Do You Really Need Shoes in the Yoga Studio?

Nike claims to solve hygiene and slippage problems with its new Studio Wrap, but the slipper-like shoe could compromise your connection with the mat

Nike Studio Wrap.     Photo: Courtesy of Nike

Nike Studio Wrap.

Watch the marketing video behind Nike’s new Studio Wrap and it will make you want a pair. Even if you’re not sure exactly what you’ll use them for. The shoe is a ballet slipper meets sandal meets some-untouched-footwear-category and is built for yoga, Pilates, and dance. Picture this: stretchy black yoga-pant-like fabric criss-crosses up your leg attached to a thong-like sandal that wraps around your heel. Only, the sandal doesn’t have a sole. It’s a neoprene-like stretchy material with grippy rubber nubs on the bottom. In addition, there’s a more traditional ballet-slipper-like shoe with a solid rubber sole that you throw over the aforementioned “shoe” for transition between the studio and the office or for walking around.

I’m an avid yogi; I practice almost every day and recently completed a 200-hour training in Vinyasa to take my practice deeper. I was in the midst of putting a page of my favorite yoga gear together for Outside’s Summer Buyer’s Guide when I came across the recently-released Studio Wrap.

I really wanted to like these. The girl in the video makes them look stylish and feminine, and her moves are solid. She gracefully opens her heart to the sky in reverse warrior, bends into a nicely-aligned Trikonasa (triangle pose), and leaps across the screen in a ballet-style jump that I don’t know the name for. She makes you feel as if you could move just like her—if only you had a pair of these pointe-like shoes. And what girl doesn’t have a long-seated desire to dance like the lead in the Nutcracker? Okay, maybe that’s just me.

In practice, the Studio Wraps definitely added grip to an otherwise sweaty mat, but the flip-flop-placed material between my toes was distracting. Perhaps they run a touch small and I could’ve gone up half a size? The bigger question here is: Do you really need shoes in the yoga studio? Yogis have gone barefoot during asana practice for as long as anyone can remember.

Nike claims these solve two main problems: 1. hygiene, and 2. slippage.

Perhaps I should’ve thought about foot hygiene more in my many studio visits over the years (gross, I know) but I never did—even in the sweatiest of Bikram classes. And, alas, I’ve never had any issues. Not to say things like athlete’s foot don’t exist. But there are other precautions you can take: bring your own mat and clean it on a regular basis. The Studio Wraps do have mat-to-toe contact so I wouldn’t say they protect completely.

Slippage is usually a result of the material your mat is made from. Smoother foam mats tend to be more slippery while more technically engineered mats, like Jade Yoga’s, have a “roughed up” surface delivering more grip straight out of the box. Most mats will lose their slip-factor once you’ve used them multiple times and gotten through the “break-in” period. The Studio Wraps definitely offer more grip because of the bonded material on the bottom, but I find my bare feet hang on just fine to mats that are sticky enough.

Nike’s not the only one diving into this category. Injinji, known for their socks with individual toe compartments, has a style with grippy rubber nubs on the bottom built specifically for yoga. And ZemGear makes grippy booties with a split toe. And there are others.

After testing the Studio Wraps in the confines of my home, I liked them. Could I picture myself wearing them in a studio packed wall-to-wall with other barefoot yogis? No. Yoga is largely about going back to the basics for me—breath, mental serenity—and using my own body to get me there. There’s something primal—and rewarding—about pushing energy out through your feet and feeling the mat and ground push back. The light amount of padding in the Studio Wraps compromised that connection. Would I knock you for wearing them? No way. You should wear what makes you (as an individual) feel good—also a very yogic stance.

So, fill me in. Would you incorporate footwear into your yoga practice?

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