- It’s not about sex. So why are men prepared to risk prison or even corporal punishment to hang out naked?
Slack-jawed and briefly speechless, men would occasionally be a bit shocked when I told them I was a naked yoga teacher.
Then their imagination would kick in and they’d have a barrage of questions for me… or, in a small number of cases, they would clamp their teeth together and change the subject.
After almost a decade of leading classes for men, though, my profession is no longer the sensation it once was. Naked yoga has made its way into most people’s consciousness and taken on the world.
Of course, naked yoga is not exclusively a gay and bi men’s thing. While most of the men who come to my classes, and those of the teachers I know and have interviewed, would say they’re same-sex attracted, there are often a few straight guys. Sexuality doesn’t matter.
Nor is it just a male thing. Teachers are also establishing co-ed and classes for women.
However, gay and bi men are certainly at the forefront of its growing popularity.
Five years or so ago there were only a handful of cities where nude classes were available.
Now groups of (mostly) men keen to strip off and stretch together are growing in many of the European capitals. There are regular sessions in the larger North American and Australian urban centres and outposts in Argentina and Brazil.
There is even a city in Asia where men are breaching rigidly held and enforced cultural norms to get together and share their nude downward-facing dogs and tree poses.
Naked yoga allows a generation of tech addicts to reconnect
It would be easy to dismiss this as a manifestation of ever more sexualised gay lives. But the motivations that are driving the blossoming of naked yoga sessions and encouraging ‘skyclad’ men on to their mats on a regular basis appear to have little to do with sex.
It’s noticeable how many naked yoga teachers follow up their sessions with a group visit to a local restaurant, bar or coffee shop. This not only contextualises classes ‘in the real world’ but casts the teacher in the role of community-builder too.
‘On Friday evenings I go out to eat after class and I invite anyone who wants to join me,’ says Todd Jost, teacher of up to three classes a week at Naked Yoga Miami.
‘A lot of people will come to that class [specifically] so that they can socialize with this community of men.
‘In general, we aren’t connecting with one another. In our technological world we have all the apps where you can hook up and have sex and then be done… and you go home and you’re isolated and it’s like “OK, well what was that about?”
‘And you see people out at a social gathering and nine out of 10 people have their noses in their phones. They’re not even looking at the people that are next to them or in the same room.
‘So, if we attend yoga and get into that mindset we can carry it into a social environment. It redevelops our social skills in a way that technology doesn’t allow us to do.’
Risking fines, prison or even corporal punishment
His sentiments are echoed by George (not his real name).
He runs up to three classes a week in an Asian city where social nudity is a rigid taboo. In fact residents feel they daren’t wander around naked in their own home with the blinds open for fear that their neighbours might report them to the authorities.
He and his students feel the pull of yoga in the buff so strongly that they risk fines, imprisonment, corporal punishment and even deportation in order to enjoy their practice.
‘I try to build community,’ he explains. ‘So after every class I’ll serve lemonade or fruit or something. I like that we can hang around naked and we’re just comfortable. I offer these guys an outlet to be together naked in a non-sexual atmosphere.’
Unsurprisingly, homosexuality is still illegal in his city. So his classes offer an opportunity for gay men to mix but are also vested with a flavour of liberation.
‘Everyone comes for their own reason. Most of them want to shed that layer of not being comfortable in their own skin. To honour “this is what I have, this is who I am and this is it”. A lot want to try to get over that hump.’
Connecting as equals
Freedom is a word that pops up frequently in association with naked yoga.
It’s as if, as well as freeing themselves from the confines of clothing, the yogis feel released from the obligation to present to the world different images of themselves: the professional carapace they lug around at work, the top/versatile/bottom sex-dater, the family member etc.
Their stripped-down yoga practice offers them the opportunity to connect more fully with themselves. And by doing so they take a break from, for example, their self-created sometime image as the body-beautiful gym bunny.
‘I specifically don’t focus on a workout-style class,’ says Jost. ‘I feel there are plenty of classes out there at gyms and yoga studios that do that.
‘Social media and it’s in-your-face, perfect-body type of thing leads people to be always striving to get towards that. That’s great but I think yoga is so much more than that and what resonates is the meditative and self-reflexive aspects and finding way for personal growth.’
So the men are free from the pressure to rep, weight-lift and cardio themselves towards media-defined, idealised images of perfect body shape.
And naked yogis also appear to use their in-the-altogether sessions to allow themselves to find connections with their classmates that they can’t risk in other aspects of their lives.
For example, where once colleagues might also have been friends, professional culture can get in the way.
‘In some cases, the workplace is not [any longer] an environment to develop friendships,’ adds Jost. ‘I imagine in the corporate world that it’s very much either “I’m going up the ladder or you are” and if you become too friendly it becomes awkward.’
‘They love to touch each other’
Letting go of these burdens can even extend to something as simple as non-sexual touch. Many naked yoga teachers include paired/partnered poses in their practices.
‘They love to touch each other,’ says Frank Morgan of the men who attend his Thursday evening sessions. He leads an hour of yoga followed by an hour of paired work.
‘In the partner stretching they get to touch and hug each other but not in a way that leads to sex because it’s about having respect for everybody else and keeping it a safe space. They get very disappointed if the partner session doesn’t happen.’
Morgan is based in Palm Beach, a suburb of Gold Coast in Australia. And he says, the stereotype of the ultra-body-conscious Aussie bloke holds no currency for his students.
‘Mine is not a “body beautiful” class. What I teach is about body awareness and how to use your body in a better way. But the basic thing is that they just want to come along and hang out with men naked.’
Ultimately, there are many reasons that can help explain the remarkable expansion of men’s Naked Yoga around the globe but it would be wrong to regard it as a frivolous fad.
It is meeting a range of complex needs but, in a world that for many seems to be increasingly complicated, it’s doing so with an appealing simplicity. Men. Together. Naked.
Nickles Spencer runs Altogether Yoga and teaches two/three classes each week. He is London’s longest-serving naked yoga teacher and also runs regular workshops and European retreats.
Bonus material: The three top questions about naked yoga
We asked Nickles to answer the three questions people most commonly ask him about naked yoga.
What if I get an erection?
It happens sometimes, though probably not so often as the worries suggest.
Erections are just part of being a man. They’re not shameful of embarrassing and there’s no need to hide it if it happens. We just carry on with the yoga. The key is to know the difference between enjoying a surge of sexual energy and turning it into a sexual act.
Can I wear my pants?
No. It’s one of those ‘just jump in’ things. If there were some clothed men in the class, it would present the opportunity for voyeurism.
With all that yoga, you must be very flexible… can you suck yourself?
Classes are not about sex, although, of course, men sometimes hook up afterwards and a few couples have met in my classes. It’s many years since I tried auto-fellatio and I prefer to contract that job out.