There’s an interesting movement afoot in yoga classes these days. Suddenly, after 2000 years of practice, there are fewer naked feet as more yogis slip on socks, booties or slippers for their sun salutations.
The latest yoga-specific footwear has sticky dots or strips along the soles to mimic the secure footing you get when you step onto a yoga mat. They’re either shaped like a traditional sock where the entire foot slips into a single, rounded compartment or like “toe mittens” with a separate compartment of fabric for each toe. Some styles have strategically placed padding to provide extra cushioning during poses that can sometimes be punishing to the feet or ankles.
Yoga devotees who choose to cover their feet do so because it allows them to take their downward dogs and warrior poses beyond the narrow confines of a rectangular sticky mat and place their body in any position they want without sacrificing traction or stability. Others wear them to improve hygiene and comfort.
“If you’re nervous about germs from dirty floors and mats, the shoes and socks do limit exposure,” says Barbara Ruzanski, founder and director of West Hartford Yoga in Connecticut. “They can also help if your feet tend to get cold during a class or if you’re constantly doing battle with slippery feet due to sweat.”
While Ruzanski admits there may be some merit to sheltering your feet, she notes that in yoga, it’s important to maintain conscious contact with the ground so that the life force (or chi) can be directly absorbed. “Socks may impede this connection, which is why most people who are serious about yoga generally practice barefoot,” she says.
Check out our gallery of yoga performance socks, plus in-studio shoes for Pilates or barre classes, and find out how well they measure up.
Sick of slipping around on your yoga mat? Grossed out by walking barefoot into a barre class studio? We tested out yoga and in-studio (Pilates, barre classes, etc.) performance socks and shoes to find out which ones are best at protecting your toes and helping you get a grip.
The chopped off toe pockets preserve your toe-wiggling freedom while the sticky nubs on the soles provide extra stability, making this one our editor’s pick. The bold colors and stripy designs are the envy of bare yoga feet everywhere. $15/pair; www.toesox.com.
Shaped like “toe gloves,” these socks offer full coverage to protect your feet from all things icky. Hint: Buy one size smaller than recommended so your toes don’t slide around in the fabric each time you reposition your feet. $20/2 pairs; www.gaiam.com.
Exhale Core Fusion Socks
With this sock, your entire foot is ensconced in one pouch just like a traditional sock. That, along with the padded ankles, help keep feet warm and ankles bruise-free. However, the relatively thick fabric tends to bunch and slip, especially when worn on a mat or carpet. $14/pair; exhalespa.com.
Physique 57 Blake Brody In-Studio Footwear
Slim, flexible and cushiony, these slippers provide plenty of support and grip. Yoga purists may find the arch a bit too built-up to maintain a barefoot feel, but barre class devotees will love the stability. And there’s no denying that the corset tie at the heel is super cute. $105/pair; www.blakebrody.com.
Exhale ZEM Workout Bootie
These stretchy, lightweight booties do a decent job of providing traction without impeding movement. The breathable uppers wick away sweat better than many of the socks we tried. $30/pair; exhalespa.com.
Sole Sports Flip
Your overworked yoga feet will go from ohm to ahhh when you slip these puppies on after a class. The deep dip in the heel cradle massages your feet and helps you stand up straighter, making them an editor’s pick. You can’t wear them in class, but their style rocks hard with yoga pants or jeans. $65/pair; www.yoursole.com.
For example in mountain pose—a basic upright stance that’s often the starting position for other standing poses—the goal is to firm up your muscles and root yourself to the earth. Yoga purists believe that a layer between your feet and the floor blocks energy flow and weakens the pose.
As for the argument made by some manufacturers that the footwear provides increased stability and better alignment, Reed Ferber, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Calgary in Canada, who studies athletic injuries, is skeptical of such claims. “They don’t provide any mechanical benefits,” he says. “Other than preventing foot fungus, I can’t see an advantage to wearing them.”
Still, the specialized footwear is certainly an improvement over the street socks Ruzanski sometimes sees yoga newbies wear to class. From her experience, most instructors let the yoga socks stay, but ask students to remove traditional socks since they’re slippery, creating a potentially dangerous situation. “If you must have something on your feet, specialty socks are the better choice,” says Ruzanski.
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