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Naked Yoga? Why I Stripped Down to Do "Clothing Optional" Yoga

I want to challenge my own anxiety about nudity. But can I really handle downward dog without any clothes on?
 
 
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Photo Credit: (Credit: djem via Shutterstock.com)

 
 
 
 

My instructor looked at me from the head of the dim room and smiled. Not in a creepy way, more in a “you can do this!” way. But I wasn’t so sure. I had struck a Warrior One pose a thousand times before, yet I still stumbled into the person next to me more often than I cared to admit. Normally I’d just offer a little self-deprecating shoulder shrug and move on, but what would I say in this situation? “Oops! I just ran into your bare penis”?

I had enrolled in a naked yoga class on impulse. My husband was gone for two months that summer, and in my solitude, I began a spiritual exploration of sorts, signing up for Buddhist book groups, taking long, contemplative walks, and reading a good deal of Eckhart Tolle. I was in a normal, fully clothed yoga class when I struck up a conversation with the woman I’d been paired with for partner poses. She was incredibly flexible.

“Wow, what do you do for a living?” I said.

“I’m actually a yoga teacher myself.”

“Oh, like hatha? Vinyasa?” I asked, eager to show off how yoga smart I was.

“Not exactly …” she said. “Naked yoga.”

I blinked. She repeated it for me.

Not only did naked yoga exist but apparently it was a very active community. Here in Austin it was typically organized through MeetUp.com, she explained, since most mainstream gyms and yoga studios were hesitant to host classes, much less announce them on their Google calendars.

“You should totally come sometime,” she told me, sensing my genuine curiosity. “A lot of my students are there because they want to go deeper in the practice, and the naked part makes you a lot more vulnerable, more open. It also helps people conquer body fear stuff, and who doesn’t have some kind of anxiety about their own body?”

I think we all have a secret “what if?” file in our minds, some sort of pathological fear mixed with the seeds of courage. What if I ran a marathon? What if I tattooed stars to my face? Marathons and face tattoos don’t hold any appeal for me, but right then, I felt the secret thrill of a challenge I had not known I was seeking.

“When’s your next class?” I asked.

“Tomorrow,” she said.

Here’s why I said yes.

About eight years before, in college, I had taken a Drawing II class where our first big assignment was to draw a live model. He was older, much older, and I was so embarrassed about looking at his penis. I scanned around the room so I could share a giggly, uncomfortable grin with another student, but everyone was already looking down at their sketch pads, engrossed in their drawings.

I turned back to the man and felt my eyes adjust like a camera lens. Instead of seeing the most private part of this man’s body, the thing that he made love with and the thing that he went to the bathroom with, I forced myself to see a series of shapes and light gradations between his legs. And then I drew those shapes and that light, and over the course of several days, the additional planes that made up his whole, fascinating body.

This episode shifted my thinking about nakedness. As Americans, we tend to amp up the taboo factor of the naked body. In France, bare breasts in a magazine could mean: “I keep my body clean with this all-natural soap!” But in America, bare breasts in a magazine mean PORN. My own body during college was a matter of constant frustration. At the time I took that class, every calorie I consumed was done with scientific calibration. I didn’t look at my naked self in the mirror much, but I weighed myself every day. My boyfriend complained about my sharp pelvis, which poked him at night as we slept. When he hugged me, his fingers fit neatly into the valleys of my backbone.

 
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