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.
I 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.
What 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?