This morning a friend shared an article about a new, co-ed naked yoga studio in NYC. Intrigued at how a studio could create a safe and appropriate space for co-ed, nude yoga classes, I visited the studio website. Far from being impressed, I was left feeling disappointed by what seems to me to be a shallow attempt to sell sexuality rather than enhance a healthy sense of body image. Unfortunately, I feel this way all too often when I hear and read about naked yoga classes.
Lest anyone accuse me of being prudish or uncomfortable with the human body, let me dispel that idea first. I spent nearly 3 years living in Japan, home to numerous public baths and hot springs – to be enjoyed in the nude. I also occasionally practice yoga in the buff at home. The ToeSox controversy from a few years ago confused me greatly – artistic images of the nude form have a long history (for example, the Diskobulus of Myron). I viewed Kathryn Budig’s ads for ToeSox in the same light – as artistic images of the human body in athletic postures (albeit made with the intention of selling socks to yogis). Similarly, I strongly defended the video “Yoga by Equinox,” which showed Briohny Smyth practicing advanced arm balances wearing only underwear.
The difference I see between these advertisements and so many of the naked yoga studios/classes comes down to an issue of titillation. Examine the marketing of naked yoga classes (and dvds, for that matter). Images of teachers are uniformly muscular, fit, thin people. New York’s new studio website uses bondage themed imagery and photos of couples embracing or kissing, with words like “raw,” “bold,” and “free.” On one page the website claims that nude yoga is not about sex and arousal, and on another page discuss all of the ways yoga can benefit one’s sex life. It seems inconsistent to state that you are not in the business of selling sex while using sexually charged imagery and the promise of better sex as a means of bringing people into your studio.
And who is taking these classes? This NYC studio states on their website that classes are “for students who are fit, in-shape and take care of themselves…[students] should be seriously interested in the pursuit of the yogic experience as [the classes] can be physically demanding.” If your “physically demanding classes” are only for the fit and in-shape, you are not interested in helping people on a journey towards healthy body image. You are only interested in those who have already attained the goal. Anyone who is concerned about promoting healthy body image should take issue with this type of blatant insincerity.
I also find it interesting that in this particular NYC studio, the class schedule is heavily weighted towards male and co-ed naked yoga. There is only 1 women’s naked yoga class available at this time, and one more “coming soon.” Given the disproportionately high female to male ratio in most yoga studios, and the struggles that so many women face regarding their body image, one might think that a naked yoga studio would seek to offer a more balanced schedule and increased opportunities to work with women.
If a person is interested in using yoga as a tool to build greater self-confidence and comfort with their own body, more power to them! There are so many ways to do that. Go to classes with instructors who celebrate people of all shapes and sizes. Take a tip from Bikram yoga, and practice at home in front of a mirror. Gaze into your own eyes and celebrate your daily progress. If you want to try naked yoga, practice at home with your favorite yoga DVD [note: the teacher doesn’t have to be naked for you to practice without clothes!]. Use heart opening meditations and affirmations in conjunction with your practice. And if you do decide that you wish to attend a group naked yoga class, carefully vet the teacher and studio to ensure that it is truly an affirming, safe space for all.