by Ian Bysh
My teacher Ellie wears beautiful yoga clothes (it helps that she is beautiful too). I wondered where Ellie obtained her marvellous merchandise, but of course I never asked her. As a chap, it is embarrassing to admit to designs on my yoga teacher’s attire, but it’s also hard to find beautiful yoga clothes for men. Tops ain’t so bad (T-shirts after all are ubiquitous if boring), but bottoms! First of all, you have to be keen on black, and then there’s the problem of the lunchbox. It’s either Olympic sprinter or shapeless grunge, with nothing in between.
My other teacher, Ruth White, says that yoga clothes should reveal the form so that the teacher can easily observe the pose and make appropriate instruction. How can you spot legs that have gone beyond straight in a baggy pair of trackies? She would encourage all us aspiring teachers therefore to go skin-tight – to set a good example in the choice of yoga attire. I can see the advantages in this, especially if you look like Ellie – and immediately you see the problem. Even though I might tell everyone yoga is in part about freeing oneself from the ravages of body image, wearing skin tight clothing meant either I could not bear to look in the mirror, or (perhaps worse) I could not tear my eyes away, depending on whereabouts in the cycle of feast and famine I was currently residing.
The best pair of yoga trousers I ever bought was in the Trivandrum Sivananda Ashram. They had been designed with Indian modesty mores. Strict Hindus attend the ashram classes. This resulted in white cotton, tied waist, unisex, mid calf length, loose enough to allow freedom of movement, thick enough to avoid a VPL, tight enough to see when my knees went backwards. I could even salute the sun a Sivananda-tastic number of times in the Indian heat without melting, an occurrence I had been dubious about. They were only £3 as well. The best thing about them however was that everyone wore them. If you enrolled in the yoga school there, you had to wear them; the rest of us were not so mandated, but wore them anyway. They were just so practical. And because everyone wore the same, it took away a layer of judgement. I guess there is some point to school uniform.
I wonder at how worked up I become about mere shreds of cloth. I say that, and then I think of a great deal of human investment and ingenuity wrapped up in clothes. Cloth represents a significant technological achievement, whole economies have come and gone on the manufacture of different types of fabric, many people make a living from the shirts on our backs. People have always got worked up about clothes, starting with Adam and Eve’s fig leaves, right up to the Queen, who recently stopped church choirs from wearing scarlet unless they were a royal peculiar. Clothes I suppose are a physical manifestation of maya. They shroud us with messages intentional and unintentional. They set out to deceive (and to deceive not least the wearer). In many ways we’d be better without them, but try telling that to the police.