You’ve never really seen yourself naked until you’ve gotten a close-up look at yourself in shoulder stand. This is what I thought as I stared at the skin of my stomach, which was folding over itself and sliding down toward my breasts. My breasts, freed as they were from the restraints of a sports bra, were heading toward my face, which was just inches away from this unappetizing view. I had never even wondered before if breasts are cute upside down. But now, I know they are not.
Surprisingly, up until this point I had been feeling fairly attractive. Warrior pose, with my arms outstretched, my spine erect, and my front leg bent, made me feel like Beyoncé. Mountain pose, where you just stand at the front of the mat, was doable. Extended side angle? Sure! All these poses were done completely in the nude. No Lululemon pants. No sports bra. Not even a thong between my lady parts and the eyes of the instructor and my classmate.
Both people in the room with me were women, however. The biggest challenge was yet to come, when I would take a naked co-ed yoga class. Just to be clear, I’m not a nudist. But like many New Yorkers, I’ve forgotten to close my curtains many times. I never hide behind pillows from my boyfriend, or ask him to turn off the lights. On a scale of one to ten, one being a Never Nude and 10 being Naked Breastfeeding Yoga Mom, I would put myself at 6.5. So why then, when I saw that a New York studio was offering naked co-ed classes, did I immediately email my boyfriend and ask him if he wanted to do downward dog naked with me in a room with strangers? I don’t know. Why have I made any of the many impulsive and unwise choices in my life? I suppose I was curious. My boyfriend, who is as adventurous and impulsive as I am (two Sagittarii right here), emailed be back within minutes. “Yes please!!!”To answer your next question, yeah, I’m in fairly good shape. I’m not trying to brag; I’m just being honest because I think it would be a disservice to the reader to say I hate my body when I don’t. I definitely have wobbly bits, a bit of cellulite tucked under my butt, and at 5’2”, I could never be any sort of model. But I work out regularly and my stomach is about as flat as it’s ever going to get. The idea of people judging my body shape didn’t bother me. Before I tried this new adventure, I had to submit an online application to prove I wasn’t a crazy person. Once I was approved, I signed up for an all-female naked yoga class to dip my toe in, and I was sent the secret address. My first class felt sort of like going to a secret sex party (not that I'd know what that's like, but this is what I imagine). The first challenge was preparation. Does one groom down there for a naked yoga class? It seemed wrong to schedule a waxing appointment for yoga, which is supposed to be about body acceptance, so I just did some quick at-home cleanup. I also took a shower, and slathered body butter on every part of my body I could reach. The studio is hidden inside an innocuous building with a small “BN Yoga” sign out front. The elevator showed no sign of arriving, so I climbed the stairs. The space was decorated like a trendy, gay bar/lounge in the Meatpacking district, with dim lighting, a seating area with white leather benches, and black and white portraits of muscled men contorted into various positions. A compact man with a German-ish accent (the co-founder as I would find out) welcomed me in and took my card for payment: $30 for the first class, ouch. It would be just me and one other woman this time. The other co-founder, a fit, middle-aged woman named Monika, led us upstairs to another classroom. I was grateful to see that this room was even darker, and warm, the radiator hissing steam the entire time. My classmate and I disrobed in a screened-off area and stashed our clothing in cubbies, then tentatively brought our mats out to the main area. The instructor was already naked. She asked us, with just a hint of a pan-European accent, if we were comfortable being touched for adjustments. Well, why not? To the sound of clubby yoga music, she led us through increasingly challenging and complicated sequences. And she made no concessions to our nakedness. We did crow pose. We did wide legged squats. We did happy baby. She came around when I was in downward dog, stood behind me, held my hips, and stretched me further. The thing is, I didn’t see much of my classmate. Yoga is such that you rarely have the opportunity to stare at the person next to you without being obvious about it. I did eventually get enough of a look at her to see that she was in excellent shape. But I know what you’re going to ask (because all my friends have) and no, I have no idea how she groomed down there. It was too dark. I did miss my underwear. Not so much because I was worried about the free-spirited instructor seeing my reproductive organs. I just feel most comfortable in cotton panties. I always sleep in underwear, even in the summer heat. But my boobs didn’t impede my movement the way I thought they would, surprisingly. We finished yoga class, I got dressed, chatted with Monika and my classmate, and then left. No big deal. With my first naked yoga class under my belt, I was ready for the big time: naked co-ed yoga. Maybe I’m crazy, but I trusted the owners of Bold & Naked Yoga to provide me with a safe environment in which to disrobe. No cameras are allowed, once ejected, you can’t come back, and after the class starts the door is locked to latecomers. Sure, it would be co-ed, but the fact that the studio is located in Chelsea and is transitioning from all-male nude yoga classes reassured me that most—if not all—of the guys in my class would be ogling my boyfriend instead of me. So I figured. We showed up on a Sunday afternoon to a quiet studio. Two other people, a bearded guy and young woman, were hanging out in the lounge area. The instructor Monika told us to go ahead and set ourselves up in an adjacent studio. It was more well lit this time, with soft daylight coming through the curtains. I hesitated, but the other woman quickly got naked and plopped down on her mat to wait for class to start. I followed suit, setting up my mat next to the wall and waiting in cross-legged seated position, like I would in a normal class. My boyfriend set up next to me. When Monika convened the class, I realized that two men were behind me. I wasn’t entirely sure whether they were gay or not, and became tightly attuned to their movements. Were they moving slower so they could get a glimpse of me in downward dog? OK, I saw penises. I mean, not that I was looking for them or anything.Then I lost myself inside the poses, watching my breath, stretching, concentrating on achieving the fullest expression of half moon. Whenever I stared at the other woman, it was because she was in some crazy arm balance, not so I could assess her muscle tone. But yeah, she looked good. Hmm, does my boyfriend think she looks good? Afterward, as my boyfriend and I debriefed over burritos, I picked his brain. “Did you ever look over at me and think, Wow, that is not an attractive position? Be honest.”He considered. “No, not really. I mean, you were funny when you were hopping sideways in tree pose. But you never looked unattractive.” Correct answer, honey. Next: “Did you think the other girl was hot?” “Sure, she was in good shape. But she’s not my type.” Right again. He said that during most of the class, his thoughts were out of the gutter and firmly on the mat -- but near the end, when he looked over and saw me in a back bend, he couldn’t help imagining what he'd like to do to me in that position. And there lies the biggest problem. Co-ed naked yoga is supposedly about embracing your body as it is. But I’ve already done that. My worry is that—though I finally decided the two guys in my class were probably gay—I never would know for sure who set up their mat behind me. I get ogled enough when I’m fully clothed. Doing standing split naked in a room with male strangers seems, if not dangerous, kind of bizarre and naive. Plus, I really can’t afford $30 yoga classes. So I’ll chalk this one up to an interesting story, and pull my comfy leggings back on for my next class.