No Shoes, No Shirt, Hot Yoga

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

About two years ago, I was teaching a (very) hot yoga class in a yoga studio and I invited my sister to come to the class. I got her set up in the room and then left to check students into class. At the time, my sister was not a yogi. She had only been to one or two classes in her life. When I got back to the room, I was surprised to see my sister standing there in only her sports bra and yoga pants. She wasn’t the only one, because it was 105 degrees in there, but I was only surprised about her and her lack of self-consciousness. Later, she would say “What? It was hot,” like it was no big deal.

But it IS a big deal for women of all shapes and sizes. At the time, my sister was not at her skinniest. She simply didn’t care who saw her belly rolls. She inspired me! Why should I struggle with my ill-fitting clothes instead of focusing on my practice? Why shouldn’t I be able to take off my shirt, too?

So I started taking off my shirt when I felt like it. If I was uncomfortable, or hot, I would practice in only my sports bra. I told myself I did not care if I had three rolls in my belly today. I told myself I did not care if people could see my back fat. Fake it until you make it, right? The truth is, I did care. If there were men in the class, or if most of the other women were thinner than me, I felt self-conscious. But I did it anyway. If they could, so could I.

Soon, this morphed into occasionally teaching without my shirt on. This was met with rave reviews. After many classes, women would approach me and tell me how “relatable” I was. They could relate to the fact that I couldn’t get into every pose, but also that I had a thicker body. (Great, just what every woman wants to hear after they take off their shirt. Insert eye roll.) Some even told me that they felt more comfortable taking off their shirts because I gave them permission to not feel bad about the way they looked. At first, the compliment stung. I did not want to hear that I was different than anyone else; that they felt better about themselves because they were not as heavy as me.

But then I started to own it. Yes, I am thicker. I wear a size 12 or 14 pants. I weigh around 175 pounds, although some days it’s 180. (I’ve stopped weighing myself more than once/month because honestly, the number on that scale does not reflect how I feel about myself and I’m tired of beating myself up like it does, but that’s a story for another day.) I do not have the body you see in ALL yoga marketing for classes, studios, retreats, clothes, and stock photos.

My hips are wide. My butt is big. I have a small upper body and I’ve worked really hard to increase muscle definition in my arms, but my lower body is bigger. My thighs are thick. They touch when I stand still and rub together when I walk (the horror!). All of this is true, but it’s also true that I still practice yoga and I love yoga. And I’m not alone.

Many of my students are not who you think of when you imagine the stereotypical yogi. They range in age from 16 year old boys to women in their 70s. They range in size from the petite to big boned. Some are really flexible, most are not. Some are scared to go upside down, some spend half the class in a handstand. We are all beautiful and unique as people and as students of yoga.

So why are so many of us afraid to take off our shirts?

I teach hot yoga full time, and since getting in touch with my inner shirtless goddess, I’ve started noticing who feels comfortable to practice in a sports bra or without their shirts. Not surprisingly, the majority of the people practicing shirtless are sporting washboard abs.

Was this just my experience, my perception?

I decided to ask my students for their experience with this topic. Here’s what I found.

Both women and men can be self-conscious without their shirt on in a yoga studio. These same people might be completely comfortable in a bikini on the beach, but the stigma or culture of the studio would determine whether they could practice shirtless. Rachel S., a 30 year old yoga student and teacher, said that she would be more comfortable practicing in her sports bra if she wa