Dear Yoga Ladies: Here’s the Real Reason Men Can’t Keep Their Eyes Off You in Class. ~ Chris Hayes

Via on Jul 1, 2013
Photo: Taro Taylor
Photo: Taro Taylor

A friend preparing to take her first yoga class asked me what she should wear. “You are going to move around a lot,” I told her, “so I’d suggest either something very loose or something very tight, depending on what makes you comfortable.”

What I did not tell her is that she should go in her underwear.

I imagine that many readers of the elephant journal have seen Briohny Smith’s “Yoga By Equinox” video, which features a woman in her underwear practising yoga.

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When “Yoga By Equinox” first made its rounds on the internet, I got involved in a long discussion on social media about the sexualization of yoga. Many female friends were thrilled to see this video of a strong woman with a strong practice finding such popularity.

Then I asked “Why is she in her underwear?” There was much booing and hissing at this comment, and some suggestions that I was being a reactionary jerkface. Well, maybe, but I think I was expressing the paradox that a lot of yoga dudes face.

We are awfully fond of strong women who have amazing yoga practices. We are also fond of women in their underwear.

We exert a lot of effort keeping these notions separate in our heads.

Dudes may wander into classes as tourists to check out the sights and the tights. I sometimes wonder if this is the reason that so many yoga classes have so few men attending regularly. I’ve talked to many guys who have said they tried out a couple of yoga classes but spent all their time taking in an eyeful of spandex instead of listening to directions on postures. They don’t come back to yoga: instead they stick with golf and beer.

We hate being that creepy dude that you talk about after class.

In truth, I may have been one of those dudes. I dabbled in yoga on and off for years, enjoying the exercise and the view but never really understanding what yoga was all about. When life’s challenges motivated me to shift yoga from an occasional hobby to something to save my heart and soul, I was still struggling to keep my eyes on my mat and off all the beautiful bodies.

Now two years later, my focus is on my breath and what happens on my mat. I’ll admit my eyes do still sometimes wander, but it is to look at these amazing women and their beautiful practices—and I do practice with beautiful women.

I spend hours every week practicing with women with beautiful bodies and beautiful practices. Sometimes, it’s the young woman who can find a quiet meditative space in headstand. Sometimes it’s the grandmother who finds comfort in her body for the first time in years as she stands in tadasana with calm and steady breath.

Underneath the spandex, yoga pants and Bikram shorts are women who grow more calm, steady and confident with every well-earned savasana.

I wonder if they see similar changes in me, because increasingly that’s the image I see reflected back in the mirror.

My favorite yoga instructor is a very attractive woman who, while she has a rocking bod, usually prefers to dress modestly in life as well as in the yoga studio (I may be biased as I am also married to her). When she walks through class, she projects athleticism, grace, and confidence, without a lot of extra skin. Her classes are often at least half-full of men, and she’s built a great following at a factory, of all places, where men and women come in to practice between shifts.

Those guys aren’t there on the hope that this will be the rare day that she wears tight leggings or the off chance of a wardrobe malfunction. Those guys come because everyone—male and female—walks away from the class feeling closer to their best self.

Should women stop wearing tight clothes to yoga class? Hardly. It’s not like yoga is not the only place where guys face the tortures of being surrounded by beautiful women; yoga isn’t even the only place where we are surrounded by yoga pants or lots of skin. Most classes are 90 minutes or less, not an unreasonable amount of time to ask a dude to stop gawking like a farm boy on his first trip to the big city.

If he can’t, it might be time for him to consider taking up being a more centered, grounded human being.

(I hear yoga is good for that.)

A final note to all the women I practice with: if you think you see me sneaking a look, well, you caught me—I am checking you out. Whether in yoga pants or baggy sweats, you inspire me in every class. Thanks for sharing your practice with me.

Namaste.

 

Chris HayesChris Hayes is a safety professional and amateur yogi. Learn more about him at his blog.

 

 

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

  • Assistant Ed: Renee Picard
  • Ed: Bryonie Wise

 

 

 

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18 Responses to “Dear Yoga Ladies: Here’s the Real Reason Men Can’t Keep Their Eyes Off You in Class. ~ Chris Hayes”

  1. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Hear, hear! It all needed saying! Thanks for saying it so readably.

  2. oz_ says:

    Hallelujah brother! Well said.

  3. Sweet and honest. Love it. x

  4. Matt Rivers says:

    Well, far be it for me to point out the obvious but that is what men (and women) do ALL the time (as a race). It is the reason why there are over 7 billion people on the planet. Whether it is in a yoga class, on the street, at work, on the beach… the sexual urge is strong AND natural. Energetically speaking, in yogic and tantric terms, as we begin a yoga practice, or merely observe and enjoy our surroundings (humans or otherwise), or even just begin relaxing, the kundalini energy rises of it's own accord. It moves from the base of the spine to the second 'sexual-creative' chakra (for a damn good reason) then can move forward, upwards as our practice or consciousness or awareness develops. As we develop, we can begin to channel that natural movement in something more complete, that encompasses our whole body, more energy centres, more of the wholeness of who we are. The thing is, we need to embrace all of ourself to begin. We are sexual beings. It is written into the very fabric of our DNA, in order to produce more humans. Men are always going to check ladies out and ladies are always going to check men out. It is a natural function for the kundalini to move and it must move through the second chakra. We have a choice here… to express it, to get stuck in this chakra, to justify, blame, to moralise about energy being in this centre or to embrace it thus allowing the energy to move forward. That doesn't mean we let go of our sexual nature, it means we include it in what we are as we explore bigger vistas of our inner and outer worlds. Yes, eventually we may let go of our sexual urges, in search of other creative, meditative avenues but we always remember our roots. This is one journey and we are all parts of our self. One part is not better than another as all parts have a function in the wholeness of who we are. Yoga, in and of itself it a science based on experiential discovery. It is a map one can follow, trying out things, discovering the nature of self if you so choose. So I applaud the beginners that we are, the brave ones who come to yoga for the first time, those whose energy is beginning to move consciously through their body. May they express their journey however they see fit.

  5. Clem says:

    The article ends with a good message but it gets confusing and makes you seem conflicted while reading.

    Somecone could easily blame you of being judgemental because of the remarks in between since they don't fit with the title you chose or your conclusion. So take this as an open minded/non accusatory commentary if you didn't mean it to be so.

    The article ends with the conclusion "we're looking at your bodies because you look beautiful when empowered" but you opened the article with a photo of women's butts during yoga – And with their heads cut off the photo- which could easily point out the message that their bodies can be sexualized because they look beautiful and distracting during yoga. If you meant to show that it's normal for people to do so then it doesn't fit with the conclusion of your article. It's an ironic choice considering the message you're seemingly trying to convey.

    But what confused me further was that you pointed out you didn't tell your friend to show up in her underwear, then you said how men are fond of women in their underwear. (meaning the woman should have known better than show up like that to avoid guys looking at her?) I am not necessarily denying that it might be the case. But once again, considering your conclusion and the title of the article, this sounded like you were doing the opposite and blaming her.

    And then you commented on how your wife didn't wear tight clothes and didn't show a lot of skin (compared to others who did)

    Then this: "Should women stop wearing tight clothes to yoga class? Hardly. It’s not like yoga is not the only place where guys face the tortures of being surrounded by beautiful women; yoga isn’t even the only place where we are surrounded by yoga pants or lots of skin"

    Okay, you're viewing this from a guy point of view but when added to the remarks above and the comparison with your wife, it really seems like you shamed those women for wearing tight clothes and showing skin.

    If that was not your intention, I wonder why you felt the need to comment on how your wife didn't do those things. You called her modest and commented on how she didn't wear tight clothes and show skin. Of course adoring your wife isn't something people can question but the comparison with the way other people dress? That was confusing with the message you ended the article with. Why compare her lack of tight clothing and show of skin? To give her more credibility? To make her seem more respectable than the other women? To prove men didn't show up to look at her body? But they do show up to look at other women's?

    I'm not saying you wanted to accuse the women who dressed that way of anything but the parts I pointed out give a mixed "Of course we desire your bodies during yoga but we're trying not to be distracted and it's the mature thing to do. We're also looking at you because you're empowered and inspiring. But also my wife doesn't need to dress like the other women so men aren't there to look at her."

    Do you see the confusion?

    Once again, I'm not blaming you, I'm just saying that these parts of the article make you seem absolutely conflicted and confused. If you hadn't used that comparison and made it seem like women were there to torture men with their bodies, the conclusion of your article might have been more beliavable.

    • amphibi1yogini says:

      The "ladies" could forgive this lapse. Being spiritual, being in the Western culture … he is not untouched by the Madonna/Whore syndrome and the Christianity that begat this … an almost unconscious male privilege response to the threat of female sexuality … his wife is the Madonna archetype and the others? Whore (ho') until proven innocent …

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for your comments! If it sounds confusing and contradictory, then I did a good job of showing you what it's like in my head, and probably a lot of other men in yoga.

      • Clem says:

        You're welcome.

        But I'm still curious. By admitting your confusion, which is understandable, I think you should also acknowledge your justification about your wife compared to other women and how she didn't attract men's attention because of the way she dressed.

        You really think women wear tight clothes and show skin to torture guys while yoga practice? And your wife doesn't do those things because she is "modest" compared to them and doesn't want the extra attention? What was the point of that comparison other than making your wife the example of how to be free of unwanted attention?

        I believe it's good to acknowledge the "sexist" thoughts in your mind to ignore them, so I congratulate you for that honesty. Yet, I hope what comes after that doesn't always need to be a justification of "but my wife doesn't so she's good when the others could also do that" Because that would mean you're failing at your recognition of empowered women.

        That couldn't be the case if you still believed that those women needed to consider that men would be tempted by them during yoga or that they wanted to "torture" men by showing their bodies while doing a physical pratice. But their world doesn't/shouldn't revolve around making more than necessary adjustments to avoid that kind of attention. Women already adjust their whole lives to avoid unwanted situations. Yoga practice is/should be relatively safer for them to feel relaxed in without thinking about how not to tempt or by your definition "torture" guys.

        It's a good opportunity for you to analyze your own thought process and feelings about this because you did write about your wife not doing those things and in return, men didn't look at her. Which sounds an awful lot like you thought other women should also dress accordingly if they don't desire attention.

        This reminds me: You do know female students are shamed for distracting male students with their straps or sleeveless tops? With their knee-high skirts? When boys can casually take off their shirts or show of their boxers? You do realize this mentality is shaming women and treating men as if all they see is sex and objectification when they look at women's bodies, which are just bodies and don't need to be over sexualized in a non sexual situation. At least they are not responsible of making sure no men desires them or is distracted by them, all the time. Especially not during yoga. (Again I'm not talking about intentionally seductiveness or dressing up) Yoga is not that kind of situation.

        Your comparison of "modesty" is terrible in this way. It's men thinking women either desire attention or they could just cover up.

        Remember, sometimes women show skin because it's hot outside/inside.
        Sometimes women just want to be comfortable.

        Especially while practicing yoga, or doing sports, someone who's really interested in actually doing the practice/exercise doesn't try to dress sexily.

        I'm saying all these because for some reason you needed to justify the way you saw those women with the way your wife chose "modesty".
        And please acknowledge the reason behind it.
        If you're sincere in your conclusion of the article, of course.

        I agree that considering the nature of yoga, people should show up accordingly, the way they're comfortable. And of course showing up in underwear or naked could cause discomfort because that would be a bit too intimate unless it's "naked yoga practice". But over sexualizing their bodies during yoga? Shaming them for wearing tight clothers during a practice like yoga, or showing skin because they get sweaty, doesn't really make sense.

        And of course a man could be conflicted about it because he might have perfectly natural and sexual feelings for women, but it is only cute up until the moment they need to make their wife an example of not getting undesired attention when he just criticized the others for the way they dressed and distracted him.

        If men (and women) viewed bodies as the natural parts of life they were from birth without adding a "shame" and "sexual" message to them, none of you guys would have the constant distraction and shaming.

        One last thing I want to repeat: The photo is a very distasteful choice for this article because their heads are cut off and their bodies are perceived from a sexualized point of view.

        Also a humble tip: the more naked bodies you see the less distracting and more "normal" they will get for you. As they are meant to be. You can practice with photos. Just try to view them without sexualizing them.

        Namaste.

        • Chris says:

          Clem,

          I have found many yoga teachers, including my wife, who dress somewhat conservatively in class and also have a large male following. I believe that is because this makes men feel more comfortable in class and more likely to pay attention to instruction. However, I also believe that people should wear whatever they want to practice. Sorry if that wasn't clear in the article.

  6. Ron says:

    I had not done much yoga. My practices had been more esoteric and oriented towards Chinese philosophy rather than Indian.

    In 2006 I was invited by a new acquaintence to attend an advanced Hatha class at the YogaWorks in Huntington Beach, CA. We arrived just before class was to begin and I remember walking into a room full of women – we were the only men – who could have each been on the cover of In Style magazine. Even better? They were all in various stages of undress that I had only encountered previously in strip clubs. It was magnificent.

    Yet the most memorable thing about the class was my decision that I was there to do yoga and that women in their underwear were a distraction from my practice. My practice that day was as much Brahmacharya as asana. I remember it well. I passed the test. My own test. For myself. Not for them, not for society, not for anything other than developing the skill in attentional control that I was seeking.

    It is nice to see a man name the unameable and Elephant Journal have the courage to publish it.

  7. devacat says:

    Appreciate this. As a now 60-something teacher, I rest assured that no one comes to class to ogle me, but there are many young and beautiful women in my classes. Plenty of men, too. All ages, all shapes. Some leave after one class because they want something else, but many stay on. Honesty about the body and how it ages and changes is priceless, especially for the young. My classes are always full, and I'm grateful.

  8. Eric B. Christiana says:

    Awesome article Chris. You have every right to be proud of your beautiful and talented wife. She is a phenomenal instructor ~ and I am very grateful to be able to take her class to strengthen my practice, as I always learn something new and beneficial from her class regardless of how she is dressed. Much respect to you and your wife.
    Namaste

  9. Michael says:

    Thanks, Chris! You speak for me as well.

  10. ............. says:

    I love that your favorite yoga teacher is your wife!!! Did you meet her under the student teacher role or was it before yoga?

    • Chris says:

      We met 20 years ago. She started practicing about 15 years ago and became a teacher five years ago. I took a long time to warm up to yoga, only developing a regular practice three years ago and teaching for the last year.

  11. The Chief says:

    Alternate title: “Confessions of a Yogler”

  12. Jim says:

    I love seeing all of the beautiful bodies in a yoga classes – female and male. Thank you everyone. Namaste.

  13. Heather Morton HeatherM says:

    Good article. This post brings to mind the total difference between traditional Yoga (in the true sense of the word) being taught in India and yoga in the West, and what it has become.

    Dress codes (having one or not) certainly has their impact whether people wish to admit it (or not).

    My teacher in India has always withheld a dress code. It may seem a bit confusing too or even backward for many. Men wear shorts and t-shirts. Women wear tights. This has been the tradition and the condition in which I have learned to practice Yoga for over 15 years now. Before my teacher, it was the same with the Sivananda tradition in which a dress code is also in place.

    When it comes right down to it, it all has to do with what you like, your cultural upbringing and to some degree Karma. Had I been born in a hot climate, I am wiling to bet I would feel very comfortable wearing a bikini to practice. It was even suggested many years ago had I created DVDS wearing such I would have made millions of dollars.

    I myself feel better not having to focus on such. I also dressed modestly when I taught students not really feeling well in shorts and a bikini top. That's my style and I do not condone or ban others who do it differently. However, I don't need a student looking up at my crotch during the class or eyeing my boob. I used to actually wish I had gone to a high school with a dress code. There is way too much emphasis on such and too much time, energy, money and such wasted on it. And believe me I have a closet full of gorgeous outfits.

    When I practice Yoga, however, with others in a similar outfit it reduces the competition, the comparison and cuts through even class distinction. Because of this I have a good many times forgotten about my body.

    This is truly where we need to go in Yoga. Remembering your body is a sacred vessel but not the be-all and end-all.

    Heather

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