I got into yoga when I started training as a shiatsu therapist. I’d become disillusioned with my corporate marketing job and wanted my work to feel more meaningful and more an expression of who I was. As I progressed down this new path, I began to inhabit my body more, realising how good it could feel as it moved and opened and stretched. This piece of kit that I didn’t like the look of and felt shame about began to mean something else. I started to enjoy my body and a new life began to unfold.
The quest for healing
Eventually I knew I needed to bring yoga to other people and among other things, help them access more ease and joy in their bodies – for at that point, that was the big gift that yoga was giving me. As my yoga, meditation and bodywork practices grew, I realised that there were still some deep patterns of shame and negativity in how I perceived my body. This needed healing as it wasn’t serving me and jarred with what I was learning and sharing.
I considered life modelling first. I felt it would be a safe and respectful environment in which I could be exposed and vulnerable. I hoped that confronting the shame and dislike of my body and sitting and bearing it, would diminish it. I then heard about a naked yoga class in London and I decided that this would be my way forward.
My first naked yoga class
Once I’d registered for the class, it took a little while to pluck up the courage to turn up. I knew I was entering an environment of mostly gay and bi men and I imagined all these glistening, muscular bodies that would trigger feelings of insecurity and ugliness in me. I was also worried there might be a sexual charge in the atmosphere which I wasn’t looking for.
As soon as I walked in, I relaxed somewhat. The energy in the room was not sexual at all. It was like a gym changing room and it was a mixed crowd of normal, friendly people. I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t uncomfortable at first. I rolled my mat out self-consciously (probably breathing in and clenching as I did so) and got on my back and focussed on my breath to feel more calm and more centred. Once we started moving into postures, I was in familiar territory and I started to appreciate the experience – the subtle sensations alive on my skin, the deeper connection I felt to my body, the sense of freedom and exhilaration that was arising.
I have to come clean here. I’d chosen the basic level class because, as a teacher, I was pretty confident that I’d manage the practice pretty easily and this would galvanise me to face the whole naked issue. Whatever gets you through, right?
I attended the advanced class the following week. The yoga was more challenging but I found that like never before, I moved into the tricky postures with ease and confidence. For example, my side crow had always lacked a degree of… finesse… but this time, I nailed it on the first go. I realised that something about the energy of feeling the fear and doing it anyway had empowered my practice. I’d changed the ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can and I am’ by getting my kit off and I continue to benefit from that now.
Sexuality and spirituality
The inevitable question centres around just how much enjoyment arises in a yoga class of naked men?! Some guys get erections sometimes and that’s totally fine. The practice of yoga continues on. In tantra, we honour sexual energy as being part of the divine experience; a driving force in our lives and in our spiritual development. We invite participants to accept their sexuality and sexual drive, harness it mindfully and use it to enhance and empower joy and awakening in life.
Why naked yoga?
Telling people I teach naked yoga never fails to spark up a conversation. The first question is invariably “Why?!” and usually comes in two parts:
“Why do yoga naked? And why teach yoga to naked people?!”
People do naked yoga for different reasons. My reasons were about coming more to a place of peace and acceptance for my body how it is. And it must have worked for I now stand at the front of a class of men and just get on with it. I would never have thought that would be possible when I begun this journey.
Another reason for practising naked is that it provides an opportunity to face yourself. To step out of your stories and patterns and return to something more essential, a deeper core part. It calls on you to face your vulnerability, insecurity and fear and breathe into it, focussing on the breath and sensation and not giving power to what could hold you back. Being naked also creates a feeling of freedom and a way of connecting more deeply to the body. The skin is the largest organ in the body and letting it feel the warm air around it is a nourishing, enlivening and liberating experience.
Yoga teaches us that we are all one – that we are all divine love and light and without clothes, without labels, we show up on the mat as equal.
Although the class is open to all men, the vast majority of participants are gay or bisexual. I am passionate about providing a safe space for men to meet and connect with each other in a richer, more heart-centred way. There is no shortage of spaces for men to hook up for sex but here, we provide something different. Through partner work, we invite them to explore relationship with themselves and each other in a new way.
Finding heart-centred nourishing connection
Along with teaching naked yoga, I run shiatsu workshops for men and am involved in a popular cuddle club. It is clear that there is a hearty appetite for these kinds of safe, sensual, heart-centred spaces where gay and bi men can connect.
After attending one such session, Vince from London says “Always an amazing experience where I feel I can top up on intimacy and feel connected.”
Rupert adds, “It’s no secret that gay culture naturally and humorously veers towards the superficial – fashion, clubbing, bitching and sex. This isn’t bad but it’s out of balance for many gay men and there is a particular need for safe and spiritually open spaces for us to discover, express, share and celebrate our deeper feelings and authentic self.”
It’s a real privilege to get involved in this work and help facilitate deep and nourishing connection between people and within themselves.
Andy teaches naked yoga at About Balance on Monday lunchtimes at 12.30pm. Contact him to book your place or find out more.