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As people talk to one another, and catch up before class starts—the new student stands alone and observes the others as they put their belongings in the cubbies.
They walk over to the front desk and say a little sheepishly, “Should I practice with my shirt off?”
For a class heated to 90 degrees, it’s a sensible question. You’re going to sweat, so if you don’t want your shirt to be sweaty, then yes—doesn’t it make sense to take your shirt off?
After being in the yoga world for a short while, one gets used to seeing bodies of all types. The hairy, the skinny, the six-pack and the curvy have all been showcased in various yoga classes throughout the years. And yet, when it gets hot in the studio, most people hesitate to remove that heavy cotton. After all, “What will people think?”
Here’s the truth: No one cares.
Whenever I see a girl walk into the studio in a sports bra, I don’t think to myself, “Who does she think she is?” Actually, I envy her.
While it is true that there’s always exceptions, the majority of people who practice shirtless are doing it because they feel more comfortable. The moment they step foot into the studio, they become your comrade, not your competition.
You might say, “I don’t practice shirtless, because I’m just not like that.”
Okay, that’s cool too. As long as you are still kind towards those who are “like that”.
I remember when I first started teaching hot yoga, a guy came into class with board shorts and a long sleeve shirt on. The question was asked: “Is it okay if I take my shirt off? I didn’t think about how hot it would be in here.”
As a new teacher, I rolled my eyes a little, but agreed, “Yeah, shirtless is probably going to be more comfortable than a long sleeve.”
I judged him. I judged him when I saw he was in shape, and that he was the young surfer-looking type. I judged the tattoo on his upper back. I judged his curly blonde hair. But he kept coming back to my classes and started asking questions. He struggled through poses and pushed through. After a year or so of knowing him, I grew to adore his casual approach to life. And when I look back, I only laugh at the wrong conclusions I made about him. That was the last time I judged someone for practicing shirtless.
Feeling comfortable in the skin you move in is to be applauded, whether you’re a man or woman.
It’s hard to care about your neighbor practicing shirtless, while you’re struggling in Revolved Chair Pose for a full minute. You can come to class and practice with that extra skin, because what matters most is that you are present. If fiddling with a shirt is a distraction, remove the distraction, or mentally push past it.
When a man removes his shirt halfway through class, it doesn’t make him a show-off. It doesn’t automatically mean he is trying to assert his manliness. And when a woman decides to practice in a sports bra, you better believe she isn’t trying to be sexy—especially with that sweat dripping off her nose.
So when you can feel the sweat collecting between your shoulder blades, and you just can’t be in that sticky, damp tank anymore—take it off. Because you just might feel more free. And as you push back into Downward Facing Dog, you might become more aware of your middle, and draw your belly button into your spine. Suddenly, you are engaging your core, simply because you are aware of it. You can see it. You can feel it.
The teachers who brought yoga to the West practiced in their skivvies. Anyone who has read Light On Yoga can attest to this, and goodness knows, the late and beloved BKS Iyengar in his prime rocked that Dad-bod well into his 90s. There were no distractions with the extra fabric, and no one ever seemed to call Mr. Iyengar a show-off for it.
“The men’s traditional yoga gear is a loin cloth that barely covers anything…I made a conscious choice to wear shorts even though I slipped and fell off my arms for years.”
While many of us prefer to practice with a fitted tank and our favorite pair of yoga pants, the best clothing option is the kind that allows you to move freely. Be comfortable in what you wear, and realize that most people won’t even think twice about your shirtless practice.
So, can you practice with your shirt off?
Why of course—you beautiful, confident, radiant, sweaty being—practice on!
Author: Jessica Malloy
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Nicholas A. Tonelli