Naked Yoga is rapidly growing in the West. The first question that came to mind when writing this article was what is naked yoga? I could only imagine it was people practising yoga in a studio naked.
This was a pretty bizarre thought. Although nudists do exist, and there are places to do this like retreat centres, I would not expect to see it in a local yoga studio in my town. However, that may be changing. According to my research, “In the 21st century, the practice is gaining popularity, notably in western societies that have more familiarity with social nudity.”
Why is naked yoga growing the West?
After reading and browsing the internet, it seems that the reasons for people doing naked yoga in the West is different from Eastern Cultures. One of the main themes in magazines, and videos online is body confidence. It is clear that many people struggle with body image in the West. This is perfectly understandable because of our culture.
With the increase in people on social media, so much advertising, so much focus on the body in Western society people have gradually become more obsessed with body image. Most people want to achieve a certain sort of image they have been told is “good and attractive”, and people work hard to attain this body look.
So many people are obsessed with the gym and exercise, keeping slim, looking good, being in shape and it is not surprise at all.
What are the most popular channels on television at the minute. You have love island full of hunky men or well shaped women with large features whether cosmetic or natural. You have programs like naked attraction with people dating based on someones physical appearance in the nude. This is where everyones attention is at, there eyes glued to the human form, there is so much body identification.
Social media is no different with good looking people again given most of the attention, and people obsessing over them. There is so much subconscious comparison going on, and desire, and we then wonder why people are disappointed with their own body image, and have low self-esteem.
When reading magazines about naked yoga, the theme of body image just keeps coming up, even in the videos in which people are interview. They always bring up doing naked yoga to feel better about their body, and self-esteem. For example, this article by MindBodyGreen states, “For people who suffer from low self-esteem and poor body image, when they practice without clothing in a safe, nurturing environment, they come to appreciate their bodies and understand that their feelings of shame are not their own, but a kind of inherited mind-state that comes as a result of societal judgments.”I do not think naked yoga is the answer to this, but it is merely an exposition that people are not happy in themselves and are looking for answers in the West.
When reading about the history of Naked Yoga, it is stated that “Naked yoga is the practice of yoga without clothes.
It has existed since ancient times as a spiritual practice, and is mentioned in the 7th-10th century Bhagavata Purana and by the Ancient Greek geographer Strabo.”
In reference to my statement that the reasons for people doing naked yoga in the 21stcentury being very different to the tradition in the East, I must point out this extract from the Bhagavata Purana.
In the Bhagavata Purana (written c. 800–1000 AD) it says:
”A person in the renounced order of life may try to avoid even a dress to cover himself. If he wears anything at all, it should be only a loincloth, and when there is no necessity, a sannyāsī should not even accept a daṇḍa. A sannyāsī should avoid carrying anything but a daṇḍa and Kamaṇḍalu.”
The advice given in the Bhagavata Purana is not to help the sadhu or sannyasin's body image. It is not to make them feel better about the body. It is about the fact that the body does not matter at all. That life is for spiritual realisation, or self realisation, that you are beyond the body mind-state. It almost makes the Western view of naked yoga look like a parody, a cosmic joke.
It shows a society that is completely lost in illusion or Maya according to the spiritual tradition of Yoga meaning Union with the Divine. They are only encouraging this Maya by practising a yoga that focuses on the body, which one day has to go anyway whether we like it or not, whether it is attractive or not it has to go.
“The practice of spiritual nudity is common among Digambara Jains, Aghori sadhus, and other ascetic groups in the dharmic religions. The order of Naga Sadhus, conspicuous in the processions and bathing ritual at the Kumbh Mela, use nudity as a part of their spiritual practice of renunciation”
In the East, spiritual nuditiy is an act of renunciation, not an improvement of body image or to improve self-esteem.
The self that people are trying to improve in the West is the one they are renouncing in the East because of its falseness. It causes trouble, and leads to problem after problem as we can see in the videos and interviews. It is actually called the “Ego” in yogic tradition meaning identification with the body which is temporary and imperfect. The purpose of Yoga which is a sanskrit word meaning “Union with the Divine” is to transcend this Ego, and body mind identification. To find true perfection in the divine.
The body is not the root cause of these issues in the West , it is the mind which is given to much importance. This may not be addressed, and this is understandable since the meaning of yoga appears to have lost its value in the West. As Krishnamurti shares in this talk:
To conclude, it appears that naked yoga may be a great activity for lots of people in the West. Whether it holds much true value and purpose within the framework of traditional Eastern Yoga is questionable.
Can it lead to Union with the Divine? Possibly, and I am certainly hoping that is has more of effect than improving people's body image, and bodily health both of which are temporary.
There is over a thousand years of history behind this type of yoga. It is recorded in the Bhagavta Purana, and also by the Ancient Greek geographer Strabo.”