Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

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.

Claire Ma­son

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