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.MORE: Yoga For BeginnersYoga 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.
QUIZ: How is Your Physical Activity?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.