Naked yoga – a way to enlightenment or erections?

Written by:

Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is the editor of asia.gay. You can reach him at editor@asia.gay.

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As a yoga teacher, I’m often asked if I teach naked yoga. Granted, these tend to be from people who hit me up on Grindr, but it did make me wonder if there’s anything more to practising yoga in the nude.

The gay and bisexual men I spoke to who have attended naked yoga classes cite reasons which aren’t hard to guess. It’s more comfortable. It feels so liberating. It teaches you to accept your body the way it is.

Then, invariably, the confession comes: Also, dicks.

I’ve never felt the urge to do yoga naked – though, I have taken my shirt off during some particularly challenging and sweaty classes. Ashtanga comes to mind. Also, hot yoga, where your shirt can get so thoroughly soaked that the only thing to do is to rip it off and use it as a sweat rag.

But total nudity, to me, is a totally different ball game, so to speak.

One of the central tenets of yoga is to still the mind. I don’t know if I can do that if there are going to be dicks swinging all around me while I’m doing my Sun Salutations. It’s going to be, um, hard.

Or, maybe that’s the point: Is the path to enlightenment paved with unwanted erections?

Back to basics

The fact is, naked yoga has a long history dating back to around 800 AD. In the Bhagavata Purana, a sacred Hindu text, it states:

A person in the renounced order of life may try to avoid even a dress to cover himself. If he wears anything at all, it should be only a loincloth, and when there is no necessity, a sannyāsī should not even accept a daṇḍa. A sannyāsī should avoid carrying anything but a daṇḍa and kamaṇḍalu.

In other words, the act of stripping down is a symbolic gesture that signifies the renunciation of all material possessions. For those seeking enlightenment, the ability to break free from everything earthy and physical is one of the steps to achieve spiritual liberation, or moksha.

This form of asceticism has evolved in modern times. In Germany and Switzerland, it was part of the Lebensreform movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, which emphasised nudity and sexual liberation, among other things that encouraged a “back-to-nature” lifestyle.

In the United States, naked yoga rose in popularity along with the coming of nudist colonies in the 50s and 60s. This was the height of hippie culture, when non-violence was a way of life and “Make Love, Not War” was on the lips of every bearded man and unwashed woman.

Naked yoga has its roots centuries ago, where the shedding of clothes was seen as a renunciation of worldly possessions.

What about in Asia?

I tried Googling “naked yoga asia” and the results came back with page after page of porn, with a couple of links to some retreats in Bali and Thailand. Searching city by city, I found listings in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore, where a men-only group practise together a couple of times a week.

But that’s about it. Most classes appear to be publicised through word-of-mouth only, and held discreetly.

From what I was able to gather online, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how classes are conducted around the world. At Naked Yoga Singapore, there is “no occasion to touch each other” – though, there may be bodily contact during partner work, the site stated.

But for teachers like Brandon Anthony in the US, there seems to be a lot of touching – and hugging, going by the photos on his website. At Bare Yoga in London, instructors Stefan and Andy say arousal is normal as “energy rises”, but that “the class is not sexual and any untoward behaviour is not acceptable”.

Examples of untoward behaviour include staring, touching, and making any kind of inappropriate comments. (Is “Hey, how’s it hanging?” considered inappropriate? I wonder.)

Virtual nudity

I suppose what it comes down to is your personal comfort level. For me, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to do yoga in a room full of naked men.

But maybe I’ll start at home. With more people opting for online classes due to COVID-19 and social distancing measures, there are now several options for men-only naked yoga online, such as here and here.

I spoke to Ken Breniman, a licensed psychotherapist and yoga teacher, who has taught naked yoga for over 20 years in San Francisco. Due to the pandemic, Ken decided to switch from in-person classes to online classes in March last year. Online classes, he said, can be attended by students from all over the world, and tend to be preferred by introverts. Some students will leave their cameras on, others off.

“Most naked yogis however prefer to practise in person – though, our class size has shrunk quite a bit since the pandemic. We hope to return to in-person studio classes sometime in the next year,” he added.

Here’s the bottom line for me: The authenticity of your practice has nothing to do with clothes – whether they are on or off. I think I agree with most of the men I spoke with, that naked yoga can bring people meaningful insights about the relationships they have with their bodies.

There’s also something about the vulnerability of being naked – and confronting that vulnerability – that I believe can create opportunities for personal, um, growth.

Is it for everyone? Probably not. Is it for me? I don’t know yet. Ask me again if you see me on Grindr.

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