GUEST BLOG by Lloyd:
Over the holidays, I stumbled upon a four-year-long discussion on an article on Naked Yoga blogged on the internet in 2007. The author dismissed it as “too racy” for her. She asked her readers whether they would try such a thing. The almost one hundred responses over four years were fascinating. First the responses were almost universally – and often virulently – negative. They were also made by people who, like the author had never experienced nude yoga in a group. Cries of disgust gushed: screaming captials, barking multiple exclamation points, long strings of drawn out “EEEWWWW’ and “YUCK!!!!”
The article and the responses, at least the early ones, were rife with sexual innuendo. Naked yoga is all about sex – especially gay sex – practiced by perverts and leads to sexual abuse and dangerous things. Yoga is pure and spiritual and shouldn’t be sullied with something so base as nudity. Adoration of and pleasure in the human body has no place in yoga. We must hide ourselves (in form-fitting, expensive clothing) so as not to distract others. Especially men, who couldn’t possibly do yoga for any other reason than as a substitute for pornography.
The theme of Downward-facing Dog recurred (sometimes with nauseating detail), and all from people who practice yoga clothed, never nude. Maybe I learned wrong, but isn’t your gaze supposed to be turned toward your center in Down Dog? In my experience with crowded classes, even clothed participants shift politely to avoid face-ass proximity.
So what we have here is a pretext contrived to mask personal phobia. Where does the absurd aversion we as a species have to our own flesh come from? Children are not born with it. Other societies live in comfort with nudity. This phenomenon must come from our culture.
It isn’t hard to see what anchors our exaggerated disgust for ourselves – our ancient sky religion. And Christianity doesn’t hold the monopoly. The Islamic world, if anything, exceeds us in body hatred. (This would be a tempting place to digress about the parallel development of animal husbandry, slavery and marriage as a contract between two men to buy a daughter. And about fear of all things feminine. I know the fear of rape and the drive to attract a mate affect women in ways they don’t affect men, but we men also suffer the consequences. I’m hurt when a woman behaves in such a way as to indicate she thinks me dangerous or shallow.)
I found myself wondering about why grown adults feel obligated to display disgust for all things pelvic? And fear the imagined judgment of others? And neurotically resort to buying expensive, sexy clothing to both hide and entice at the same time.
As often happens in life, insight came through a small child. During breaks from my laptop, I did a few asanas, Downward-facing Dog among them. My almost-two-year-old grandson, running about diaper-free, attempted an imitation to the delight of my wife and three adult daughters. He had no qualms about pointing his bare bottom up in the air. None of us found it disgusting in the least. But at some point, that child with his cute little butt in the air will become the image that disgusts so many self-admitted devotees to yoga. He will not only become disgusting to others, he will develop an arresting self-consciousness and desperately cover himself. When does that happen? At ten? Fifteen? Certainly before adulthood.
When do we stop being the Child? When do we stop seeing the Child?
Long before I entered the practice of medicine, I was a massage therapist. One client changed my outlook forever. He was an old man, brought in by his elderly wife. I’d say they were in their eighties. He had a slow, shuffling gate, fixed gaze, and expressionless face which I took for early Parkinsonism. Most strikingly, his body was covered with lesions of at least five distinct kinds. He hadn’t been washed properly in days, maybe weeks.
I was apprenticing in the practice of a kindly old Norwegian therapist, Connie Haldorson. She was getting on in years and needed someone to help. I did most of the massage while she sat at the feet of her clients doing reflexology. Connie was also an herbalist.
She had prepared special lotion just for this man. (I wish I had paid more attention, but I remember it had comfrey and aloe vera in it.) I massaged the goo into his tough, leathery skin from head to toe and rubbed it off with a rough towel. Several towels, actually. Dead layers of skin and crusty lesions came off in scoops. What emerged was pink, new, clean skin – still tough, but softer. When he got off the table, he felt renewed. Most importantly, he no longer felt filthy and disgusting. We dressed him in clean clothes. He came out of the room to greet his wife with a little hop and a “Come on, Ma! Let’s go dancin’!” I had to excuse myself to weep.
I have never looked at a person the same way since. Underneath all that disgusts us – the hair, the fat, the sweat, the filth – lies that child, that cute little kid with his bottom in the air.
Herbs can do wonders in knowledgeable hands. But the miracle that day was due to nothing more than Connie’s motherly compassion for a child. An eighty-year-old child. (Excuse me. Did I just modify the most powerful force in the universe – motherly love – with the words “nothing more than?”)
If naked yoga means anything to me, it means motherly love – that compassionate protection of the child in each of us. It means seeing each other the way mothers view children. And wouldn’t that be a nice change from seeing people as objects of lust or disgust.