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I slipped out of a satiny bra, slowly, one strap at a time. Next came a pair of striped cotton underpants - Too childish? I wondered. Too late. The lights were low and the room was warm, the electric hum of an air conditioner the only noise except the deliberate intake and outtake of breath. Maybe this whole thing was a mistake, an impulsive move we'd later regret. We avoided eye contact, closing our eyes and waiting for a feeling that seemed right. It was our first time.
The Bare Necessities: Why We Did It
Our night of naked yoga started out as something of a joke. My original intention was to publish an article on the psychology of nudism, in honor of National Nude Day on July 14. But scientific research on the topic was scarce, and it seemed the only way to properly cover this touchy topic was to experience it firsthand. Besides, several people already had, disrobing, down-dogging, and then sharing their experiences online.
While it seemed as though none of the participants were permanently scarred, it also appeared everyone had gone solo, protected somewhat by their anonymity. Who in their right mind would go to a naked yoga class with someone they had to sit next to the next morning? I was curious about the consequences, and so were Greatist staffers Laura and Sophie.
“It's not weird or anything that you guys are going to naked yoga with your coworkers,” Derek told us as we headed out the door Thursday evening, yoga mats slung over our shoulders.
“What are we going to do for photos?” Zack asked.
Nice 'n Nude: The Class
Turns out Greatist had actually made a clothed appearance at Reflections Yoga in midtown Manhattan once before, when we tried Kundalini yoga. This time our instructor, Cindee Rifkin, greeted us all with a hug - the real kind that lasts way longer than a perfunctory few seconds. We made our way up to a small room on the third floor, where the rest of the space seemed to be taken up by corporate offices.
A total of nine people, both men and women, showed up to class that day (Rifkin caps the class at 11), so there was just enough room for everyone to lay out a mat with a comfortable amount of space around them. While the regulars chatted and laughed from a still-clothed lotus position, I wondered how much Laura and Sophie would hate me if I bolted right then. Rifkin kept asking us questions, nodding and smiling reassuringly, but every time I tried to answer I encountered a big, dry lump in my throat.
“You can disrobe whenever you feel comfortable,” she told us, and her words seemed to echo and fade the way they do in the movies. One young woman (we later found out she's a nudist) seemed all too eager to slip a sundress over her head; a bearded man next to her dutifully stepped out of his jeans. I caught a glimpse of genitals and turned away with burning cheeks, afraid I'd be accused of staring.
And then, somehow, it happened. Laura took the plunge first, gracefully removing one article of clothing after another, and I followed, until it was just me and my birthday suit on a flimsy purple mat.
We went around introducing ourselves, and each person shared with the group something they were feeling - physically, emotionally, spiritually. “I'm Shana, and I'm panicking,” I told the group in what might have been the understatement of the year. One man said he felt sad because his dog had just died. Another felt heaviness in his chest. Someone had a stomachache.
“Play with that,” Rifkin told us. Apparently, yoga could help with all these complaints. “Feel it out on the mat.”
The first pose was Baddha Konasana - basically sitting with feet touching and the spine perfectly upright and everything else just hangin' out. I was mortified. From there we made our way into a spinal twist, and a series of other postures that included Warrior I, Warrior II, and pigeon. At some point I realized my palms were sweating so much that I was practically slipping off the mat. But it was less from nervousness than from the physical exertion of holding myself in plank, stretching back into down-dog, and hoisting my feet up onto the wall behind me. There was a chance, I knew, I could face-plant myself into total humiliation that had absolutely nothing to do with nudity.
Every so often I'd glance at Laura or Sophie, not to ogle their exposed breasts or compare their curves to my own, but to make sure I was facing the right direction or that my feet were in the right place. (Usually, they were not.) To be honest, I spent more time looking at Laura's pink toenail polish than at her bare butt lifted high in the air next to mine.
At the beginning of class, Rifkin had let us know that she liked to make hands-on adjustments - and I'd nearly died of shame right there. But when she came around to make sure someone's hips were squared or to place a block underneath someone else's hands, it didn't feel creepy or uncomfortable. Actually, it didn't feel like much of anything at all. Halfway through class, I almost wasn't embarrassed when I fell out of half moon and my hands accidentally grazed Rifkin's backside. (Almost.)
As I followed Rifkin's instructions, I kept waiting for a moment - an instant of transcendence when all the Greatist girls would finally find self-acceptance, learning to love ourselves and each other. We'd run naked onto 8th Avenue, join hands and sing kumbaya, feeling healthy and happy and alive.
But at some point I realized I was fine. To be honest, I didn't feel so different from the way I'd felt seated at my desk chair at Greatist HQ a few hours earlier. There were no tears, no hugging. We were still us, just naked.
After class, the group of nine dressed and stood around chatting in the dim lighting. “It's the society we're brought up in,” one gray-haired man told us. “What we did tonight is considered shameful.”
We nodded. When I initially spoke with Rifkin over the phone, she talked about clothing as one of the “barriers” to real experience that we face in our daily lives. By the end of class, I'd started to understand what she meant. Instead of just being ourselves, we're always covering physically and emotionally, making sure no one knows what we actually look or feel like. Back at Greatist HQ, I'd laughed along when we'd joked about the perils of going bare. (“What happens if they make you do happy baby pose?”) But now it just seemed silly, and maybe a little sad, that we'd fretted and panicked so much just to stand around in our own skin.
Back to Reality: The Takeaway
At work the next morning, I saw Sophie and waved. There was no blushing, or hugging, or stripping. In fact she barely looked up from her laptop to wave back. Sure, we'd all bonded, but it was much the same kind of closeness we formed seated next to each other on the elliptical. The naked part just wasn't a big deal.
But hey, it sure makes for a good story.