How Naked Yoga Enlightened Me

The best way to understand unfamiliar things is to experience them — to give new ideas a wholehearted, honest chance.

Photographer: Craig White

One question haunted me for days leading up to my first nude yoga class. At work, as I ran errands, and as I fell asleep at night, this one absolutely crucial question bounced endlessly around inside my head…

Do I put my yoga mat at the front of the class, or at the back of the class?

I have been practicing yoga for 16 years. I initially started the practice to increase my muscle length and flexibility. When I walked into a yoga class for the first time (with shoes on, like a true novice), I wondered, “Where are all the mirrors?” Coming from a fitness background, I was used to exercise being all about strength, tone, and my outer appearance. With its focus on deep breathing, smooth movements, and inner stillness, yoga felt completely foreign to me at first. But, after a few months of practicing, I started feeling good in very unexpected ways. I remember telling my teacher, “I don’t understand all the physical, emotional, and spiritual healing aspects of yoga, and sometimes it’s kinda weird to me. All the chanting, breathing, postures, and sitting just seems strange to me. But, I’m going to stick with it.” I’m so glad I did, and the health benefits have been immeasurable, but naked yoga? This was a whole new ballgame.

Anyone with even the most casual familiarity with yoga can easily imagine my concerns. Why would anyone want to do yoga naked? I wondered. What could possibly be the benefits?

After a little snooping around on the Internet, I found out that the practice of naked yoga dates back to ancient times. According to the ancient philosophy, naked yoga helps to strip away our attachments to material and sensual desires and connects us more powerfully to our spiritual selves. I still didn’t fully understand the appeal, but I have learned that the best way to understand unfamiliar things is to experience them — to give new ideas a wholehearted, honest chance. The only way you can truly learn is by moving from observation to participation.

Photographer: Craig White

When walking into a naked yoga practice, you leave your ego at the door. You have to, because as soon as the sexy yoga pants, jewelry, and makeup that we use to cover and express ourselves are gone, you are left only with your natural, unembellished human form. In those first uncertain moments of class, I felt incredibly vulnerable on my mat in the front of the studio. I fought the urge to feel embarrassed by my own nudity and by all of the other bare bodies around me.

As the powerful Vinyasa flow began, however, I became increasingly aware of the connection to the others in the room. Nothing about the feeling was sexual at all — instead, I had an overwhelming sense of everyone in the room being “the same.” Suddenly, the bodies around me, though beautiful, didn’t seem as important as the feeling of freedom created by the whole group through our focus, vulnerability, and acceptance.

After class, I spoke to Monika, the instructor, about why she teaches naked yoga and why people should try this very intimidating art. She explained to me,

“The best part of teaching naked yoga is witnessing the transformations people undergo. First-timers are always scared to participate, and they worry about being judged, but after their first class, they describe it as the best, most open, and most free experience of their lives. It’s all just in the mind. In reality, naked yoga is one of the least judgmental and intimidating atmospheres that you will ever experience. Actually meeting your own body — observing how it functions and appreciating and loving it — that’s the beauty of naked yoga, and it’s a great way to start changing your life for the better. When you practice loving and accepting yourself as who you are, you will gain confidence and pleasure in all areas of your life, whether it’s in the bedroom or in the boardroom.”

Photographer: Craig White

Before practicing naked yoga, I carried those exact fears, assumptions, and limited perceptions that Monika mentioned, but now I know that I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, after class, the only thing that felt uncomfortable was putting my clothes back on.

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on September 4, 2016.