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Peel It Off

Practicing yoga in a room full of naked strangers may sound unappealing—or even downright offensive. But like it or not, from New York City to Salt Lake City, from San Francisco to Atlanta, yogis are baring all on the mat, and business is booming. And the practice is gaining converts.

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By her own admission, Judyth Greenburgh is an unlikely candidate for naked yoga. For starters, she’s British, and the British, she says, are more private than most. At 41, the five-foot four-inch yogi is no model or hard body either. But since taking a nude yoga class six months ago, she says it’s improved her focus and concentration.

“It’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m naked, and that’s natural,'” Greenburgh says. “It’s about being at home with your body.”

Other naked yogis concur. After a recent class at One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, where people of all shapes and sizes packed the studio to strip and stretch, several said nude yoga helped them feel more comfortable with their bodies, allowing them to peel off yet another layer of ego: namely, the one attached to their clothing.

“I’m seeing the beauty in accepting my body,” says a yoga instructor who was attending a coed nude class for the first time. “It’s a practice of honor, dignity, and respect.”

Not all nude classes are so high-minded. Aaron Star teaches a class for men in Manhattan, and he admits it carries an erotic charge. “It’s a bunch of naked gay men doing partner yoga,” he says. Still, he maintains, he’s not crossing any line. “I think that a lot of yogis forget that we live in the world,” he says. “And living in the world means we have to confront our senses and tame them.” Star’s first class proved so popular that he now leads men’s nude yoga retreats in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Europe and just released a four-part DVD series, titled Virgin, Strength, Partner, and Tantra.

The coed class at San Francisco’s One Taste is sensual, but not sexual. Students meditate with their clothes on, setting a pure intention. Then they enter a separate room where they undress “mindfully.”

Meredith Medland leads the class with her partner, and she thinks the mutual respect of their relationship establishes a safe vibe. “There’s no ‘woo woo’ energy,” she says. “It’s seeing the god in each other. That’s what class is all about.”

Medland has had a lifelong battle with her body. She once weighed 200 pounds, underwent breast-reduction surgery, participated in a 12-step weight-loss program, and worked with Dr. Phil in the Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge. But teaching naked yoga is what helped her feel content. “It’s my deepest desire,” she says, “to help people fall in love with themselves through falling in love with their bodies.”

Give Your Fill

Members of One Taste have created a nonprofit food and clothing donation program called Fill Up America. At a fundraiser on Saturday, December 10, there will be a silent auction of donated artwork from local artists and a naked yoga class in which people are invited to donate their clothes. The proceeds will go to residents of San Francisco’s Mission District. For reservations and details, call One Taste at (415) 503-1100.