Great article by NICOLA JANE HOBBS
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.
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.
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,
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.
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 is currently teaching Nude Yoga at Release in Asbury Park. To inquire about Anya’s New Jersey based naked yoga classes email firstname.lastname@example.org
For private naked yoga sessions with Isis Phoenix in New York City email: email@example.com
My time with the amazing Lindsay Abromatis-Smith has always left me somewhat altered. She is someone who exists primarily in the magical world. Just being around her, or in her home in the Bronx is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole. I walk into her home and things are … different. There is a a palpable shift of energy. I speak slower, I feel more. Puppets, sculptures of found objects and theatrical masks line the walls. There is a coffee table made solely of toothpicks suspending from the ceiling.
My first meeting with Lindsay was when she came to sing for a candlelit naked yoga class I was teaching in 2008. Her presence was magnetic. She is someone eyes are naturally drawn towards who holds a certain element of other-worldly mystery and magic. Over the last few years, I have come to know Lindsay as one of the most in touch physical body artists I have ever witnessed. Her body and spirit are palpably plugged into other dimensions from which she sources and creates her art. In her presence, I come to know my own body and spirit more intimately.
This is the first in a series of interviews with individuals who have embraced the practice of naked yoga and have a transformative story to tell about their relationship to their body and conscious nudity. Thank you for taking the time to read them.
Celebrating Our Holy Bodies,
When I’m naked, I don’t have anything holding me back from being in myself. I love the sensory organ of skin. I like my skin touching things.
I’m a puppeteer. One of the biggest loves of my life is puppetry.
I grew up in a physical theatre family. The body was always seen as the vessel for story telling. There’s a surrender that I have to undergo, in order to make the puppet be alive. I have to step away from my ego and surrender to the will of the thing I am holding. It can be a very spiritual experience witnessing my body and how it works this other body.
Right now my body temple is having some upheavals. I was recently diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease. My head and my hips are not talking to each other. My body’s impulse for movement is disappearing. My wiring is all messed up. Muscles seem to be totally disappearing in different places.
I’m learning how to slow down and refocus on my body. I’m re-learning how to take care of her. I don’t know if I’m redefining what I consider my body temple or going to a different level with it right now.
I no longer hold so true to the idea that the only way to tell a story is through movement. I’m falling in love with words again and relying on my thoughts and my words to articulate stories so they’re equal with what my body can say. Perhaps I was relaying to heavy on the physical body rather than the mental body. I’ve been doing a lot of work inside of myself and I’m coming to terms with physically manifesting in a different way.
On days when movement is available, I get down on the ground and roll and undulate and do movements in my spine and lots of spirals. My body is drawn towards moving in spirals. I try to put my head on the ground as much as possible, sometimes it feels like I have a magnet in my head, it wants to be near the Earth. Sometimes I need to absorb the Earth energy into my skull and brain and that will help calm my nerves down. My body sometimes forces me to be in the state of bowing down to a higher power. I’m slowing down to my truer nature to hear what’s underneath stuff that I wasn’t able to hear before. I walk with a cane my dad made me that has arrowheads and fairy hair in it. I have a pink wheel chair now that I lovingly call ‘the pink stallion.’ It is my unicorn chariot, designed by two puppet maker friends so that I may sit inside of the unicorn in its heart center. It is a surrendering of self locomotion and a transition into articulating to someone else how I want to be moved through space. It also makes me feel like a magic fairy queen!
Even in this time of very powerful body transformation, I want to say to my body ‘Thank you. I love you. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep going.’
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!
In 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?
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
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.