People & Places

Nude yoga? A revealing look at a clothes-free class

This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

I knew what I was getting into, but that didn’t change the fact that my heart was in my throat as I entered the class. The lights were dim, and a few men stood — clothed — chatting about whatever yogis chat about before class. I didn’t step inside, simply waved awkwardly, dropped my yoga mat, and headed to the bathroom to regain my composure.

I had been told that participants begin the session clothed, but it still seemed strange to enter the peaceful space in jeans and a hoodie, so I slipped into tights, a sports bra, and a long-sleeved top. Somehow that made me feel more prepared for the next step — taking it all off.

Back in the studio, the class was still in chat mode. It’s a fairly new group, and organizers are still working on ways to establish a 50:50 ratio of men to women. Turns out that while the average yoga class is dominated by female participants, nude yoga is much more popular with men. As such, women-only classes are organized and often other steps are taken to encourage female participation (for example, the first class is free for women). Women, it seems, are a hot commodity at nude yoga.

While peeling off the layers, I note that I am not feeling embarrassed; instead, it’s that feeling I get when, halfway through getting dressed, I realize the curtains are open.

Which made me feel a little hot to be standing in a dimly lit room about to disrobe in front of four male strangers.

But first, more talk. Still dressed, we gather in a semicircle and take turns revealing our background with yoga and naturism (the term nudists prefer to describe clothing-free behaviour). Like some in the class, I am very interested in yoga and enjoy its benefits. Others seem more drawn to the naturism aspect and are curious about yoga.

On a cue from the teacher, we undress and lie down in shavasana (otherwise known as corpse pose, which basically describes its supine position). While peeling off the layers, I note that I am not feeling embarrassed; instead, it’s that feeling I get when, halfway through getting dressed, I realize the curtains are open. Yes, it’s possible that some neighbour four blocks away is peering through a telescope for a two-second glimpse of my half-naked body. But am I going to get dressed again to cross the room and allay my fears? No, I won’t feed that paranoia.

As in any good yoga class, the shavasana does wonders to ground me and get me focused on my inner self. The class continues with more postures that emphasize meditation and breath work. Occasionally, we are told to keep our eyes closed, which I find interesting because in recent (conventional) yoga classes, I have found myself closing my eyes. Somehow, it helps me think more about my breath and the tensions I’m holding onto; it also prevents me from comparing my own practice to that of my classmates. In this class, when I do have to check my posture against that of the instructor, I note that I am in a relaxed, inward-looking state that can be compared only to the late stages of a long-distance race, when I’m about to hit the wall and wasting no energy on outside distractions.

Otherwise it is much like any other yoga class. I occasionally glance at the clock, my mind travels to my to-do lists and other external distractions, and I probably try to push my stretches too far.

One of the key messages from the class I attended was to know that there is discomfort and to be okay with it. It can be applied to yoga — or running or any difficult task — and it was the perfect takeaway for my first nude yoga class. Yes, there is always going to be a moment of awkwardness when disrobing. Perhaps that’s part of the fun — the awakening, if you will.

As a journalist, I step outside my comfort zone fairly often. On any given day, I find myself diving into subjects I’ve never heard of and entering hole-in-the-wall spaces where people practise eccentric arts. These situations call for an open mind and a whole lot of confidence. This wasn’t much different. Yes, it took place in a more physical way than, say, learning the rules of underwater hockey (didn’t try that one), but it offered a glimpse into a community that generally exists — or is thought to exist — on the fringes of society. It was an appealing glimpse, and I might go back.