Owing to the full moon (in Leo!) it is the ideal time for a Kali column. Despite my love for science, I am not immune to astrology. Full moon, energy peak, and all that. And I'm a Leo, a fire sign. So, full moon in Leo = intense fire, pita rising... Anyway, you get the picture. And above all, I have lots of work waiting for me so I prefer to procrastinate by venting here rather than taking the bull by the horns and getting to work.
"It's hoooot": so what?!
I'm taking this opportunity to share a topic that's been driving me crazy for a looooong time: men who take off their t-shirt during yoga class and practice bare-chested, cool as a cucumber "becauzzze it's hoooot". I'm not talking here about private classes at home where everyone is free to let it all hang out in sirsasana if they feel like it. But about that moment when, in group yoga class, t-shirts suddenly drop after 3 chaturangas as if it were normal. Because "it's hoooot". Really? But I'm also hot, Michel, what do you think, and I keep my top on, actually, what's up with that! At this precise moment, I have only one desire: to go bare-chested and continue the class by bouncing along as if it were normal - and see what the teacher will say. I'm sure it would create, at best, a discomfort, and at worst the teacher would ask me to get dressed (without even thinking of asking the same of the culprits). I've never dared but I've promised myself that one day I will. I'm speaking here as a student, not as a teacher where I'm lucky to have students who stay dressed (thank you to them).
When I lived in Thailand, most of the men (Westerners) undressed during classes (hot and humid climate, sure, but the gravity of the tropics similarly affects men and women, you see) without it being a problem for anyone. I even attended trainings where the teachers (Westerners) did their entire training bare-chested. Small disclaimer about the absolute insult that nudity constitutes in Asia, but let's move on (#neocolonialism #kiss). It's not about prudishness here, I'm not shocked per se to see a man's chest. Except when it splashes you with sweat at the slightest jump, I would prefer a good piece of fabric placed on his skin to sponge up this unwelcome and undesired shower. But it is mostly about the inequalities it generates: you will agree that the same attitude coming from women would be frowned upon. We would be asked to get dressed. So what? Double standards. So you have to choose: everyone naked or everyone dressed. That's equality.
Narcissism VS Modesty
Next, what bothers me is the virile alpha narcissistic masculinity (admitted or not) that emanates from such an attitude. Wanting to absolutely display, spread his body, his muscles, his testosterone to the world "becauzzze it's hooooot". I talked about it with my ex who systematically took off his t-shirt after 15 minutes of class (we were in Thailand, it was very humid and he sweated a lot). Following this discussion, he decided to keep his t-shirt on, and oh surprise, everything went well. At the end of the class, his t-shirt was soaked but magic of hygiene and organization: he washed and changed t-shirts because he thought to bring a spare in his bag. I know what some of you are thinking: oh my, what a castrating woman, poor submissive little chicken! Don't worry, he balked for two seconds (like all men who are put in their place in their little certainties), then he thought about it and he got over it: it's called education and questioning. Intelligence and open-mindedness, you see. And, scoop: our libido was not affected at all.
Moreover, when I take classes with Indian teachers (in France or in India), they also sweat a lot but stay dressed... Nudity is really not necessary actually. And for our friends who are adherents of tradition: well, yoga is simply practiced clothed. You know, all this rhetoric of purity dear to Hinduism and then simply values of respect, modesty and decency so dear to the values of yoga. In terms of adjustments too, it's not practical: who wants to go and put their hands on a slippery octopus skin? I admit it disgusts me. It disgusts me in fact and it disgusts me symbolically: Jason, put on a damn t-shirt, we're not interested in your body. You love watching yourself do a half-naked handstand in front of a 90% female audience? Swallow your out-of-place ego and go get dressed. A yoga room is not a place for narcissistic display nor a sauna.
So, what to do? If you have friends who do this, tell them gently, it will probably make them think, if not change their minds. If you are teachers, tell your students to get dressed. Either the Iyengar way (loud and clear to calm them down), or the gentle way (discreetly and with a benevolent smile). I say the Iyengar method because one of my former Iyengar teachers (trained by BKS himself), once sternly reprimanded one of the students in our class about this. The poor guy didn't say a word and scurried away like a slug to get dressed. A moment of personal enjoyment, I admit.
And otherwise, for the brave ones and when classes resume in the studio: I'm ready to start a movement so that every time a man drops the t-shirt, the women do the same. A sort of happening to help evolve mentalities a bit. And from there, a decision is consciously made by the studios: either everyone has the right to be bare-chested, or everyone stays covered. This is not intolerance but equality. Who's up for it?