I did naked yoga. So should you.

Naked Yoga Image: Wearetherealdeal.com

Naked Yoga
Image: Wearetherealdeal.com

As I settled into my stretch, both hands over my right foot, I extended my leg further and inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. Calm, composed, collected. I turned to repeat on my left hand side – and caught full sight of a penis.

As Marks & Spencer’s would say, this isn’t just a yoga class, this is a naked yoga class. An hour and a half of yoga wearing nothing at all, in a room with ten strangers. It’s a mode of exercise which is relatively new to London, but if naturists have their way, is soon to take off.

It’s not as gimmicky as it sounds: if you think about it, naturism and yoga go hand in naked hand. Apart from feeling great and being healthy for the body, yoga is, in essence, about a deep acceptance of who you are – so naked yoga furthers this by encouraging acceptance of your naked body.

Nickles, the class instructor, has been a practising naturist for 22 years, and says: ‘From the time that I was a child I was aware basically that people’s bits come in two models, and once you’ve seen both models I really can’t see what the issue is’.

Like many young women who are fed airbrushed images of perfection like geese for the foie gras factory, I’m insecure about my body. The idea of experiencing something which encouraged body acceptance was therefore very appealing to me.

‘Part of what yoga encourages is accepting yourself’, Nickles says. ‘That means accepting you don’t have the kind of body that will get you on to the front page of a fashion magazine. It means accepting who you are and embracing and celebrating who you are both physically and mentally’.

As I stood at the beginning of the class about to take my clothes off, this ‘acceptance’ of my body was about to be put to the test, and my heart was in my mouth. Was I really about to take all my clothes off and spend an hour and a half contorting my body into unflattering stretches? Could I really go through with this?

As the rest of the class stripped off and settled in, I went for it, and for the first ten minutes or so I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. But as the class went on and I focused on the yoga, I almost forgot I was naked.

It’s the most liberating, invigorating and yes, natural, feeling in the entire world. The feeling of being simultaneously vulnerable and empowered, and of moving your body in the open air is something I’d recommend to anyone – especially those with body confidence issues.

Admittedly, the zen of being at one with my body and mind was somewhat distracted by the overweight Asian gentleman to my right gasping, farting and spluttering his way through the class, but I focused my attention on the poses and stretches.

Although the class was advertised as ‘mixed’, it largely consisted of homosexual men and Nickles is desperate to attract more women and straight men. But, before you ask, despite the potentially homo-erotic scenario of soft lighting, full-frontal nudity and intimate space, no one got ‘excited’ – it really was a completely non-sexual experience. At one point I looked around the room of naked men meditating with their eyes closed and nearly burst out laughing at how bizarre the situation was.

While the hot room was at first a godsend, I soon found myself a bit, er, sweaty, and this is where clothes would have come in handy. Without them, there was a lot of slipping and sliding about on the mat and it did feel slightly unhygienic.

The class consisted mainly of the more relaxed Hatha form of yoga, including key yoga postures, breathing techniques and meditation. Thankfully, the class is set out with two columns of mats facing inwards instead of one behind the other, so there’s little chance of a winking sphincter or any dangling goolies to distract you from your Downward Dog.

We also did a series of ‘partner’ poses, involving balancing and contact postures, and this was the only point I felt slightly out of my depth. While checking afterwards with Nickles that I hadn’t accidently stumbled across the secret foreplay to a subsequent gay orgy, he explained that the partner poses ‘can help you to develop your own sense of balance and trust in your own body, and you see your own body mirrored in theirs’.

Ultimately, naked yoga felt liberating. While it would have been better to experience it with other women – and to experience my lumps and bumps with other women’s in a non-judgemental setting – being free and naked in a non-sexual situation with other human beings was an extraordinary experience.

When I asked Nickles how he became a naturist, he replied: ‘I was working as a feature writer on my local newspaper and spotted a naked swim, which I wrote up as a new experience. I’ve never looked back’.

This post was originally published on Independent.co.uk on 21st February 2013.


Quotes of the Week (15th-20th November)

  • “We are extremely concerned about the future of Syria and the way the leadership is moving”
    -King Abdullah of Jordan calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down amid further government violence on protesters in Syria, in a BBC interview
  • “Thinking about how we strengthen the best, not the worst, the potential of journalism rather than its misuse, seems an opportunity of the Leveson inquiry”
    – Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, in a Comment is Free articleon the Levenson enquiry which seeks to ask how much the press should be independently regulated in wake of the phone hacking scandal

  •  “I am extremely concerned at the riots and violent clashes witnessed in Egypt, notably in Tahrir square over the weekend…I urge calm and restraint and condemn the use of violence in the strongest terms. There is no doubt that the transitional process is a difficult and challenging one”
    Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, in an official statement from the European Union on the weekend’s violence in Egypt, the official statement of which can be accessed here
  • “The government recognises that it was formed to resolve a serious emergency…Given the sacrifices required of citizens, action to contain the cost of elective bodies is unavoidable”
    -Italy’s new technocrat Prime Minister, economist Mario Monti, on his plans for reform within the country in order to curb its debts and rescue it from a potential bail-out situation as reported by Reuters here
  • “The question is how much effect…There is courage- very strong courage. But how much effect? Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilise your wisdom”
    -The Dalai Lama on the wave of young Buddhist self-immolations sweeping Tibet and China in protest at the government repression in Tibet as reported in which you can read more about here
  • Unquote of the Week
    “There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that. He should say that this is a game. At the end of the game, we shake hands”
    -Slepp Blatter, President of FIFA, speaking to CNN World Sport as reported by The Guardian, on his view that racism within football isn’t a serious issue and can be solved with a handshake. Commentators are calling for his resign, branding him as out of touch and inappropriate, especially after scandals of corruption and controversial comments about homosexuals and women within football

Hometown Glory (And Article-History Shame)

There appears to be a glaring error within the shiny world of online media, more specifically within news publications’ websites which have a ‘Most Read/Most Commented/Most Shared’ (this is updated automatically according to the number of hits it receives), because it inadvertently brings old stories back from the grave.

This is causing major confusion for us instant-gratification readers of the digital era who are used to clicking on a story, skimming it and getting the basic gist before clicking onto something else. What starts out as some late-night surfer delving into the vaults of a site’s internet history before stumbling upon a catchy article and inadvertently propelling it onto other readers’ periphery soon snowballs into the Number One Most Read Article on [insert national publication title here]’s website.

Today I had the misfortune of catching the headline ‘Ireland mourns comic talent as “Father Ted” actor dies, aged 45’ on The Independent, screaming inside my head ‘Nooooo! Not Dougal!’ and thinking Ardal O’Hanlon had tragically kicked the bucket at roughly the same age as poor Dermot Morgan, only to check the date and realise that the article was written in 1998. I’ve also been hoodwinked by these trending articles this week into believing that Luton, my hometown, had once more been crowned ‘Britain’s Crappiest Town’, after not only reading it on The Independentand The Guardian within the space of a couple of days but also after seeing that friends had read it on Facebook. I’m sure you can forgive me for not checking the date of the article after seeing so many verifications that this was actually ‘news’.

So, with my best blogging head on, I decided to write a post about hometown pride and living in a crappy town, only to discover that the articles I was basing are actually very much old news. However, I’ve already written an outline instead of doing any work at all for my course, and I need to justify the morning spent on some near-fruitless ‘internet research’, so I’m going to bloody well go ahead with it anyway. Just pretend it isn’t entirely based on some articles published circa 2004…

It appears that Luton has once again been crowned ‘Britain’s Crappiest Town’, as reported in The Independent here and The Guardian here [in, ahem, 2004]. The title was awarded after Sam Jordison, author of ‘Crap Towns’ decided to write a sequel after “people kept asking why, for instance, Luton had not been included”. I have to say, I’m not surprised at Luton topping the chart, not because I feel it is actually particularly crappy but because it serves the purpose of the butt of the country’s jokes. It’s great to have a communal joke among the nation, someone that everyone can laugh at, someone that garners an instant easy laugh: Luton is to the rest of the country what John Prescott is to the House of Commons, and it’s not very nice being the appointed laughing stock.

I am by now perfectly hardened to the Luton jibes I get when out and about, and to be honest I actually prefer them to the moronic exclamations of excitement that follow my admissions of living in Luton with ‘LUTON AIRPORT!!!’, a reference to the long-running, banal and unfathomably popular fly-on-the-wall series entitled, you guessed it, ‘Luton Airport’. (I used to stare with bewilderment at these declarations but have now feigned similar enthusiasm, for convenience and brevity of conversation purposes.)

So, I know you’re on the edge of your seat, wondering just exactly what it’s like to actually live in Britain’s crappiest town (perish the thought). For a start, as I mentioned above, it isn’t exactly that crappy. And obviously it all depends on what you define as crappy (oh, that marvelously punctilious terminology). If it comes down to crime, then Luton is out of the running, as any major inner-city area dwarfs it. If it comes down to lack of recreation, facilities and general things to do, then Luton is a veritable megadome compared to all the villages and smaller towns which offer even less. And if it comes down to happiness; I can honestly say that yes, there are tramps and general miserable-looking people who loiter around the shopping mall, but in general everyone I know in Luton is no more or less happy than anyone else I know in other parts of the country.

One benefit of living in a ‘crappy town’ is that when you do get to live in a genuinely decent city -such as Nottingham- you appreciate it all the more so. I have friends who were born and bred in Nottingham and view it as ‘boring’ and ‘uneventful’, whereas I was blown away by what the city has to offer from day one. I love going to different cities and exploring them, and by the end of the year I will have been to Manchester, London, Birmingham, Leicester, Brighton and Bristol in the space of a couple of months, with Newcastle, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Leeds next on my hit list. The good thing about Britain is that because of its size, no matter how ‘crappy’ your town is, you’re never too far away from a really cool city.

In any case, the bad rep has actually helped Luton. Someone in charge must have been listening to all the Luton-bashing, because in the past couple of years there has been a £4 billion renovation throughout the town centre, improving aesthetics and facilities overall and contributing to its ‘Love Luton’ campaign for city-status bid which celebrates Luton’s ‘History, Diversity, Future’.

Incidentally, no matter how crappy or otherwise the town is perceived, I have a friend who will defend Luton to the hilt against any snubs or insults from those only familiar with its bad reputation, citing that “you should always be proud of your roots”. It got me thinking that surely even the biggest ‘scumbag’ from the crappiest town in Britain is more admirable than the person who is ashamed of their hometown, and slinks away from their history. No matter how ‘crappy’, ‘bad’ or ‘boring’ your hometown is, it’s the place where you grew up, first made friends and where all your oldest memories originate from. As one astute reader commented on The Independent’s website: “I don’t care what anyone says, to me the best town is the one I grew up in. It’s the one with all the good memories, the family and the old childhood friends. People often talk it down, but it’s only when they’ve gone that they realise it’s home.”

Moral of the story: be proud of your crappy town. Oh, and always check the article history date.

Quotes of the Week (7th-13th November)

  • “It’s time to grab the Goldmen by the Sachs”
    –  Attila the Stockbroker on greed in the financial district in a Radio 4 Discussion, Glut
  • “Demanding Theresa May’s head on a plate solves nothing”
    – Steve Richards commenting in The Independent that the sacking of Theresa May in the wake of the scandal of the relaxation of border controls will not solve the underlying problem of the need for wider accountability
  • “Everyone wants to leave [Greece], not only because they have no money: there is no order…There are no rules”
    – A Greek mother on the worsening situation in the country , as reported by John Humphrys for the Today programme
  • “[We’re] trying to improve the business and the structures to make sure these things don’t happen again because they’re something that I am very sorry about”
    -James Murdoch answering questions from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of the enquiry into News International’s role in phone hacking, a video of the highlights of which can be seen here
  • “Our growth stalled and problems started before the Eurozone crisis escalated. But David Cameron and George Osborne are still sitting on their hands at home refusing to admit they are wrong”
    -Labour leader Ed Miliband on the opposition’s failing economic policies and their hiding behind the Eurozone crisis as ‘a cloak’ to avoid confronting this

Unquote of the Week

  • “Umm what’s the third one there […] I can’t remember the third one. Oops.”
    – Presidential hopeful Rick Perry at the cringe-inducing CNBC Republican debate in which he forgot which department of government he would abolish, the video of which you can see here

The Builders Are In

The builders are in, and I’m struggling to deal with it. I’m renting off of my mate Harry, who’s having work done to the flat. A lot of work. As in, rip it all out, get new EVERYTHING and then shove it back in again. He’s warned me about it for a while, to which I nonchalantly replied ‘It’s cool’. Except now I’m not as cool as I thought I’d be.

I was thrown in at the deep end on day one. There I was, lying in bed with a hangover scale of 10, after a spontaneous night out in Nottingham involving double whiskies, champagne cocktails, a spending frenzy in a shooter bar followed by a free lock-in at a pub. As I’m sure you can imagine, one’s head is rather delicate at these times, and it was all I could do to lie there, my pores sweating alcohol, every now and again sipping my water trying not to retch and generally feeling sorry for myself. All of a sudden, there was a huge WHACK! I jumped a mile, and with every subsequent WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!, my head pounded as I tried to work out the source of the evil noise, every blow feeling as if it were dealt to my long suffering head with full force and accuracy. Then I realised: the builders. They were here. And they were demolishing the wall next door to me vigorously with sledgehammers. I can categorically state that three fervent builders with sledgehammers working in close vicinity bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘banging headache’.

Another hurdle was the first time I had to actually go ‘out there’ and walk past them. Most people who know me will tell you that I’m a fairly confident person, but for some reason I came over all shy from the outset. It felt so ‘Me v. Them’, as if they were alien invaders intruding in my sanctuary of calm and privacy. Upon leaving my room to get to the bathroom a few feet away, I saw that in the few hours since the builders had been working, the flat had morphed into a dystopian war zone. Nothing was recognisable, and I dived into the bathroom to take my shower (…and take cover). However, upon emerging in a pink towel and a mud mask, squeaking ‘hi!’ and running underneath a hapless builder’s ladder while he grouted the wall, before bolting into my room, I can’t really blame the chaps if they thought I was more foreign than I thought them.

Since then, no thanks to my bashful conduct, I seem to have scared the builders off a bit, and now there really is a kind of a barrier between us. Harry serves as the bridge between us both, the middleman between two very divergent parties. He is my guardian against the alpha males, the scary ‘blokeness’ in my home, and he ‘banters’ with them, smoking Mayfair cigarettes and speculating about which one of The Saturdays is pregnant (surely everyone knows??). Similarly Harry is the holder of the key to the mythical portal of girliness that is my room, that I must so frequently vacate so the builders can do their job. Occasionally I have heard perfectly audibly (through quite literally plaster-thin walls) one of the builders hollering across the flat ‘So, err, Harry, when’s she leavin’ then?’ Similarly, I have sometimes texted Harry while he is in the front room to come in to my room, just so I can ask when the builders are leaving.

Cooking is another issue. Harry and I are living out of boxes, with all our crockery, cutlery and food packed into cardboard boxes on the floor, and assembling a meal is a bit of a lucky dip. Worse than this is the perpetual ‘builders dust’, the white plaster dust which resides everywhere, from the sink, to the bowls, to the settee and any unlucky food that should be left uncovered. Asbestos muesli, anyone? I cook on a wiped-down chopping board which rests on top of a hob which itself teeters on the washing machine (we’ve never had an oven). Preparing a meal in this way is hazardous, lest that stray piece of chicken fall asunder off the island of the chopping board into the perilous sea of white dust which would surely claim it. One comrade never to return.

Eventually though, after one day crying in my room about the builder’s dust and all my stuff being in a suitcase and not being able to find something or other, I realised just how much of a big baby I was being. At the end of the day, there was work being done on the flat, not a genocide, and itreally wasn’t as intrusive as I was making out to myself. Plus, I had a brand-spanking new flat with oven, dishwasher and laminate flooring to look forward to. My behaviour was puerile. Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe I’ve been over the top about this. Maybe I’m being immature. Maybe I’m being a big Girl. Maybe….oh. Maybe The Painters are in. That would explain things…