Co-Ed Naked Yoga Puts On Its Birthday Suit

Bold & Naked Yoga, the country’s premier co-ed naked yoga studio, celebrates its first anniversary January 20 with a special 7:15 p.m. class. I lift my chai in a toast!

Admittedly, when I caught last year's media hype, I rolled my eyes at yet another gimmick to sexualize the practice I loved and taught. Yet as a yogi, I questioned my resistance, especially when I read the studio’s European philosophy. Owners Joschi Schwarz and Monika Werner, both German, wrote that naked yoga was not about sex but "about knowing, accepting and loving yourself at your core -- capable of anything and perfect as you are."

The idea resonated. For me, nudity conjured negative images of getting old -- of not meeting standards of my Protestant upbringing. Truthfully, my American eyes preferred to watch a show about mass murder on television than a naked gal past her prime. (Terrible, I know).

I’m 40, a former dancer from Indiana who has cellulite and a growing web of spider veins. A recreational therapist, I love Jesus and maintain healthy habits. But unlike my happily married Midwestern family, I'd spent years dating. Unable to meet my match, I judged myself unlovable.

Last winter, I developed a cough that turned into my first asthma attack. Doctors prescribed Prednisone, which made me gain 12 pounds. Saddled with a chronic condition and a morphing body, I channeled the fearless Helen Mirren and registered for the inaugural co-ed class at Chelsea's Bold & Naked.

Owners confirmed my appointment with a personal email. On their site, they wrote that inappropriate behavior would not be tolerated. I felt safe.

"Only two days until co-ed naked yoga class," I wrote on Facebook, forgetting I had recently friended my mother. She was horrified.

When I arrived at the studio, I was glowing. Students trickled in: a nervous journalist from Elle (who looked like she was going to cry) and seven hunky men in their 30s and 40s. The teacher, Monika, led us to a tasteful loft. But when she pointed to the changing area, we stared at our feet. Finally I went first, tearing off my pants -- less terrified of stripping than of anyone seeing my underwear, ripped carnage from my last relationship, preserved five years like a witch's hex.

Monika asked if I would set up in the front row, since I was an instructor. Behind me, the atmosphere was tensely polite as our reproductive organs joined the warmly lit democracy high above 23rd Street. I never forgot I was nude, but I stopped caring. In Humble Warrior, I looked back through my legs to count seven pairs of perfect testicles representing various ethnicities. We flowed back through Warrior II, and I thought everyone -- including myself -- looked beautiful.

One man had a tattoo that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend, Simon, a terrific guy I just couldn't marry. At 23, I broke up with him on a payphone, outside the cruise ship where I danced two shows a night. I hated making that call.

As Monika instructed us into triangle, I imagined Simon's face and felt a wave of self-forgiveness. With my arms outstretched, I remembered the dial tone, when "the one" hung up for the last time. Naked, I realized my solitary life -- like the exquisite design of the human body -- had innate wisdom. If I honored my transitions, I was free from shame. Being single didn't mean I was bad or too old. It just suggested my textured spiritual path.

Months later, I knew the regulars, a serious crew. Because of their commitment and the studio’s professional atmosphere, I agreed to appear on a news segment for Reuters. The clip of our class first appeared on Norwegian television. The camera work was so subtle I didn’t recognize this brave version of myself. Neither did friends. Once coverage reached the U.S., pals innocently posted my butt on my Facebook wall, not knowing I was in the video. One commenter wrote: “It’s actually kind of monotonous.” Laughing, I hit delete. My incognito ass had travelled the world, boring people, but my poor mother was beside herself, again. How many of her friends knew?

In the spring, a group of touring nudists took class. “You missed a great party last night,” one of them said, breaking into a stoner’s laugh. These nudists weren’t skilled at yoga, nor were they clean or neat. (The back of their bus was positively scary.). “It’s all good,” said the woman as her husband did a sloppy headstand in the middle of the room. I winced. Spread eagles and dangling scrotums were not all good.

While the nudists didn’t leer or grope, they proved a theory I had been developing: There is elegant European nudity, which is orderly and natural. And then there’s American Volkswagon bus PornHub exhibitionism, which is nasty. Luckily, thos nudists travelled north.

One night, I left the studio still chatting with a student named William. Moments before, I had seen his package. Now I was admiring his brown eyes. I gave him my card, flattered, but confused when he texted. While Bold & Naked doesn't discourage dating, they frown on hook-ups in the studio. Not knowing if this was even a date, I met him for tea, where we chatted about snow.

He was cute, but I didn't feel any chemistry. He longed for California sun. I liked clear-cut seasons. Quickly, we reached a naughty bits détente. He had seen mine. I had seen his. We kept our clothes on. Maybe I was still more American than I thought.

When I saw William again, I lay my mat beside his. Under irresponsible naked leadership -- we might have had a creepy encounter. We could have paired up for sensual partnering, like the x-rated nude yoga classes. I could have bounced into “gorilla pose,” like the waxed and spray-tanned Sara Jean Underwood, Playboy’s yoga playmate. Instead, I punched William in the arm. We were buds. We kept it Brahmacharya.

I still attend Bold & Naked, whenever I need a positive hit of the real un-airbrushed world. At first, I’m shocked to see my thighs in down dog. (Gravity is a bitch.) Then I settle in. While I do grieve the loss of youth, my appearance is no longer boss. Here’s proof: If I’m audacious enough to get naked – in a country that breeds ridiculous fixation – then I’m my most courageous hero. My body is the warm, generous cover. The inside is infinite.

Mom is still mortified.

--Ann Votaw

#yogaweekly

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