CLAIRE MASON DISCOVERS THAT EXERCISING IN THE BUFF CAN FEEL LIKE THE MOST NORMAL THING IN THE WORLD
I went to a co-ed naked yoga class’
for years, I’d been searching for an exercise regime that suited me. Gym memberships were paid for but left unused, and swimming costumes languished in my wardrobe with the tag still attached. Eventually, a neurological disorder forced me to get more serious about my health and an experimental visit to a yoga class convinced me I’d found my fitness home. Within months, I’d noticed an improvement in my wellbeing and was able to cut down on the medication I was taking.
Over time, I’ve remained an eager yoga nut but have been inconsistent in its practice. I knew I needed to get excited again about going to yoga regularly. By chance, an article in a Sunday newspaper on naked yoga caught my eye.It sounded radical in the hippest – and hippiest – sense of the word. (The ancient practice of nagna yoga has been around for aeons and became popular again in the ’60s.) I agonised about whether I could do a class in the buff and it was only when I found out that I was heading to London on an extended trip for work, and a world-famous naked yoga class runs in that city, that I felt the decision had been made.
Before attending the class, I had the idea that it would be full of ‘earthy’ women, which soothed my nerves somewhat. But when I arrived, any such reassurance was quickly dispelled, as male after male arrived. Initially they were clothed, as we all were, but instructions were quite clear as to when to lose the garments (before you enter the studio) and I gulped to think of all the penises on display. While I’d love to say I was nonchalant as I took my place on my mat, I was really taken aback at seeing all these naked bodies standing around. The regulars didn’t seem to be fazed at all, but one other young woman and I were clearly new to this class. We gave ourselves away by staring at a spot on the floor and looking anywhere but at our fellow yoga lovers.
As the class began, I found a little courage to look up from the floor and focus on the teacher’s instructions. Doing so naturally brought others in the class into view. We were standing in a horseshoe shape and were fairly close to each other. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t glance at other people’s genitals. The whole history of feminism was chronicled in varying ‘lady gardens’. And of course there were the male bits and pieces, manifested in every shape and size. What was more startling was to see women’s bodies naked in this relaxed environment, rather than draped over a car or wrapped around a beer bottle, or however else advertising uses the (near) naked female form to sell products.This class struck me as one of the only places where naked male and female bodies have an equal status. We’re used to seeing women cavorting almost or fully in the nude in pop culture, but the naked male is still rare in the mainstream.
The curiosity, however, quickly wore off. In fact, I was astounded by just how quickly. By the second or third pose, it became much more interesting to see a contour created by a limb as it stretched beyond its usual comfort zone than to think about naked bums.And by the fifth pose, I felt relaxed about all of us being naked together. (I was relieved, though, that the teacher removed some of the more explicit poses from the series we practised, in order to retain a little modesty. There are some things that you just don’t want to see.)
As I attended more classes, I began to take it all in my stride. I’m hesitant to describe the experience as spiritual, since what is spiritual for one person is not for another, and it’s become a hackneyed term to describe anything that’s vaguely alternative. But I’d describe the process as very natural. Partly because the class is conducted with people in their most basic covering, but also because of the gentle way the class unfolds. A yoga class is not the likely place for people’s aggression to come to the fore, but doing it naked eliminates all aspects of human nature that are hard and cynical. I was reminded how beautiful our bodies are and how seldom we are loving and kind towards them. Mine is entering its mid-thirties and shows signs of the sedentary desk job I have. I can be critical of its foibles, but looking at it stretch and pose while naked gave me a sense of compassion that I haven’t felt for a long time.