One short decade ago, the thought of yoga as being a fashionable activity would have been laughable. Yogis were stereotypically "earthy crunchy," with about as much fashion sense as librarians or monks, and, frankly, they liked it that way. A "stylish yogi" ten short years ago meant that someone might slip on colorful clogs after class, not a fabulous Yoga Layer Tee designed by Stella McCartney. For those of us fortunate enough to witness the style evolution from New Age nondescript to hippie chic to haute couture, it was entertaining and exciting, albeit bittersweet.
While our mats, bags, gear, blocks, baubles, and accessories improved, the likelihood of practicing next to a woman liberated from the need to color coordinate her pants, top, and headband or shave her underarms, for that matter, declined. Gradually, sleek spandex pants and flattering bra tops replaced loose-fitting T-shirts and sweats. Men, too, caught on to the new aesthetic and outfitted themselves accordingly in technologically superior garments engineered by scientists at elite institutions like MIT, err, Nike. Dri-fit pants, aerodynamic shirts, water-wicking sweatbands- suddenly we weren't just practicing yoga; we were wearing it, buying it, and coveting it. We wanted jewelry infused with positive intentions, soaps that smelled like Tibetan temples, après-yoga pants that looked effortlessly glam, and bags with compartments not just for our mats but also our iPods, Blackberrys, cosmetics, etc. We saw supermodel Christy Turlington debut a line of yoga wear, watched Madonna integrate countless mantras and moves into her performances, and glimpsed the occasional celebrity style icon in our classes. By the time I received a call from LeAnn Rimes's assistant that she would be attending a class of mine in Boston, I was well aware that the tide on yoga's cool quotient had turned. When a stylist on a Reebok photo shoot stuffed by yoga top with "chicken cutlets" to give the appearance (read: illusion) of larger breasts, I knew the paradigm had officially shifted. When seeing women with breast implants on yoga retreats went from being a complete anomaly to a common occurrence, I knew it had shattered.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that we all boycott shaving our armpits, dig out the Birkenstocks, and stop buying luscious soy candles in serenity-inducing scents. I'm happy yoga is revered by so many in the mainstream, and there are plenty of improved products that allow us to move, groove, stretch, and swagger in ways that feel and look better (although I wouldn't say that implants are one of these products, per se). I do, however, wonder what yogis, as a collective, have lost as a result of all this upgrading, enhancing, stylizing, and commercializing. Can we be certain that the burgeoning yoga industry is built on improving our practices rather than successfully preying on our vanity and insecurities? As often addressed, here, on The World According to Om Gal, looking like a yogi doesn't make it so; just because I put on a Red Sox jersey doesn't mean I'm qualified to play for the team. You have to understand the larger context. Otherwise, you might as well do aerobics, which isn't to say that aerobics isn't great in its own right, it's just that no one teaching step class bothers to pretend that toning your tush or crunching your belly is the path to inner peace.
The crux of the matter is this . . . the clothes, bags, and baubles are secondary. They make yoga fun, which it should be; however, they do not make you a yogi. Your grace, commitment, strength, and soul does that, and those things never go out of style.