Published in N: The Magazine of Naturist Living, Summer 2005
Naked Yoga. Is it the Yogic Way?
By Wendy Tremayne
I always appreciate when life presents me with opportunities to test the principals that I live by and widen the view through which I see the world around me. This winter when I was invited to teach a naked yoga class in New York City, I knew I was being presented with one such opportunity. I accepted. As a yogi and a yoga teacher I explored this new facet of my life by beginning with a simple question, is naked yoga yoga-like? With respect for the long and beautiful history of the philosophy and practice of yoga I proceeded with humility. I did not presume to know the answer to the question. I began my inquiry with awareness that the context of how people live their lives changes with time and so a modern view of an ancient system invites questions as to where we have been and where we are now. I also reflected on the body of knowledge left for us by yogis of past and I viewed what I found through yogic philosophy. I have indeed made some surprising discoveries!
A simple question set me on my way. How has the role of clothing changed in the several thousand years that have passed since yoga’s creation? In ancient and modern times clothing has a utilitarian purpose and it also demonstrates social rank. In ancient India clothing was utilitarian and it was also used to distinguish people from one another in a way that exposes caste. The people of India have long lived in a caste system. A giant leap forward reminds me that the more we change the more we stay the same. While the utilitarian functions of clothing have slid to the background the social value of clothing has moved even closer to the forefront. Today branding and endlessly cycling trends divide people into socio economic stalls that reflect the size of their wallets rather than their commonality.
Lets see where this sits when placed in the yogic view. Vedanta philosophy suggests that peace amongst people comes through the recognition that all of life is one a macro organism, each part interdependent on all other parts. While we are individuals, we are also part of a larger life form. The individual is like a cell within it. Obtaining this awareness is one of yoga’s goals. The physical practice of yoga is a method used to gain this perception. When the student performs yoga postures they witness the changes of the body and mind. One day the body cannot do what it was able to the day before. Similarly, the body will suddenly do what it could never do before. The mind also wavers endlessly. Concentration comes easily and then with great struggle. Through practice and by visiting the body and mind regularly, the student begins to see that they are part of nature and therefore subject to its laws. The student becomes a witness to the endless growing, decaying, living and dying that is our condition all at once and always. We are never the same and we never arrive. Through yoga we see that we actually have no choice but to change. This is our universality! It is the thing that is shared by all of life, inescapable. For the yogi the choice is to open up and transform rather than become more rigid and tight. What the body learns the mind mirrors and so the yogi remains flexible in thought and movement and better able to glide through the changes in their internal and external world. All the while the yogi knows that all of life around him/her is a part of this movement.
Now how does all of this connect to our clothing? When we consider the role that clothing has played in society, it appears to be in direct opposition to the goals of yoga. By design, clothing reminds us of the ways in which we are different. It serves as a distraction that leads us away from a central yogic principal – the commonality of all living things, which can contribute to peace and compassion amongst people.
I also took a practical view of the use of clothing in the yoga classroom. What do the yogis of past suggest? I was able to find little more than the suggestion of loose fitting clothing that allows for the greatest range of movement of the body and clothing that exposes the greatest amount of bone and muscle of the skeletal system so that a teacher can view the student and make appropriate adjustments. It seems that there is no actual ‘necessity’ for clothing in the classroom. In fact clothing works in opposition to the students freedom of movement as well as the teachers ability to view the students alignment.
It is easy to get caught up in the idea that each new generation is better than the last. When we’re not taking this view we often jump to the other extreme and assume that people of the past knew a great deal more than we did. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We often forget simple truths that fall through the cracks of progress. At the same time we are people just like the people of generations past and we are equally fallible. The gurus of ancient India provided us with a sophisticated body of knowledge that just might contain a remedy for some of the ailments of all of society – ancient and modern alike.
In yoga class you will often hear people greet each other with the word "namaste. A direct translation is "I bow to you," although the yogis use it to mean "The light (divine) in me sees the light (divine) in you." When used this way we're acknowledging the part of ourselves that is the same and we’re practicing yoga by bringing to life the philosophy that there is universality amongst all of life. As I approach my naked yoga class each week this greeting takes on greater meaning as I address my class, naked, human, part of nature, and as an extension of them and them of me “namaste.”
Naked Yoga is a weekly class that meets on Monday’s at 7pm in Union Square in New York City. All are welcome. For more information: www.gaiatreehouse.com. To sign up for a weekly naked yoga newsletter send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org