Jessamyn Stanley changed my mind about naked yoga and I tried it—here’s what happened
I spoke to naked yoga advocate, Jessamyn Stanley, to find out about her practice and give it a go myself
You hear “naked yoga” and your mind goes to, well, a vivid place. So of course I wanted to know more. How does someone get into naked yoga? Is naked yoga really naked? And if so, how do you… do it? The more I read, the more interested I became.
This is how I ended up chatting to Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga teacher, author and co-founder of The Underbelly, a yoga app designed to bring wellness into your life on your own terms.
Stanley has become known as a body positivity advocate and she speaks highly of naked yoga, regularly sharing its benefits over regular, you know, clothed yoga.
Stanley fell into yoga when a friend invited her to a class, but through her practice Stanley says she discovered limitations she had placed on herself, and yoga gave her the space to challenge these limitations and push her own boundaries.
But how does someone get into naked yoga? For Stanley, it was a natural step.
“I think I've been practicing naked the entire time that I’ve been practicing yoga, because it’s really hard to get in touch with your body without getting underneath your clothes and touching your skin,” she says. “So one of my favorite ways to practice has always been in my underwear or as close to naked as possible.
“I found that when I take pictures for Instagram I’ll put clothes on. It's always weird to me because I do this practice and go so deep in a way that I can't share with people because of the way that our society is set up. So I started sharing naked yoga because I wanted to show a more authentic look at my practice and the depth of it.”
Representation and visibility is another big reason why Stanley shares her practice of naked yoga.
“One of the really cool things about sharing a naked yoga practice, specifically being a fat, black, queer person, is that it then increases the representation of nude, fat, black, queer bodies. Because when you see fat people, you very rarely see naked fat people. Visibility is the most important thing that we can offer each other, so it ends up being an act of advocacy as well.”
We all know the internet can be a breeding ground for negativity, so it’s little wonder her practice has attracted criticism from some quarters, but Stanley says this isn’t something that she takes personally.
“There’s this really intense pushback against anything that shows sexuality in a positive light so I definitely receive a lot of criticism from that perspective. There's a responsibility to not take that critique personally and to understand that this is people having a deeper experience with themselves and it doesn't have anything to do with me. I love the feedback, I love the pushback, I love the critique. And I think that's the reason to do it.”
The longer we chatted, the more my view on naked yoga shifted. Something I felt awkward about and best suited to those with a so called "perfect body" appeared more accessible. Stanley spoke of the effect that the practice can have on your insecurities too, saying it helps to promote a positive body image.
“I think that so often we’re hiding our bodies from ourselves behind our clothes,” she says. “You’ll put on clothes and think, ‘I’m OK with this outfit, this is fine,’ but if you look at yourself naked, you’re scared. And so whenever you practice yoga naked, it’s this opportunity to come and have a really intimate experience with parts of yourself that you are ashamed of. And that is some of the most powerful medicine when it comes to accepting your body.
“One of the things about wearing clothes is that it really does change the way that we feel about ourselves. There’s the way that you feel when you put on an outfit—there’s nothing wrong with that, if you find the right look it can totally change your attitude. But then you start to identify with the clothing more than what’s underneath them. Being able to find that separation between your identity and the costume that you put on feels really important.”
Before ending our chat, I asked Stanley if she had any advice for anyone trying naked yoga for the first time (i.e. me). “Just laugh at yourself,” she says. “Treat your naked yoga practice as the space where you can just be a kid again, that's my biggest piece of advice.”
Empowered by my chat with Stanley, I pulled out my yoga mat and decided to give it a go. After shutting my blinds, of course.
Her words “laugh at yourself” rang through my mind. And boy, did I.
Before speaking to Stanley I couldn't quite imagine how I might do naked yoga. How could I remain serious and poised enough to take the craft seriously? But after our conversation, I realized it doesn’t need to be serious and strict. I can laugh at myself, fall over, make it my own, and most importantly, have fun. So I did. I pulled out rusty versions of poses I picked up over the years from hot yoga classes and YouTube tutorials and allowed my body to enjoy a good stretch, something it was definitely in need of as I train for a marathon.
I laughed, I fell over a bit, and 20 minutes later the thing I was so apprehensive of was done. It really wasn’t that bad and I didn’t feel nearly as silly or embarrassed as I thought I would.
While I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to my yoga mat with no clothes on, my conversation with Stanley transformed my opinion on naked yoga. What I previously assumed to be just a way to practice without restriction is actually so much more. Hearing her speak so passionately about representation and visibility, as well as the space and freedom it gives to accept your body for what it is, was inspiring.
So, if you want to try naked yoga yourself, remember Stanley’s advice: “laugh at yourself and have fun.”
Lois Mackenzie is a fitness writer producing news, features, buying guides and reviews for Fit&Well and sister site Coach. She is an avid runner and hill walker, and can often be seen sporting her trusty waist lead as she trains for her first marathon with her two border collies in tow. Lois has a Master’s in Digital Journalism from Strathclyde University and was previously a senior SEO reporter at Newsquest Media Group.
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