. You know it's bad when a woman who is around 40 is still posting pictures of herself doing a hand balancing pose in a skimpy hot yoga oufit on Facebook.
(Note: Hot yoga clothes are appropriate for hot yoga. But if you are putting on these clothes just to get a Facebook photo, well, maybe it's time to find a better way to feel good about yourself. Seriously.)
Back when I was younger, I was trying to get the attention of a guy I liked, and I posted a somewhat modest (by today's standards) picture of myself in a bikini on Friendster (yes, that long ago) to show myself off. It was stupid of me, and I was ashamed of myself later. I wasn't being myself when I did it, and it did nothing to catch this guy either. I cringe now when I think about it. What was I thinking?
What I was thinking, back then, was that my value to a man was simply my young, skinny body, which was truly sad of me to believe. I've got so much more going on than that.
I wrote often about the sexploitation in yoga on my previous blog, and these posts were always met with the nastiest comments, usually by guys who would yell at me and tell me I must just be jealous. Occasionally a well-meaning new age woman would come along and decry my negativity.
This won't stop me from speaking up about it. I will say until I'm blue in the face: Sexual exploitation in yoga is very damanging to the art and practice of yoga. It is counter to the purpose of yoga, which is ultimately a spiritual pursuit of mind/body harmony. There is nothing positive or spiritual about exploiting the body. It cheapens the body temple and sets it up for consumption by others who simply want to use it as an object for selfish personal pleasure.
It is also damaging to women, emotionally and spiritually.
For the primarily female yoga practitioner who has thrown all spirituality away in the pursuit of vanity and Twitter followers...I would suggest that you sit down and read the yoga sutras. There is nothing in the spiritual practice of yoga that recommends being attached to receiving attention from people for your physical attributes.
Now all this said: I'm not suggesting that people be prudes. If you are a hot yoga teacher or student, this post doesn't really apply to you. When I go to hot yoga class, I put on the most reasonably skimpy, moisture-wicking clothing I can get and if my cleavage shows, so be it. No-one is looking at it anyway. It's too damn hot to bother. But I do make a point of having hot yoga bottoms that don't expose everything, if you know what I mean.
Here in Austin, Texas, where it gets to be 100 degrees out, I have worn hot yoga shorts to the gym to do regular yoga and Zumba classes there. They don't show my butt crack, and they don't allow for my butt cheeks to hang out. They have some length on them. But even with that, I was a little concerned about showing off too much in class, despite the fact that at the gym people are wearing running shorts that are much shorter. But at this point, my wearing shorts wasn't about showing off my body - at 43, my legs are no longer smooth and cellulite free like they were at 23 - and my gym is a women's gym anyway. Sometimes it's really about the intention.
Still, I would never, ever wear shorts or a shirt that showed off too much if I was teaching (unless it was hot yoga, which I'll never teach anyway). I don't want people staring at my yoga costume. I don't want to feel exposed or uncomfortable when I'm teaching someone. Heck, at my age, I'd just like to hide any sort of muffin-top flab that might want to poke its way through my shirt. So I try to buy yoga clothes that cover decently, even if they cling a little, and give me the flexibility of movement that I want.
Some young women won't fully appreciate what I'm saying until they, too, pass the 40something mark and realize that, even if their tummies are still somewhat flat, their skin is looser and has other ideas than what they were used to. Age is the great equalizer. And a great teacher as well.