Yoga has approximately four bajillion variations within its fitness umbrella. There’s vinyasa, yoga nidra, kundalini yoga, mandala yoga, ashtanga, bikram, goat yoga, and the list goes on and on (and on). Rounding out how flexible the options for practicing out there are (see what I did there?) is, of course, naked yoga.
Naked yoga, as you’d probably imagine, is like regular yoga sans leggings… and shirt… and sports bra… and, yeah, underwear, too (though you can wear these if you want). It’s not something that’s just offered as an exercise class at nudist colonies, but it’s actually done in naked yoga studios all over the United States, and it’s been around for a while now. “It’s not a fad,” says Willow Merveille, yogi and founder of Naked in Motion, which offers classes in New York, Seattle, and Boston. “It’s been practiced for centuries.”
In actuality, naked yoga looks just like regular yoga (with bare bodies), but the purpose behind it is more abstract than just getting your flow on. “There’s heightened self-awareness and freedom,” says Monika Werner, yogi and co-founder of Bold and Naked, a studio in New York City. “You have to experience it for yourself, but the freedom of movement, the energy of the class, and the openness and increased self-awareness are the main benefits.”
Before you actually start practicing the yoga, it’s typical for a naked yoga class to begin with a clear explanation of rules. “At Naked in Motion, we read our rules out loud before every single class,” says Merveille. “That’s a key feature for us, and one of the ways we push our mission forward. We want to set clear boundaries and expectations for people’s behavior because we want a safer space.” Typical naked yoga-specific rules include things like consent for touch corrections, no comments or compliments on how people look, no cellphones, anonymity, and to come with respect for others. “We welcome people with bodies of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, genders, sexual orientations, experience levels, and we expect you to treat others with respect,” says Merveille.
“The fact that you’re naked is the last thing on you’re mind because you’re just trying to breathe in the pose.” —Willow Merveille
Once you’ve disrobed, you can expect to immediately feel more aware of your body as you flow. “At first, you’ll definitely be thinking: ‘Oh my god, I’m naked in a room full of people,'” says Merveille. “The hope is that that dissipates after a while. You’re naked, which is apparent for the first five or so minutes. After you start moving, 10 minutes pass and you’re in Warrior II or holding a chair pose for five breaths and your quads are burning, and the fact that you’re naked is the last thing on your mind because you’re just trying to breathe in the pose.”
Though it’s obviously nerve-wracking (since most people aren’t used to being nude in public, y’know), the yogis behind naked yoga studios say that practicing without distractions (like falling-down leggings or a too-tight sports bra) can help you to focus. “Many people find that being naked makes movement easier,” says Merveille, who tells me she now finds clothed yoga too distracting because of all of the adjustments that come along with it, and I can understand that. Stripping down to bare your skin might make you feel vulnerable, but without distractions, the attention that you can pay to your body and your practice can allow you to pay such close attention to form and precision that you’re able to do things you thought weren’t possible.
The real beauty of practicing yoga in your own body—rather than showing up in your favorite printed yoga pants—is that it’s equalizing.
While naked yoga might seem all about external factors (like not wearing clothes), the mind-body connection is actually what the practice is aiming to strengthen. “You can expect to be embraced in the community without judgment—I’ve never met more open-minded and amazing people as I have in my naked yoga class,” says Werner. “We started offering naked yoga to allow everybody to show up as they are without having to hide behind masks, and clothing is part of that mask. We are all the same anyways.”
The real beauty of practicing yoga in your own body—rather than showing up in your favorite printed yoga pants—is that it’s equalizing. “We all have bodies, and we can learn to accept them. By literally taking it all off, there’s nowhere to run and hide—you have to face your belly, your stretch marks, your scars, your acne,” says Merveille. “By being around others in a class like this, you can’t help but see other human bodies and how they’re similar. Naturally, it becomes less scary and it can be a very powerful process for people to reclaim their bodies.”