When being assessed for Iyengar certification, teacher candidates are not supposed to show skin. In other words, no low-cut necklines, no skimpy tanks, no bare midriffs. (I don’t know if this is an official rule or unwritten protocol.)
This topic arose recently in light of the pose sarvangasana (shoulderstand). Don’t most of us do sarvangasana with palms against the skin of our backs? “Skin on skin” gives the best traction: to hold the palms in place, pressing rib cage and shoulder blades inward and upward. But that means reaching underneath your top, which falls open (at least halfway), showing skin.
As an experiment yesterday, I did my usual sarvangasana (reaching underneath my top for “skin on skin”) and then I tried it again with palms over shirt fabric. Yikes. Slippery. Without enough grip to secure my hand position, my shoulderstand felt loose and tenuous. (Googling “sarvangasana,” I found a YouTube video of John Schumacher teaching the pose with hands against T-shirt, so it is perfectly doable, of course.)
I contemplated the no-skin no-no. On one hand, I agree that gratuitous display of skin is gauche. On the other, why can’t one wear “less” during hot weather or to demonstrate alignment of the kneecaps or shoulder joints? If one’s purpose is legitimate, isn’t that different from baring all for dubious reasons?
Actually, BKS Iyengar himself often wore the equivalent of swimming trunks. Many senior Iyengar teachers wear those classic banded-bottom shorts (and they are short!) to demonstrate leg actions in asana: inward or outward rotation, flexed quadriceps (“lift the kneecaps!”), and so forth. Here, showing skin highlights anatomical form in a visceral way. For the visually oriented, seeing is believing.
To me, it’s obvious when a yoga teacher is wearing short shorts for sound reasons—and when she is not. It’s not the clothing. It’s the attitude.
That said, while I do question the status quo now and then, I certainly won’t go rebel and wear a strappy camisole during assessment. But I wonder about sarvangasana. Is there a “sticky” fabric out there, some high-tech top that acts like a wearable yoga mat?
And what’s your opinion on showing skin?