Guest Post · yoga

Vulnerability and Naked Yoga, Part 2 (Guest Post)

by Ellen Burgess

Last week, I wrote about my sailing adventure during my holidays in the first week of June.  As if the sailing this wasn’t enough excitement for one week, the day of my holiday, I boldly ventured out to an old friend’s yoga studio in Toronto to practice Naked Yoga for the first time.  Yep, that’s right, yoga in nothing but my birthday suit… TOTALLY STARKERS that is!

Upon my arrival, I greeted my fellow yoga practitioner (Don), who I had not seen in over 15 years when we did our Moksha Teacher training together. At that time, he had invited me to live in his house for a month, so we got to know each other quite well.  I was happy to see him after such a long time, and we chatted enthusiastically as he showed me around his hot yoga studio. He explained that the purpose of this class was essentially to reduce body shame and build strength and community through vulnerability that comes with practicing yoga with no clothes on.

“Right on”, I said, in my most hippy like voice, (secretly thinking, this sounds terrifying, but “bring it on”)! After all, I had already bragged to my friends that I was going to try this, so there was no backing out now.

Don had us all assemble in the practice room in a rectangle with our backside to the wall with the mirrors covered (thank goodness).  We were asked to disrobe when the lights went off and that, if at any time we were uncomfortable, we could lie down on our mats with a towel covering our body. 

Then he turned off the light and lit a single candle.  All I could see was the silhouette of a man in front of me.  I peeked around and sure enough, everyone was taking off their clothes, so I thought I better get with the program, so to speak. This was a silent class with series of 26 simple postures, so Don just named the postures when it was time to switch, but provided no other instruction.    Don also aligned himself in the rectangle with the rest of us and did not move around the room.  I strategically positioned myself several bodies away from Don.  Why? Well I guess I forgot to mention that Don is hot.  Yep… that’s right.  Upon reconnecting with him, I quickly realized that he was still as hot as ever 15 years later, so I didn’t want to be caught peeking!

I was actually surprised at how “raw and exposed” I actually felt once I had my clothes off. That may sound like a no brainer, but at the age of 55, I thought I was comfortable being naked anywhere, anytime. I had skinny dipped, slept in the nude in a room full of other people, not to mention disrobing many times in front of others during the wilder days of my youth. However, once my clothes were off, I felt a distinct flushing of my chest, just around my heart chakra and I began to sweat more than usual. I wondered if I experienced intense feelings in this area because my chest was always a source of body shame when I was growing up.

First we did pranayama breathing then moved into half-moon posture and then eagle pose.  By the fourth posture, I was really over being naked.  However, as we moved through more rigorous postures, such as downward dog flows, I really noticed some “base and raw” sensual feelings throughout my body. I wondered if this is how our caveman/woman ancestors felt. 

And then poof, it was over!  We showered and then I went out to the lounge and caught up with Don for an hour and a half before driving back to Guelph.

What was particularly interesting about our chat was the fact that I disclosed more about myself to him in those 90 minutes than during the entire 30 days I lived with him in 2004. And so, as I headed back to Toronto, I felt a more heart felt connection with my friend as it seemed our emotional intimacy had deepened significantly.

So maybe, just maybe, through a jam packed week of sailing and naked yoga, I am becoming more vulnerable through sport, which was the goal at the onset. 

On a final note, I must add that the REAL test of my willingness to be vulnerable is to be more emotionally vulnerable with those closest to me; by first being more honest with myself and then, by being more forthcoming about my true thoughts and feelings.  I am the kind of person that is will to try just about any new activity, but that is typically where I draw the line.  Emotional vulnerability is FAR MORE DIFFICULT for me than naked yoga or sailing, because I am required to put “my heart out there” without no guarantee of the response, and that really scares me. However, as Brene Brown states in her film “the Call to Courage”, “If we want to know love and connection more deeply (with both ourselves and others), we must choose courage over comfort”.  I’ll keep you all posted on my progress!

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

body image · yoga

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.