Dropping your trou in the room full of strangers sounds like a scene from a typical embarrassment dream. Or like the routine opening of a naked yoga class.
Who are the people doing yoga nude and why is it so frowned upon by society?
I meet with Liz, a nude yogi, to talk about the history of the controversial practice, how it challenges the status quo and why the general public is not ready to accept social nudity even though studies show it makes us feel happier.
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Media proclaimed naked yoga the latest craze. Along with beer yoga, heavy metal yoga, and cannabis yoga, practice in the buff unquestionably raises a few eyebrows. Though unlike in other new sensational styles, the roots of nude yoga run deep.
Naked yoga also called nagna yoga has been around for centuries. In the birth country of yoga India, the practice bare-naked can be traced back to religious ascetics and monks sadhu. Stripping down for a sadhu is symbolic and signifies them renouncing all material possessions. For sadhu, the ability to break free from everything earthy and physical is one of the steps to achieve spiritual enlightenment and liberation moksha.
Sadhu now often cover themselves up with simple clothes. However, it is not uncommon to witness the gathering of completely nude ascetics participating in the ritual of sacral bathing to wash off their sins in the holy river.
In the late 19th-beginning of the 20th century, the ideas of nudity, abstention, and return to the nature practiced by the ascetic followers of dharmic religions traveled all the way to Europe and manifested themselves in social movements such as Lebensreform and Gymnosophy.
The advocates of both movements condemned the tyranny of clothes and encouraged nudity as a natural condition of the body. Naked yoga and meditation, sometimes combined with dance, became the path to better physical and mental health as well as long-lasting beauty and well-being.
In the 50s, yoga got popularized in the abundant US nudist circles and hippy communities. This was when group naked yoga sessions became popular. Nude yoga started to be featured in the media, among the most prominent were the nudist magazines Sunshine and Health and Nude Living and a 1974 short documentary movie by Paul Corsden.
Initially picked up by naturists and gay communities, naked yoga transformed into a trend embraced by people of all genders and orientations with new studios springing up around the world.
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So do you need to be a nudist/naturist to try naked yoga?
Absolutely not. Mainly because you can practice in your birthday suit from the comfort of your home and still reap the benefits.
‘That’s exactly how I started my naked yoga journey.’ Liz has been doing yoga nude for about three years now. ‘I’ve done it all. Practiced yoga alone at home, in nature, and in the studio with complete strangers. All naked.’
Liz says that she could give a million reasons to start doing naked yoga, but there’s one and only that made her jump on the mat and strip down.
‘For me, naked yoga is not about feeling more sensual or alive. It’s about challenging and rebelling against modern society. We’re in living in a world of the rampant commercialism and consumerism. The world that makes us hate our bodies and coerces to buy things we don’t need so that we could look slim, sexy and beautiful for everyone around.’
I recall an ad of a 100$ pair of yoga pants that supposedly make you feel as comfortable as if you’re naked. Obviously, they don’t come in larger sizes.
Suddenly, the words of Liz start making sense. We are constantly told that we’re not good enough and we should buy stuff to reach perfection. Pants with tummy control and anti-butt dimples. Tops that don’t show sweat marks. Bras and underpants that do not chafe and pinch you during the exercise.
‘I’ve heard so many times people saying that they’re not slim, flexible, strong enough to do yoga or any other exercise. And this is such bullshit because that’s why you start working out in the first place. There isn’t any face and body control when you join the class. People are just so brainwashed about the way they have to look that they’re afraid to show up.’
This is when getting naked can help.
Studies show that stripping down in front of others makes us happier, leads to higher self-esteem and improved body image. We’re continually chasing the unattainable and airbrushed ideal. Getting undressed together with other ordinary people of different shapes, sizes and colors helps us become less critical about ourselves and change the way we feel about our bodies.
‘Let me get this straight,’ Liz smiles. ‘I do own a good pair of yoga pants and yoga top. I like to wear nice clothes that hide my wide hips and lower belly fat. I wear make-up and do yoga with clothes on. But I don't live with the self-loathing mindset - I don't believe these things make me any better. When I’m completely naked, with no make-up and all my flaws are out there for public mockery and ogling, I feel as confident and beautiful as I would have when fully dressed up. And this is all thanks to naked yoga.’
Liz is not alone. There are many naked yoga schools and studios around the globe offering single-sex and co-ed nude yoga sessions for fearless people. Together they strive to create a space where everyone can be vulnerable, compassionate and break free from societal judgments. But they can rarely talk about this when walking out of the studio doors.
‘I hardly tell anyone about my hobby,’ Liz confesses. ‘I mean, my friends know that I’m into yoga, but I’d rather omit the fact that sometimes we’re stripping down in the class. People just automatically assume that there’s some play going on and there’s touching or sex involved.’
Naked yoga schools often face harsh criticism from the public. From encouraging pornography and sex orgies, the practice in the buff has been accused of decreasing the quality of yoga in general and used to create more hype in an already multi-billion yoga industry.
Why are we so stuck up to getting naked in front of others and why is it always such a big deal?
Social nudity in the West is often met with disapproval and exists only in the context of sex. Paradoxically, we go to museums and admire the naked form in art as something beautiful and innocent. Nonetheless, when naked strangers gather together, many believe it will inevitably lead to sexual intercourse.
This is not the case in all countries. In Japan, for example, getting undressed in certain situations is a common thing. Kids bathe with their parents fully naked until the age when it’s not considered normal in the US. And the phenomenon of konyoku onsen – a mixed gender nude bathing - is deeply entrenched in the country’s cultural traditions. Having been bitten by the puritan bug, Japan has recently cut the access to konyoku, but single-sex bathing is alive and well. While we spend our Friday night downing a drink in a bar, Japanese undress and relax in a room with strangers discussing their lives, problems and telling jokes to each other. All fully naked.
‘Of course, people are afraid of nude yoga. We grew up in a society where getting naked in front of others means getting ready for sex,’ says Liz. ‘And sex is bad and sinful.’
Liz thinks that the practice is unlikely to go mainstream, and naked yogis won’t be accepted and understood by the general public anytime soon. ‘Taking the sex aspect out of the picture, society has no interest in you practicing naked and accepting your body. Who’s gonna buy the expensive yoga clothing and anti-cellulite creams that actually do nothing?’
So how can we get rid of the social conditioning around our bodies, cultivate healthy sexuality and start a journey towards self-acceptance? You don’t necessarily need to drop everything and look for naked yoga studios nearby. Liz assures that you can start with baby steps.
‘We don’t often see ourselves bare in the mirror. And when we do, often the reflection is not what we want it to be. You need to be prepared that when you strip down and do yoga, you might hate yourself even more at first. Just because some yoga poses can make even the sexiest body look weird. Suddenly you’ve got tummy fat rolls, the skin on the side of the thigh is not as firm as you thought, and your breasts have a funny shape upside down.’
Be kind to yourself and start practicing from the safety of your home at first. You don’t even have to remove the underwear if you don’t feel comfortable about it. Just like with gaining flexibility, you want to challenge yourself but avoid any 'pain' and mental displeasure. With time, you’ll get used to how your body looks and become more confident in your own skin.
Liz doesn’t think it’s healthy to join the naked yoga community for people who have never practiced in the buff at home and lack self-confidence.
‘Some people do not dare to walk naked at home, let alone getting changed in front of others in the locker room. And then they randomly decide to attend a yoga class full of butt-naked men and women. It’s like throwing yourself into the water without knowing how to swim. Some might find the push useful, open up and relax after a minute of panic. Others just drown. The latter will never come back and might end up feeling worse than before.’
Healing is a gradual step-by-step process that requires time and courage. Starting in a safe and nurturing environment of your home is important, especially for those who suffer from poor self-esteem and seek to get over the feeling of shame. Because often the hardest part is not seeing or being seen naked by others. It is letting go of our insecurities and judgments about how were think we should look.
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Naked yoga is exactly what it sounds like – doing yoga completely nude. You might be joining the studio and practice with other people or enjoy the array of benefits from the comfort of your home.
Because why not?
It is comfortable. There are no clothes that will stand in the way of your movements and stretches.
It feels pleasant and liberating. When you strip down, there’s only authentic you. No covers or layers to hide under and nothing to hold onto.
It helps you learn to be comfortable in your own skin. You will start appreciating the body you have, respect it and break free from the expectations about how you should look like.
It fosters mutual respect and healthy sexuality. You will stop associating the process of stripping down with sex, a misleading idea that inhibits the feeling of shame, low self-respect, and treating the body as an object.
It is empowering. Get out of your comfort zone and gain confidence in your capabilities.
Naked yoga practiced solo or in a group might have additional psychological benefits when compared with traditional yoga. Research suggests that those who engage in naturist activities are more satisfied with their life, have a more positive body image and higher self-esteem.
From a practical point of view, naked yoga in a group may help you improve alignment. It’s easy for your teacher to spot when you’re not engaging your muscles properly or have a poor form.
It depends on the instructor and the type of yoga you’re attending. From relaxing and restorative Yin to vigorous Vinyasa, naked yoga can be very challenging or calming.
The class differs from studio to studio. Usually, it starts with participants rolling out their mats and the instructor informing about the rules and safety standards. The practice begins after the instructor cues about removing the clothes. Generally, there are 10 or 15 minutes of social time at the end of the class during which you can choose to get dressed or remain naked.
A yoga mat (check this post about how to choose a good mat) and a positive attitude. Naked yoga studios do not generally rent yoga mats for hygienic reasons. Yoga mat towel (like these ones) might be handy to add cushion and comfort. Clothes don’t matter so you can come as you are.
Different studios offer various classes. Some are male or women-only, others are held exclusively for gay men, etc. Though more and more studios offer co-ed nude yoga sessions open for people of various genders, orientations, religions, and beliefs.
No. The aim of the naked yoga is for you to stop associating nudity with sex. Many schools have a strict policy and set of rules that apply to the instructors and attending yogis. Any physical contact is consensual. You have a choice to opt out from being physically adjusted during the session. Some studios forbid unsolicited verbal compliments and comments about the participants’ appearance as well as intense staring or the attempts to pick up a date during the session.
Erections are a healthy bodily function and are not always sexual. Moreover, they do not happen as often as people assume. If you do get aroused, it is not a big deal. You can just ignore it or take a resting pose until it subsides.
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