Yoga Sin Ropas • 17 December 2007

I did not go to naked yoga today in San Francisco; and that is why this post is not password-protected.

The only reason for this was a full schedule, not fear of or distaste for the concept. I’m sort of interested, actually, in finding out whether the people at One Taste can pull it off with any grace. Whether they can keep the spirit of inquiry open, and a lid on the especially creepy intentions the whole prospect of naked yoga could attract.

Speaking of attracting creepy intentions. Google-searchers: I should tell you now that the rest of this post contains only some reflections. Not actual naked yoga. If that is the idea, keep googling and be rewarded. Though what you may find might actually be sweeter and less exploitative than it first appears.

I’m interested to know how the ashtanga set responds to the prospect of naked yoga, which seems so American in its all-or-nothing audacity, and (for all OneTaste’s efforts to be metro and cosmo and so very refined) inseparable from a tired 1960s vibe. Do you figure it is stupid or prurient or imbued with a moist, floppy ick factor? I caught some heat last week, like this:

Ed: Naked yoga? You have got to be joking.

(0v0): (Sheepish looking into my lap.)

Ed: You’re serious.

(0v0): (Swallowed grin, looking at ceiling.)

Ed: Hookaaaay. You do what you need to do…

(0v0): Oh come on! It’s just that it makes you uncomfortable!

Ed: You’re right! Why would you even want to hang out with these people? And hang out with them naked no less? Are these really the people you need to, uh, “connect” with?

(0v0): Ok check it out. These are not dirty hippies with sweaty pubes and they’re not new age flakes masking sex addiction with “tantra.” They’re Integralists: urban, supergroomed, interested in “consciousness” and all the ways to expand it in everyday life. They’re not even hairy because half of them are shaving to look like Ken Wilber!

Ed: Uh huh. Naked. Yoga.

(0v0): Yes! If I’m blogging to inquire what yoga means for contemporary spirituality, I have to check this out.

Ed: “Check out.”

(0v0): Uh! It’s not going to be sexual! Come on! Nothing could be less sexual! People don’t even know how to objectify other people in everyday life when they’re not wearing clothes! Besides, I’ll go to a women’s-only class. Just females. Nobody is going to be coming after me.

Ed: Sure. Because. There. Aren’t. Any. Lesbians. In. San. Francisco.

My guess is that for amateur nudist yogis, the naked factor is a source of discomfort and the practice is to explore and learn from its special weirdness. And maybe delight in it, if there is some luck in it all. Looking at the ethnographic research on American nudist colonies (Sociology is very important!) or friends’ experiences at naked parties in college, the activity centers on establishing “normalcy” in the absence of clothing. Nudes do this looking only in others’ eyes, limiting topics of conversation (and denying thoughts of sex), adding extra physical distance, and doing anything else to dial down the eros. Nudity threatens both social and personal order, and even for the few willing to play with that edge there are a million reasons that naked yoga would be a lot farther from an orgy than, say, a Saturday night at the club or a Sunday morning at charismatic worship service.

This discomfort that nudity creates for groups is the reason it could be a rich variation to throw into an asana class. Such as we practice it, yoga may at first be about getting comfortable in your body. But after that, yoga is about once again getting uncomfortable. The reflections and transformations that practice inspires involve intimacy with fear, with not-knowing, and with impermanence.

As people practice letting go, their physical bearing becomes refined. We go from colonizing space and moving in on it with all manner of bags and water bottles and accessories, and indulging our discomfort and wild fearful minds with fidgeting and pee breaks and conferences with the teacher… to less and less of this outwardness… to a narrowing right down toward stillness. It’s hard practice to let the accessories go: I’m so conditioned to peeing 20 minutes in to practice that my body gives me the promt even when my bladder is empty. It’s just my body toying with me now, asking for little vacations.

I’ll let that flourish go eventually. And I don’t see how, under dedicated circumstances, letting go of clothing would not be just another exercise in stepping away from the accessories I use to keep from reflecting clearly and then transforming. So… why wouldn’t I research that?

This existential discomfort stuff—there is a possibility to do it playfully. And in a way that lightens your touch on the rest of your life. I bet there are some naked yogis who get this hilariously well.