Naked Yoga & How It Changed My Yoga Practice
Guest Blog by: Isis Phoenix
Naked Yoga – I towel dried my hair and sans clothes, I padded barefoot to my living room and rolled out my yoga mat. I wanted to get a practice in before teaching yoga in the evening. It was the spring of 2007. For some reason on this particular day I didn’t bother to put on the normal stretchy pants and fitted top that accompanied my yoga practice. I opted for the fashion of ‘au naturel’ instead of streamlining spandex. It was a whim. I wasn’t what one would consider a nudist. I didn’t have to be naked in my home, nor was I one to seek out clothing-optional events. I had never been to a nude beach. For some reason on that day, however, I decided to practice yoga without clothes. I was alone in my New York apartment. It was the middle of the afternoon. The blinds were closed and I was alone – my mat, my breath, my body and all her imperfections. I sat, closed my eyes, and stilled my thoughts. The impulse for movement arose that lead me into a simple cat-and-cow movement on my hands and knees – arching and flexing my spine with each inhale and exhale – eyes closed. I stretched my way back into downward-facing dog. I was naked. My breasts hung like the udders of a cow in this pose and my belly sagged. So that’s why we wear spandex, I thought. I breathed.
I began a simple sun salute, moving through the familiar poses on my mat. In this sun salute I experienced for the first time what I would call yoga. Let me explain. I had been practicing regularly for three years and had recently completed my yoga teacher training. To say that this happenstance experience, naked in my living room was the first time I experienced yoga was absurd to me. However, the moment it happened I knew. Anything I thought was yoga before was now off the table. It was a moment that I can only explain as that of a very complicated lock that had been stuck for many years lining up and suddenly cracking open to reveal a secret portal to oneness. Before that moment I can say my yoga practice had been consistent but somewhat superficial. I had tangible goals – longer headstands, mastering complicated sequences, a practice of vegetarianism, attending classes three times a week, learning Sanskrit. In this moment, however, the doors swung open and everything that was fragmenting my practice was revealed. Shame, self-loathing, pride, judgment all rose to the surface and dissolved and my spirit in this moment transformed, and rested fully in her temple. It was like releasing the top of a pressure cooker, thoughts, beliefs and judgments flew out like hot steam and in the next moment, there was just space and good cooked food inside. My soul rested happily in this place. For the next hour on my mat I was yoga. Nothing prepared me for this experience. Up to that point, yoga was for me 90 minutes of asanas followed by spice tea and ginger cookies conversing about the new Deepak Chopra book or fawning over Jai Uttal’s new CD. On this fateful day, however, nudity both electrified and intensified my experience of yoga. The moment was a total shock – naked in my living room, on my mat, I merged into that divine union we all seek.
That was the first time in three years of my yoga practice that I found what one calls yoga. I went deeper into my practice, my hands brushed past my nipples in Warrior One. I had nipples for the first time in my practice, not just a pressed down ‘uniboob’ in a yoga sports bra. Even freshly showered in the yoga practice, my body had her own unique smell like vanilla and earth – had I ever smelled myself before? It was perhaps one of the first times I had ever existed in my body consciously without judgment and was able to witness the miracle of creation and even the simple delight of even having a body. Each freckle became a mystery and something to rouse wonder. The experience was both transcendental and embodied, both sacred and secular.
It was the most profound practice of my life. I arose from savasana with purpose, transformed. I did a Google search to see who else was offering naked yoga at the time and only came across all-male classes that appeared to emphasize Tantric-practice, read lots of male-on-male action. I didn’t want some weird dude’s hands on me in child’s pose, but I did want to see if others out there were having similar experiences. Frustrated that there were no options for me to practice other than in my living room, I tentatively put out an announcement that I would be offering a class. The response was instantaneous. I received an outpouring of inquiries in my email box including some from the press. Apparently, people were having similar experiences in their own living rooms.
From there the story was written – the world proclaimed: We want naked yoga! I discovered a small naturist community that was practicing bi-weekly and we merged classes. We would start class in a circle, with saying our names and what brought us there. The vulnerability in the group’s opening circle was profound. In each class, we moved from a group of strangers to a group on a pilgrimage for the sacred. Each class was a mixed bag dotted with intentions ranging from overcoming shame and self-judgment, to one-timers who knew they had to do this to prove they could do anything, to advanced yogis who wanted to deepen their practice by including nudity to the occasional creepy guy in the back, all supported by a group of long-time naturists. Many men have arrived expecting to see a group of flexy blonde women, only to see a group made up almost entirely of men staring back at them who had the very same expectation. Yet, most chose to stay in class anyway as they released that expectation and uncovered a deeper part of themselves.
I have received weekly the question from the mouths of men’s shame – what happens if I get an erection? I have seen hundreds of erections and yet in no class was it memorable to me that a man had one. The class is not inherently erotic. While we as humans are sensual/sexual beings that is not the focus of this class and an erection quickly learns that when the reality of the moment collides with what the mind has fabricated. Within the first ten minutes of class, every body in the room finds equanimity, the group finds wholeness and a collective journey begins.
Memorable moments from these classes include: a woman finding a birthmark on her body for the first time, a Hasidic Jewish man taking off all his religious clothing and getting into downward-facing dog, a mother-and-daughter duo practicing side-by-side, a Jewish and Muslim man disrobing across from each other as I watched religious tension dissipate before my eyes, a man in a chastity belt, a woman who somehow hadn’t known ours was a naked yoga class and practiced with us anyway.
For three years, these classes were my crux of self-discovery. Every time I thought I had the nudity thing down, I would reach another level of self-discovery in the practice. I experienced the toils of how to honor my body and the practice while menstruating and teaching at the same time. I felt the vulnerability of doing a demo in front of a class with all eyes on me and my body. I felt hidden places of shame that, as I moved naked through the practice, continued to be revealed month after month. I have no false delusions that naked is the only way to practice yoga. The practice of yoga itself is inherently transformative. While one does not need to be naked in the practice to find it transformational, I found that the fast track to transformation for me included nudity. I needed that much raw attention on my body to keep me both present and embodied. Being naked brought me out of the idea of what I thought yoga was or should be. One does not need to be naked to experience yoga, just as one does not need to practice yoga to reach enlightenment. There are many roads up the mountain. This is mine. I walk it naked.
About the Author: Isis Phoenix is a sensual shaman, yoga teacher and community herbalist. She is currently writing the book Asana Exposed that shares the stories of those who have found transformation through the naked yoga practice.
About the Author (Author Profile)Isis Phoenix is a sensual shaman who facilitates ceremonies for individuals wanting to create transformation in the area of sexuality, spirituality, intimacy and relationship. Isis facilitates individual coaching and group Shamanic Immersions and retreats. She is also the founder of Naked Yoga NYC, a nude yoga movement that continues to gain international attention. Isis Phoenix and her work has been featured in Jane Magazine, Vogue, Elle, NY Post, BBC News and MSNBC. For more information visit www.sensualshaman.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If individuals are interested in being interviewed and photographed for the book I'm writing on Naked Yoga, I'd love to hear your stories! Email me at email@example.com
The first time I ever did yoga, I did it naked it Isis' class. So my experience as gone in reverse; I didn't know any other way. I've done a handful of clothed classes. While the "workout" aspect was there, I now understand the "energy/spiritual" aspect of yoga that I experience when I practice naked.This essay was great! The timing of my reading it as we approach a new moon is quite telling.Thank you, Isis!
I started doing yoga each day a few months ago and love the feeling of freedom and getting in touch with my mind, body, and spirit through yoga. It never occurred to me to put clothes on to do my yoga- I don't put clothes on for anything else in the house- but joining a yoga group has been prevented by the fear of losing that special bond with the world by covering myself with clothes. I'm glad there are wonderful people out there like Isis Phoenix who "get it" and are helping others to "get it," too, by losing the clothes and just being one with the world.
This article touches me particularly deeply, since I have been trying to organise a nude yoga group here in Nashville, TN, for over six months. After we finally found a teacher who would guide the class nude (non-qualified, just an experienced enthusiast of several years, since the local, qualified teachers wouldn't take it on), we are now facing a stonewall of non-acceptance when trying to rent space to hold the classes in. The honesty and physical/emotional/spiritual connection in this article are soooo what we are about, yet the local yoga community seems unable to "get" it.
Thank you for expressing the joy and the total one-ness so beautifully.
George aka Two Metre Man
I am so humbled by the generosity of the comments on this post. Thank you for taking the time to read this. For a long time I had an intention that there be a naked class at every studio, but really that intention transformed to simply being that each being find a path of self-acceptance and love. Thank you for loving yourselves, body, mind and spirit.
As I have said in several of my Facebook posts ... Nude is B.E.S.T.! I will continue to say it for the remainder of my life. I am a nudist/naturist, and very spiritual. This post on naked yoga was a wonderful story of awakening. Thankyou for sharing it.
Loved this! Our gym offers a variety of yoga classes, and I sent the management a link to this article and suggested they add a nude class. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
I appreciate this article and your willingness to let yourself to be vulnerable and unveiled for the world to experience.
Naked Yoga while menstruating! How empowering! How sacred!!!
One morning my body needed a stretch, and since I always sleep naked, I decided to do some sun salutations.
As I stretched, I felt so free and so unashamed of the jiggling, generous flesh that adorned my body.
Thank you for letting us witness your practice.
One of the best naked yoga articles I've seen to date. I know where Isis is coming from as I do my daily yoga practice at home in the nude. I feel that it adds to my practice.
Love this article it so clearly explains the barriers and self love that come through practicing nude. And the love and acceptance of others. Many of the old Sadhus wandered around nude practicing Yoga in India. Again they wanted to go beyond culture to the Universal.
I really appreciate Isis Phoenix and her willingness to offer something so revolutionary. She is so wise and open. The above story illustrates what I have learned, how removal of clothing is symbolic to removing barriers, to discovering purity.
such a delish article. Full of wisdom and authenticity. THank you. Makes me want to do naked yoga today!
@IsisPhoenix Hola, decirte que te sigo desde España, un poco lejos...Yo practico yoga desnudo desde hace varios años y me alegra saber que también lo practicáis por esos latitudes. Me gustaría poderte contestar a tus preguntas para tu entrevista e incluso que me hicieras fotografías para tu libro sobre yoga desnudo. Soy naturista y siempre estoy desnudo, en casa y en la calle pues vivo en una zona que es naturista y se puede estar en las calles desnudo, es una maravilla.
@abigailwrites Thank you Abigail! It has always been a joy sharing this practice with you!
@melissastarr Hi Melissa,
That's interesting! My first classes back to clothed yoga were strange and I had a feeling of 'why are we wearing clothes', but the more I practice naked yoga the more I realize it's easier to be facile between clothed and naked yoga. When I'm myself and at home in my body I realize that I do not 'need' to be clothed just as I do not 'need' to be naked to experience yoga :)
@TwoMetreMan Hi George!
Wow! It is amazing to hear you are starting naked yoga in Nashville! I have taught in a variety of environments including yoga studios, theatre rehearsal spaces, roof tops. Sometimes we need to look outside of the 'yoga' community for acceptance because the practice is still unconventional. I wonder if there are any naturist spaces in Tennessee that would be supportive or even theatre or art organizations. Sometimes these organizations are more open to nudity than yoga communities.
I am so glad you gifted yourself with this practice. May it continue you to bring you joy!
@IsisPhoenix That feels like some excellent "thinking outside the box"!! Thank You!! :)