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Nudist Equity – Why Providing the Option to Wear Bottoms in Naked Yoga for Women and Transfolk is a Political Statement.

Isis of Naked Yoga Alliance interviews Willow, founder of Naked in Motion

Nudist Equity – Why Providing the Option to Wear Bottoms in Naked Yoga for Women and Transfolk is a Political Statement.

 I had the delight of interviewing Willow of Naked in Motion, who is currently teaching naked yoga and Pilates classes for all genders in New York City.

Tell us a little about yourself.

nimwildI go by Willow. I’m from a small conservative town. I was a dancer and a performer so movement has always been of interest to me. I’ve been teaching Pilates for over two years and have recently added yoga to my teaching repertoire. The conservative environment I grew up in was filled with body negativity and sex negativity. My mission is to change the way people feel about themselves to make the world a more peaceful place. It’s about starting a dialogue between oneself and one’s body through movement. We block these lines of communication through clothes to shield our insecurities and also belief patterns that assert that we’re not enough. This is about opening that channel back up again to find self-compassion.

 What inspired you to teach a naked class?

I began co-teaching with a male partner of mine. Now I do it by myself. I never thought I would ever do anything like this, but I’m a very sex-positive and body-positive person. I don’t too offer much of the spiritual side of yoga and I don’t require anyone to be on any specific level. You don’t have to be fit, be thin or even able-bodied. There are all kinds of people and they say how helpful this practice is for them. This is more than yoga. It’s about a personal journey you take with yourself. It challenges messages that the media gives you, challenges fears. This practice takes the journey inward and you have an opportunity to really learn a lot about yourself.

Did you grow up in a body-positive or nudist-friendly household?

I grew up in a household with people struggling with their weight, and there was a lot of body shaming around this issue. It was hard to watch family members be so hard on themselves. I happen to be a skinny, white woman, but it’s almost entirely due to genetics, and I recognize the privilege in this. Because of my upbringing, I have great empathy for those who are struggling with feelings of shame about their weight, and it fuels my passion to create safe spaces where they can learn to love themselves. If you berate your body all the time, it’s not going to cooperate. Our culture has a fat phobia. We are fed so many images of thin, in-shape photoshopped people who are pretty and we think in our minds that that’s the only thing that is attractive and acceptable. In my classes, there are all different body types and we all have rolls and wrinkles. I think a class like this makes one less judgmental of people in one’s everyday life – especially around body size. I have more compassion for people and myself after having taught this class, and I know many of my students feel the same way.

What is your current class schedule?

I teach a weekly class in New York City and will be adding more and I have a monthly women’s and transgender class.

nimbluemainWhat can someone expect when they show up to your naked yoga class?

I attract people who are comfortable with social nudity and also attract newbies who are scared or nervous. In order to create a safe space, I make it clear to people what is expected of them. You come in and you still wear your clothes. I go over the rules so people know what’s expected of them. I ask for consent before touching a student to make a correction in their posture. Identity within the class is kept confidential. I discuss erections so people know what to do, and also to make them less of a big deal. I inform people that this is not a space for cruising or to pick up a date. Sobriety is a rule. And everyone gets naked as a whole. We begin dressed and then we disrobe together. I do some meditation followed by yoga and some Pilates. The classes are candle lit and are in low lights. The windows are blocked off for privacy.

What is the current demographic that is showing up at naked yoga?

The demographic is heavier on the male side. It can be up to 40% women but tends to rest more in the 25-30% area. More men in general show up to naked events. There are reasons why women are typically more timid about coming to my events and afraid of social nudity. Sexual abuse, objectification and assault are unfortunately a daily reality for many women, so the lower female participation doesn’t surprise me at all. I was a little scared when I first tried it myself and I was the teacher.

Is nudity required in your class?

Full nudity used to be mandatory, however, women emailed about the possibility of wearing bottoms. After a while of teaching it occurred to me that I want more people to experience this practice, not just the people who are privileged enough to feel safe enough. When I offered the possibility that women and trans identifying folks could wear bottoms to class for any reason, the gender ratio became much more balanced. There are some issues that I think should be examined in the nudist community around this. Women have been kicked off of nudist beaches for wearing bottoms when they are on their periods. Cisgender men cannot know what it is like to menstruate. This mandatory nudity rule felt like part of the patriarchy trying to be in control of women’s bodies. Women and trans folk can wear bottoms for any reason. It is required that cisgender men are nude for class.

If nudist communities continue to exclude women on the basis of menstruation, we are never going to get close to a less patriarchal society. I also invite transgender people to use or wear anything that they need to affirm their gender. I’ve got criticism from men about these new rules. I want to explain myself to men and be the source of education about this issue. Everybody wants more women to be present in these classes. When there are more women, people feel safer. It is in everyone’s best interest to have more women present in class. When women take off their tops, they are already participating in nudity. When men take off their tops, they are not. You can see male joggers without tops and it feels normal. If a woman were to be jogging topless, it would not be seen as normal, she would be seen as nude. The bottoms policy gives the message to people after centuries of oppression that I am allowing you to experience this is in the way that makes you feel safe. There is nothing equal about the experience of a man and a woman naked in a space together. Nothing. That doesn’t exist. My bottoms rule is about equity, and it gives a marginalized and oppressed group tools that they need to have a successful experience. Equity in this space gives those marginalized groups more privilege and something to make them feel safer. It doesn’t mean that more people wear bottoms in class. This new rule says, I understand where you are coming from and I support you.

Tell me about a memorable experience of a class that’s touched your heart:

A woman who had recently lost a lot of weight wanted to reward herself by coming to class. At the end of class, she told me that she used to hate her breasts. She thought coming to class would be about celebrating her weight loss, but being forced to look at her breasts for the entire class, she confided in me that maybe there was nothing wrong with them after all and she could grow to love them.

Who do you hope to attract to your classes?

I want to attract the people who want to grow in their compassion or empathy. Everyone has some kind of limitation – physical, mental, emotional. This practice provides an internal dialogue with your body to figure out what’s going on. It’s an opportunity to figure out how to communicate with your body on your journey. I want to attract people who never thought they’d ever come to a social nude event, people who want to challenge themselves and explore the possibility for compassion and empathy.

 What are your hopes and dreams for Naked In Motion?

I want this to be a national phenomenon. Pushing all kinds of buttons, converting people who never thought they would do this kind of thing. I want people to learn about themselves. Our motto is “Join the movement” – we’re moving our bodies and we’re also a political movement. Success for me is starting a movement where more people of all genders and all body types are more comfortable and willing to try it out. Success for me is more people ready to take an internal journey, ready to listen to themselves and take care of themselves.

What advice would you give to someone who is curious but also nervous or scared about trying naked yoga?

You are the perfect candidate. If you are nervous, or think you’re too insecure or not something enough for this class, then you are the perfect person to come and experience this class and this practice. This is a place for everybody to explore that fear and self-criticism with kindness. Maybe you’ll feel less alone. We all have limitations and self-criticisms.

Where can people who are interested find out more about your classes?

http://www.nakedinmotion.com

‘Women Complicate Things’ for Naked Yoga in Boston.

I celebrate my naked woman's body in yoga

I celebrate my naked woman’s body in yoga

My Feathers are ruffled and my inner women’s rights activist is pissed.

I was politely added to the skycald naked yoga group in Boston per my request and then told I would not be able to participate in classes because of my woman’s body, meaning I have a vulva. I was told by the instructor ‘women “complicate” things.’ What I am hearing in that is that, we can’t be bothered to evolve our facilitation skills to hold space for a mix gendered group. The group write up prides itself on being naturist based with naturist values and to not have a focus on sex or a sexual experience. It is a listed as a group for ‘people’ not just men who practice naked yoga. At least be transparent that you’re a men’s group.

A couple of things come up for me in this – The very real inquiry of why there are seemingly so many more naked yoga classes for men? Next, why these classes then profess to be not sexually focused? By the very fact of excluding an entire gender you have now made it a very sexual focus by saying if your sex is a certain way you can’t participate. The entire aspect of this particular constellation of ‘people’ now becomes all about having and being a certain sex.

This remains a timeless inquiry for me. I was really hoping Boston would have a more progressive movement going.

Any Boston or Massachusetts dwellers want to start a gender-inclusive naked yoga practice with me this summer?

Abigail Ekue Reinvents Mainstream Beauty

Abigail celebratesAbigail 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

AbigailI’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.

Abigail 2I 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.

Abigail writes about her experience in naked yoga here

More about Abigail click here

 

Healing Food Addiction Through Yogic Self-Study

Anya’s story is one that has touched and moved me so deeply. It hits close to home for me as a woman growing up with the challenges of body dysmorphia and confusion around food as nourishment. Her path is fearlessly transparent and deeply self-inquiring. I am so grateful for all that she has chosen to share here. My hopes are that when we tell our stories and lay ourselves bare we create an entry point of unconditional love and universal transformation for the highest light and love possible. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Love & Blessings,

Isis Phoenix

http://www.sensualshaman.com

Name: AnyaAnya 2

Age: 48

Occupation: Yoga Teacher, Counselor

I’m just starting to put myself out there as a teacher of naked yoga. Naked yoga is not just about taking off your clothes. It’s about taking off your belief systems and, more importantly, realizing just what beliefs you’ve been wearing.

There was a lot of duality for me growing up. I grew up in Italian Jewish family and food was a big part of our lives. It was an eateateat culture, but in this culture it was also expected that you had to thin. In my family, food was a form of both reward and punishment.

From my parents and grandparents, I felt judgment and disdain for people who were overweight. If I wasn’t thin, I wasn’t good enough and no one would love me. How does one eat and be thin?

With those dualities in me, I became bulimic. I used to go from McDonalds, Burger King, 7-11, eat as much as I possibly could and then throw up. The binging numbed my sense of not feeling good enough. I was a train wreck with food for most of my life because of the bulimia. I never felt in control over what I would eat and was in a constant cycle of binging, purging and not eating. I was like a heroin addict when it came to eating. As I look back, there was a lot of undoing to do, to create peace and contentment and acceptance within myself. I have a tremendous amount of compassion for people who are caught up in food addiction.

The practice of yoga has been a wonderful tool on my healing journey. This next step of practicing nude yoga has made me feel more comfortable in my body than I ever have.

Yoga is a process. Nude yoga is a process. I discovered naked yoga sort of by accident. One day, I happened to do yoga in my home yoga studio before getting dressed and discovered how different the practice felt without clothes on. It wasn’t a planned experiment. It just happened. And instantly I felt more open in my body, more deeply connected to my inner self, and more able to radiate my energy. It started organically and it then began to gradually happen more regularly. I found I continued to be drawn to go into my yoga room to practice without clothes. There was a deeper drawing that my body and soul wanted to experience in this practice.

What yoga does is give me a new awareness of my body. It gives me a space in which to attune to myself, and part of that is noticing what foods don’t work for me. Yogic principles of mindfulness help me recognize what my body feels called to eat and predict how I will feel after that. I didn’t learn those lessons on the first try. It took a lot of time and awareness and patience. I have a lot more awareness now but know I still have a long way to go.

Cultivating my relationship with the inner witness to my body’s needs has become one of the strongest lessons I’ve learned through yoga. There are different qualities to this witness. I’ve learnt to see her unconditional love, her acceptance and her great sense of humor. Because I spent so many years with negative thoughts and emotions controlling my mind, the inner witness took a long time to emerge from her shell. But now she has, I can see that all that negative programming is not who I am. I can choose what’s right for me in any moment.

No one knows your body the way you do. Each day the body is different, each year it evolves. What we need to eat and how we need to eat changes as well. There’s no expert other than yourself and your body. That lesson also took some time to sink in. At first, I attempted to heal my food addiction through consulting experts in the field. That basically turned my addiction to bad foods into an addiction to raw foods, vegetarian diets or veganism. I was just as mentally sick on these diets as I was eating McDonalds. I don’t think being vegan or a raw food-ist is the answer if it’s just a swap of one addiction for another.

Just as my yoga benefited from removing my clothes, my relationship with food was strengthened by removing labels, food belief systems and ‘right diet’ concepts so I could focus on my own personal balance. This was so important in the process. Now, I eat raw food on some days and cooked meat on others because I can feel what my body needs and wants on a day-to-day basis. I can choose what’s right for me in any moment. Eating as simply as possible works best for me, but I’m attuned to my needs. I have become empowered to be my own body’s expert.

Anya 4 Anya 1 This empowerment grew alongside the increased body consciousness I found in naked yoga. For me now, teaching nude yoga is about self-study as well as deconstructing imprisoning belief systems. You can’t get out of a prison if you don’t know you’re in one. Most of us don’t know it. We’re just there. The first step is finding what imprisons you. Come to where you are in the present moment and love that, whatever it looks like. I know sometimes it’s hard to love things that seem ugly to us, but begin to love yourself just as you are in the present moment, no matter what it looks like. Put your own needs ahead of pleasing someone else. Practice self-awareness and self-study.

Each person comes to the mat with the work that they need to do. When teaching naked classes, I want to create a space where each person can receive their work, let go of imprisoning belief systems and thought forms, and find their unique truth, so they can feel truly comfortable in their body with or without clothes on.

Anya 3When I’m practicing or teaching naked yoga, so often it doesn’t feel like it’s my decision to be doing it. It feels as if it’s being worked through me by a much greater and wiser force.

Anya is currently teaching Nude Yoga at Release in Asbury Park. To inquire about Anya’s New Jersey based naked yoga classes email anyasholistic@gmail.com

For private naked yoga sessions with Isis Phoenix in New York City email: sensualshaman@gmail.com

Naked Yoga: Apparently what was practiced on Mt. Olympus!

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?

Lloyd Name: Lloyd

Occupation: Research Scientist, Physician, Writer, Philosopher.

Age: 61

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?

Lloyd 1970s Naked Yoga

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.

Lloyd Warrior 2So 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.

~ Lloyd

Naked Yoga ~ A Story of Transformation by Isis Phoenix

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.

Isis Phoenix Naked Yoga

 

 

 

Naked Yoga: A Path to Self-Acceptance

nakedyoga classjpgIn working on the Naked Yoga Book,  I presented a series of contemplative questions and writing prompts that I listed on my website for individuals to ponder over who were interested in telling their story.  Last night I received this beautiful and vulnerable email from a lovely Pakistani man.  I was moved so much by his response, I wanted to share.

Tell me the story of your body.

I use to be overweight prior to high school. I would be bullied for being a fat, nerdy paki.

I remember holding my chest from bouncing around the pool during school trips in the summer.

During my stay in Pakistan I lost a lot of weight and came back to Canada. People I knew couldn’t recognize me after I had lost all that weight.

I started to workout and liked the attention I was getting. My cousin dared me by saying “Pakis can’t get a six pack” so I began working out 6 days a week and became a fitness model.

I thought I looked great and felt like crap because I was dehydrating myself to look more ripped for photoshoots and casting events.

Now I have gained some weight and am not so obsessed with the GQ look. I am a yogi and I love my body as it is the perfect gift for me from my Maker!

Why did your soul choose this body?

Because it knew it was the perfect shape, size and color to allow me to experience all that I intended in this lifetime.

What is yoga to you?  How has naked yoga transformed your life?

Yoga is life to me. Yoga means union and to me life is about looking past illusions to remember our oneness with all that is. 

Naked yoga gave me a venue to express my love for the body I have while daring myself not to look to impress anyone with an image that I adopted from some magazine.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your body over the years?

I am perfect.

What struggles have you faced being an embodied soul in your particular body?

Being overweight

Eating out of depression

Starving my body to look good

Severe allergies and hives

Car accident leading to 6 herniated disks

Getting better through love and yoga

 – Ali