Pune Shorts: A history of the brief
One of the first things new students notice when they visit an Iyengar Yoga class are the shorts we wear.
Why do we wear them?
In short (ha ha), we wear them because they are so comfortable. Ugly perhaps, but so comfortable.
The design of these shorts allows complete freedom for the body in motion, while insuring modesty. You never have to worry in a pair of Pune shorts! As my colleague from the UK Rachel Lovegrove has observed: “You can bend, extend, squat and twist with no limitations imposed by fabric clinging or tugging on your skin. They offer a way to get away from the synthetic fabrics so you and your skin can breathe.” Our students say they love the shorts because they’re minimalist, cutting edge fashion… and among some of the most comfortable items of clothing they own.
My personal story of making the switch is similar to other people’s: I swore never, ever ever would I wear those damned Pune shorts. But one month I was in Pune, and it was hot! I couldn’t take my lycra leggings one more moment. Buying the shorts was an act of sheer desperation. I thought, “What happens in Pune, stays in Pune. No one at home will know what I wore.” Once they were on, OH MY GOD. I could breathe! My legs could move! Within ten minutes of practice, I found that I could feel my own legs much differently. My range of motion was enhanced, and so were my sensitivity and control. So while these shorts may not be the most flattering, I could never go back…
What is their history? How were they developed?
One tale is that Ramamani Iyengar—the wife of BKS Iyengar—invented the Pune short. Geeta Iyengar has said this about how her mother developed them:
“…Not many women would practise yoga and those who did wore the 9 yard sari. It was cumbersome to practice in that…. The Western women would wear a two piece suit but Indian women could never see themselves wearing those clothes. Most Indian women wore saris then and to change from that to a two piece suit can be unimaginable. There were no t-shirts available then. We wore blouses and skirts and a sari.
My mother maintained all our traditions and culture, but at the same time she was quite open to new ideas and things. It was she who pushed me into wearing shorts for yoga practice. In fact, the yoga shorts, the bloomers, which are now being worn all over the world, were initially designed by my mother.
So, the Indian women were always at a loss on what to wear while doing yoga. The blouses would be buttoned in the front and that is what I wore for a long time.
Some women would wear pants or trousers that belonged to their husbands or brothers. Then, the stretch pants came in with more Westerners coming to India in the 1960s. And, the Indian women also wore salwar kameez.
Guruji brought me two full pants from one of his European tours. My mother realized that even these would not give the necessary freedom for the movements that we required. I also did not know what was the appropriate dress for me when I started doing yoga. She insisted that I should wear shorts like my father was wearing. These shorts would be very loose near the thighs so she would insert a string through the hem and knotted the string at the inner end of the thighs. Later, elastic was available so the string was replaced by elastic. Thus the yoga shorts or Pune shorts were born … Gradually more and more women started wearing these shorts.” (The actual source of this story is unknown to me. It is likely a reprint from an issue of Yoga Rahasya.)
There is definitely an even more international component to the providence of these shorts. My colleagues in Europe have said they wore bloomers for sport as youngsters. Certainly in England and Germany that was the case before lycra and other stretch fabrics were developed. Another colleague, Ingrid Plunkett said this: “I had assumed they were a copy of exercise shorts used that came to India by way of the USSR. In an old photograph, I saw some Pune shorts worn by Russian female soldiers training during WWII. For many years the USSR was the major supplier of goods to India.”
So who knows?
Geeta Iyengar wore these shorts her entire life. Her preferred style appeared to be a longer leg, in shades of green varying from lime to neon. And of course Abhijata is continuing the trend. No lycra for her!
How have the shorts changed over the years? I do think the gusset in the shorts, which allows for such a fantastic range of motion, likely came later. Certainly all the different styles we have today—batik, tie dye, high-waist, low-rise, short leg, long leg and extra long leg, as well as the famous “Mary Dunn” style—they definitely all came later. Pune shorts are mostly made using cotton, but you can find them in denim-like fabric and velour too!
Why do we love our Pune shorts today?
There are sooooo many reasons to love them! They are loved internationally. Go to an Iyengar Yoga class in Mumbai, Copenhagen, Beijing, Sydney, Toronto, or Bangkok and you will see yogis sporting them.
Locally, Anneke Faas was the Pied Piper at Adeline leading us all to wear our shorts a bit more publicly. She DOES look cute in them!
As far as poses go, it is definitely Vrksasana – tree pose – that really drives people to the shorts.
We love them so much they make us wax poetic!
Free that space around
the crotch from years of spandex.
Woohoo! So much air.
-Jacqueline Shea Murphy
Fully exposed legs
Vriksasana without slip
Free yet held in place
Here’s a tip:
With Pune shorts
Your foot won’t slip!
No dressing room? No problem!
Pune shorts slip on and off
Under a skirt.
Riding to class?
Why take more?
Got Pune shorts,
You’re good to go!
To shave or not to shave?
To hide bare, imperfect legs or to let them out?
To submit to the ego or to transcend it?
Let the shorts be the teacher
With a simple act of wearing them.
Then the legs become free to teach too.
Pune shorts make me free
…But for the wrinkles ‘round my knee
(Which I’d prefer not to see)
Alas, it’s just vanity.
I wear them warily
Other students at Adeline say this about their shorts:
“The first time I wore Pune shorts I felt like a real Iyengar yogi. They make me feel confident and are so comfortable!” – Annika Sullivan
“For me, Pune shorts give me a sense of confidence. They put in the yoga state of mind. When I bought my first pair I felt like I was being initiated into the lineage of Iyengar yoga. I was in.
Now I start my day with yoga shorts. I put on my Pune shorts, do my practice and then head to work. It gives me a sense of grounding. I ❤ my yoga shorts.” – Rakhi Parekh
:I prefer Pune shorts because I can feel and engage my legs better. I can also access my sacrum/tailbone in a way I never could in the popularized “booty sculpting” yoga pants. Having more skin contact is also super helpful when doing arm balances, vrksasana and padmasana work. I also kinda love how weird they are.” – Lisa Ruby
“I can see when my thighs are just pretending to work.”- Gail Eierweiss
These days, we have a steady stream of Pune shorts “on tap” at Adeline. At the moment, we are offering shorts made by Becky Patel, a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and textile designer based in Los Angeles. All her shorts are 100% cotton and dyed locally in small batches. We have them in all sizes from small to XXL.
We invite you to come check them out!
In the meantime, please comment below why you love the Pune shorts.
About the Author
Heather Haxo Phillips is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher and owner of Adeline Yoga based in Berkeley, California. She owns 15 pairs of Pune shorts in nearly every color of the rainbow.