Introduction from hontouniheart:
I had the pleasure of conversing with Katherine Medina of NakedYogaYYC in Calgary, Alberta CANADA about her experience in practicing and teaching naked yoga. I appreciated so much of what Katherine shared in terms of the hurdles and resistance that came initially. Then she shared about the wonderful things that students experience now that the classes have been up and running for a while. I am so moved by Katherine’s journey, and I hope this lights you with inspiration as it did for me.
I practiced clothed yoga on and off for 15 years, but in the last 5 years it has been very consistent. As for naked yoga, I’ve been practicing that consistently for one year now.
How did you come across naked yoga?
One day I tossed onto my Facebook feed, “What if I just did this, taught naked yoga?” I received mixed responses at first, but eventually one naked yoga teacher from Edmonton connected with me. His biggest piece of advice was to spend a lot of time meditating. So, I did a lot of that in the beginning while also journaling to figure out how to build a naked yoga offering in Calgary.
Next, I researched naked yoga offerings in Canada. I came across Johnny Trinh who was teaching naked yoga for men in Regina Saskatchewan, which seemed an unlikely spot for naked yoga. Then, I found a woman who had tried teaching clothes free yoga in Toronto but with little success. She has since moved to San Francisco and lately offers naked yoga in the form of workshops every so often. I also learned of clothing optional classes being offered in Vancouver. Another yoga teacher in Kelowna offers naked yoga for women in the format of a workshop around 4 times per year, although she wears clothes while her students practice clothes free, which struck me as odd.
After conducting all of this research and learning about the limited options available in Canada, I realized that offering fully nude coed naked yoga classes would be rather groundbreaking in Canada. I was both nervous and excited about stepping into this and breaking down barriers. I could write a book from all of the emails people sent me about being scared and excited to try clothes free yoga. It was so exciting that I knew I was on the right path.
How did you get into teaching naked yoga?
During my yoga teacher training, we discussed which specialities we would pursue upon completion of the program. Most of the trainees were going into yoga for kids or work as critical alignment therapists. They didn’t want to be just another yoga teacher at a studio. I joked that the market seemed saturated with other specialities, so I might as well do something completely different like naked yoga. Later on, one of my fellow trainees approached me and said that I really should do it, so I pursued it.
I wanted to offer naked yoga as a way for women to build self-esteem, to have a safe space to release fears and express themselves. I began looking for rental space in spring 2014, but I encountered a lot of resistance and negativity. For me, this was actually a huge indication that Calgary really needed naked yoga. It took me about six months to connect with someone who was willing to let me use their space. Classes started small and were only for women, but eventually I expanded to coed classes.
Did you start teaching naked yoga right after completing your teacher training, or did you teach clothed classes for a long time and then take on naked yoga later?
I taught a few clothed community classes, but then jumped right into teaching naked yoga. It was hard to build given the resistance and negativity I encountered. But once people started actually coming, positive recommendations and testimonials spread by word of mouth, which drew more people to the classes.
Naked yoga was a completely new concept for people in the area. Most assumed that a naked yoga class would devolve into a big orgy, inappropriate behavior, and that it would expose participants to harm. There was also a concern about cleanliness.
Once people started coming, I set the tone for a safe space. Every time new participants come, I give the same speech about respect and how naked yoga is founded on the yamas and niyamas of yoga philosophy. I remind everyone in the class that although naked yoga might be new to the area, it has a long history in other areas of the world.
I found that there are a lot of nudists/naturists who wanted to come to a naked yoga class simply to engage in something wholesome and clothes free. There were also students who practice clothed yoga regularly who were very interested in trying something new, and so they started coming as well.
How do you go about constructing your classes?
I am trained in Ashtanga and Yin. I currently offer 4 classes per week and am available for private classes. Sunday nights are a bootcamp, Monday night is Yin, and the other classes I play by ear with the goal of providing a full body top to bottom practice that leaves students well balanced.
Zooming in on individual class experience, I take care to see what the students need. When students step into the space, I observe them, to watch how they move around the room to see what they need. I also take a few minutes before class to talk with some of the students, especially if they are new. Should anyone need, I work with them on modifications for various asanas throughout the class. There is one gentleman, for instance, with knee issues, so I give him lots of options on the floor.
I tweak the flow a bit for naked yoga. For instance, in forward folds I have students step off the sides of their mats rather than stepping down their mats to avoid major collisions. I manage lighting so that lights are on higher during sun salutations and dimmer when we transition into vulnerable points in practice where students encounter poses like happy baby. And in those moments, I speak to vulnerability as a possible experience and remind students that they are safe. I do encourage students to notice the other bodies present with them in the room, not for the purpose of staring or judging, but to accept those around them and to allow others to, in turn, see them.
Honestly, it’s really cool to teach naked yoga. Normally in a clothed class, I find it difficult to provide the best cues to the students, because their clothes, even the most minimalist ones, cover things up and can prove distracting. In a naked yoga class, I can see clearly where their knees and hips are, I can see their alignment, because nothing is obstructing my view. That helps me to offer more accurate and helpful cues throughout the flow. In essence, I end up offering them an extremely personalized class, because I can see them clearly.
What about physical contact?
In my classes I offer mindful hands-on assists just as I would in any other yoga class setting as assisting is an integral part of teaching. Some students are new to the concept of receiving hands-on assisting period, so whenever i offer an assist they might think, “Oh am I doing something wrong?” I simply reassure them that they are doing great and I am there as a support.
In terms of contact between students, I’ve shifted how I manage this. Initially, I had 2 rules: 1) respect yourself and everyone around you and 2) no touching at all. This worked just fine when classes were small since students would have tons of space to spread out. However, once classes filled up, I had to shift my guidance. The “no touch at all” changed to “no groping.” The reality is in a packed class, an accidental touch can happen if you swing your arm up wide or something, as it would in any other yoga class setting. With that in mind, I put it into the context of intention. I say, if you accidentally touch someone, mind your intentions and move forward. I want people to know that this is a safe place and that it is OK to make mistakes.
Have you ever had an issue with people being inappropriate?
Never, not once. I begin all of my classes by setting naked yoga in the context of its rich history from other areas of the world as well as in the rich yoga philosophies and principles. I outline our intentions and expectations, making it clear that this is a true naked yoga practice, nothing more nothing less. That sets the tone for the class.
How did you decide to go from only doing women’s only classes to offering coed classes?
When I first started, I wanted to offer class for women to give them a safe space to build their self-esteem. Then, men started contacting me consistently saying that they needed the same kind of opportunity to build their self-esteem. At first I was quite skeptical, but then the gay male community came forward and made the point that they, of course, would not be bothering women. More and more, men kept saying how much they need this. As I heard their pleas, I realized that I had unintentionally created a kind of segregation between women and men. So, I began to offer coed classes, and those grew in popularity as attendance in women’s-only classes shrank. Eventually I moved to teaching coed classes exclusively. I am, however, planning to add some women’s-only classes and workshops back to the schedule this fall while continuing to offer the coed classes.
What has naked yoga practice done for you?
My naked yoga practice has given me access to more compassion for myself than I ever had before. Also, my boundaries are much clearer. Of course, it’s tons of fun. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Sometimes I step back and think about it; it seems ridiculous that taking my clothes off can do all of that for me, but it’s true. I’ve released a lot of fear.
It’s interesting, because sometimes I’ve had cases where I’d get a ton of emails from someone going back and forth on attending: “I want to come. No wait I’m scare, never mind. OK I’ll come next time. Maybe. Um…” I always say that the hardest part is getting here and stepping into the room, and that five minutes into class they won’t even remember they’re naked. And it’s so true. During class I’ll mention it by saying something like, “feel the air on your naked skin,” and I’ll see the lightbulbs go off as students remember, “Oh yeah! I am naked!” They had forgotten!
During class I say reassuring things like, “The earth is going to hold you. Breathe through the fear.” I’ve said these things in other yoga classes before, but people hear it differently when they are practicing clothes free. Afterwards, students always express feeling a true sense of pride for having faced their fear, for having completed the practice. They would never have thought they’d feel so safe, and I love that. One time a woman came up to me after class and hugged me, saying, “You helped me break down my fear.” I tell my students, “You did that!”
These students do amazing work by breaking down their barriers, facing and moving through their fears and unveiling their radiant awesomeness.
And that’s really all I’m doing; I’m just reminding people how great they are.
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