In “Gandhi Does Yoga,” a tongue-in-cheek video by College Humor, ol’ Mahatma himself rises from the dead to visit the “world’s least Hindu gym.” The yoga instructor, lithe and blonde, considers Gandhi with a tight smile. “Maybe next time try and wear appropriate attire? Maybe a Lycra top?” she asks. Gandhi protests. “This is a traditional Indian dhoti,” he sputters. “I spun it myself.” The instructor gives a false laugh. “Riiight…there’s a Lululemon down the street,” she says. Yoga, at least the yoga that started in India hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, is a practice defined as much by its physicality as it is its spirituality. But a funny thing happened on the way to enlightenment. For most “yogis” in the United States, the art of the asana is less of a therapeutic discipline than it is a calorie-burning competitive sport.

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Yoga in America is now a multi-billion-dollar industry, one fueled by a booming “athleisure” market replete with designer mats, celebrity-endorsed leggings, and $200 juice cleanses.

Another word for “fake”? “Synthetic.”

Nine out of 10 San Franciscans who practice yoga wear synthetic garments made from plastic, according to Proyog, a yoga-apparel line that bills itself as the first to “stay true to yoga.”

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The brand is launching “Save Yoga From Plastic,” a campaign designed to raise awareness of the un-yogic nature of polyester, nylon, polyamide, and acrylic.

“The spiritual ethos of yoga is to ‘do no harm,’ said Malika Baruah, co-founder of Proyog. “Synthetics, which pollute the earth and harm wildlife during their entire lifecycle, are untrue to this ethos.

Proyog, which hails from Bangalore, prefers to use natural materials, such as organic cotton, although it does incorporate a hint of Lycra for stretch.

It even sells dhotis, a fact that Gandhi, both real and fictional, would likely appreciate.


“Proyog aims to avoid fabrics that seep toxins into the body through skin and sweat glands, and disrupt the flow of movement and ease of spirit integral to the practice,” Baruah said.

Baruah takes aim at brands that manufacture yoga clothes from 100 percent plastic, including Athleta, Nike, Yogasmoga, and the aforementioned Lululemon.

She points to the phenomena of “microplastics”—tiny, synthetic filaments that are shed by synthetic textiles and swept into the oceans, where they are ingested by marine life and, eventually, us.

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While Proyog’s initiative could have easily devolved into self-promotion, the company also praises competing brands that use organic fibers in their products. Among the names it lists are Asquith London, Hyde, Inner Waves, Yogiiza, and Prancing Leopard.

“We encourage practitioners and yogis to check the facts and then decide for themselves,” Baruah said. “More importantly, we ask that all brands claiming to support yoga should stop this hypocrisy of manufacturing synthetic yoga wear.”

Proyog will be taking its campaign on the road this month, first in the Bay Area, where it says the largest number of yoga practitioners in North America are based, followed by cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Vancouver.

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