The statements below represent a snapshot of the Babarazzi collective mind, and are not intended to represent the entire scope of our feelings on the matter. We offer these only as simple talking points. The truth is, if you must know, we don’t care what people decide to wear when they practice yoga, so long as it does not interfere with the physical and audible space of fellow practitioners. Here, however, are some other ideas to consider:
1. Cultural norms are defined by the culture within which they appear. They are always in a state of flux.
There are few, if any, universal sets of normative behaviors that can be found throughout the various societies of the world. Whether it be burping, farting, kissing, hand-holding, justice, friendship, or beliefs in what makes a person “sexy,” all cultures have their own unique ways of interpreting social customs and behavior. This extends down subcultures within a dominant culture, as well.
2. The concept of “modesty” is an ever-shifting intersection of varying cultural norms within a society.
Modesty is one of the many areas in which a culture may define and, ultimately, differentiate itself from the cultures beyond it. So, while the showing of a young woman’s skin may be acceptable in the US, it is typically not so in, especially, rural areas of India. That said, while it is deemed gross or even inappropriate for an elderly woman to display large portions of her skin openly in the US, in other cultures doing so is considered very much accepted.
3. Discrimination has no place in the practice of yoga.
A good yoga teacher will be able to make accessible the practice and teachings of any one single tradition to anyone who desires to be taught and shows a determination to be so. Other good teachers will admit when they are unable to do so.
4. A baby kitten is born without its whiskers every time legal channels are pursued in a yogic debate when good ol’ fashion shunning was a viable option.
We believe it to be a societal failure when legal channels are needed to mediate civil issues that could have been dealt with otherwise.
5. Shunning and boycotts place power in the hands of common people, a reaffirmation of where power resided all along.
When a yoga studio goes against the agreement communities have made with the State defining the rights of “its citizens” to, say, live a topless lifestyle, the people of that community have a right, if not a duty, to challenge and/or reject the offending studio.
6. Yoga studio owners should not assume that, if given the option, all women will immediately begin to practice yoga publicly topless. The State has provided women with this option since 1992.
We know what you’re thinking, yoga studio owner. You’re thinking that if the State makes it mandatory for you to allow women to practice yoga topless in your studio, that you will be inundated with topless train wrecks bulging from the seams. Don’t worry. Read #7.
7. Anatomy and varying levels of comfort, both physical and emotional, will be the determining factors in whether or not a person decides to practice yoga topless. This goes for women, men, and all genders and non-genders in-between and beyond.
Not every person who practices yoga is dying to do so without a top on. For some it’s a too-much-sweat issue. For others it’s a not-enough-sweat issue. For others it’s a my-boobs-are-bruising-my-face-and-stomach issue. For others it’s a back-acne issue. This list goes on and on and on.
8. Yoga studios requiring practitioners to wear shirts during practice in response to women not wanting to do so, is lazy and, on some level, probably an example of unchecked sexism.
When a yoga studio such as Jivamukti decides to
create a new enforce a previous rule making shirts a requirement for all practitioners only after a women attempts to do otherwise, it’s hard to see this as anything other than lame and subconsciously sexist. A woman exercising her right to bare her breasts is not by definition immodest. Defining it as such sounds more like lingering cultural baggage that needs to be aired out.
9. Since it appears that most people with a serious yoga practice seem to care little about whether or not a woman chooses to practice yoga topless, perhaps the debate has more to do with yoga studio owners and their own financial interests, than it does with people who actually practice.
Most practitioners we have talked to could care less about this issue. We feel that in that is the real answer to this debate.
10. A yoga practitioner will benefit most fruitfully by focusing on his/her own yoga practice and not on the practice of others.
Practice yoga. Listen to your teacher. Get on with life. This is our best advice, and we offer it to students, as well as teachers.