As I walked up the stairs to the yoga studio in San Francisco’s Mission District, all I could think was that never has the tagline from Showgirls — “Leave your inhibitions at the door” — felt more relevant. And much like Elizabeth Berkley in that infamous film, I was about to spend the next 90 minutes naked and displayed.
This wasn’t actually my first nude yoga class, but it was my first qigong yoga class and the first time I’d RSVPed to an event on Meetup, and been the sole person on the “will attend” list. “Would I be the only person in class?” I wondered. And if I was, how awkward — or, to be completely accurate, how much more awkward — was this going to be? I decided the only way to lower my anxiety was to have a few glasses of rosé before class. Can you blame me?
With the help of a little liquid courage, I entered the studio feeling anxious, but, all things considered, pretty confident. The first thing I noticed was that I was thankfully not the only student. In fact there were a handful of men already here . . . and already naked. The only thing to do was to join them. But where to get undressed? I opted not to disrobe in front of everyone, and instead made my way to a side room where I took off all of my clothes and left my belongings. “Here goes nothing,” I thought.
Class started nearly on time and after a short introduction from the instructor we got started. There were about 20 men in attendance, and, yes, all were nude. But it’s interesting how quickly you become desensitized to that. You never stop noticing the nakedness, but you do stop caring. For the most part.
It’s hard for me to really describe qigong, other than to say that it reminded me of a slightly more strenuous version of the Tai Chi I see practiced in the parks of SF. It was way more meditative and less fitness-y than I was expecting, and I found myself getting bored, which is not a thing that happens often for a gay man in a room full of naked men. I was only half paying attention to the instructor when I heard him say, “Time to partner up.” Um…
Here’s the thing, at this point you only have two options: You can leave and look like a loser or you can suck it up and do the damn thing. I begrudgingly did the latter. Side note to all of the fitness instructors out there: if you’re going to orchestrate a partner activity, pair the class up. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT make your poor students walk around aimlessly trying to find a stranger to work with. I beg of you. I was the last person to find a partner and no matter how confident you are, that doesn’t feel great. But at least the guy was nice. The second guy I worked with — yes, we had to partner up not once, but twice! — was the worst. It was his first class too, but that didn’t stop him from correcting me on my form and saying things like “Oh, you’re stronger than you look.”
What were we doing in pairs, you ask? It’s kind of hard to explain, but we were essentially trying to push the other person down to the ground by pressing on his stomach, while he resisted using his legs and core strength. We took turns doing this and also did it at the same time. It was weird.
Also weird? The foot massage we gave ourselves after the partner exercises ended. But nothing could prepare me for what happened soon after that. Let me set the scene. The end of class was quickly approaching and we were finally doing more traditional yoga moves. “Thank God,” I thought. And then came Downward Facing Dog. The few times I’ve admitted to people that I’ve attended a nude yoga class or two, the number one response is “I wouldn’t want to see anyone doing downward dog naked.” And I hear you. I do. But guess what? You’re ALSO in downward dog. Meaning you aren’t staring into people’s butts, you’re staring upside down at their backs. That is unless you’re directly facing a mirror. In which case…
That horrifying incident aside, my other gripe is that the class ran about 15 minutes long. And then there were the hugs. So.many.hugs. Everyone else seemed to be totally into the hugging-on-the-way out situation. I gave one or two half-hearted hugs before making a beeline for the changing room. When I went to leave, almost everyone was still there, still naked and still hugging.
So will I do another naked yoga class? Probably. Another naked qigong class? Probably not. Turns out, I want a more traditional workout, even in my birthday suit.