Sweaty Betties

A few months ago I was asked if I’d like to do an hour of yoga in the new Sweaty Betty St Albans shop on the day of the opening. I didn’t say yes immediately as various thoughts were going through my head. I felt torn and here’s why:

4 reasons AGAINST doing yoga in Sweaty Betty St Albans

1. The practice of yoga is about reducing your ego i.e. that sense of ‘I’ and the self. We associate ourselves with everything that’s about the ego – for example: what we look like, what job we do and how we behave.  By practising aspects of yoga – the physical asana practice, chanting mantras, and doing selfless service (doing things without an expectation of reward) – we are reducing our ego and connecting with our inner nature i.e. who we really are.

Surely doing yoga in the middle of a shop is simply drawing attention to yourself and boosting that sense of self, fuelling the ego.

“Always watch that ego. Control of the mind and annihilation of the ego are the essence of all yoga disciplines.”

Swami Vishnudevananda

2. Linked to this, humility is the greatest quality for a yoga teacher. As a yoga teacher, it’s about passing on the teachings you’ve received in a humble way and your focus is on your students, ensuring you give them your energy and attention.

You could say that ‘performing’ yoga whilst being surrounded by gawping onlookers instead of students isn’t very humble.

3. Sweaty Betty can be seen as commercial. It’s a business – a successful one – and it makes a lot of money. Indeed, I was reading an article the other day about how they’re starting to give Lululemon a run for their money having opened their first stores in the US.

Should yoga be about making money? It’s a debate that’s been had time and time again. The ancient physical practice of yoga postures in India came about as a way of preparing your body for long periods of seated meditation. It’s really only since the West has got hold of yoga that the physical practice has become what it is today and it’s much more commercial as a result.

4. When you practice yoga, it shouldn’t be about what clothes you wear. This has been drilled into me from my Sivananda background where you wear the baggiest clothes ever and anything goes. Branded clothes are yet another way of increasing our sense of ‘self’. What do those clothes say about us?

However, I must say that now that I practice more ashtanga, clothes are much more important. You get pretty hot and you want that sweat to be taken away from your body quickly. I’ve learnt that technical clothes have their benefits.

4 reasons FOR doing yoga in Sweaty Betty St Albans

1. It’s a chance to meet new local yogis. I have my familiar places where I like to practice. It’s a chance to meet other people who are into the same things.

2. Taking me out of my comfort zone, trying something new, practicing in a new location… I might find it challenging in different ways. I might learn something as a result. We can get stuck in a rut with our practice.

3. You get given free clothes. I know, I know, they give you the free clothes so you’ll wear them when you teach and then students will say, “Ooooh that’s nice. Where’s that top/those leggings/jumper from?” But you know, their clothes feel nice, they’re flattering and yes, I like clothes. So shoot me. Ok, don’t really shoot me. That would be violent and yoga isn’t big on that. You can see that I still have some way to go on the whole ego front.

4. Finally, it takes yoga to new audiences. If you saw someone doing sun salutations for the first time, you might stop and watch. You might not have expected to see such a thing whilst you’re having your normal Saturday morning wander around the shops.

It might encourage you to find out more about yoga. It might even make you go to a class.  Yes, it would be great if it was one of my classes but I’d be happy if was any local class.

It’s about raising the profile of yoga. The more people that practice, the more the world will be a happier and healthier place.

And so I did it.

Doing yoga at Sweaty Betty St Albans

Shop front and me in window
How much is that pindasana in the window? The one with the downward-moving tailbone.

From 11-12am on Saturday I found myself on a yoga mat in the window of a shop. It was weird and it was fun.

Sun salutations were interesting as you couldn’t stretch your arms out to the sides as you’d simultaneously hit the glass and take someone’s eye out. At times I felt I was showing the shoppers of St Albans a little too much of my bottom.

I did an hour of ashtanga primary series. In ashtanga there’s talk of ‘drishti’ – where you look during each pose. It might be towards the tip of your nose, your knees, or elsewhere on your body. Also there’s the practice of ‘pratyahara’ – withdrawing your senses and going more inward. I tried to keep both practices in mind during the hour. It was hard.

At one point I noticed an elderly couple standing watching on the pavement. Then there were families with children, and teenagers taking photos on their phones. Drishti… pratyahara… drishti.

I thought about those new audiences. Those new potential yogis in the waiting.

It felt great to share the practice with people who weren’t familiar with it. The staff at the shop were lovely and I was made to feel very welcome. I saw some familiar faces and I met

some new ones too. I was aware of my ego and tried to keep it in check throughout. I was

Urdhva Padmasana - part of the ashtanga finishing sequence
Urdhva Padmasana – part of the ashtanga finishing sequence. Images thanks to Sweaty Betty.

just doing my practice.

I (and my yogi friend April) might even be doing some guest instructor things there next year so keep an eye out.

Would I do yoga in a Sweaty Betty shop window again?

Yes I would. I’m all up for having a bit of fun and trying something new. And you know, if I wasn’t up for trying something new, I’d never be teaching yoga.


What do you think about this? Would you have done it or would you have run the other way? All comments are valid…


8 Replies to “Sweaty Betties”

  1. I like your write-up.

    You guys are brave for doing this and I salute you. I don’t think I’d have had the nerve!

    Incidentally, is it just me, or is ‘Sweaty Betty’ a strange choice for a brand-name? Doesn’t conjure up the image that I’d have thought is what they’re going for.

    At all.

    Unless they were going for ‘sounds like a Viz character’.

    See, ‘Lululemon’, I get it. Slightly hippie, whimsical, fragrant. ‘Sweaty Betty’; not so much. Must be cos I’m not the target audience… Oh, the commercialisation of yoga…

    1. Do you ‘sun’ salute us, Iain? That’s a yoga joke there for you.

      Oh the commercialisation of yoga indeed. I personally like the name ‘Sweaty Betty’. My perception is that it’s a fun, British brand and their name echoes these values. I guess it’s more suited to sweat-inducing exercise though – perhaps less gentle hatha and more dynamic/ashtanga things as well as running and so forth.

      Lululemon – I agree re the name being hippie/whimsical but I wouldn’t say that their clothes echo that. And I would have thought they’ll be thinking about a rebrand soon anyway in light of recent events.

      Anyway, what’s in a name… Ocado? What on earth is that about? I guess if a name is made up, it can be imbued with any meaning.

      I get geeky about brand stuff. I’ll stop now.

  2. ..haha.. That is brilliant. Love the window photos. I wish I’d known. I’d have come and pressed my nose up against the glass and otherwise tried to make you giggle. 😀

    Well done for doing it though. I thought you’d meant teaching in the shop for some reason, when you said ‘do an hour of yoga’. Dunno why I thought that. The demo makes much more sense.

    Good on you for giving it a go. 🙂

    1. Thanks Keith. A friend’s friend did that very thing to me. I was in revolved triangle and her face was the other side of the glass to mine. I laughed…

  3. Well done Clare.

    One of my earliest introductions to Yoga was seeing Godfrey Devereux in a loin cloth in Holland Park. I was there with friends for a picnic and was lucky enough to be sitting facing his practice. He was performing, perhaps promoting, in that he placed himself next to a popular area, but he was also totally immersed in his practice. I became captivated and absorbed in the watching. I tested my scrutiny against his focus for a while, but was then tranquilised by the rhythm of his breathing. Yoga was much rarer then, 20 years ago, I couldn’t understand why nobody else seemed bothered, or so easily put it down to ego.

    Soon after I briefly watch a bony peach leotard perform some unfeasible contortions at a Mind, Body, Spirit show, and could have been put off for life. In fact I was for a while. Said leotard was showing off at a show (at a stand, not a stage), was awkward, even embarrassed, and affected by every passer-by.

    As practitioners we know that Yoga is experience not performance, but as Godfrey proved to me, making our practicing, our engagement visible, as a gift, to dance as if no-one is watching, can be perfect the inspiration.

    Have you discovered Swasthya Yoga from Brazil? Type it into YouTube and see how Yoga performance can be given generously and smilingly from the heart.

    As for Sweaty Betty, didn’t they just facilitate the possible inspiration? They approached us at The Yoga Hall very early in their St Albans plans and left the impression of an organization wanting to engage directly with their market, to mutual benefit. How else should shops behave?

  4. Glad you put this up, Clare. It shows that yogis can be thinking, discriminating beings – contrary to the recent column in the Guardian Saturday magazine ‘What I’m really thinking’ (14 Dec 2013). Thanking you!

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