A question most beginners ask me before their first yoga class is what to wear for their first class. The next question is whether we wear shoes and socks during class. With a smile, I say that we practice yoga barefoot.
We practice yoga barefoot because socks are slippery and shoes are bulky. Doing yoga barefoot can stretch and strengthen the muscles in our feet. This allows us to bring awareness and dexterity into our feet, something that will help us feel grounded, physically, and eventually, psychologically.
For someone not used to being barefoot, a yoga class could be a great opportunity to try it out, especially given the advantages of practicing barefoot! However, if barefoot isn’t an option for you, there are alternatives.
Do You Wear Shoes During Yoga?
As a general rule, we don’t wear shoes during yoga. The reason for this is that by wearing shoes, we wouldn’t be able to move our bodies in and out of yoga poses with ease. Additionally, doing yoga barefoot can help us feel more grounded and connected to the Earth.
And so we don’t wear shoes when doing yoga, but we also don’t wear shoes in a yoga studio.
When entering the studio, the first thing you will most likely see is a place to leave your shoes (and socks if you so wish). Do we wear shoes during yoga? No. Do we wear shoes anywhere in the yoga studio? Again, no.
We always take our shoes off at the entrance of the yoga studio. This is done so as to minimize the outside dirt that comes into the studio.
It is also a sign of respect for the studio. The reason for this is that yoga is a practice that came all the way from India, where it is common practice to remove shoes when entering a home.
And so even at the entrance of the yoga studio, you are welcomed into a practice space that has come from the other side of the world, and with it, brought some of its own traditions.
Interestingly, with this simple thing, even at the entrance of the yoga studio we get a sense of how different the atmosphere is to a gym.
Advantages of Practicing Yoga Barefoot
1. Increase in Balance
Our feet have a major role to play in our yoga practice. In classes that involve many standing poses, such as Ashtanga yoga, the yoga poses require us to have our feet firmly in contact with the ground. This can ideally only be done barefoot, as when we are barefoot it is better and easier to find stable and balanced contact with the floor.
Additionally, when practicing standing postures we ideally want to distribute the weight evenly across the soles of the feet. This means equal weight on both the heel and the toes. This even distribution of weight may involve a slight gripping of the toes or the need to move them in a way that can not be done with shoes/socks on.
The reason for this need for even distribution of weight is to ensure stability and balance so as to avoid potential injuries. Indeed, improper alignment of the feet can then translate to improper alignment across the body which in turn may lead to injury in the long run.
2. Strengthening The Feet
Our yoga practice is an opportunity to stretch, flex, and strengthen the muscles in our feet.
Indeed, when we are barefoot, the small muscles in the foot work hard to help us balance. This is something which is not done when we wear shoes, and so by wearing shoes all day, these little muscles stay inactive. And so our yoga practice is an opportunity to help even the smallest muscles in our feet get a workout. Just remember to evenly distribute the weight as you don’t want a small cluster of muscles to carry all your body weight.
Additionally, our feet consist of a whole network of nerve endings. Practicing yoga barefoot helps us connect different parts, points, and nerves ending with the floor, something that may help us feel more grounded.
3. Feeling grounded
Yoga encourages us to feel our physical connection to the ground. This feeling of being grounded is one of the things that helps set yoga apart from gym workouts.
The idea of grounding is a mental shift and one which we may not be used to. Our daily lives can sometimes be very busy and stressful with much running around. And so in a yoga class, as we step on our mat and the naked soles of our feet connect to the ground below, this feeling of being grounded may affect us psychologically on a deeper level.
Connecting to the floor below, to the earth, we are in fact connecting to something much larger than ourselves.
In standing postures, some teachers may tell students to imagine they have roots that start at the soles of the feet and extend down through the floor and deep into the earth. For anyone who likes a bit of gardening, you will know how important it is to have strong and healthy roots.
So when life seems chaotic and problems pile up, we sometimes have a sense of getting ungrounded. And so in yoga, on the mat, barefoot, it is our chance to take a moment to breathe and try to connect to our string and healthy roots, all the way through the floor below and feel more, well, grounded.
4. Being barefoot helps the teacher see what you’re doing and adjust accordingly
Yoga teachers generally teach poses or a sequence of poses in a variety of ways. Most commonly it is done with a combination of:
- Demonstrating the poses
- Verbally, explaining the poses as well as explaining any possible adjustment the students should do
- Giving hands-on adjustments.
For the second and third options, the teacher needs to be able to have a clear picture of what the student is doing.
Interestingly, when I teach, one of my most frequent verbal cue is:
Ground the big toe
In standing postures this cue helps distribute the weight and pressure evenly across the foot and along the leg and in turn avoids any possible injury, especially in the ankle area. Sometimes I place my hands on students’ feet to encourage this slight adjustment.
When students wear socks, I don’t have a clear picture of what their feet are doing and so they may miss this verbal or even physical adjustment from me.
Should you wear socks during yoga?
As a general rule, we don’t wear socks during yoga. The key reason is that socks tend to be rather slippery, and may even slide off during practice. However, if we are practicing a more gentle type of yoga and we’re feeling cold, then it is more than ok to wear socks.
It is worth pointing out that many of my students, particularly beginners, prefer to keep their socks on in class. And that’s totally fine.
When new students ask me if they can keep their socks on I always say yes and then add that they’ll actually probably take them off as they’ll see it’s not ideal to practice with socks on.
For a physically demanding practice like Ashtanga yoga, socks end up slipping off and so I notice most students take their socks off after the first couple of sun salutations. Let’s not forget that we produce a lot of heat during sun salutations and so it can get too hot to wear socks.
Some people may be self-conscious and choose socks for this reason. The truth is that yoga encourages us to accept ourselves, the good and the bad. So, in this case, it is worth trying to focus not on how the body looks, but rather what it can do. By shifting perspective, starting from our naked feet up, the sky becomes the limit!
It is worth pointing out that wearing socks can be nice and comforting during savasana, especially in the winter, or during any slow and static practice like Yin yoga.
It really is a personal choice, so I always recommend for people to figure out what works for them and take it from there.
Yoga socks and shoes
For those who may feel uncomfortable being barefoot or have an existing injury, there are now a wide variety of yoga socks and even yoga shoes. These are specially designed for doing yoga and are less slippery and allow more flexibility and movement.
The Gaiam yoga socks could be worth trying out. The reason these may be a good option is that they have an anti-slip bottom layer. This means that
And these yoga socks with the toes covered could also be worth trying.
How to stay safe when practicing yoga barefoot
This all comes down to personal hygiene. Ideally, we want to go to a yoga class as clean as possible. This could involve having a shower before, yes before class. This could also involve cleaning our feet before stepping on to the mat.
Most yoga studios provide yoga mats, something which is great for beginners. However, in order to avoid any skin issues, we would ideally want to bring our own mat to class, just to be safe. Additionally, even if it is our own mat, be sure to clean it after each use.
Most studios provide a liquid spray to clean yoga mats before and after practice. If this is not the case in your studio, you could always bring sanitizing wipes to clean your yoga mat.
In conclusion, it’s your practice, so feel free to do whatever you want to do!