Keen naturists might argue that almost any activity can, and should be, done in the nude. But whilst the more sporty/spiritual among us might have been enjoying clothes-free yoga in the privacy of our own homes, gardens, local countryside and beaches for some time, the trend towards naked yoga classes in public is a relatively recent one.
It started, as do many of these things, on the other side of the pond, but unlike some American imports (spray cheese, Adam Sandler) this is one the British seem to have taken to their hearts, and there are an increasing number of options both in the UK and internationally for those who want to practice their downward-facing dog as nature intended, surrounded by like-minded aficionados of the ancient spiritual art.
But to begin at the beginning. Images of wiry, nut-brown yogis wearing barely-there loin cloths or less have of course been with us for centuries, and yoga - like wrestling - is one of those activities that was invariably done naked until modern-sensitivities got in the way. New York broke the mould a couple of years ago however, when a number of less-inhibited yoga teachers started organising classes where participants no longer needed to come attired in the standard-issue ‘loose, comfortable clothing’ but could come attired in the loosest, most comfortable form of clothing ever devised: the skin.
Zen Holmes, who runs naked yoga, meditation, tantra and massage events in her Manhattan studio Zensuality, as well as naked days out on the sands at Gunnison, New Jersey’s famous naturist beach, explains her philosophy with regard to naked yoga.
“First and foremost, it improves your body image. We are constantly bombarded by the media’s very narrow definition of beauty, and subconsciously we allow this to shape our feelings about our bodies. Practicing nude yoga allows you to accept yourself, flaws and all. You begin to love and appreciate the unique characteristics that make you, you. And the more comfortable you are with your body, the sexier you’ll feel.
“It also helps you conquer your fears,” she adds. “Being naked in a room filled with strangers might initially cause anxiety, and the first 10 minutes of a nude yoga class are probably the toughest part of the experience, but as you begin to relax, focus on your breathing, and move through the positions, it begins to feel liberating and totally natural. You free yourself from norms and social conditioning, and it can be the start not only of a deep transformation and state of relaxation for the mind, body and spirit, but a new, more relaxed and less judgemental attitude to nudity - both yours and other people’s.”
There are also practical considerations. “Clothes and adornments can be distracting and restricting,” adds Zen. “Nude yoga provides a unique opportunity to observe and to deepen the understanding of body poses. You feel free, open and unrestrained in your movements and meditations. On top of which, yoga outfits and sportswear in general can be expensive. Instead of lining the pockets of designer clothing corporations, why not keep that money in your own pocket? Simply come as you are. Your birthday suit will make you the best dressed in class!”
Naked in Motion is another nude exercise pioneer based in the Big Apple, holding weekly yoga and pilates classes in its West 29th Street studio. Like Zensuality, the classes are mixed, but for those women who don’t want to be seen naked in front of a group of men they’ve never met, the company also holds monthly Full Moon (no sniggering please) gatherings at selected locations.
Having broached the subject, it’s probably pertinent here to discuss one of the main challenges to the idea of doing yoga in the nude: not only the fact that you are more conscious of your own body, but also those of others. And participants can react differently.
Marisa Meltzer, writing in Elle magazine about her first visit to the Bold & Naked yoga studio in New York, stated: “Don't believe anyone who tells you that you'll forget the nudity after a few minutes: I was acutely aware of how naked we all were the entire time. It was hard not to stare at the teacher's breasts when she talked us through a modified fish pose, and yes, I couldn’t help but glance at my male neighbour's crotch. Is it totally weird to look up from a serene yoga position and be close (but not that close - there was a comfortable distance between mats) to testicles and outer labias? Yes, and it's not something I grew accustomed to.”
Deborah Copaken, writing about her visit to Naked in Motion for The Observer (the New York lifestyle website that is, not the British Sunday newspaper) begged to differ. “Willow, our gentle teacher who lived up to her name, explained the rules of the session before we disrobed. Nakedness was mandatory. Cellphones were banned. Consent was king. Cruising was forbidden. I calmly removed my clothes quickly, like everyone else, and thirty seconds later, a sea of bodies appeared before my eyes. All shapes. All sizes. All colours. Mostly men. A few women. Most of them younger. A few older. It was weird, and then it wasn’t. The class began. Breathe in. Breathe out. Willow’s voice was our lullaby. Within minutes, I forgot I was nude. It made me realise: a naked body is just a body. It has no signposts, no way to identify its wealth, health or inner brokenness. We were all just humans, moving and breathing in space and time.”
Where New York has led, London has followed, and there are now numerous companies in the capital offering naked yoga classes, including Yoganu, Aghorayoga, Naked Warriors and Naked Yoga London, the latter of which also runs naked yoga retreats in Ibiza. Some naturist clubs and venues, in the UK and abroad, also offer the facility, and if you are a club official or venue owner and want to set something similar up for your members or guests, why not try contacting a local yoga instructor to see if they would be interested in setting up classes or workshops? Most yogis I have met are fairly unself-conscious about their own and other people’s bodies, and would be willing to help. Approach them in the correct manner and they are unlikely to be surprised or offended by the idea. And the worst that can happen is that you receive a polite ‘no.’
If, at the end of the day, you are still not convinced that you would be happy sharing the experience with others, you can always try it at home. Pure Nude Yoga has made a series of instruction videos and DVDs featuring some of its top instructors filmed in tranquil locations, and you can see samples on Vimeo or buy the full-length versions from Amazon. Yoga Undressed is another good source of instruction, offering high-quality DVDs at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
So if you are making a New Year resolution to get trim, tone up, find another way of relaxing or simply make friends, naked yoga could be for you. Workshop, retreat, weekly class, home instruction, it doesn’t really matter. By the end of it all, you should at least be able to tell your asana from your elbow.
© Paul Rouse
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