The Ethics of Yogawear
How to practice yoga beyond the mat by making ethical clothing choices.
I quit my ten year career as a fashion model to advocate for ethical style when I learned that the fashion industry is responsible for widespread human and animal injustice, as well as environmental degradation. I also practiced yoga and wanted to understand how the values and ethics of yoga could support me off the mat in making more ethical clothing choices. I asked myself:
Like many other yoga practitioners in the West, I was introduced to yoga by performing asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work) and dhyana (meditation). Yet, I was unaware that while these practices are integral, yoga is essentially the practice of ethics. The Yoga Sutra - written by Pantanjali almost two thousand years ago - features the practice of yama (ethics) as the first of eight limbs on the classical yoga path. As the late yoga Guru B.K.S. Iyengar states in Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom: “The principles of yama are essential to evolution at every level...one cannot grow spiritually without increasing one's moral and ethical awareness. Yama is the foundation of yoga.”
Yama is a universal code of ethical conduct - transcending creed, country, age and time - to assist us in overcoming unnecessary suffering caused by emotions such as greed, desire, and attachment. By practicing the five yamas - ahimsa (non-harming); satya (truthfulness); asteya (non-stealing); brahmacharya (energy moderation); and aparigraha (non-attachment) - we find union or harmony between our inner and outer worlds, expressed as personal fulfilment which benefits society and the natural environment.
I’ve found it challenging to apply the yamas in my life, especially in making more ethical fashion choices.
There have been many interpretations on how to understand and apply Patanjali’s ethical guidelines to our daily lives. However, society has become more complex since Patanjali wrote the ethical guidelines for yoga. I’ve found it challenging to apply the yamas in my life, especially in making more ethical fashion choices. The fashion industry supply-chain is globalised, complex and less transparent, making the seemingly simple task of buying, owning and using clothing in an environmentally and socially responsible way challenging, but not impossible.
Take ahimsa, the first and most important yama, which can be translated as non-violence or non-harming. When we are aligned with ahimsa, we cultivate a loving state-of-mind and intention by taking responsibility for our own harmful actions. We also attempt to stop any harm or suffering to other beings and the natural environment. Legendary human rights activist and yogi, Mahatma Gandhi famously stated that:
By applying ahimsa we can make choices that reduces the suffering in the fashion industry by: ensuring that the people who made our clothing received a fair living wage and conditions (social responsibility); choosing not to support the killing and inhumane treatment of animals by refusing to wear brand new animal fur or leather (animal rights); and purchasing organic cotton that’s naturally dyed so it’s less detrimental on the environment (environmental responsibility).
This the first of an upcoming series of blog posts aimed to increase your knowledge on aligning the five yamas with how we buy, own and use clothing, with a focus on yoga wear. I’ll be covering topics, interviews and step-by-step guides to assist you to practice yoga beyond your mat by editing your yoga style more ethically. Just remember that the yamas are guidelines, not rules. As you read each post, I invite you to think about which values and ethical fashion principles appeal most to you and apply them in a compassionate and unique way. Because as Iyengar explains in Light on Yoga:
What I'm wearing
I practice yoga daily so it’s important that I have durable gear that lasts and performs. I've searched high and low for well designed yoga wear that reflects my style plus values and these have made the cut.
I'm wearing Nike 'Better World' leggings and Nike crop top bra. Inside the leggings it says "10 less plastic bottles, one legend pant" meaning they are made of 100% upcycled PET. While I prefer natural fibres these pants don't feel like they're suffocating my skin and importantly, they don't go transparent as you bend and stretch.
I’ve been trying to buy this Patagonia hoodie in black for about a year. Alastair has the men’s version and it’s amazingly versatile to use before and after Yoga or when it’s cold. I value the thumb holes and snug hood as I get cold easily. I also recommend it when hiking, trail running and to wear on air-conditioned plane trips.
For the past four years I've used this Jade Yoga harmony mat around six times a week. It's made in the USA in compliance with all U.S. environmental and labour laws and 100% natural rubber which is a renewable and biodegradable resource tapped from rubber trees. The rubber gives it a nice grip and it's durable. I've been slow travelling for the past year so when I replace my current mat I'll get a Jade Yoga travel mat as it's lighter and more compact. For each mat sold they plant a tree.
When I was based in one location I used a Jade Yoga wooden block. This Jade Yoga cork block is similar and is made with cork harvested sustainably in Portugal from the bark of native cork trees, a rapidly renewable resource.
I've been using a silver S'Well Shimmer Collection water bottle as I travel. I really like the chic design and it's insulated so it keeps liquid cold or hot, which has been helpful in the sweltering heat of Cuba and Mexico. The only problem is that it doesn't have a handle and that the paint has been peeling off it, so I'm not sure I would invest in it again.
Photographs by Nerida Lennon.
Transparency: This article was commissioned by Yovada. I was not paid to feature any products in this post. The products featured in this post I independently bought myself. This post includes affiliate links to support me to share these stories with you.
Share your thoughts
How do you practice yoga off the mat? Has yoga changed your values? Has it influenced your clothing choices? Are there any yoga brands you admire?