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.

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