Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=163023
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 12:15:08 PM CST
Courtesy of Per Erez/Bare Essentials Yoga
In a dimly lit studio tucked away in the heart of West Rogers Park, Tony Holmes perfects his sideways crane pose in harmonic unison alongside the other nine male students in his yoga class.
Like countless yoga classes in session around the city, Holmes and his fellow students perform various postures and meditative exercises under instructor Per Erez’s direction.
The only difference? They’re nude.
That’s the latest spin emerging in yoga studios and health clubs around the country: naked yoga.
“It’s an equalizer,” said Holmes, 42, a student of Erez’s Bare Essentials Yoga class in Chicago.
“Being in our birthday suit is the one uniform we all have,” he said.
Holmes, who has practiced yoga since 1997, is one of many yoga practitioners who have opted to do away with the fabric barrier.
But what are the benefits of baring it all?
“The minute you take your clothing off, you can’t shield yourself from all of those nagging doubts and questions you have about yourself vis-à-vis other people,” said Erez, whose teaching is influenced by the form of hatha yoga known as kripalu.
Erez, who has taught yoga for over 20 years and celebrated the fifth anniversary of his nude all-male yoga classes in February of this year, said he never had a particular interest in teaching yoga in the buff, but was persuaded by a student to give it a try.
Since 2001, the pantless practice has gained increased media exposure after celebrity yogi Aaron Star opened his Hot Nude Yoga studio in New York, with such cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Dallas and even Chicago following suit.
But some of the attention has painted the discipline in an unnecessarily prurient light, dismissing this form of yoga as “sexually charged” and wildly tantric, said Erez.
Elsbeth Meuth, director of the TantraNova Institute in Chicago, attributes this misconception to what she views as a restrictive Western attitude surrounding the human body.
“In my eyes, they are completely different,” said Meuth, who says it’s a common misjudgment for individuals to use "nude yoga" and "tantric yoga" interchangeably.
“One doesn’t require the other; you can do nude yoga without any tantric awareness and you can do tantric yoga without being nude,” she said, adding, “I can imagine it [nude yoga] can be quite liberating, though.”
Liberating, yes. But how necessary?
Not at all, according to Suddha Weixler, director of the Chicago Yoga Center and a classically trained yogi with more than 40 years of teaching experience.
“Yoga is about the ability to turn one’s mind inward, and when there’s too much external stimulation it is distracting,” he said.
Weixler said that practicing nude yoga is not traditional, and that “trend-izing” a discipline that many regard as a highly spiritual practice is just a result of yoga’s blossoming popularity.
A 2008 "Yoga in America" study released by Yoga Journal magazine found that 6.9 percent of U.S. adults, or 15.8 million people, practice yoga.
The study also indicated that Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations and media (DVDs, videos, books and magazines).
This figure represents an increase of 87 percent compared to the previous study in 2004—almost double of what was previously spent.
Jim Bennitt, owner of Tejas Yoga, a studio in the city’s South Loop, noted the emergence of yoga as a booming business – particularly in the apparel department.
But stripping away that high-end yoga apparel for a more ‘minimalistic’ approach isn’t the answer, according to Bennitt, who has been practicing tantric vinyasa yoga for 14 years.
“I think if it gets people’s minds off the cute girl’s yoga outfit next to you, then it may work,” he said.
So is mainstream America ready for taking it all off in the yoga studio?
Perhaps so, and sooner than you think.
“We’ve recently gotten a handful of requests for nude yoga classes at our conference this year,” said Jonny Kest, founder of the Midwest Yoga Conference.
A yogi since the age of 12, Kest has never partaken in nude yoga, but understands the practice as one that would cultivate a sense of self-acceptance.
But can yoga enthusiasts country-wide leave their clothes at home at this year’s yoga conference?
“Maybe next year,” said Kest.
No matter what your attire preference (or lack thereof) may be, however, essentially, all yoga fosters a spiritual connection between oneself and the universe.
“But nude yoga in particular,” said Erez, is about a “comprehensive opening to the power of the world.”
Holmes echoed his instructor’s sentiments,
“If you go to a nudist beach or any sort of nudist camp, you’ll find that people make a much better quality of eye contact than they do when they're clothed.”