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Like many women, I’ve had a contentious relationship with my body for most of my life. It has never looked the way I’ve wanted, which is to say, the way I thought it was “supposed” to look. I’ve always been short and curvy, and I’ve grown exceedingly fleshier with age.
But, at 46, I’ve actually never been more accepting of my body. Thanks to the body positive movement—including bigger shapes in such high-profile talents including Lizzo and, until recently, Adele—my own internalized fat phobia has lessened tremendously. But if you’d told me I was going to take a nude yoga class, I would have laughed in your face. Because, frankly, stripping down for group practice sounds like the opposite of relaxing.
Still, when my editor inquired whether I’d be interested in trying a nude yoga class and writing about my experience, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. (As a G cup, there’s no way I can jump comfortably without a bra, anyways.)
Could nude yoga feel…empowering?
First things first: Finding a nude yoga class. Based on Google, “nude yoga” has been seeing a rapid increase in popularity. But there aren’t any classes yet in my town of Boulder. It appeared that I was gonna have to drive to the big city to get naked for journalism.
I found a female-only nude yoga class at the independently owned and operated Urban Sanctuary studio in Denver. “Skins Yoga is a powerful class that supports the shedding of what does not serve oneself, no matter what form it may come in,” according to the website description. “Space is held for women to dress down to their comfort level to see what comes to the surface to be healed with no judgment.” Okay, that doesn’t sound too weird.
In fact, it sounded freeing.
Finding strength in numbers
I show up to class about 15 minutes early with my adventurous friend and fellow yoga teacher, Bria. The studio, located in the historic Little Five Points neighborhood, has exposed brick walls, well-loved vintage furniture, and nooks teeming with houseplants that lend it an inviting, homey vibe.
We’re invited to help ourselves to herbal tea and select mats for ourselves from those arranged in two rows facing each other in the center of the studio. Bria and I unroll our own mats, side by side, on top of the studio mats and take a seat, fully clothed. I’m wearing a loose t-shirt, sports bra, leggings, and underwear.
Before long, there are 10 of us. Bria and I are by far the oldest women in attendance. The other students appear to be mostly Gen Zs along with a few scattered Millennials.
Frankly, I’m relieved about the younger crowd. I feel absolutely no need to compare myself with a body that’s 15 to 20 years younger than my own. I’m also pleased to see a variety of body shapes and sizes in the room.
Before we begin, our teacher Soly Culpepper assures us that we can strip down as little or as much as we want during class, and that she would cue us at different points during the practice to remove an item of clothing if we desired. This, too, is a relief. Being quite busty, I find the idea of doing any sort of inverted yoga pose without a bra not only awkward but potentially fatal. I already feel like I’m going to suffocate when I do Halasana (Plow Pose) fully clothed. (Is it just me or do big boobs and yoga go together like mayonnaise and ice cream?)
The ten of us start class sitting in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) and taking turns introducing ourselves and listing our pronouns, which helped me feel even more at ease. Culpepper also invites us to name something that we’re ready to release. I’m not sure what I want to say. But, when it’s my turn, out tumble the words “I’m letting go of the weight of others’ expectations.”
Culpepper then walks around the room with a deck of oracle cards, inviting each of us to select one at random. Mine reads, “Boundaries are a form of self-care.” This is absolutely spot on for the week I was having. The card also serves as a reminder that I am in charge of my experience in this nude yoga class. I am here to do only what I am comfortable with.
Finally, Culpeper hands out scraps of paper and asks us to journal in response to the prompt “It’s okay…” I quickly start to scribble. “It’s okay to be fatter and older than I’ve ever been before. It’s okay to be single at age 46. It’s okay to be lonely sometimes.” It’s one of the most healing entries I’ve written in months, which makes me want to take this prompt into my regular journaling practice.
Baring (not quite) it all
The yoga portion of class consists of mostly close-to-the-ground hatha yoga poses like Child’s Pose, Seated Forward Bend, and Half Pigeon. Thankfully, no vigorous flows here. Culpepper suggests that we do the class with our eyes closed in order to be able to feel into our physical sensations.
About 10 minutes into the sequence, she invites us to remove a piece of clothing. I take off my shirt. This might not be a big deal for many people, but it’s the first time I’ve ever stripped down to just my bra in yoga class. I’m very sensitive about my belly rolls, but I feel the freedom of being unencumbered by extra fabric around my midsection—the protection used to hide the “fat” parts of my body that I don’t like.
After another 10 minutes of slow flow, including poses like Cat/Cow, Child’s Pose, and Down Dog—Culpepper invites us to remove another piece of clothing. I shed my leggings and am down to my black boyshorts and sports bra. At this point, many women are topless, including our teacher.
I can feel the warm air circulating around the back of my knees, thighs, and armpits. I feel natural and free, which helps me connect to the yoga experience in a new and slightly more vulnerable way. Maybe there’s something to this nude yoga thing.
After a few spinal twists, our teacher asks us to return to Sukhasana and suggests we remove another piece of clothing if we want. I take off my bra. Some of us are completely naked at this point, and she tells us we can place a blanket over our laps if we like. As we place one hand over our heart and the other on our belly, I feel a new tenderness for my rolls as they gently undulate with each breath.
Finally, it’s time for Savasana. I’m not gonna lie: Topless Savasana is pretty great. I cover my bottom half with a blanket for warmth and deeply relax into the floor as a peaceful song by Beautiful Chorus plays in the background. I luxuriate in simply being in my body. I feel gratitude for all it does for me.
After some time passes, Culpepper invites us to hum along. As we join our voices, I feel a sense of community with these women. I am so inspired by how open and free they are at such a young age.
When the class draws to an end 90 minutes after I tentatively sat down not knowing what to expect, I feel completely yoga stoned and happy. I find myself thinking that I can’t wait to do it again.
Working through old ways of being
Afterward, I talked to Culpepper and Ali Duncan, the owner of Urban Sanctuary. Duncan started hosting nude yoga classes in 2019. “Through the Skins classes, we hope to give students an opportunity to embrace themselves,” says Duncan. “This experience allows the student to work through different types of self-loathing and embarrassing thoughts that may come up. As a country, we have so much shame around the human body.”
Culpepper agrees. “For me, as a survivor of sexual assault, it’s a practice in just letting yourself be seen and realizing that there’s nothing shameful about your naked body,” she said. “I’ve always been about empowering other women, and this class is the epitome of that. We show up for each other, and just let ourselves be–and breathe.”
I consider whether the effects of a nude yoga practice could be cumulative: The more you strip down, the more you can begin to lean into acceptance of yourself.
I find myself thinking again about the younger women in class. Let’s face it, at my age, I couldn’t care less about what others think. But it has taken me years to come to this newfound comfort with my chub. They are decades ahead of me in terms of body acceptance, and their easy comfort in their own skins makes me hopeful for their futures. Because in my experience, when you don’t truly accept who you are, you usually accept less than you deserve from others.
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