Society

WEB EXTRA: Yoga instructor Sarah Atkinson on the appeal of nude yoga

This Q&A explores nude yoga, as written about in an article published as part of Exposed!, a collection of articles about everything under the sun, which was printed in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.
Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne chats with Bare-Roots teacher Sarah Anne Atkinson of Bliss Yoga & Thai Massage, who has practised asana (physical postures) for seven years, about the appeal — and challenges — of nude yoga.
Sarah Atkinson is an instructor with Bare-Roots Yoga
Sarah Atkinson is an instructor with Bare-Roots Yoga. Atkinson and Stef Caissie are co-organizers at Bare-Roots Yoga.
When did you get involved with Bare-Roots?
Shortly after its debut in May of 2014 I joined a class led by Teresa Splinter.  The class was a refreshing change from what else was being offered in Ottawa.
And why?
My partner encouraged me to check it out as we have done other activities nude. I liked the message that was being cultivated in a sacred space allowing our true selves to exist around total strangers.  I also enjoy the community that is forming out of the yoga group.
How has Bare-Roots affected your yoga practice?
I have gained so much self confidence as a teacher and as a student. It is part of a growing practice to let thoughts in the mind go. It is even more challenging to do this while nude. The inner critic plays over and over about body image and imperfections. I am so grateful to this practice for allowing me to let go of my negative self-image issues.
Would you call yourself a naturist? Have you attended any naturist activities outside of Bare-Roots?
A naturist is a person who is comfortable with nudity and prefers to do most activities nude and spend time at home or out with others. I am a very proud naturist, a member of ON/NO (Ottawa Naturist/Naturiste d’Outaouais). I enjoy not only practising yoga in the nude but also tanning in the sun and most times at home with my partner.
What, if anything, surprised you about the experience of nude yoga?
I think that it surprises me how many people are new to yoga coming to BareRoots.

Do you attend (or lead) conventional yoga classes? If so, how do you find them different?
I attend yoga classes at Rama Lotus on Gladstone. I teach classes at La Tropiqua in Hintonburg twice weekly. I also give one-on-one lessons to people wanting to grow their practice outside of a group setting.
Who would you recommend try nude yoga?
People with body issues, people who are disconnected to their sexual selves, people wanting to form a connection to their inner truth, people looking to connect to community.
Why do you think there are more men interested in nude yoga than women?
The ratio in the OTA (Open To All) classes is generally more males than females.  We do also offer 50/50 ratio classes in which the number of participants is equal males and females. I think part of the trend of low female registration has a lot to do with body shaming and media images. It is hard in this day and age for a woman who embraces her sexual self and loves her nude body to not hear judgments of her behaviour.  Men tend not to fall victim to the idea of body shaming and worry less about what others think.
What would you say to someone who is interested in trying nude yoga but nervous about the way they look naked? What about those worried about disrespectful classmates?
We create a sacred space for all people to enjoy nude yoga in a safe environment.  We use curtains to aid in ambiance, ask participants to close their eyes in many poses and start each session in savasana as to ground ourselves and guide the attention inward.
What are your personal goals for your yoga practice?
I am going to be taking my acro teacher training in the fall of this year. I want to continue to explore the meditative sides of yoga and have signed up for a summer Vipassana (a 10-day silent retreat).  I see that yoga helps me attain the best person I can be. I feel so honoured to teach this practice that has helped me attain freedom and spread joy!