in the nude.

Naked Yoga.

Just in the last few days I have openly talked about attending a class, I have learned that these words arouse different thoughts, assumptions, and opinions from many people. Personally, my initial reaction to the concept was of intrigue and curiosity. I mean, of course I had some fear surrounding the vulnerability of a nude practice in front of others (insert crow pose here).

But, my intrigue and fear stemmed from something deeper. It was rooted deep down within me and surrounded my personal acceptance and non-acceptance of my body. Before I get into that though, let's go through the societal reactions I got this last week when discussing the nude practice:

  • the side glance and uncomfortable laugh - #classic
  • the deer in headlights shock - #ohhellno
  • the shit eating grin of excitement - #doooowndog
  • the Elvis lip meets eyebrow raise of disagreement - #gross

When I presented the idea of going, I didn't think much of people's reactions to be honest. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs. It wasn't until after I actually attended the class that I thought more on the why behind people's reactions. I believe all the various reactions stem from a slight curiosity, maybe even envy for those who have accepted their bodies enough to disrobe in front of others and move in ways you wouldn't normally while nude. Perhaps everyone wants to feel that freedom and confidence in who they are and how they look. Perhaps.

OK, on to the class - I know this is what you want to hear. It wasn't a weird craigslist meetup where people just gathered to take their clothes off and do yoga. No, this is all very intentional. Naked in Motion, the organization that offered the practice I attended in the small, very artsy, 11th floor studio in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, offers more than just a class with no clothes - when you enter, you become part of their movement.

 

"We aim to hold safe spaces where people can take a collective journey through fear towards self-discovery, compassion, and empowerment." - Naked in Motion

 

Their website touches on subjects such as shedding self-hate, body shaming, judgement, social standards and limiting personal beliefs that many of us can empathize with - I mean we are all made human, right? The practice they offer is aimed to be a safe space for you to explore a new mind/body connection while finding freedom in the relationship you have with your body, and empowerment to express that relationship. I mean, really cool stuff. 

When I first exited the elevator onto the 11th floor, there were a few men waiting outside the door to the studio, one whom I found attractive, and I immediately got anxiety. My heart started racing and I started having second thoughts of whether or not I could actually step outside of this comfort zone. Then, a woman stepped out of the elevator who was obviously the instructor, deducted from the studio the keys in her hand, and I felt some relief. At least I wasn't the only female. She was a really beautiful lesbian woman with curvy hips, fierce eyebrows, and beautifully pale skin; the kind of pale that makes skin look 10x softer than everyone else's skin.

The studio had beautiful natural light and through the windows you could see the entire city. Really inspiring. Soft white, transparent curtains hung over the windows creating a tranquil space as we set up our mats. I kept waiting for people to just start ripping off their clothes, but everyone sat on their mats clothed. I followed suit. 

There were nine of us total, ten including the instructor, which she voiced was a small class size compared to the normal crowd. She had us set up in two rows, facing the center of the room (sigh of relief, no one was seeing this downdog if you know what I mean). Before we began, we went over the ground rules. Nudity is mandatory, but women have the option to wear bottoms. Anyone in a gender transition also has the option to wear what they need to express themselves as their identifying gender. When holding postures, your drishti (gaze/focus) should be on the floor, or a still object other than another person's body. Participants are not allowed to make any comments before or after class regarding another person's body or practice. Participants are also advised not to invite another yogi to hang out after class to grab coffee, dinner, etc. Erections are not all sexual, so if someone experiences one, the choice is open to continue practicing or take a child's pose. No phones allowed until the last person has their clothes back on. These are many of the rules, but not all.

When we de-clothed, any small feeling of sexuality dissipated and it became a very artistic, natural environment. People casually took their clothes off as they would to get in the shower and returned back to their mats to begin practice. There was no snickering, no awkward glances or insecurity that you could see. Everyone stood tall, openly and honestly. It was really powerful to be a part of even without looking at anyone else's body. You could feel the freedom in the room, as if the vibration in the room accelerated in the most natural, primal way. 

I began to get very comfortable as the practice progressed. Standing across from a complete stranger in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), with full frontal nudity was really powerful. We weren't looking at one another (I mean, at least I wasn't - my gaze was fixed on the center of the room floor slightly above my mat), but even without looking you could feel them. It's like when you are practicing next to someone and you can't see them in your side by side downdogs, but you can hear their deep ujjayi breathing, and that sound alone keeps you propelling forward. It was similar to that but stronger. 

As we moved and I was able to observe my own body in the practice, of course I noticed some things. The way my skin looks when I take a twist. How my belly hangs if my core isn't engaged fully (great reminder to engage I will say). And noticing how yoga pants really do help with sweat absorption in certain areas of the body. But, the care for how my body looked as I did postures got lost as I got lost in the movement and really seeing how it all worked in my body. Feeling and seeing the sweat on every inch of my body was empowering and made me feel so in my body and in my strength. The connection I felt with my breath and every limb of my physical body was amplified. To think that I had feelings that practicing nude would possibly lower my acceptance of my body at this point seemed preposterous now - I had never felt more in tune with myself and more proud of the body and skin I was in. 

"I had never felt more in tune with myself and more proud of the body and skin I was in."

 

I come from a lengthy background of body shaming and self hate. If you know me, you know I have done a lot of self-study and work around understanding who I am and how I show up in this world, but my relationship with my body hasn't been something I have addressed a whole lot. This yoga practice has been the number one healer for this relationship thus far, hence my curiosity to explore it further and continue the healing in a new light - in the nude.

My body issues started at the age of about 15 when I began purging all of my food in order to loose weight. A friend of mine had started doing it and I admired her body, so I thought if I did the same, maybe I would look like her. Well, throwing up doesn't give you a longer torso and bigger boobs, which I now know to be my admiration of her. But once the purging started, I was addicted. Go figure, me, addicted. {SMH}. It continued on for some time, but once I found drugs and alcohol (and my Dad found out about the purging and gave me a good scare), I shied away from it. Still to this day, I suffer very slightly from body dysmorphia. But, the abuse on my body didn't stop there- it shifted into 13 years of severe alcohol and drug addiction. I had no respect for my body and used it as a tool to get what I needed to stay high and drunk as much as I could. This way of living led me to a life full of abuse in every sense of the word and I grew to hate the skin I was in. I began to believe the verbally abusive comments about the way I looked and who I was, and also deeply felt disgust and shame of certain sexual encounters, some willing, others not. There was a point where I couldn't even look myself in the mirror. I found myself utterly disgusting for things I had done to my body and things others had done to it as well. 

"(I) allowed myself to experience the power and beauty of the human form in it's most vulnerable state."

 

The practice of yoga, even in it's more societal norm (with clothes on), began the healing process of these deeply rooted feelings and helps me daily to develop a loving relationship with my body. The action of taking my clothes off, in full exposure, to experience this practice, was a milestone in acceptance for me and an experience I will never forget. I was able to overcome the thoughts of people, (men and women) viewing my body as less than AND strictly as a tool for sex or to do with it what they wanted, and allowed myself to experience the power and beauty of the human form in it's most vulnerable state. 

To anyone curious or on the fence of practicing yoga naked in a group setting, I highly recommend it. Just make sure it's not a weird craigslist meetup first. :) 

 

 

in walks Grace...

To fully understand yoga and I, I suppose I'll start from the beginning, well kinda... 
I moved to Charleston on a whim, having never been before. The transplant came as a suggestion from others - I was told it would be a perfect fit for me at that point in my life. To be completely transparent, that "point" in my life was just being released from a 90-day all women's rehabilitation center for drugs and alcohol. Three months prior I had uprooted myself from South Florida, with the help and love from my family, to attempt to take my life back. I was helpless, powerless, and reclusive. 
Once in Charleston, I was fortunate enough to be granted a bed in a women's halfway house about ten minutes outside of the beautiful downtown area. I arrived with two large black trash bags full of clothes, a few boxes of scrapbooks and journals from the years, and my bicycle. The "Mother" of the house handed me a $5 bill, a bus schedule, an AA meeting schedule, a list of rules to abide by, and a loving, "you got this girl - figure it out. Don't drink or use". 
Some days I took the bus, other days I biked, and when I trained my body to handle to mileage, I ran the ten miles downtown everyday to make meetings, eventually a land a job, and make a life for myself. This was my second chance.
YOGA. Yoga happened on one of those running days. I was jogging King Street, familiarizing myself with my new surroundings when I passed a small studio with flyers of the class schedule out front. There was a FREE community class that day! Since free was all I could afford, I made sure I was standing outside that door when it opened to take it. I was completely out of place in my mismatched loose fit attire and Nike's...shoot, I don't have mat, I thought. Do, I turn and run? All of those thoughts, however, quickly faded away...
Now, to be fair, I had done a little yoga before. My older sister showed me some basic Sun A's and Warrior's one afternoon she visited me in rehab. I could barely chatturanga! I did my handful of moves regularly at the facility, often inviting the other women there. It became really popular and the hour we all looked forward to on a daily basis. But THIS! This studio brought me a whole new purpose.
From the moment we took child's pose and I was able to hear my breath sync with my fellow yogis and soul searchers, I was hooked. I sweat, I cried, I fell, and I had to do a whole lot of looking around to see what the pose called was supposed to look like. As I mentioned before, all those feelings of being the misfit, were gone, as our bodies flowed in unison. I loved every minute. To this day, I will NEVER forget the way this class made me feel. I was going to be OK. Life was going to go on and I would survive it.
I was on fire.
A few free classes later, I approached an instructor there, and without too much detail, (not like I write to you now) I explained how I needed yoga to be in my life, but I couldn't afford it. The next words she spoke were literally music to my ears. They would allow me to clean the studio once a week (laundry, lavender towels, steam clean floors and tidy bathrooms), in exchange for unlimited free yoga. I could not believe this was being offered to me. Did they know what I was capable of? I was the master of manipulation, lies, and messing up anything good that was handed to me. But, they didn't even think twice. I was trusted and welcome there. Granted, I was not the only one they offered this program to, but at that moment I felt as if God, or Higher Power, or Buddha, had shined a light down on me and allowed grace to enter my life that day.
That was about two and a half years ago. My passion for yoga has only grown and I have grown with it. I continue to learn and challenge my body and mind. Yoga provides me discipline to stay when things get uncomfortable and I want to bail (which I SO often feel in life) and I end up walking away stronger and braver for having done so. It has literally cracked me wide open to life's possibilities and a new way of living and being. I am forever grateful for this practice and the grace my heart and soul carry today because of it.