I am sitting cross legged on a rubber mat trying not to watch seven men undressing around me. Considering that a certain part of their anatomy falls in my immediate eye-line, this is not easy.
“….And my voice will just become your unconscious, if that makes any sense?” “Absolutely,” I lie, suddenly snapped back into focus by Annette, who is sitting opposite me wearing a sarong.
I am about to embark on a naked yoga class. London has gone yoga mad, with new strands popping up like spots on a teenage face: hot bikram yoga, yoga-lates, doga; the naked variety seems almost banal in comparison. Sort of.
Feigning nonchalance, I listen to Annette, the teacher, telling me about what I am about to experience. The style of yoga we are going to practice is called the Dynamic Yoga Method, and while nudity is not essential, Annette recommends it because “it honours and expands many of the basic principles of yoga,” and, it encourages aparigraha (acceptance): “one of the fundamental elements of yoga - acceptance of ourselves, exactly as we are, and of others, as well as of what is actually happening, as we practice yoga, and ultimately in the rest of our lives,” she explains. And there I was thinking it was about checking your tits were normal, or even slightly better than average.
She finishes the explanation, casts an empathetic eye over my state of undress (which is none) and suggests I go downstairs to the bathroom to change. I follow her instruction. I remove my clothes and put on my own sarong, which is actually my sister’s scarf. I hope she doesn’t mind. I take a deep breath and venture back up, where now the seven men are positioned in a circle, facing towards Annette at its head. I had been silently aghast when Annette revealed that I would be the only woman in that session, as the two other regulars had pulled out at the last minute. Considering that it’s usually a pretty big deal when I’m in a room with one naked man, this is intimidating. Seven penises. Seven.
I am taken aback by soft red lighting, gentle Indian music and heady smell of incense, reminding me momentarily of a Camden hippy shop. The men sit cross legged, open palms on knees, eyes closed. All but one is naked, and much though I strain my eyes, one-eyed-snakes are disguised by the shadows. No one is looking at me. This may be because of the sense of oneness and focus that Annette had explained earlier. Or it might be because Annette is smoking hot, and all eyes are fixed on her. No wonder the other women stayed away, a bod like that is bound to give other girls an inferiority complex.
I have taken my place between two young-ish and toned men, possibly in their thirties, possibly gay, although it’s hard to tell in this soporific hue, while the others could be in their forties, maybe fifties. As the class begins Annette instructs us to lie on our mats and practice breathing exercises. For what might be hour, but probably about 15 minutes we remain there. Between her lilting northern voice, inviting us to “explore the possibility” of this or that, and the wafting music, I may have drifted off, but am suddenly aware that the others are clambering to their feet.
I do so reluctantly, crouched over as if I were about to hit my head on a low ceiling. This is the moment of truth. Standing upright in the circle I cannot escape my own, or anyone else’s nudity. My English prudence and liberalness tussle briefly, but the latter wins through and I stand tall, almost defiant. It feels marvellous.
What could have felt like a distortion of a nightmare - that one where you’re naked on a stage in front of all your school mates - feels courageous but at the same time very peaceful. Gradually, Annette builds us up in a routine, adding new elements, from “child pose” (a sort of foetal position with your arms flat ahead of you), to all fours, to “down-dog” (palms and soles of feet flat on the floor with hips in the air), to crouching, to standing with our arms in the air, like an Italian footballer protesting his innocence. With her constant instruction as she circles the room, gently correcting our positions, I suddenly understand what she meant by her voice becoming my unconscious, as I am not thinking, but thinking, and moving and unaware that I am naked but also very aware of my own body. The only distraction comes when I turn to my right and the same time as the guy next to me turns to his left and suddenly I’m aggressively confronted with a dong in my face.
With 15 minutes to go in the class again we lie on the mats, breathing and “accepting”. The temperature has dipped and Annette comes around the room covering us with blankets. Again, I snooze.
Abruptly it is over and, still naked, she bids us a good weekend. We stand up in silence and the men disappear into the shadows to re-dress and head solitarily out into the night. I feel confused, enlightened, fucking chilled out.
A course costs £75 and run as 4 x 1hr45min classes over 4 weeks, sometimes consecutive, sometimes alternating, and is suitable for all levels. Those nervous about nudity are welcome to wear a sarong or something similar until they feel comfortable.
Location: Synchronicity Yoga Studios, Clapham North
Contact: Annette at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.nakedyogalondon.co.uk for more details.