01/14/2014 06:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Emperor's New (Yoga Clothes)

What to Wear to Yoga


There's a storm brewin' in the yoga world, and it has nothing to do with poses, breathing or mantras. It has to do with clothes. You might think I'm referencing Lululemon founder Chip Wilson's comments about his clothes and plus-sized women. This yogi is smart enough not to get myself involved in that debate.

No, I'm talking about what you should be wearing to your next yoga class (or better yet, what other yogis think you should be wearing). The answer isn't as clear-cut as you would think. Despite yoga's long history, there really is no traditional yoga outfit. Of course, there are exceptions, like Kundalini Yoga, which requires students to wear natural fibers and loose clothing to promote the free flow of energy.

But for the most part, you'd be hard pressed to find a generally accepted yoga outfit (despite what brands like Lululemon and Nike would have you believe). Despite the lack of history, there's a burgeoning industry around active wear (which includes yoga clothes). According to Newsweek, it's worth (wait for it!) $30 billion and is growing twice as fast as regular apparel. I wish that meant more people were showing up for class, but that's not necessarily the case. The disconnect between activewear consumption and being active is another idea I'm gonna leave for another time. Suffice it to say that 20 million people practice yoga in the U.S. (that's less than half of the population), and we spend $10 billion on yoga products.

As long as those yoga products get you to show up and commit, I'm all for it, but $10 billion sounds like an awful lot of mats that might not be getting the use they deserve. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is so happy about the "luxuriation" of yoga.

Man, there are people in some of my classes grumbling loudly about consumerism and capitalism and Ayn Rand references on shopping bags. These folks think your Lululemon pants are the antithesis of what yoga is all about, and it makes them sick.

For me, as long as people show up in something they can get movin' in, I'm a happy camper. I've got yogis in my class in cut-off shorts and faded T-shirts, and then there are others wearing the latest and greatest in yoga fashion. There's nothing wrong with nice things. It's only when you get attached to, and defined by those things that you start to have a bit of a problem. Throughout history there have been yogis who are incredibly adorned in jewels and rich textiles as they practice. No one called them out on being capitalist.

On the other hand, just because you're wearing yoga pants that cost a day's wage for most people doesn't mean you don't have to do the work. There's nothing magical about expensive yoga clothes. They won't fix your downward dog, and they won't get you into pigeon pose. But if wearing them gets you to show up, I'm all for it.

Here's the bottom line: there's nothing more "anti-yoga" than fighting about what other people are wearing. Live and let live people, and that goes for both camps.

Rudy Mettia