I’ve done a lot of strange things in the name of journalistic intrigue—run-commute for two weeks, become a morning person, brush my teeth with charcoal, put my Tinder profile in the hands of a sexologist. So when I recently announced to a table of 12 over sushi that I’d be taking a coed naked yoga class, the crowd was less than surprised that I’d sign up for something so, well, out there.
But the truth is, I didn’t sign up for naked yoga because an editor suggested it. I signed up for naked yoga because I wanted to be the type of person who signs up for naked yoga.
My dinnermates chirped about who they thought that type of person would be: “A bunch of hippy-dippy liberals with bushes!” said one friend. “Big dicks. Only dudes with big dicks would take naked yoga,” said another.
I pictured something a little less Woodstock and a little more empowering. I signed up anticipating free-spirited, bold urbanites who didn’t let anything hold them back–not their free-flying bits, not the wafting stank of crotch sweat, and definitely not a broken heart!
See, my confidence had taken a mega-hit after getting broken up with earlier this summer. While journaling and stacks on stacks on stacks of self-help books were serviceable, naked yoga seemed to promise immediate gratification. “Ready to open the door to self-kindness and healing?” the website of Naked in Motion asks. “We offer you the opportunity to shed your clothing, and along with it, judgments about your appearance, limiting personal beliefs, and critical self-talk.”
Um, hell yeah! I thought when I read the class description. Ready to embrace my inner so-over-my-ex goddess, I reserved my mat.
But in the two hours leading up to the class, excitement and self-congratulations at my own daring were replaced with fear and self-annoyance: What the F had I gotten myself into?
I messaged my gym-mates and texted my nudist-beach-loving buds.
Dude… should I have gotten a wax?
I packed turquoise underwear, is that embarrassing? Should I have packed black, instead?
WTF do you wear to arrive to a naked yoga class? I’m wearing a black dress and a jean-jacket–does that sound too try-hard?
Their responses were mostly the same: “OMG, I can’t believe you’re doing this. Let me know how it goes.” At 6:50 p.m. sharp, when the doors to class would open, I got in the elevator that led me up 11 flights with a middle-aged man in khakis.
When I got into the space, I realized my expectations had been a little off. Instead of immediately stripping when I got in the door, I gave Willow, the founder of Naked in Motion, my name, and joined my classmates who sat fully clothed and crossed-legged in neat rows facing the windows.
Instead of confident goddesses in Beyoncé-inspired flower crowns like I’d expected, there were two women and 20 or so men wearing everything from linen pants and T-shirts to workout gear to full-on business suits (like, with a tie!).
I sat on my mat and considered leaving. Around me, people made small talk while I thought about crying as I realized men in their late 40s and 50s would be seeing me naked. But I knew I’d be upset with myself if I wussed out now.
Willow (and the instructor she was training) started by telling us about the studio’s boundaries and rules: no cruising, no body compliments or comments, no touching without consent, no staring. She also explained what to do if you got an erection (take child’s pose) and reiterated a rule which I’d read online: Women and transgender folks had the option to keep their underwear on.
After the rules were read, we got to the naked part. I regretted wearing a dress; I’d be completely bare in a single swoop. I stalled by taking off my jewelry (which, BTW, totally unnecessary), braiding my hair, and unbuckling my sandals. I tossed aside my jean jacket and glanced around the room, realizing I was the only person still clothed. Off came the dress, then my bra. I decided to keep my underwear on, in all its turquoise glory. The whole thing was remarkably un-sexy and, truthfully, felt a bit like disrobing for a gynecological exam.
Then, we got moving. Through the slow, core-focused flow, my thoughts weren’t focused on the way my boobs hung, the slight smell of sweat, or the fact that there were two dozen dangling penises around me. Instead, I did what I do during CrossFit: I turned my attention to my muscles. I focused on activating my core, glutes, and hip flexors with each twist and bend, and I made sure to breathe.
As a retired rugby player turned CrossFit athlete, the definition of my shoulders and arms is pretty noticeable. At least twice a day a barista, a passerby, or coworker will compliment or mention how swole I am or how strong I look. I’m used to people staring at my body when I’m in clothes.
But in class, not once did I feel sexualized by the men (or women) around me, not once did I catch a stranger glancing at my nipple piercing, peering at my rear, or taking inventory of my muscular physique. And I freaking loved it. When your very presence and body has the tendency to garner attention, getting none felt pretty damn incredible. Here, I wasn’t the CrossFitting writer or the bulky girl who orders iced coffee. I was just another body doing yoga.
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During warrior pose, I screwed my heels into the floor, opened my chest, and felt like a bold badass. During forward fold, I felt the stretch in my hamstrings and closed my eyes, oblivious to the rows of exposed assholes in front of me. During pigeon pose (which truthfully was the pose that made me thankful I’d kept my bottoms on), I leaned into the stretch, feeling uniquely one with this (male-dominant) group of uninhibited strangers around me.
After we said Namaste, some stayed nude and chatted, some opted for just their briefs, while others (like me) got dressed quickly. But the buzz was the same. All around me folks said how free they felt, how unembarrassed.
Sure, from a practical standpoint it’s easier to move without clothes; that’s why my CrossFit uniform is booty shorts and a sports bra, after all. But that’s not really what Naked in Motion is about. In some ways, naked yoga is exactly what it sounds like: a 100% in-the-buff yoga experience. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s this super-empowering mix of power and vulnerability, fear and courage.
Am I permanently more confident and less heartbroken than I was before the class? No. But taking a coed naked yoga class isn’t something I would have done a few months ago. I’m proud of myself for getting so far outside my comfort zone. Nine out of 10 times, I’d probably choose sushi dinner with friends over naked yoga, but the next time I start to miss that “just another body in a room” feeling, you can bet I’ll be back on the mat.