Naked Yoga: TMI or Good for Body Acceptance?

Nude yoga instructor in a yoga pose on a mat during a nude yoga class.

Nude yoga instructor in a yoga pose (variation on child’s pose) on a mat during a nude yoga class.

Yesterday Sam posted this piece about a co-ed naked yoga studio in New York.  Here’s from the article:

The studio offers various combinations of clothed, naked, same sex, and coed classes. And regarding the naked sessions and Tantric Yogassage offered: “If you are looking for an orgasm, you are in the wrong place,” the Bold & Naked website states.

“By shedding their clothes and practicing yoga in the nude, students literally drop the masks and labels they hide behind all day,” the website says. “Practicing yoga naked frees you from negative feelings about your body and allows you to be more accepting of your physical imperfections.”

It’s not for people “on the make.” Instead, it’s for getting free with yourself, comfortable with and accepting of your body in all of its imperfect glory. These are values I can get behind. And I love yoga. I love being nude (you can read about that in my post about how a nude vacation helped me with body image, here).  And I’m totally comfortable (based on same experience) being around other nude people, whatever their gender might be.

Yet my reaction to nude yoga is: um….no thank you.  And based on the Facebook page comments, I’m not alone (commenters, I hope you don’t mind if I quoted you):

“Stomach turning.”

“Never in a billion years. No no no.”

“To each their own. But FUCK NO for me.”

“Just no.”

“I don’t want to see that.”

” Umm, no. You can let your ‘mask’ off at home if you want, but in a studio or gym, I’m not interested in seeing the real you.”

A few more “no no no” comments and “yuck” comments and a comment about how unhygienic it seems.  A comment about how distracting it might be. One outlier who would be open to the idea and another who points out that nudity is our “natural state.” But generally there’s the view that it’s just “too much information.”

It’s interesting to me that people, myself included, have such a visceral reaction to naked yoga. For me, I just can’t imagine doing downward dog with no clothes on.  It would make me feel both vulnerable and perhaps a bit too aware of my sagging, aging body parts–and perhaps those of others.

But vulnerability is a good thing in a safe space, and I get the impression from the article that they’re interested in making this a safe space. I hope the issue is more about vulnerability than revulsion and body rejection.  Something about yoga in particular, rather than nudity more generally, makes doing it in the nude seem especially vulnerable-making. I mean, it’s not just downward dog, but there’s also badakanasa (cobblers pose), reclining hero, and even child’s pose. Lots of spread legs, in other words.

And why not be aware of my body exactly as it is?  Do I really want to think of it and the bodies of other people with revulsion?  Absolutely not.  Recently I listened to my radio documentary about my first trip to a nude resort. It’s entertaining and has a happy ending. But I was terrified about the prospect of going.

As I listen to it now, though, I see that a lot of my terror had to do with body-rejection and body-shaming. I said at one point that some bodies perhaps should stay covered up–they might be “hideous” I said.  When I hear that now, I cringe.

I had a whole fixation with the possibility of nude volleyball and all the jiggling body parts I imagined it might involve.  But now I think, “so what?” That’s what the human body is like.  Why can we not deal with that.

The reaction to the nude yoga post made me think of those fears I had, and about how many of them had to with attaching a revulsion-factor to the naked human body. As it turns out, my experience was quite the opposite. In a matter of days, I was completely comfortable with nudity–my own and others’.  I had no judgment concerning bodies–they’re just bodies. Some might be especially beautiful, but none was the least bit hideous, regardless of size and shape.

I think this negative gut reaction to naked yoga says a lot about where we are in our social world with the naked human body, especially bodies that are “imperfect.”  And for sure,  the first class or two would be awkward and maybe a bit giggle-inducing. But it wouldn’t take long before people started to sense a freedom and acceptance of the naked human body—their own and those of the others in the class. And that would be a good thing.

Both forms of yoga I do, Iyengar and hot, involve getting up close and personal in different ways. In Iyengar yoga, there’s a lot of hands on helping each other, sometimes in positions that outside of a yoga class might seem compromising. In hot yoga, each of us is on her or his own mat, but people really are wearing as little as possible. They’re practically naked anyway.  To me, nude yoga just pushes this body comfort one step further. And that’s a good thing. It’s really odd to me that after leaving the hot room, the women who were wearing almost nothing hide behind their towels while they get dressed. Suddenly, shame creeps back in.

When I got back from my nude vacation, I felt good about my body. But it didn’t last. My analysis: clothing actually makes it harder to accept our bodies.  A nude yoga class might be just the ticket for keeping that positive body image going year-round.

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, yoga enthusiast, vegan, knitter, runner.

20 thoughts on “Naked Yoga: TMI or Good for Body Acceptance?

  1. Caitlin says:

    See, when I had my reaction, it wasn’t so much at the idea of seeing people’s jiggly bits and cellulite and whatever. It was thinking about seeing – and pardon my crudeness here – people’s buttholes. We’ve all got ‘em but it doesn’t mean I want to see them, you know? And yoga is the kind of exercise where you might very easily find yourself looking at that part of another person’s body were it performed naked and in groups.

    We have a local 5K that is run up at a nudist resort, and I didn’t have such a visceral reaction when I heard about that, mainly because I think the likelihood of seeing someone’s orifices spread wide and open would be slim to none.

    • Tracy I says:

      LOL. This made me chuckle because while I can certainly understand not wanting to see people’s butt holes, I’m not sure there are many yoga poses that actually involve spreading the cheeks. So the likelihood of being confronted with that particular orifice is slim. But I’m glad to hear it’s not about cellulite and jiggly bits, and just about buttholes!

  2. natalieh says:

    I have lots of wobbly bits that sweat and flop. Naked yoga sounds uncomfortable from simple lump management. I’m probably floppier than most, (i.e. I have a large belly that slaps my thighs if I don’t wear supportive clothes). My breasts are floppy, I actually can’t do some poses without good support as they are all up in my face, I find it funny but also not conducive to breathing.

    I’ve had great naked vacations. I like my body and, much to my family’s chagrin, don’t really care who sees it, That leads to my typically not wearing bras or pantyhose or much constricting. This past Christmas break I tried to go bra free for 16 days but needed to don a sports bra to jump around for Dance Connect 3, it just hurt otherwise.
    I applaud the ideals of naked yoga but I also don’t want that very real peeling sound of skin coming off the mat.

    • Tracy I says:

      Fair enough. I too feel like most activity is more comfortable when my “jiggly” parts are contained and supported. I can’t imagine running, for example, without a really good sports bra.

  3. Terra says:

    I’m one of your FB outliers. I’ve been worried since I posted that my response sounded too flip, because I meant it sincerely.

    I seem to have an abnormal lack of body image “issues” (although I don’t have a perfect body – far from it!), but thinking it over, this is at least partly something that I learned at a mercifully young age. Sophomore year at university, one of my high school friends transferred in, and she was the one who introduced me to naked hot-tubbing and, when we were roommates, sleeping in the buff. Even though she was overweight and already familiar with the diet-go-round, she was more comfortable in her skin than I was, and I had always been an “acceptable” size and never dieted. Anyway, getting nekkid quickly grew on me, and casual nudity in situations ranging from skinny-dipping at Walden Pond to gyn locker rooms has only given me a greater appreciation for the variation in human bodies, not to mention the rarity of physical “perfection”. I can see how nude yoga could be good for body acceptance.

    As you can probably tell from my FB comment, for me it’s more about boundaries. For instance, in naked yoga classes I would think it prudent to maintain a sufficient distance between mats, say, at least a mat’s width. At the popular studios around here, including the place where I practice hot yoga, they typically put some sort of markings on the floor to guide mat placement as the classes come close to filling up, and going by the marks the mats are a couple of inches apart – something with which even I would not be comfortable when flanked by naked yogis or yoginis.

    Also I think it would be important to reinforce that naked yoga classes are not sexytimes – hence my objection to the inadvertent moaning. Not that I have anything against sexytimes, but, you know, everything in its own time and place. Besides, I think it would probably help us North Americans to feel more comfortable in our bodies if we could decouple nudity from sex somewhat.

  4. Sam B says:

    I gotta say nude hot yoga kind of makes sense to me. I try to wear as little as possible anyway and my clothes are dripping wet and soggy and uncomfortable. When I do yoga, I’m pretty focused on me anyway. And, this might be part of my story, I do yoga without glasses so some blurriness might be helping with my comfort level.

    Like anything I think it’s context dependent. Young fit New Yorkers cruising one another? Not my thing. (I mean, fine, go and enjoy it if that is your thing, but not for me.) But a mixed age, diverse body size group of people into yoga? Why not?

    And to be clear, put clothes on the young fit New Yorkers and I still might not be happy. I’m not sure clothes are the issue. Bikinis on a beach where people are busy body evaluating and judgy? Ugh.

    I first came across nude yoga on my sabbatical. When I was in Canberra, Australia for my sabbatical at the Australian National University I noticed that the city offers Nude Yoga for Men. (“Come and enjoy the sensual delights of practicing yoga naked under soft lighting in our new, toasty warm venue, read the poster.”) You can read more about nude yoga here, http://health.ninemsn.com.au/healthnews/1037798/naked-yoga. No nude yoga for women though.

    Here’s what the instructor says, “”What I experience in naked compared to clothed yoga classes is that the nude yogis are far more open to interacting with each other and forming friendships and social networks. Perhaps because trust grows out of shared vulnerability,” Barnes said.

    “By removing our clothing we also remove the signifiers that denote social standing and socio-economic status, which creates a ‘level playing field’ where all can feel ‘equal’. Whilst undressing, there’s also a sense of peeling off layers of conditioning and attachment to our social and professional roles which gives us an opportunity to experience our true selves,” he added.

  5. Penny says:

    hmmm front row or back row?

  6. […] often challenge common assumptions. If you’re not sure where to start, read their thoughts on naked yoga, body shaming, and women-only workout spaces. It’s a refreshing space for provoking […]

  7. […] often challenge common assumptions. If you’re not sure where to start, read their thoughts on naked yoga, body shaming, and women-only workout spaces. It’s a refreshing space for provoking […]

  8. jordanmagri says:

    Reblogged this on Stars in the Glass and commented:
    So glad I found this article! It’s 100% true. Be confident and have a positive body image! I want to go to a nude yoga class so badly!

  9. […] and often challenge common assumptions. If you’re not sure where to start, read their thoughts on naked yoga, body shaming, and women-only workout spaces. It’s a refreshing space for provoking […]

  10. hannahgivens says:

    I’d do it and love it, but not with other people. Exercising together already represents a level of intimacy I don’t enjoy, even fully clothed…

  11. Skinnywallet says:

    From what I see of the people going in and out of the local Yoga studio is that, doing yoga requires a lot of fancy pants gear and clothing. Some of those skinny sweat pants cost over $100 a Sport Check. So maybe nude yoga might make exercise more accessible to people who don’t have the money to drop on pants but more likely it will be fringe thing, that is until LuLu comes up with the emperor’s new yoga clothes.

  12. […] often challenge common assumptions. If you’re not sure where to start, read their thoughts on naked yoga, body shaming, and women-only workout spaces. It’s a refreshing space for provoking […]

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  17. Neil says:

    Although I have never been to a nude yoga class, I don’t see it as intimidating or shameful. I would probably not be too focused on others and would just want to practice yoga naturally. I have done yoga nude for a few years now at home and even in my backyard which is surrounded with trees for privacy. I don’t care if people saw me, although I wouldn’t appreciate the pervert types watching. Your article was interesting and I appreciate the honesty. Namaste.

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