It’s around eight o’clock on a Sunday evening and I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Sydney yoga studio while a stranger feeds me vegan chocolate. Oh, and we’re both naked. And so are the 22 other women taking the workshop.
This is Rosie Rees’ Women’s Nude Yoga. By the time we get to the chocolate feeding (part of a sensuality ritual) I’ve realised that yoga is only a small part of the experience. And while part of me (the cynical, Brit perhaps) is screaming “this isn’t what I signed up for!” another part is feeling utterly serene.
Against all odds, Rees has been able to create an environment in which a group of strangers feel comfortable getting naked. Candlelight and ambient music definitely help, as do the heaters, keeping the room at a balmy 25 degrees. But it is Rees herself, sharing stories about her journey, who really sets the scene.
We begin dressed in sarongs and kimonos – but by the time we’ve all introduced ourselves most of the women in the circle have disrobed. Women have come to the workshop to heal body image woes, or to rediscover a part of themselves long left behind. They come for an experience.
I’m here for all these reasons and more. I’ve got a history of disordered eating and poor body image, but I’m actively working on feeling good about my body. Although I’ve made good progress, I still catch myself having moments of self-loathing. I’m over it. I’m nearly 40 and I’ve wasted enough energy worrying about the size of my thighs.
During the workshop Rees explains that nude yoga can help women accept their bodies and see them as beautiful. “When we come together as a group of women and shed our layers of clothes and inhibitions, we remove all pretence; we feel feminine, free, wild and completely liberated,” she says.
“We realise that we all have rolls, wrinkles, dimples, creases and scars, and that those imperfections are perfections, when loved, accepted and embraced.”
The yoga practice begins with a guided meditation. I try to focus on Rees’ words, but find my mind wandering, I think about all the stuff I have to do in the morning, the kids are going back to school, where are the uniforms? Somewhere in the room a woman is weeping, the sound brings me back to the present. “When you allow yourself to be vulnerable you allow the woman next to you to be vulnerable too,” says Rees.
We move in to child’s pose, and up into cat cow. Then with plenty of giggling, we do our first downward facing dog. I’ll be honest, it’s the moment I’ve been dreading. But since we’re arranged in a circle my bottom is facing the wall. All I can see are my own feet. It’s fine! In fact, it actually feels pretty good.
The practice continues with sun salutes – in a significant change from my usual yoga class this practice is noisy. At one point Rees encourages us to shout “YES!” – “Say yes to life! Say yes to yourself” she shouts above the primal wailing.
Look, there are a few moments that I find myself cringing (see primal wailing). But there are also moments of profound acceptance. At one point Rees asks us to stand in a way that a woman who really loves her body would stand. I feel my back straighten and my shoulders drop – it’s subtle, but there is a shift.
I believe Rees when she tells us that there is a direct link between nudity and positive body image. However, there is a flaw – to even sign up to an event like nude yoga you have to have a degree of comfort with nudity. Conversely, this means that the women who might benefit the most are unlikely to show up in the first place.
Sarah Harry is a director of Body Positive Australia. I asked her whether she thinks nude yoga could be beneficial to women actively seeking to improve their body image – she wasn’t convinced. “People with body image concerns can tend to compare their bodies to others and may find the nudity confronting. It may also trigger concerns about their own bodies,” she tells me.
I’m not sure if nude yoga will have a lasting impact on me – but it was an eye opening (and at times, eyebrow raising) experience. And the chocolate? Well, yes, I did feel a bit uncomfortable being fed by a naked stranger – but it tasted out of this world.