If you’ve never seen a grown man wearing bloomers you obviously haven’t been to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, or RIMYI, in India.
There are some here at the Institute in Pune who started coming 10, 20 and even 30 years ago. And they continue to return year after year to study with the Iyengar family.
You can tell the old-hands because invariably they’re the ones who start the month-long program wearing the voluminous Iyengar-style yoga shorts, the distinctive Poona bloomers.
I’m using the old spelling here so there is no mistaking the pronunciation. The rhyme is nice, but because they more-than-resemble nappy pants (I suppose they’d be diaper pants in North America?) the poo-part of the name seems fairly essential.
The Institute newbies, keen to blend in, or perhaps not wanting to be left out of the joke, catch on and as the days go by more and more people seem to be wearing them.
You can buy the bloomers at the RIMYI and also from street vendors just outside on Hare Krishna Mandir Road, and they come in a range of colours and designs.
They are 100% cotton, so nice and cool, with elasticated waist and leg cuffs. Most of the designs are extra roomy in the crotch region to allow for full posterior spread in poses such as Uttanasana and Paschimottanasana.
I’ve seen batik ones, polka-dots, chevrons, elephant prints, floral designs, and you can get them with the om symbol too.
For those who prefer something slightly less flamboyant, monochrome is also popular, with colours ranging from black and white, blues and greens to orange, maroon, and pink, among others.
Most of the single-colour pairs are a jersey-type material and have a tiny bit of stretch to them. Some have the flatter style waistband and cuffs.
Lois Steinburg is in Pune this month, and she’s sporting some snazzy velour-style bloomers that no one else seems to have. Perhaps they’re bespoke.
Lois’s bloomers are cut a little tighter than most. If you prefer the mid-century look, there are pairs that are especially high-waisted and with extensive gathering for extra ballooning. The Iyengar women and other RIMYI teachers seem to favour this particular style.
We found out during our first women’s class with Sunita Iyengar, who is Guruji’s daughter and sister to Geeta, that T-shirts have to be tucked in during class so the teachers can clearly see your asana, which of course just adds to the whole look.
I don’t know the history of the Poona bloomers. If you could fill me in, I’d be interested to know more.
Schoolgirls in Australia used to wear bloomers for sports up until a few decades ago. At my old high school in the early 80s we had royal blue bloomers, but of a synthethic material rather than cotton.
This picture below from the 1920s shows some American women playing sport of some kind and wearing bloomers.
I gave my pair a whirl today for the first time, and I have to say that they’re very comfortable.
They’re roomy, and they allow full leg movement without any risk of immodest display. Another benefit is that knees and thighs are on full show which helps the teacher too.
Jokes aside, there is a lot to like about the Poona bloomers.
If you Google the word yoga, the sorts of images that typically come up are of 20-something models posing on beaches. If Instagram is anything to go by, what matters most is being able to do an advanced pose (correct alignment optional) while looking hot in your Lululemons.
Looking around the RIMYI there are all kinds of bodies here. There are older yogis with saggy knees; pale-skinned, stick-legged men; and large-bottomed women with dimpled thighs and stretch marks. Not many of us would make it to the cover of the Yoga Journal.
I like this about the Iyengar style: it’s all about the yoga, and no-one seems particularly concerned about how they look.
This is fitting of course because yoga has no connection to fashion or self-image. It’s about surrendering the identification with the physical body.
So whether your first impression was “Bloomin’ heck!” or “Bloomin’ marvellous!”, the bottom line is that they’re comfortable and practical. I’m betting the Poona bloomers will be around for a while yet.