Yoga has been in existence for 5000 years and it is practiced all over the world including by upwards of 16 million Americans according to the magazine Yoga Journal. “Yoga is no longer simply a singular pursuit but a lifestyle choice and an established part of our health and cultural landscape,” says Bill Harper, publisher of Yoga Journal. “People come to yoga and stick with it because they want to live healthier lives.”
That may be true but we also spend billions dollars on yoga gear, clothing and accessories that never see the inside of a gym or yoga studio–just check out your local supermarket on any given day and notice the wardrobe of choice. However, with all the marketing and over commercialization of yoga, some people are looking for ways to truly strip away all pretenses and connect with themselves and others in a way that traditional yoga as practiced today sometimes falls short. For them nude yoga is the answer. I spoke with Julia Bicknell one of the producers of Yoga Undressed; a highly stylized instructional yoga DVD, to get her take on the nude yoga phenomenon.
How long have you been practicing nude yoga?
I first discovered it in 2004. It’s something that I explored for a while and I found it was something that was really integral to my development as a person, you know, to finding freedom from body issues and societal judgments.
So that’s what peaked your interest, body awareness?
It was much deeper than that actually. When I took my first nude yoga class I did it with a friend. She brought me to this class and I really didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I didn’t feel comfortable with it even though I had been a dancer all my life. And when I engaged in the class of all women I felt a new found sense of freedom that I had never ever experienced in anything else. And it was the kind of feeling that I had as a kid. I don’t know if you have ever gone skinny dipping as a kid? Where I grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania we used to go skinny-dipping in the pond on the farm. And there was something incredibly innocent and pure and liberating about doing that, and very natural. When I took this nude yoga class years ago I felt that same feeling, and I also felt all the constraints that we feel as adults and what’s attached to nudity. You know all the labels, all the sexual innuendos and everything; there was none of that. It was actually a very powerful awakening that I had, and I felt really incredible in my body. There was no thought to the imperfections or criticisms or anything else. There were women of all shapes and sizes in this class, and they were all incredibly kind, it was a very private, sacred thing.
Do you feel this trend will catch on? Or do you feel it’s more of a passing fad?
As far as it being a trend it’s really hard to say about how people here in the states feel about it as opposed to Europe. In Europe people have a very different outlook about nudity. They’re much more accepting of it. It is not sexual in the same way as it is here. Because they have a lot of nude and topless beaches in Europe, it’s really about accepting the body as beautiful and natural. It is not necessarily a sexual undertone that’s there and I think America is pretty young in that way. I think a lot of Americans are insecure and immature about nudity. And naked yoga is the type of thing that by it’s very nature causes you to actually mature as you do it. You realize there is no sensationalism around it. It’s actually an incredibly sacred way of paying homage and respect to you as a human being inside and out. So I think it’s going to take America some time for that to happened.
So, as far as it being a trend, I’ve never been one for trends, I’ll be honest with you. I do believe I have my finger on the pulse of what people need. That’s why we created the series, to inspire an awakening in people. We really wanted this to initiate a compassion revolution. We really wanted the series to inspire respect in women and men.
Have you had a lot of critics?
No, not really I’ve gotten just a huge wave of compliments and really great positive feedback. People have said the series is so beautiful, athletic and elegant. I did give one interview with a Canadian journalist that may have been attracted to me and wanted to know who I was. I just think he wanted to see me naked or something superficial like that, and by the time we were finished with the interview he really understood that it wasn’t sexual. Not to condemn sexuality, I think sexuality is such a beautiful life force; it is the most powerful force we have when it’s conscious. I think he really learned something that day in the interview. The whole thrust of this is to bring people up to a higher vibration, to be more conscious more compassionate.
We really have not had a lot of critics, maybe one or two. Like I said before a male journalist who was oversexed and insecure to begin with. Oh and this female yoga instructor who was probably very filled with shame because she criticized the series and said it was a cheap thrill and exploitative of women.
The thing is many women have been sexually abused and also many men. It is very often people who have been sexually abused castigate things like this because they have not dealt with their own shame and fear. This is meant to help people that have been abused. I’m a survivor myself and it is one of the reasons that I think that it helped me to move into this space where I was so much more loving and excepting of myself.
If nothing else it may help people connect with themselves and others.
Yes, we are in dire need to connect with ourselves and with other people. We are in that fight to return to nature and our personal natures and be true to them.
Are there any health benefits to practicing nude yoga that go beyond the traditional forms?
Yes, it’s in keeping with what I said about being able to let go of shame. I think one of the things that people don’t realize in a health context is that shame and other negative emotions keep the cells captive in the body. Those feelings restrict any kind positive chemical flow. Negative tension held in the body translates to disease. So the hidden benefit of nude yoga is if you feel liberated from shame and these negative constraints you’re actually able to vibrate at a higher frequency as a human.
You’re able to release this negativity and tap into this incredible store of energy and positive life giving currents. Clothing is like protective armor and when you’re naked you realize you don’t need protection. I think traditional yoga doesn’t really address that. The techniques used in the DVD are Kundalini so that teaches you how to harness, transmute sexual energy. Sexual energy is our life force it’s how we came to be. If you teach yourself how to harness that energy the possibilities are endless.
Do you think a class situations is better or practicing at home?
I think practicing at home is pretty amazing and that’s why we created the series. But there is something incredible that happens in a group dynamic that can’t happen when you’re by yourself. I think it’s the cognition, the acknowledgement of seeing other people naked not in a titillating way but in a humbling way. When humans are in pain or when we’re in shame or any of those negative states we think we’re the only one’s who feel that way. It’s a phenomenon of the human condition and when you’re in a room with other people you realize there is no difference between them and you, and that realization in itself is incredibly freeing. There’s a great expression by author Anais Nin that says, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” If you always stay within in the same sphere of your existence you don’t grow.
What should you look for in an instructor?
There are very few classes that I know of, which is part of the tragedy and I hope that changes after more people are aware of the series. But you should look for someone who is accredited–someone that has yoga certification. It’s not going to be a nude yoga certification. I don’t know of any programs that are happening like that now.
Is there anything else we need to know about practicing nude yoga in a class situation?
The only thing that you would need to know about a nude yoga class is that you would bring you own mat of course, and I think that is just nice anyway. You would clean your mat with tea tree and an anti-bacterial cleaner.
Also the other thing about a group class is that they never have people behind one another. It sounds like you could really make some jokes about it. You literally have people side by side. There is never a situation where there is a row of people behind another row. The genitalia are never exposed to another person’s front. Honestly it is nothing sensational. I hate to say it but when you see one you’ve seen them all. It’s not the thrust of it, and I think in the first few minutes when you’re in a situation like that your mind goes reeling. Like wow here I am, here they are and I see what I see but that goes away very quickly and it’s all about being with yourself and feeling completely at ease with other people.
For more information on the Yoga Undressed DVD or the practice of nude yoga go to http://www.yogaundressed.com/
By Chuck Harris