December 28, 2015

When Yoga meets Fitness meets Yoga Pants meets Totally Missing the Point.

Christina Meditating @ Angkor Wat by Tony Westbrook Artist Photographer

Yoga and fitness are the best of buds—hence the third limb of yoga, known as asana or postures.

Yogis keep their physical fitness through various postures ranging from seated stretches, strong standing poses like Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), balance postures such as Vriksasana (Tree Pose) or Sirsasana (Headstand). These postures not only take physical strength, but balance, proper breathing and calmness of mind. We practice these asanas to ultimately prepare our bodies and mind for the stillness of meditation.

In Western culture, yoga seems to be synonymous with physical postures only. Our obsession as a society with beauty and being thin, drives people to find new ways to stay fit. Heck, I know that’s why I stepped into my first yoga class 14 years ago.

I wanted a more well-rounded fitness regimen, so I thought stretching would balance out weightlifting and cardio—which it does—but that was my sole reason for stepping onto that squishy purple mat.

Fitness Meets Yoga Pants

The fitness clothing industry is booming as girls want to flaunt their toned bods in ultra-tight clothes and guys want to look. Because what is a good workout if you don’t looking good doing it, right?!

The yoga scene is now realizing what happens when style meets the mat. Companies like Victoria’s Secret and Lululemon are making bank off sexy yoga pants. You never know what someone will have on their bums as they bend over in front of you for a wide-legged forward fold—it could be the face of Frodo Baggins.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a yoga pant, legging wearing fool, probably to a fault. Since I travel so much, they are simple the most comfortable thing to wear, as well as lightweight, diverse and easy to clean. This does not mean that these items of clothing are necessarily appropriate for the yoga mat.
There are times where I feel that they may actually go against the teachings of yoga. Take Brahmacharya for example, often times this refers to the reservation of sexual energy. Well when you’re in a co-ed class and have asses in the air and crotches spread open, men are bound to take a peek or ten. Women are voluntarily flashing the parts of their body directly related to sexuality. Think about that next time you are in Malasana (squatting yogi posture).

Yoga Pants Meets Totally Missing the Point

When we really think about it, fitness is only one small aspect of yoga practice as a whole. Our yoga pant obsession is a side effect of our western culture and what we deem as stylish and beautiful.

If we remove the filter of society we will see that yoga is a lovely well-rounded practice challenging the mind and body through personal practice, physical practice, breathing and meditation. This union is the point of yoga and why we keep coming back to our mat. While it may be fun and rewarding to learn a new posture or nail that one pose we have worked on for the past six months, that is not the ultimate goal.

The goal is union, which is what yoga literally means—union of self.

We can all take steps to get real with yoga again, if we start from the beginning. Begin to learn and dabble in the foundations of yoga.

Pick up a copy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Dedicate one week to each limb of yoga.

Before stepping into a class, review your actual intentions for taking a yoga class. Is it a workout being sought or the lessons of yoga? If you’re like me and want to have the best of both worlds, a consistent yoga practice will help you experience both the benefits of fitness and teachings. Consistent practice naturally generates a fit body along with a calm (or at least calmer) mind.

Lastly, consider ditching the yoga pants and wear looser clothing. See how that feels.



Relephant read:

The Yoga Pants Phenomenon.



Author: Christina Nichols

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Photo: Author’s Own

Reply to Trinley cancel

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Trinley Jan 16, 2016 8:03am

Hi Christina,

Thanks for your reply! I'm glad we agree that intention is more important than pants. I think there's an interesting discussion to be had about the effect of clothing on the mind, but I notice that it easily goes awry when it becomes as direct as "women shouldn't wear (article of clothing) or men will look at their (body part) when they do (asana)." Then it's no longer a discussion about intention and the potential effect of clothing on the mind. It becomes explicit disapproval of a specific clothing choice. You're free to disapprove explicitly of clothing choices of course, but since you've said that's not your intention, I'm attempting to show how that has happened here.

Man buns aside, it's interesting to draw men's choices into this discussion for the purpose of revealing society's preference for censoring women's bodies. Men practicing asanas in tight and/or revealing clothing is as old as the practice itself. Think of the old yoga loincloth. Look at early pictures of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois. Look at the bikini bottoms and tight shorts David Swenson wears in his Ashtanga manual. I've never heard a single peep about what will happen when these men bend over; they are just people doing yoga. I would like it to be the same for women. Some people believe that women are the gatekeepers of sex and thus have more responsibility than men to cover themselves, but I don't believe this.

To address the issue of trends, I would echo some of what I wrote above. To focus on a trend itself is to miss the point of what's happening in the mind – the intention of the person. The trend/article itself is neutral and should not be made the focus of the discussion. One woman might follow the legging trend with the intention of convincing others of her social status. Another woman might wear the same leggings because they allows her greater freedom of movement in practice. One woman might wear loose pants because she intends to remove the distraction of sexuality. Another woman might wear the same pants and inwardly congratulate herself for being more pure, more yogic, better than anyone else.

It's likely that people will look to see what others are wearing and want to fit in (in any environment), but that in itself doesn't make a trend bad. What if the trend were more in line with your clothing preference? If other people followed that trend wanting to fit in, would you consider that problematic, or would your stance then turn to approval of the trend?

If it's unclear, my point here is that we need to turn the focus of the discussion away from specific trends and articles of clothing. We need to refrain from speculating about why people make particular clothing choices. These superficialities distract from the issue of intention. To focus on our intention, and to encourage others to do so, we should continue to ask ourselves 'why have I made this choice? Am I happy with my reasons for making this choice?' This is inward focus. Counting threads and spandex content is outward focus.

Trinley Jan 7, 2016 10:43am

Hi Christina,

I think this is a relevant topic for the current yoga community, and I agree with your points in part. Most of us hope that people get more from their yoga practice than the pleasure of showing off their hot bods in sexy outfits. But I think intention is a much bigger deal that what your pants look like. I think when the concern is too focused on the pants or the pose (how tight they are, how open the crotch is, etc) then we begin making negative assumptions about people's inner states based on what we see.

Since the focus here is placed particularly on women — as it tends to be — it strikes me as veering dangerously toward slut-shaming, as if my clothing choice is a direct indication of what I'm doing with my sexual energy. It also presumes the worst of men in the class — that they can't possibly contain their sexual energy enough to do yoga when a woman is spreading her legs near them. It makes me wonder, how loose do my pants need to be for me to be a sincere yogi? If I wear leggings and do Malasana, am I slutting up the studio with my sexuality? If I wear baggy sweats and keep my legs closed, am I a good yogi girl again?

David Williams said in a workshop that I attended, you can look at a group of people doing asanas, but you can't say which of them is doing "real" yoga, because you don't know what's in their mind as they're doing those asanas, and what's in your mind (ie your intention) is what determines whether it's yoga or something else. If I'm busy looking around the room making assumptions about people's sexuality/sincerity based on their pants and their degree of leg-spreading, then the one who isn't doing "real" yoga is actually me. Yoga is about looking inside, not looking at pants. And the only inside you can look at is your own.

(I hope this is received as a commentary about a broader issue the yoga community and not as a direct attack on the author and her opinions.)

yogibattle Jan 1, 2016 5:07pm

Nice to see more articles like this on EJ. Gayle (commenter above) please don't stop teaching. The yoga world needs you more than ever!

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Christina Nichols

Christina is the life and energy behind This Ahimsa Life, where she discusses all things yoga, shares her simple and delicious vegan recipe creations and wanderlust through her travel adventures. You can follow This Ahimsa Life on Facebook. Christina earned her certification in 2011 as a Holistic Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. In 2013, founded Forks N’ Spoons, a vegan cooking school in Colorado Springs, CO, where she teaches hands-on cooking classes with plant ingredients only. In 2013 she published her first book, The Essential Vegan, which guides people through a smooth transition into a vegan lifestyle. November 2014 Christina graduated from the Yoga Alliance 200HR yoga teacher training program. During her travels, she teaches yoga at an individual level to people all over the world.