Let's be clear: Doing naked yoga was far beyond the limits of my comfort zone. I don't do naked yoga in my own apartment, let alone in a room full of other naked people. I didn't grow up in a naked house—I don't even sleep in the nude.
What's the point of naked yoga?
So what's the point, you aptly ask. I could easily file it under "things I do for my job," as it obviously makes for a great story. But deep down as a yoga teacher and practitioner I was curious: If it wasn't sexual, why is there a naked yoga community in New York? Why did these yogis want to practice naked, together? Was there some form of body-mind connection I've been missing out on? I had to find out.
Once I decided to go, I didn't tell anyone but my husband (bless him). I didn't want to do any research outside of finding a studio in order to preserve the experience—I wanted to go into it with a clean slate. And the timing felt right. What could be more empowering, as a woman, to feel the fear and do it anyway?
Of course, that all changed in the two hours leading up to class. I texted friends, asking if anyone in my yoga community had tried it, whether I should have gotten a Brazilian, does it matter what underwear I wear, should I shower beforehand? Their resounding response was "lol you're nuts but lmk how it goes." After that initial buzz of nerves, I realized that it would be more empowering to just come as I was, so I did.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The insecurity.
When I got to the door, I realized quickly that it wasn't a yoga space, but a photography studio moonlighting as one. Everyone still had their clothes on, sitting on their mats. There were four rows of mats, two and two facing each other forming an aisle in the center. Then the fear kicked in: Out of a room of about 25 to 30 people, I was one of four women in the room. Two were there on dates with their partner and the other was our teacher, Willow. Her class, called Naked in Motion, is one of the few pioneering the naked yoga movement. I started to wonder what the fuck I was doing here.
Before the naked yoga began, Willow gave a spiel about rules and boundaries. No touching anyone without consent—which included her alignment adjustments. No staring and absolutely no "cruising," which meant trying to find a date. Women and transfolk had the option to keep their bottoms on, but everything else had to go. These boundaries made me feel much better, if only that turning my attention to her briefly took my mind off what was about to go down.
Time to derobe!
"Time to derobe!" she exclaimed. I didn't look around so I focused on myself, which felt weirdly sensual. In that moment I wished I'd worn a T-shirt instead of a button-down blouse: I'd give anything to feel clumsy over sexy, funny over womanly, cute over beautiful. I'm not here to pretend like this wasn't hard—I'm not the "goddess" type who can easily bare all and just own her womanhood. Shedding one flimsy layer suddenly became something else: acceptance of what is.
We did a sweaty vinyasa flow, and I was so grateful for that. Instead of my wandering thoughts—maybe you shouldn't have had two croissants this weekend, please don't fart, this is definitely the most penises you've ever seen at one time, where will your boob sweat go, I can't believe it doesn't smell worse in here—I did what I knew how to do. I turned inward and focused on my breath.
From a mechanics standpoint, it was pretty great to be naked. You and your teacher can see rotations, flexions, and subtle misalignments that cannot be seen through a T-shirt.
So did I feel liberated?
My mind ricocheted from being deep inside the practice, to being distracted by what I might see in our rounds of cat/cows. I have to say, the cats and cows were the worst of the "naked" part. Yes, there were buttholes. Yes, I saw them, got over it, and closed my eyes to go inward. Most poses were like that. Doing a warrior two naked was my favorite. It was vulnerable, strong, liberating, and there's something intensely unifying about being in a room with a bunch of people doing the same movement in our most primal state.
This experience is not unique. When I asked Willow about the most common feedback she gets from naked yoga students, she said, "I'd say the most common feedback I get from people who have taken class is that they feel very liberated afterward. People tell me that they feel so free! I also hear people say that the movement was so much easier without clothing. People report being able to do poses they couldn't do before because their clothing restricted them, or that they felt so great to not have to adjust anything that was riding up or falling off. I agree. I find it really hard to do yoga with clothes on at this point."
It's true, it was easier to move without the restriction of clothes. Perhaps more interestingly, the dialogue with yourself that pops up as soon as the clothes come off and throughout class: The "what am I doing" and the "fuck yes, I'm doing it," really speaks to the dynamic between feeling empowered and vulnerable at the same time.
When I asked Willow about vulnerability, she nodded to courage and shame researcher Brené Brown. "People dress in certain ways to communicate how they want the world to see them, from serious businesspeople to punk-rockers. When you take off the clothes, when you sweat off the makeup, when you realize that you forgot to shave your legs, when you take off your necklace because it gets in the way, there's nothing left but you, no boxes left to fit in. That's a very vulnerable place to be in, the 'who am I, really?' space. From my own experience, I think the greatest personal growth comes from times when I feel the most vulnerable, the most Naked!" Now having tried naked communal yoga, I couldn't agree more.
Would I do it again?
Maybe…I don't think I would if Willow wasn't the instructor. She made it unweird, like no big deal, and reminded us that it's important to be naked sometimes. I do think it's important to spend more time with ourselves outside of the 10 minutes in the shower. Being naked doesn't have to be sexual; in fact, sometimes it shouldn't be. For me, a co-ed naked yoga class was the most direct way to be in the moment and get to know myself better, especially in the context of others who are so different from myself. In the end, isn't that the purpose of any practice?
Since this class two weeks ago, I've hit my mat naked a couple of times—solo.