Wanna look like a gym queen?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007 at 1:11am

Exercise rocks.

Not only does it make you feel terrific and helps those of us so inclined to keep wearing skinny jeans, working out often requires special clothing.

And you know what that means: Shopping!

So when I started practicing yoga again, I knew it would involve a trip to the mall. That said, due to a love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude I have toward athletic endeavors, I’m not willing to drop a wad of cash on special yoga togs quite yet.

It turns out I don’t have to, said Leah Lillios, my fabulous instructor and owner of Kali Yuga Yoga in East Nashville. (Total disclosure: She’s also a childhood friend.)

Despite often teaching 16 classes a week, Lillios manages to look cute and coordinated as she twists her limber little body into pretzel-like shapes in class. She even looks good while sweating buckets during Pitta classes (aka hot yoga), when the room is heated to almost 110 degrees.

Leah assured me it’s not hard to find the kind of cute yoga gear she wears on the cheap here in Nashville: you’ve just got to know where to look — and what to look for.

Area T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s stores have proven to be veritable goldmines for Lillios. At both stores she’s dug out pieces from Marika, So Sporty and Nike — all priced at least half of what she’d have paid if she’d ordered them online.

Last weekend, Leah let me tag along when she went shopping for new yoga duds at T.J. Maxx — one of her favorite places to seek out name-brand gear at discount prices.

“I always like to start with pants, since they’re the hardest to fit,” she said, making a beeline for the athletic section.

Most importantly, Lillios doesn’t want to look like she’s headed to yoga class when she gets dressed for work. Toward this end, she vehemently avoids any bottoms with stripes down the side.

“They scream ‘I’m going to the gym,” she said, frowning.

As she flipped through the crowded racks (the main drawback to shopping discount stores, it seems), she set some guidelines: “Nothing too loose,” she said. “And the fabric needs some stretch so that it wont get out of shape when you sweat in it.”

All cotton garb is okay for calm Kapha classes, she said. But for Pitta, you’ve got to have clothes that fit close. A pair of fitted pants by So Sporty in an 88 percent polyester/12 percent spandex blend made the grade.

She said to look for the word spandex on the label; it indicates stretchability.

“One hundred percent cotton sounds nice, but it’s useless in hot yoga classes because it won’t hold its shape,” Lillios said.

Polyester blends not only keep their shape, they’re often imbued with properties that pull sweat away from the body, as well.

Lillios said wide waistbands — a style known as “fold-over pants” — are worth seeking out, she said, because they won’t cut into your middle, which is both uncomfortable and unflattering.

When it comes to length, she said to each his own. As far as technique goes, “long and cropped pants both have their advantages,” she said.

Longer bottoms are good for Kapha classes, where one of the goals is cooling down the body; cropped styles are beneficial in more active Vinyasa sessions, where sweating is de rigeur.

She picked up a pair of cropped sweatpants that she termed “cool surfer-boy cutoffs” – and ended up buying in four colors.

“These will definitely work for yoga and will still look cool if you need to run by the grocery store after class, too,” she said.

Shorty-short styles are great, as well – “as long as they have the built-in panties, for inversions.”

For this same reason, Lillios also recommends leggings, which are flexible and provide some discretion. (Speaking of modesty, Lillios said anyone in search of more forgiving styles should look for clothes by Avia and Danskin.)

Moving on to tops, Lillios had a burst of inspiration.

“If you want to dress more creatively in class, try to think outside of the box when shopping,” she said. “Tops are where you can get inventive.”

If you only shop in the active wear section, she said, you’ll “probably end up looking like a gym queen.”

“Be sure to scan through casual wear sections for knit tops, hoodies and boyfriend tanks,” she said. “With the organic and eco movements being so hot these days, there are a lot of Asian-inspired designs and earthy colors to be found.”

Though she’s a proponent of bustier ladies wearing sports bras to yoga class, Leah’s not among their ranks. Therefore, she looks for tops with built in shelf bras to hold her in and up during practice.

“Watch the elastic on the underside of them,” she warns. “Make sure it’s soft and thick. If it’s thin, it’ll cut into you.” (Target’s Merona brand is a good source for camisoles with sturdy shelf bras, she said.)

Less than a half hour later, we were in the checkout line, with Lillios toting a huge armload of 10 pieces. The grand total: $120!

She was thrilled — and I was impressed.

Hmmm. If this stuff is really so cute and cheap, who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with this yoga thing for a while.

When Leah Lillios wants to splurge on designer yoga gear in Nashville, she hits Balance Bodywork on Thompson Lane and Sanctuary for Yoga on Hillsboro Road.

“Balance Bodywork carries Prana, which is one of the best brands,” she said. “And they have great markdowns – 20 to 50 percent.”

Balance Bodywork: 740 Thompson Lane, 298-1511

Sanctuary for Yoga: 3902 Hillsboro Pike, 297-8797

Kali Yuga Yoga is located at 1011 Fatherland St. at Woodland Avenue. Call 260-5361 for information and class schedules, or go to kaliyugayoga.com for more information.

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