I love when I underestimate the amount of beautiful souls who want to get naked and celebrate their holy body and sensual spirits. Such a beautiful Holy Body Retreat in NYC this past Sunday with Rev. Goddess Charmaine, myself and our beloved community. Naked Yoga, Naked Church, Trance Dance, love and blessings to our body temples and sensual spirits.
Holy Body Retreat with Naked Yoga, Naked Church & Trance Dance!
This Sunday 10am-2pm!!!
Come feel powerful, holy, wild, sensual, free, and totally you
Join Rev. Goddess Charmaine & Isis Phoenix for
Clothing Optional Holy Body Retreat!!!
Freedom Movement Trance Dance
Holy Body Worship “Naked Church”
Group Bodywork & Healing Circle
Sunday, September 29th, 2013
10 to 2pm
This is a Clothing Optional Event
Our bodies are miracles, beauty, complex ecosystems, walking art – each unique, holy and beautiful. Gift your holy body and sensual spirit to a nourishing and celebratory afternoon with your soul family. Come nourish, rejoice and celebrate with yoga, dance, naked church and healing bodywork!
We welcome you to a community who loves, honors and celebrates the holy, sacred and celebratory union of body and spirit.
If you play an instrument and feel led called to bring it we will incorporate sound and music healing into Naked Church and Group Bodywork.
Sunday, September 29th 12 to 4pm
638 E. 6th Street
Ny, NY 10009
$39 in advance
$49 at the door
Questions or to reserve your spot now!
Isis Phoenix: email@example.com
Rev. Goddess: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please bring your yoga mat, a towel and blindfold.
Abigail Ekue came to one of the very first naked yoga classes I taught in 2007 and actually ended up writing and publishing an article about her experience. She is a powerhouse of a woman and someone who I consistently learn from. I asked her to tell me about her relationship to her body and if and when she had ever experienced shame.
Abigail Ekue Interview by Isis Phoenix
I’ve always been athletic. When I was young, I loved the swings, jungle gyms, hanging upside down. I had an adventurous spirit. I grew up in New York City – the urban jungle. In our apartment building, I would jump up and down full flights of stairs. Water fights by the hydrants in the summer, snowball fights in the winter. I ran with the boys. When puberty hit boys began to notice me in a different way. And I was noticing them. Puberty was an awakening. My breasts began to grow. My body was changing. My left breast grew faster than the right – ‘Hefty Lefty,’ is what I call her. It was the last time I can remember experiencing being uncomfortable in my body. I was eleven years old.
I’m a weight lifter and kick-boxer. I do yoga, plyometrics, jumping, bounding, power work – box jumps, squat jumps, combo moves, mountain climbing moves – anything that makes me feel powerful. Love the way the body looks and feels when I lift – the quiver, the burn. I never starved myself. I never went on any crash diets. My mom is Jamaican and my father is from Nigeria. Our bodies are round and strong, our butts are high. Black women would warn me to be careful of losing too much weight with all the working out I was doing. Black women are “supposed” to have big butts. I liked being tight and toned. I loved the feeling of being strong. My butt isn’t going anywhere.
I was a personal trainer and a certified Athletic Trainer. I enjoyed teaching people how to take care of their bodies and how to accept them. Now I do that through my art. I’m a writer, photographer, model, provocateur. My work celebrates beauty and darkness. Mainstream would have you believe there isn’t beauty in us all. It’s time to change the mainstream.
I met Lloyd a few weeks after I wrote to tell him he won the ‘Share your naked yoga story contest‘ and to ask him when was a good time to collect on his complimentary naked yoga session, the gift for writing such a great story. Meeting him has changed or perhaps confirmed my perspective on many things. How do I introduce you to Lloyd in a way that will best capture his essence… Lloyd is in that rare race of Man-Gods that are on the planet. His embodiment of the divine masculine is a hybrid of philosopher, warrior, medicine man and lover of the Goddess. On meeting, at first glance I was instantly taken with the thought – Wow! This is a full sized man! His physical frame was similar to what one might see in the marbled statues of Greek and Roman deities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His body is solid like iron and wood but also present is an unmistakable heart energy that permeates every cell generating warmth and openness in his energy field. I learned on our first meeting that he had indeed been a warrior and proudly served his country as well being a published author, physician, massage therapist, research scientist… he had many incarnations so far in just this one lifetime and they didn’t feel anywhere close to being complete. We sat in my living room and spoke for a while on relationships, naturism and spirituality before we moved into our yoga practice. When we did practice together it felt very much like practicing alongside a demigod, huge beautiful sculpted feet, a frame so tall that in his sun salutes his hands brushed the ceiling. It was asking a New York City apartment a lot to hold space for this man.
The basic questions that guided this essay were – Tell me the story of your body and why you chose it? What is yoga to you? Why practice naked yoga?
Occupation: Research Scientist, Physician, Writer, Philosopher.
Norse and Slovak DNA directed the construction of my body 60 years ago after the union of my father’s seed with my mother’s ready egg. That early body suffered involuntary circumcision, a diet of processed and preserved foods, and obligatory church on Sunday dressed in the most uncomfortable clothing available. To compensate I spent a lot of time outdoors, at least until TV became popular enough to replace fun.
With the Sixties came new and interesting ideas from the East, yoga among them. My puberty dawned with the Age of Aquarius and my budding sexuality neatly parallels my education in yoga. Both began with a book.
Neither sex nor yoga should be learned from a book, but that was all we had. In my world depictions of sex and nudity were harshly censored. Today a young person can find pictures of naked people and sex acts. In 1965, we couldn’t. Sex education used no realistic illustrations, let alone that most powerful of all learning tools: the hands-on demonstration.
The anxiety I felt during Mr. Boydston’s 7th grade health class description of the process is still vivid. “The male inserts the penis into the female vagina. He performs a rocking motion until ejaculation occurs.” Insert tab A into slot B? Rocking motion? My god! I’ve been doing it wrong! What if I can’t get it right when I have to do this for real with my wife? What if she laughs at me?
It wasn’t until I saw my first explicit sex film in 1970 that I realized that sex would be fun and easy. And wouldn’t it have saved us all a lot of angst and bother if Mr. Boydston could have just shown us a clip in the first place?
My first book on yoga was fascinating but had no illustrations. It emphasized breathing and meditation rather than asanas. When I chanced upon a magnificent book by B. K. S. Iyengar, richly illustrated with actual photos of the yogi himself, I finally had something tangible to imitate. The breathing and meditation would come later, but a picture of an asana is worth a thousand OMs.
In college – at a Catholic university no less – I took my first yoga class the same year I advanced from sexual observer to participant. The teacher wove breathing and meditation into the asanas and the parts became whole. The teacher explained that yoga should be done in a sacred, calm place (we met in the chapel). She recommended wearing comfortable, loose clothing but then said, “Of course, it is best to wear nothing at all.” To this day I regret withholding the obvious question: “Then why aren’t we wearing nothing at all?”
Indeed, why do we wear clothes? For protection and decoration, to be sure, but why modesty? Is the body evil? Is self-disgust virtuous? Why do we hide for shame and punish people for the heinous crime of being seen naked? Why is there even a word for naked as a special condition? Why should activities naturally done naked require a special moniker? There are “nudists” but no “clothists”. There is “skinny dipping” but no “swimsuit dipping.” Why do we say “naked yoga” but not “clothed yoga?” It should go without saying that yoga is done naked unless otherwise modified.
Naked yoga has helped me in some measure to repair the damage that society’s body shame inflicted. I now not only feel completely normal when naked, I feel that way in the company of others. I now regularly enjoy mixed nude recreation such as the sauna, hot tubbing, skinny dipping, clothing-optional beaches and nudist parks. When everybody has their clothes off, it’s like nobody does.
But naked yoga offers more than mere recreation. The inward focus of yoga opens awareness. The constant chatter of the external world, mostly through the eye and ear gates, crowds out input from the nose, the tongue, the skin and the internal organs. That smothering of the senses is made worse when we truss our bodies up, preventing normal contact with air, sun and water. The wash of sensory feedback is necessary for our grounding, our orientation in the physical world. Indeed, a sense of self could not be possible apart from the framework of the environment, the non-self.
So naked yoga is the optimal way to enhance sensory feedback. It strengthens self-awareness and enriches the experience of social nude recreation. With the practice of naked yoga I’ve resolved over recent years to spend a little time out of doors naked every day. Others have joined me, one by one.
On an evening nude swim in a beautiful but public lake where nudity is technically unlawful, one of my fellow spirits noted that even if we told our colleagues what we do, they still wouldn’t believe it. We are exceptional – healthier, brighter, stronger, more beautiful – because we make decisions and act where others won’t. Courage defines us.
We are of the new old religion, the religion of Olympus. We are demigods, human children of divine origin. Not disembodied spirits; we are flesh, blood and bone that give rise to a brain that supports the soul, fanned by the spirit – the prana – of life-giving oxygen. Our cosmology is inverted, bottom upwards. The spirit arises from the soul, produced by the brain as an inseparable part of the body. Naked yoga links all three in perfect harmony. Naked yoga is the spade with which we dig ourselves free from the mud, wash ourselves, stretch our limbs and revel in our beauty.
But it takes courage. Just because you’re a god, doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at it.
I am always touched when a prospective naked church go-er chooses to write in and ask more questions and share their story of healing…
Here’s one that truly moved me.
My name is Ted and I’m a member of the YNA group. I just saw your recent posting about the worship service your church offers, and I would very much like to attend the services. I was raised into the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the church’s conservative stance on issues such as homosexuality just completely turned me off. It has been many years since I went to my church. When I saw your post and began reading about your church on The Sensual Shaman, I felt like I found the truth that I was searching for all these years. I 100% agree with everything that you wrote and I feel that God revealed His divine truth to you. I’ve been a nudist for many years now – and I agree that nudism is something to be celebrated. God created everyone nude – it is not something to be ashamed of. I love how your church is accepting of all people.
I’ve noticed from the post that the next worship service is June 26. What time does it begin? Where in Manhattan is it located?
During service, is there any liturgy that is followed or particular way of worship that your church practices (ex. Standing or kneeling or bowing down?) What is the proper way to greet you and Goddess Charmaine in church?
I apologize for so many questions – but I’m eager to learn more about your church and to be prepared to attend worship. Thank you very much in advance.
Thanks so much for your email and for your wonderful feedback. These are all really great questions that I think everyone could benefit from.
First of all we meet in midtown Manhattan between 5th Ave and 6th Ave (exact address given when you RSVP – next service is Wednesday June 26th @ 7pm-9pm)
Please bring a towel like you would to any naturist gathering.
Consider our church to be informal and celebratory and in support of group wisdom with first acknowledging that the divine lives in each of us and that we need no interpreter between us and the Source we call God or Goddess or The Divine other than our body and our own sense of deep listening and self-inquiry.
To greet Rev Goddess and I, just simply introduce yourself with a hug or a handshake. While we may identify as a shaman or a Reverend, we are not gurus, we are ordinary people just like you who have stories and life experiences similar to yours. We are moved to offer this work because it is an organic extension of who we are and the healing and ministry we embrace.
We’ll sit together in a circle on the floor for most of service, although we might dance, sing and speak in community to share collective wisdom.
Looking forward to sharing service with you soon!
Holy Body Worship, lovingly called “Naked Church” is a clothing optional worship service led by Rev. Goddess Charmaine and Isis Phoenix each month. Having recently abbreviated our name to ‘Naked Church’ we are taking this time to redefine that this continues to be a ‘clothing optional’ event.
Holy Body Worship is an Interfaith spiritual service that celebrates the intimacy and uniqueness of the body and soul relationship through honoring and acknowledging the body as a temple and recognizing it as the vessel our soul chose for incarnation. The option of being naked or skyclad during Service is used to further the expression of reverence and celebration of our body soul relationship to Source. Our bodies are miracles, beauty, complex ecosystems, walking art – each unique, holy and a piece of God/Goddess/Source. The ‘clothing optional’ is simply that – optional. You are never required to be nude during service. It is a matter of choice and truth in the present moment based on how your body feels and wishes to express itself. In service, we view nudity as a form of transparency and intimacy. We bare our soul’s and the places that have been hiding or living inauthentically and bring ourselves back to authenticity, transparency and one-ness. If we feel guarded when we remove our clothes it’s not a form of celebration and we’ve actually moved our relationship to body/soul/source out of union or one-ness and into fragmentation and inauthenticity. However, if you have felt guarded your entire life, perhaps this is the moment to experience your union and one-ness through exploring nudity, through moving through fear and embracing yourself ‘holy’ and completely in this moment.
In Holy Body Worship, we choose to be nude or to celebrate with others who are nude in order to explore a deeper level of intimacy with our bodies, our souls, each other, the divine. To remove that which keeps us separate – and to bring us back into right relationship with body, soul, Source. Whole-y Body Worship celebrates and takes a stand for the right to choose to worship your body naked or clothed or in any state of disrobe that feels appropriate to you in the present moment and also acknowledges that that decision may change from moment to moment. We invite you to ask yourself what makes you feel powerful, holy, wild, sensual, free, and totally you and to celebrate your body soul union from that place?
We look forward to sharing service with you soon!
A Road Within
The paths up the spiritual mountain are numerous. One could say we’re always on the path and that various paths may intersect or overlap as one spiritual tradition informs another. The path, inherently though is an individual one, a unique one-of-a-kind pilgrimage that is meant for only our feet to travel. The path is inevitably full of sharp turns, surprising twists, epic cliffhangers and brief periods of sublime sunlight filled road. An unusual twist up my own mountain revealed itself spontaneously one spring afternoon in 2007.
I was scheduled to teach a vinyasa yoga class that evening in Chelsea. I showered, toweled myself down and padded out to the living room of my midtown Manhattan apartment to get in a practice before I taught that evening. On a whim, I skipped putting on my standard yoga uniform of stretchy streamlining pants and a fitted ‘Namaste’ tank. Instead, I began my practice dressed the same as I came into the world, naked.
This sort of thing wasn’t entirely without precedent. In my early twenties, I apprenticed with a Celtic priestess and many of ye olde Pagan ritual gatherings were practiced skyclad, that is, naked for a spiritual purpose. At the same time, though, I never considered myself to be a nudist. I was not one who had to be naked in my home. I never had the impulse to seek out clothing optional events or to frequent a nude beach. Actually, I rather enjoyed clothes.
Why then did I suddenly feel drawn to the yoga mat sans clothes on that particular day? I didn’t stop to consider the question at the time. The body knew what the body wanted, the intuition knew what it wanted, and the intellect was content to let them have their way. I was alone, the blinds were drawn, and the mat and my practice awaited me.
I sat, closed my eyes and stilled my thoughts. My universe coalesced with my mat, my breath, my body and all her imperfections. An impulse for movement soon arose, leading me into a simple cat-and-cow warm-up on my hands and knees, arching and flexing my spine with each inhale and exhale, eyes still closed. I stretched my way back into downward-facing dog, opened my eyes and witnessed as my first thought arose. ‘So that’s why we wear spandex.’ My breasts hung like the udders of a cow in this pose and my belly sagged.
I put aside the implications and underpinnings of my inner critic and gave my full attention to my breathing and to the possibility of opening to a practice of loving kindness towards my body. I mean come on, if I could avoid eating meat as an effort towards the first yogic principle of ahimsa (non-violence), I could at least avoid violent thoughts towards my body for the next hour.
I began a simple sun salute, moving through familiar poses on my mat. As I breathed in each asana, time seemed to slow and my awareness seemed to deepen. There were no superficial layers keeping me separate at this point. Nothing with which to hide or conceal, fragment or compartmentalize. There was nothing to keep me from myself. This practice became a rigorous examination of self-study which ironically took me more and more out of my mind and deeper and deeper into my body.
My cultural conditioning began to unweave itself from the complex inner networkings of my brain and I began to move from a place of inner judgment to inner wonder. Parts of my body I had kept covered for years or had certain mental restrictions on were finding one-ness.
On this day, naked in my living room on my mat, my mind slowly began to free itself from fear and hostility towards this delicately balanced, acutely aware and deeply intelligent body. I began to observe my body in ways my cultural conditioning had never allowed me to previously. I watched parts of my body that I had judged harshly come alive and integrate as my inner critic was silenced. As I witnessed my body, naked in each pose, her stories and the judgments I held towards her, unraveled around me. I saw the thighs I had always covered, even to the extent of refusing to wear shorts for twenty years. I saw the breasts I had tried to enhance with underwires because I thought they were too wide-set and lacked proper clevage. I saw my belly round. I saw cellulite. I didn’t see the critic that said you have cellulite and said that’s bad. I simply saw what was, and I loved it. I loved it whole-y.
Naked and unified in each asana, I went deeper into my practice, knowing for the first time that there was nothing to judge or to reject in this body. My hands brushed past my nipples in Warrior One, and I realized I had nipples for the first time in my practice, not just a pressed down ‘uniboob’ in a sports bra. Wonder roused as I began to even smell my body for the first time – gentle soft smells of vanilla and earth.. Had I ever been aware of that scent before? Going deeper, I engaged in the wonder and explorations of physical discovery. This body was uncharted land, and I a first-time explorer.
I started to see how my body moved, the symbiosis of bones and muscles, the steady beat of my heart, the tides of blood and breath, the simple miracle of being in a human body. I then began to see my body through the eyes of love – preciousness and holiness, like a mother cradling her new born baby. An infinite sensitivity and tenderness arose in the practice. The experience was both transcendental and embodied, both sacred and secular.
I continued my practice.
During this, a curious realization came to me. I was experiencing, for the first time, real yoga. I had been practicing yoga regularly for five years at this point and had recently completed my yoga teacher training so the sudden insight that this unplanned happenstance was the first time I truly experienced yoga seemed absurd to me and a bit of a blow to the ego. What the hell had I been practicing for five years? Calisthenics? Absurdity, however, didn’t lessen its truth. The moment it happened, I knew. Everything I had previously thought to be yoga was now off the table. It was a moment that I can only describe as being like a very complicated lock that had been stuck for many years suddenly cracking open to reveal a secret portal to oneness.
Before that moment, I can say my yoga practice had been consistent but somewhat superficial. I had had specific goals: longer headstands, mastering complicated sequences, a practice of vegetarianism, attending classes three times a week, learning Sanskrit. Now, the door had swung open and everything that had fragmented my practice was revealed. It was like releasing the top of a pressure cooker. Shame, self-loathing, pride and judgment all rose to the surface and dissipated like hot steam. An opening and a healing occurred, a state of grace awakened, my spirit transformed and rested fully in her temple. For the next hour on my mat I was yoga.
Of course, I had many effective yoga practices before. I’d reached ephemeral moments of the transcendent states of Samadhi. The elusive ‘one with all that is’-ness touched me every so often, if only for a few breaths. But this day was different.
There was a sense of coming home and completeness, all the parts of me yoked together.
It was the most profound practice of my life. I arose from savasana with purpose, entirely transformed. I had found my path.
A Road Without
When one has a pivotal experience of a spiritual nature, the inner seeker records every iota of data about the experience and immediately makes plans to create an environment to repeat it. That was certainly my first impulse after my naked yoga epiphany. More please.
Of course, I could repeat the experience for myself whenever I wished needing only my mat and myself, but as a blossoming teacher I had a responsibility to my students and my community. There was a responsibility to serve. I couldn’t hoard my gold! I had just found salvation and it needed to be shared. I wanted to throw open the window to my New York City apartment and scream to anyone who would listen – Hey! Take your clothes off and breath and move! It’s great! I immediately began exploring options of how I could experience naked yoga in a group environment.
Like any good New Age spiritual seeker who has moments of transcendence, I turned to Google in search of a solution. If I could have experiences like this on my mat, how would a group class take me deeper? How could I repeat this experience? Back then, however, all the wise sage Google found me were some all-male classes that appeared to emphasize Tantric practices. Naturally, I felt somewhat excluded from those gatherings. So, as naked yoga had become my practice, the obvious next step was to form my own community. After a fearless yoga studio agreed to support me in my endeavors, I put out an announcement saying I would be offering a weekly class on a trial basis.
The response was instantaneous. I received an outpouring of inquiries including some from the press. Apparently, people were having similar experiences in their own living rooms. After teaching a few classes and doing more research, I soon discovered a small naturist community that was practicing bi-weekly and we merged classes. Our ritual for the practice of naked yoga was simple but profound. We began each class sitting in a circle clothed and sharing our names and our intentions as well as what brought us to this practice. The vulnerability in the group’s opening circle was profound. In each class, we moved from a group of strangers to a group on a pilgrimage for the sacred. The destination and the journey were both of the body and for the body.
Uniting as the practice was, the intentions brought to each class couldn’t have been more varied. Students ranged from those wanting to overcome shame and self-judgment to one-timers who saw a naked yoga class as a way of proving to themselves that they could do anything, and from advanced yogis exploring new techniques to deepen their practice, a core group of long-time naturists and the occasional creepy guy in the back. Often men arrived expecting to see a group of flexy blonde women only to find a group made up almost entirely of men who had the very same expectation. Yet most chose to stay in class, releasing that expectation and uncovering a deeper part of themselves.
The most uniting factor in the classes was the universal healing present for those attended. Naked yoga heals both the body and re-patterns the cultural conditioning the mind body relationship are recovering from.
I don’t have anything close to what society considers a ‘perfect body’. My breasts are small, my legs are large and powerful, my lower belly is round and feminine. However, in a private session, I had a man weep at how beautiful he thought I was. I suspect what he was really perceiving was my unqualified acceptance of both my own body and others. The love and acceptance that underpins a practice of conscious nudity gives others permission to love and accept themselves.
For three years, these classes were the crux of my self-discovery. Every time I thought I had the nudity thing down, a deeper layer would arise to examine. I experienced the challenge of how to honor my body and the practice while menstruating and teaching at the same time. I felt the vulnerability of doing a demo in front of a class with all eyes on me and my body. I felt hidden places of shame that, as I moved naked through the practice, continued to be revealed month after month.
My passion to press on through all these challenges has been continually fueled by the extraordinary experiences my students and fellow yogis allowed me to share. I have witnessed the dissolving of the boundaries that keep people separate or in a state of otherness. I have seen an orthodox Jewish man remove his prayer shawl and head covering before moving into downward facing dog and a Muslim man praying after his practice with the same devotion he offered to disrobing. I have seen women come in shy and leave empowered: a mother-and-daughter duo practicing side-by-side, a woman who somehow hadn’t known ours was a naked yoga class staying to practice with us anyway, and another bursting into tears while she publicly declaring that her right breast had never grown in and was enhanced cosmetically, and that this had been the first time she had ever been naked in front of anyone. I have seen people discover new areas of their bodies that they have never seen before, a freckle, a birthmark, flat feet. I have seen a handful of bodies so physically beautiful that I had to look away to stay present and move through the blush in my system. I have supported a yogi with cerebral palsy whose entire session was dedicated simply to disrobing. I have seen other wonderful teachers who have practiced with me become inspired enough to courageously begin their own naked yoga movements.
I have watched individuals confronting their fears and projections, challenging their sexual biases and prejudices, and questioning what nudity means to them. I have seen fear and trepidation, joy and celebration, unashamed erections, unapologetic tears and the rediscovery of the dignity of the human form. I have seen every body type and held space for all of their stories. I have gazed into the limitless compassion that lies at the heart of yoga.
I have no delusions that naked is the only way to practice yoga. The practice of yoga is, in itself, inherently transformative. For me, however, and for the many people I’ve shared my practice with, the fast track to transformation included nudity. I needed that much raw attention on my body to keep me both present and embodied and to transform the shadow of shame that follows having a body. Being naked brought me out of preconceptions of what yoga was or should be. One does not need to be naked to experience yoga, just as one does not need to practice yoga to reach enlightenment. There are many roads up the mountain.
This is mine and I walk it naked.
This is my practice.
This is my body.
This is my yoga.