This article originally appeared on VICE Germany
I moved to Berlin in April of 2017 after a breakup. I used the change in environment as a chance to reflect on my inner self, and began trying new things in an attempt to, as some might say, "find myself". Mind you, I'd rather say: I finally went on a long overdue trip to my first hippie festival and took part in some Buddhist meditation sessions. I also made a short-lived attempt at becoming vegan. Next on my list was naked yoga.
I first heard about naked yoga when I came across the Instagram account @nude_yogagirl. I’ve always loved yoga – not only does it look pretty impressive, but it's also just a good method to properly become stronger, more flexible and more balanced. As soon as I’m on a yoga mat, I feel more in touch with myself.
But how does being nude and vulnerable affect that? I wanted to see for myself.
It didn't take me long to find and sign up for a class nearby, and as soon as I read the session's description on its Facebook event page I was amped and ready to go. Take a look at this and tell me you wouldn't be, too: "Let’s tap into the deeper sensitivities of our body, mind and spirit; may we swim in the JuIcY-ness that lives beneath the 'masks' that we wear in our everyday lives."
So that's why now, a few days later, I'm sitting in a yoga studio in Kreuzberg, south Berlin. It's 7.45PM and I'm still fully dressed and nervously sipping some tea. We are five women, including our instructor, between the ages of 25 and 35. The mats on the floor are laid out in a semicircle – for obvious reasons, you don't want to sit behind someone when you're doing yoga in the nude. In one corner of the enormous white space is a collection of tea lights and Buddha statues, the heavy smell of incense wafting up and out of it. It makes the Zen-like atmosphere in the room seem a bit forced, but fine, I'll take it.
I’m sitting on my yoga blanket. The woman next to me forgot hers, so I lend her my towel. "Are you sure you're OK with that?" she asks, knowing what she'll soon be doing on it. I'm sure. Slightly awkwardly, she lays out the terry cloth over the blue studio mat that she just got out of the cupboard. It’s dark outside. We close the curtains so only the light from a bright red bulb on the building opposite shines through. I close my eyes and listen to the electro-shaman sounds coming from a small sound system. My only thoughts are of exactly how naked I will soon be.
For now, our instructor Danielle is still wearing leopard-print leggings and pink leg-warmers. She tells me that naked yoga helped her get to know her body better, and she discovered a new pride in her curves. Through her classes, she hopes to pass on the "transformative power of naked yoga" to other women.
A few moments later, it’s showtime. "You can slowly get undressed," Danielle says. I honestly don't know where to start. I decide to take off my jacket first, before wiggling my way out of my T-shirt, sports bra, yoga pants, socks and underwear. The others seem to slip out of their clothes in seconds, while I slowly peel off item after item.
When I’m done, all I can do is grin nervously. I have nothing to hide behind, and the situation suddenly seems so bizarre. Why are we a bunch of naked strangers on yoga mats, again? Automatically, my eyes start to wander, noting tattoos, oddly shaped birth-marks and nipples of all different shapes and sizes.
"Run your hands along your body," Danielle instructs us. "Be aware of the way your skin feels." I’m quickly getting more comfortable as the session goes on, but he class is actually pretty hard, so my embarrassed smile quickly makes way for a look of pure determination. Before I know it, I’m fully immersed in the moment, not bothered in the slightest about stretching my naked limbs alongside complete strangers. It’s only during the Happy Baby pose – where you lie on your back with your hands gripping your feet while stretching your open legs in the air – that I remember how thoroughly I'm exposing myself to my new friends.
Many of my yogi friends reacted with outright anger when I told them I was going to try out nude yoga, considering it an Instagram fad for privileged white girls. And while that's of course not a completely unfair assessment, there's a lot more to naked yoga than that. As Danielle explains, the practise is also about getting to know your body better and having a healthy relationship with it. And though it might attract a lot of perverts and voyeurs on social media, it’s not about sex – a realisation you quickly come to when you actually find yourself naked and almost pulling a muscle while getting into some impossible pose. Considering the fact so many women in the world are unhappy with their bodies, immediately dismissing these kinds of confidence-boosting exercises as pointless trends seems a little reductive.
I notice that the poses we're getting into feel more intense while naked. They look different, too. You can see how your stomach moves along and changes during each turn, how your muscles tense up and tendons stretch. I'm also a lot more aware of the imperfections of my body.
It's about 25 degrees celsius in the room – Danielle turned up the heating full blast at the start so we wouldn’t freeze. A thin film of sweat has formed all over my body. As we perform a position on our stomachs, I leave a mark on my mat that reminds me of an Yves Klein painting. Some of the other women sigh as they perform certain stretches – which is perfectly normal in yoga, but I realise I suddenly find it a bit much now that none of us are wearing any clothes. Surprisingly enough, I'm completely cool with our instructor touching us in order to correct our posture.
During the final relaxation pose, Danielle tells us to put our socks back on, meaning – for a moment – we are five women, holding the Savasana pose, on our backs, with arms and legs stretched out, naked, wearing only our socks.
Afterwards, we put our other clothes back on. I slip back into my yoga pants, sneakers and the massive jacket that protects me from the Berlin winter. But something has changed. It might sound cheesy, but I do feel like I’m more in tune with the world around me, whatever that means. I feel good and, most surprisingly, sexy. That might be the JuIcY-ness kicking in.