Baring My Body, Opening My Soul

Yesterday, I took an important step toward greater self-care and acceptance: I went to my first-ever yoga class. It was a wonderful, life-enhancing experience.

yoga man in silhouetteSome years ago, a doctor told me I needed to work on balance issues, and suggested yoga. And several spiritual guides in my life have suggested that yoga would be a good addition to my other practices.

So, after church in D.C., Jonathan dropped me off at a yoga studio in the northwest part of the city*.

But this class was not your typical one because all the participants–about 10 of us plus a teacher–were male, and we were naked.

yoga-men

bamboomovesfh.com

Before getting to the naked part, I want to answer a question some readers may have: namely, why yoga? As I investigated this for myself, I realized that yoga is a practice of integrating spirit, mind and body–bringing together through exercises, positions, and meditation that which Western culture (and especially its Christian parts) has worked so hard and for so long to separate. I want that integration, and the greater sense of being and wholeness it brings.

But why naked yoga?

As I read up on the practice before going, I kept encountering the idea that being naked during yoga promotes both body awareness and body acceptance. So, sure you can do yoga at home while naked (if your house is warmer than ours usually is). And that will be good.

naked yoga mens class

nakedyogasf.com

One purpose of yoga, clothed or naked, is to honor and connect with your body. What I found yesterday is that practicing yoga naked, even in a beginning way, freed me from a layer of negative feelings about my body and allowed me to be more accepting of, and deeper connected with, myself.

After strenuous work in various positions, working up a good sweat (another joy of being naked is your clothes don’t cling to you), we moved to more meditative work, and I found myself so very aware psychically, even spiritually, of my body. Earlier, during various poses, I was also very self-aware, with aches from stretching yes and certainly getting off balance at times (I toppled to the mat twice!), but also other awareness ranging from how my genitals felt hanging out in the air as my arms and legs were aiming in all sorts of directions, and how my elbow felt seeming to hold half of me up in a pose whose name I cannot remember.

naked male yoga child pose

washingtonian.com

Being naked in public is a fear a lot of people have and being naked and practicing yoga can be intimidating. Some say the hardest part of the first time at naked yoga is undressing! Our society is driven by an unrealistic ideal of physical beauty, which can fuel an array of insecurity and self-doubt. Most people don’t have the body of a model and yet, we hold ourselves to those standards.

I certainly am not built like a model, never was, and I do not have the “parts” required for a career in porn even were I younger, but when we were lying on our backs breathing deeply under the guidance of our teacher, a wonderful and kind man named Brian, I began to feel an amazing connection between my brain and my penis.

yoga-men.tumblr.com

yoga-men.tumblr.com

Yes, when we finished, I had some arousal showing, but more to the point during the breathing,these two potent parts of me began a new level of connection–very different than you might expect. I don’t exactly know how to describe it but as Brian led us through breathing and visualizing our breath going down our windpipe and into our lungs, and then upward through our nostrils to our brain, including the hypothalmus, I felt a strange and wonderful calm, a peace I am not sure I have ever known before, come over me. Sensual calm, sensual peace, maybe even sexual calm and peace? I no longer fretted about my appendage and did not much notice anyone else’s either; these parts of me, so often driven by anxiety, actually felt integrated.

I can’t be more precise than that, but the good news is that I seem to feel it a bit yet today. Which is why you will find me, God willing, next Sunday stretching my body and my soul again. And why during the week, I will be looking at some YouTube videos to practice a few yoga poses.

I might even do so naked. Unless Cocoa (our standard poodle) objects!

[* The particular studio, a lovely space, does not want their name listed because naked yoga is not part of their studio calendar.  If you are interested in the class, you can contact DC Men’s Naked Yoga here]

25 thoughts on “Baring My Body, Opening My Soul

  1. “yoga is a practice of integrating spirit, mind and body–bringing together through exercises, positions, and meditation that which Western culture (and especially its Christian parts) has worked so hard and for so long to separate.”

    Can you give an example of how Christianity has done this? Have you not read 1Cor 3:16 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”?

    1. Thanks for writing! I am certainly aware of that text, and appreciate it. However, the actual history of Christianity is very different than one verse from the Christian Scripture. I don’t have time right now to list many things, but alas there is a history of anti-flesh, anti-body attitude in Christianity–for which Paul bears considerable responsibility, but so does Augustine. And alas, our faith picked up a lot of the neo-Platonic ideal of the absolute separation of spirit and body. So much of earlier Christian practice involves mortification of the flesh, too. This is in great contrast with Jesus himself, who seems to me to be wondrously, graciously, joyously embodied. So do not think I am anti-Christian, I just believe that our tradition has in this case, as in others, turned Jesus on his head. Not all of Christianity either. See my post a few days earlier, What’s Sex Got to Do with It? for some reflection on what my own tradition, Metropolitan Community Churches, has tried to do in response to the anti-sex message of much of the Church.

      1. I asked for one example, not a list. Paul’s writings encouraged moral purity, not the hedonism that make Corrinth famous. People in America forget that Christianity has its roots in eastern religion (Judaism), and no matter how far the church strays (catholicism) God’s word never changes. The gospel of Jesus remains the same.

        In Mark 12:28-And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

        Heart, soul, mind, and strength. In fact Jeses goes one step further and includes our neighbors. When the church follows the teachings of Jesus Christ they are are one the right path. Maybe it’s different at your church. Maybe you’re not getting the full message.

      2. The difference between us may be that you think there is one Christianity, while I see many. I don’t agree with many, even as I find agreement in part with others, and even more with others. But I understand all as efforts at being faithful. I am not trying to make us all into one kind of Christian. I see our history differently from you I think, but I have great hope as we continue to receive God’s unfolding revelation (I don’t believe God keeps telling new things so much as I think God helps to open us to seeing things in new ways). I think you are right about Paul, at least up to a point, but it is what the church has done with his teaching that has created much of the problem that I see. Please understand I love Jesus, follow Jesus, am not anti-Christian, am trained with a Ph.D. in theology and served as a pastor for 10 years and hope to do part-time ministry going forward. So I don’t really need Bible quotes, which I know too, but engagement around the real life of faith that I live and want to live better, the I see others living and wanting to live better, and that I see the Church struggling to live and trying and wanting to live better.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed my naked yoga sessions. Used to always get a bone, of course it might have been because I was behind a hot slim dude who also boned up. Made it interesting when we did partner poses. Had 3 hot instructors in Atlanta that were very hands on too. The sweat was always good.

    1. I don’t generally get an obvious erection in a naked yoga class, but I don’t believe it should be a cause for shame if one does. I don’t understand why we men persist in our insecurity about this. What has happened a number of times is I’ll get a partial erection near the beginning of the class or maybe at the end, like maybe a 10-25% full boner. Just enough to feel energized, and possibly but not necessarily noticeable to others. I really enjoy this sensation, and I try to use this activation in my practice as it happens. On only one occasion did I become fully aroused and remained so for about 15 minutes, during a particularly intense partner session with an attractive young man. We were both able to focus and connect with that energy in an unselfconscious way which was a beautiful thing.

      1. Glen, thank you so much for your sensible, sensitive, comment. I agree with you completely. I have not had the experience of a full or even really noticeable erection in public anywhere, and after only one yoga class not there either. I think I would only enjoy it. I hope so. But I did get some arousal and it was good in that first class. You are right, it helped me center even more. And I have noticed during home practice this week–which I am doing naked in part because it just feels good to be naked and also because if I am in front of a mirror I can see the actual evidence of tightening this muscle, raising this part of my abdomen, etc.–that I sometimes feel that feeling and see some small evidence too. I think this is so much about blood flow, which is what an erection is anyway, blow flow to the penis–yoga clearly opens channels in me and that increases blood flow. Sometimes that will go to my penis. Praise God!

      2. I have found that erections in a group at a yoga session, or just in a group of friends, be they all male or a mixed group of couples (male and female) are an indication of interest, or attraction to be taken as a compliment. I’ve been in nudist resorts, and gatherings and never had an erection, and I’;ve attended nude all male yoga classes and had an erection. The same in a group of nude men and women,( sometime not knowing all who were there and some times with good friends) and have had erections. Some occurred in a very active discussion on non sexual subject, and some when the conversation was about sex. Interesting I was not the only one. Fortunately on all occasions it was treated as normal, and the conversations or yoga continued. Now after having been a active nudist foe many years and re-calling the admonishments if one ever got an erection, Now erections are not frowned on at clubs, as ” they happen”. Gene

  3. Hello, Robin! My name is Steven Stoltenberg. I was not in class last Sunday but normally I do attend the Sunday naked men’s yoga class. I am inspired by what you write here and am thrilled that you have touched the power of this practice and its ability to transform. I first started practicing yoga at age 18, back in 1971, when yoga and eastern spiritual practices became popular and widespread within the hippie counterculture. I immediately found that yoga allowed me to overcome lower back pain, something I had been struggling with since early teen hood. As long as I did my couple of asanas each morning, I had zero back pain, and that’s what kept me doing at least this minimal practice. It wasn’t until i moved to DC in the mid-90s that I realized that yoga was now experiencing a renaissance, primarily due to the general growth of interest in fitness and the availability of yoga classes in gyms. I began to take classes and expand my daily yoga practice to include a wider range of postures and pranayama techniques. Yoga has become a foundation for me, for well-being, spiritual, mental, and physical. I now teach a yoga class weekly at the State Department (where I work.) I look forward to meeting you in class next time you attend!
    -Steven

    1. I just joined Jonathan’s Circle and think I remember seeing your name on a post or something. Thanks for visiting here.

  4. Hi Robin, I am so glad that the yoga class was beneficial for you! Taking that one step to walk through the door and participate with a bunch of strangers takes courage, but is ultimately very freeing for the body and uplifting for the soul. WELCOME to our community of like-minded brothers! As you continue to practice, little by little you will find that you are more aware of your posture, your balance, your flexibility … and through the breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation, you will discover more opportunities to examine your feelings and thoughts and begin to have more control over your conscious mind. Mind, body and spirit — all loving gifts of God that we can begin to better appreciate and hone, in service to our fellow human beings!
    Namaste (I recognize and honor God’s presence within you) and agape, — Brian

    1. Brian, how wonderful to hear from you in this way. You were a great gift to me that day, and I hear from others who feel the same way over a longer time. Thank you. And yes, I am doing some practice, using a YouTube video and instructor from New Zealand (or Australia) and that is helping. Very slow progress it feels to me, but good. And yesterday I went to a class taught by Adrian Baird and it too was wonderful. I hope to make both the Sunday afternoon and Friday afternoon classes part of my regular routine. And I hope you will teach again, and also to see you on retreat I hope. I am beginning to be more mindful little by little, and it is good. Namaste and agape to you as well. Robin

  5. I have recently discovered nude yoga and enjoyed the experience very much. I must admit I was self conscious about getting an erection but it did not occur. I was so concentrated on what I was doing I was oblivious of others around me. I highly recommend to anyone who has never tried it. Truly freeing of mind body and spirit. Fabien

    1. I think the world would be a much more sane, safe, loving and fun place if many more people could discover yoga, and especially naked yoga. Glad you enjoy it, too.

    2. Congratulations on trying naked yoga! I’ve seen the practice transform many people. I practice it twice a week along with a clothed practice, and I taught one the other day, for the first time! I tell men not to worry about erections, but they do anyway! Partner poses are still a trigger for me, but I just go with it and make my boner part of the expression, without shame or embarrassment. I find, if one partner has one, the other can quickly get one. I have learned to enjoy this interplay of masculine energy. I find erections rarely last very long though, if you are concentrating on alignment and breath. Peace!

  6. Thanks for writing and sharing your experience. I think you make good sense about erections. We are way too hung up about this natural and beautiful expression of energy/blood flow and desire.

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