no shirt, no yoga: jivamukti’s new rule in NYC studios

Jivamukti Yoga founders, David Life and Sharon Gannon: clothing optional, except when in yoga class?

Apparently Jivamukti Yoga studios in New York City have created a new rule for clothing requirements in yoga classes. According to Well+Good, “Our yogi source said the new rule stated that “people must wear tops in class and that see-through or overly revealing clothing was discouraged.”’

Oh yeah? Interesting that this should happen just weeks after a huge “scandal” about nude yoga advertising swept through the online yoga community. North American yoga practitioners are receiving increasingly mixed messages about the practice. And this is a huge and glaring example of the incongruency.

To add to the confusion, Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life have often been photographed close to nude (but reportedly dress modestly when teaching classes). Hmm…

Advertising works. It does more than increase brand awareness and sell products. It also infiltrates our actions and behaviour. If images of half/fully naked bodies are normalized (and, we’re told, are “inspiring” and worth aspiring to), we’ll start seeing more skin in yoga classes. It’s that simple. When leaders in the community pose with minimal clothing, students follow.

Take it a little further, and we run the risk of creating practice spaces that aren’t safe or inclusive. It’s fine line.

  1. 1. Jivamukti yoga has always had a policy for its students (translation : Dudes) to wear shirts in class.

    2. Photographs of Jivamukti co founder David Life without his shirt are tasteful and unsexual to anyone shy of being a chaste nun.

    3. The author writes, “Take it a little further, and we run the risk of creating practice spaces that aren’t safe or inclusive. It’s fine line.”

    Safety and Inclusion have nothing to do with public nudity and it’s role in yoga classes and advertising. Yoga studios are business who have the right not to serve someone who doesn’t have shoes or a shirt or is destroying property.

    • thanks for your feedback. i wasn’t aware that this was a long-standing rule, as i was just basing my commentary on the well+good article. i don’t live in NYC and have never been to the jivamukti studios there.

      i agree that the photos of david life are tasteful and unsexual. that’s not the issue here.

      what’s also not at issue is whether or not i (or anyone) agrees with the rule. i just find it interesting and worth commenting on after such a big conversation about nude yoga advertising happened in the yoga community. and i do really believe that there is a contradiction in messaging.

      and i do sincerely believe that revealing clothing in yoga class can lead to a space that isn’t safe for many practitioners. it can be distracting and inadvertently create an environment that is competitive and comparison-based. not necessarily sexual, but unsafe.

      i also value these wise words from judith hanson lasater, in an interview i did with her in 2010: “I just want to help create a safe space for yoga to be taught. With all this sexualization of yoga clothes, props, etc., it must spill over into the environment of yoga classes in ways that do not honor the boundary between teacher and student.”

      this, i believe, is a real concern. mixed messages from advertisers and studios confuse these boundaries even more.

  2. I agree with you Roseanne. I also agree that although the photos of founders with “less” clothing are tasteful- they are still photos used to represent the tradition- and thus the studios of that tradition. When the studios indicate a “dress code” that is different than that of publicity photos of the founders- it’s confusing.

    Also- one of the reasons I don’t like Bikram or Moksha (beyond the heat) is the propensity of yogis w a lack of clothing. It makes me uncomfortable.

    • interesting!

      i have to admit that the reason why i don’t practice hot yoga is: too much laundry! really, i find it a pain to have to wash my clothes after every practice.

      i’m a bit of a lazy yogi.

      as a burlesque fan, i’m comfortable with bodies and skin. but often in hot yoga class, when i see women in bras and short shorts, i’ll feel self-conscious about my body. i wish i didn’t, but i can’t help but evaluate and compare.

  3. I must admit, I am bothered by topless men in yoga classes. Not truly disturbed but just a little bothered. I do appreciate the ‘safe’ spaces.

    • Get over yourself, most of the ladies are no treat to look at either.

  4. Many women wear low cut and revealing clothes in some male instructor’s classes at Jivamukti, even those who are teachers. This is nothing new and has not been discouraged in the past. I guess the recent NYT article and subsequent articles have something to do with that. Most women there look like yoga sluts.

  5. The long standing rule regarding men wearing shirts at Jivamukti Yoga school is for their personal safety and the safety of the teachers. In the Jivamukti tradition, teachers provide all students with hands-on adjustments unless the students asks us not to. A male (or female) covered with sweat and not wearing a shirt is impossible to adjust above the waist without risking serious injury from slipping. The reason for this “dress code” is completely unrelated to anything but safety and practicality.

    • thanks for clarifying. again, i’m basing this piece on a newsstory, not personal experience at a studio.

      and really, the intention here isn’t to critique the dress code, but to point out a contradiction that i’ve noticed in the yoga community.

  6. Thanks for your posting (and great blog) Roseanne!

    The interesting thing about the new dress code is that while women in class are allowed to wear clothing which allows the body to breathe (ie. lots more exposed skin), men are not. Is that fair?

    I also note that some comments above seem to indicate that a shirtless male student (or women wearing skimpy clothing) is making some feel less “safe.” Such a view seems to be looking primarily ar our students’ potential weaknesses and not giving them credit for their ability and willingness to find a place of equanimity in their practice.

    I give adjustments all the time to shirtless male students and while I must often carry a small towel to dry my hands (since guys sweat much more – see paragraph above), I’ve never found it to create a dangerous situation. If anything, the men wearing t-shirts or even tank tops sweat more than the men sans shirt.

    Skin is our body’s natural covering and we should neither be ashamed of it nor seek to constantly sexualize its exposure.

    Blessings,

    Chris

    • hi chris ~ thanks for your insightful comment.

      my understanding is that the “new rule” (if it is indeed new) applies to all genders. the quote from the well+good nyc article says: “people must wear tops in class and that see-through or overly revealing clothing was discouraged.”

      i think that is fairly gender non-specific.

      as for your comment: “Such a view seems to be looking primarily ar our students’ potential weaknesses and not giving them credit for their ability and willingness to find a place of equanimity in their practice.”

      i can’t agree with that. as teachers, we don’t know where our students are on their journeys. i believe it’s our responsibility to create a safe space, that honours all experiences and abilities. we don’t know what can trigger a traumatic response – even touch with positive intention, or the sight of somebody’s bare back, can trigger some people.

      as well, my feeling is that a lack of clothing can suggest intimacy, and this can confuse the boundaries between teacher and student.

      “Skin is our body’s natural covering and we should neither be ashamed of it nor seek to constantly sexualize its exposure.” yes yes! i agree. but i’m not sure if a public yoga class is the appropriate place to work through these issues. unless it’s a hot nude yoga class – where the expectations are clear and transparent, and students know what they’re getting into. 😉

      • Thanks Roseanne,
        I guess we’ll just agree to disagree.

        I can’t agree that having some parts of the body uncovered suggests intimacy. If this were true, people at the swimming pool, beach or suntanning in a park are all suggesting intimacy.

        And if we can’t work through these issues in the safe haven of a yoga class – where should we? If anything, its the ideal place to do so.

  7. Hmm. Well, in the photo, David and Sharon are dressed for a photo shoot. In the studio, they’re probably dressed to teach.

    On the other hand, I honestly don’t care what other folks are wearing in class as long as nothing flaps over on my mat.:-)

    This is coming from a person who has worked through a hell of a lot of body image issues. I realized that my discomfort when looking at women in various states of undress (or half-undress) was just that…my discomfort. If the sight of someone’s bare back can trigger a response in someone, it is the responsibility of the person to get help, not the shirtless person.

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