To say the wellness industry has boomed in recent years would be an understatement. Whether you’ve skipped a boozy night out to participate in an early-morning fitness class, downloaded a sleep tracker, or simply started sprinkling chia seeds on your breakfast porridge, there’s no denying that we’re all investing more time and money in our holistic health.
As such, millennials – or the so-called ‘wellness generation’ – are apparently constantly on the lookout for the next health trend that will help them feel great on the inside and out. But one of the latest stress-busting movements requires a fair bit more bravery than simply committing to a meat-free month or setting your alarm for a 6am morning ‘rave’.
It’s called naked yoga and it involves exactly what you’d imagine: Stripping down to the bare necessities before doing your daily practice.
The trend, which is rumoured to count Matthew McConaughey and Lady Gaga as fans, first cropped up on our fitness radar in 2016, with forward-thinking studios like Naked in Motion (nakedinmotion.com) booming in New York and Boston. Now, classes are popping up here in the UK, as more people catch on to the empowering idea through the likes of Instagram.
You probably already know that yoga is all about connecting the mind and the body, and many yogis say getting rid of any barriers between you and the mat can help deepen the experience. Far from being sexual, the idea is to leave any erotic connotations of nudity you might already have at the door. Instead, it’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin, and being unrestricted by clothing in your movements.
Italian instructor Doria Gani (doriayoga.com) has been teaching naked yoga classes in London for the past few years. She originally discovered a joy for the practice while at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, and says being part of the movement has helped her regain her confidence and femininity after a battle with stage 3 cervical cancer left her infertile. “The way I felt [when I first tried it] was so liberating, I didn’t feel any barriers, any restrictions or inhibitions,” Gani recalls.
“I was in the middle of the desert, the sun was shining and there was an amazing energy. That’s when I thought that everyone should experience the same feeling; to stop having the fear that we might be judged by other people. It was freedom in the purest way.”
While the likes of beer yoga, cat yoga and other hybrid forms of the practice that have emerged from Instagram might often (generally speaking) be marketing gimmicks, naked yoga has actually been around for thousands of years. Spiritual practices have long used nudity as a vehicle for shedding material hang-ups, while the word ‘gymnosophists’ (naked philosophers) is used in ancient Greek writings referencing the wise yogis of ancient India.
The biggest benefit of practicing yoga in the nude, Gani believes, is the amazing sense of body confidence you can gain, and she regularly supports clients with a history of eating disorders and body dysmorphia issues. “We were born naked, so why should we be ashamed of it in life?” says Doria. “That’s what I’m trying to teach with my yoga.”
That said, being totally starkers around other people can be pretty daunting stuff for many of us.
Whether you avoid looking at yourself undressed in the mirror, or you tentatively change into your gym gear under a towel in the changing rooms, it’s something many of us still find uncomfortable. A recent YouGov survey found 59% of Brits are either out-and-out uncomfortable with being naked, would prefer not to say, or are unsure about it.
“Getting naked can be a big step for many people,” says one all-male naked yoga class teacher, who goes simply by Stefan. At its root, yoga – naked or not – is about connecting with your breath and your body. You learn to accept your limits and explore your capacities. With naked yoga, students have nowhere to hide, it is a very honest practice.”
Stefan, who discovered naked yoga in Boston and began teaching it in the UK last year – his London classes are called Bare Yoga (bareyoga-london.com) – says his pupils can range from people in their 20s to guys in their 70s.
“I teach a slow, hatha-based flow and take time to explain positions before linking them together, encouraging my students to take poses at their own level. I realise it isn’t for everyone though; some people are open to exploring naked movement and exercise, while other people are less interested,” he says.
As with many fitness trends, Instagram has been a huge driver. The account @nudeyogagirl has amassed over 800,000 followers. The page documents the travels of an anonymous model, who shares snaps of her nude yoga practice in exotic locations around the world. She’s tanned, lean and athletic-looking, but there are plenty of other yogis, of all shapes and sizes, who are championing the movement too, like Dana Falsetti (@nolatrees).
Yogis are split about whether Instagram is a good thing. “As a whole, it’s a tricky one when it comes to yoga – naked or clothed,” says Stefan. “It values the image, when yoga goes so much deeper. Naked yoga is not about sex – not to say that we shouldn’t be sex positive – but we need to be mindful of the message we are sending.”
Doria, meanwhile, says: “It all depends on the intention. Why do you post naked pictures? If it’s from a place of body confidence, that is absolutely great – the more we see nakedness, the more it becomes normal. I’m absolutely positive about that.”
And believe it or not, it’s not all about the nudity.
“Ultimately, imagery can be creative and artful, natural and sensual, playful and divine,” says Stefan, “but the body has incredible potential in its natural form, and the connection you find [in naked yoga] goes beyond the naked body.”
Yoga is all about switching off and getting into that kind of floaty sense of total peace, and when you’re naked in a room full of people and can learn to not feel self-conscious, it can be incredibly empowering.
Whether you’re guilty of sucking in your stomach in your photos, use a filter to airbrush away wrinkles in Instagram snaps, or hide away your arms in long sleeves, there’s freedom in letting all those daily fears about your appearance go – and really, what’s not to love about that?
- Press Association