Feeling like your yoga class has turned into more of a fashion show than a spiritual practice? Maybe it’s time to strip the clothes away and start posing in the nude.
Naked yoga is a niche fitness trend attracting growing interest in the exercise community, but Jennifer Kries’s new Yoga Undressed DVD series allows you to practice in the buff in the privacy of your own home. With shades drawn. And doors locked.
But before you judge it, Kries, a well-known fitness pro who produced, directed and narrated the series (which includes beginner, intermediate, advanced and duet DVDs), tells us you should know it’s really not about sex.
“I was a serious yogi, I had a real practice, I was a talented ballet dancer, and before I did naked yoga, I really competed when I was in a yoga class with other people,” Kries says. “[In traditional classes] people are wearing the latest Lulus and their Athleta—it was about what you looked like. Even though people don’t want to acknowledge it, yoga has grown so far from its spiritual components because there‘s such an emphasis on the aesthetics. And when you’re naked, that all goes away and you really return to why yoga evolved.”
We recently spoke with Kries about how naked yoga differs from more traditional yoga, how it helped her accept and love her body and why the naked yoga shown on a recent Kourtney & Kim Take New York episode was “a travesty.” An edited version of the interview follows.
MORE: What makes naked yoga different from regular yoga—besides the obvious no-clothing part?
Jennifer Kries: It’s a fusion of Kundalini and Hatha yoga. Kundalini yoga is not a very popular yoga, in that it's not taught often, because, I think, teachers find it challenging to teach. But the technique is incredibly powerful and people really enjoy it once they try it. Essentially, it helps to unleash the life-force, which is your primal energy in your body . . . It brings a kind of balance and a kind of radiance to the body that most people are not accustomed to experiencing. And then you take that Kundalini and you segue to the really flowing, graceful Hatha practice, which is more widely known—that’s what you know as Vinyasa. It’s the combination of the two that’s really potent. There’s no other practice that I’ve seen that’s been done this way.
MORE: So how does practicing in the nude come into play?
JK: The fact that it’s done nude is really incredibly liberating. I am very conservative as a person, and I’m not talking about the conservative right, I’m talking about as a person. I’m very respectful and, if anything, shy in a certain way. But I am an artist and I am a performer, so I really created this series in an autobiographical spirit. Because I was a professional dancer for most of my life and I was a really serious athlete, and I used to treat my body like it was a machine . . . I never felt appreciative of myself and I certainly never took good care of myself, in that I just didn’t love myself. I really wasn’t very nice to my body.
The thing is, that all of us, when we were children, before we were introduced to the idea of being ashamed of our bodies, were actually very free and very joyful. When I was a kid in rural Pennsylvania, we had a pond on our property and myself and some of the neighborhood kids used to go swimming in the summer without bathing suits on, and it was incredibly wonderful. It was really innocent and pure, and I think there’s no better feeling. I think as we get older we learn to feel flaws, we learn to sight our flaws and feel really bad about them . . . As a rule, people feel a sense of shame or discomfort with the body. We were all born naked. Sculptors throughout history did not sculpt the human body with clothing on, they sculpted nude bodies because they’re so exquisitely beautiful.
MORE: What was your first naked yoga experience like?
JK: When I took my first naked yoga class a little over eight years ago, I really didn’t want to and I didn’t think that it was for me. I felt really reticent. The only reason I went was because I loved this friend of mine who urged me to go. I was a dancer—I had a certain comfort level [with my body]—but I wasn’t the girl who paraded around the locker room without a towel on; I always covered myself. But moments after I started this class I completely forgot that I was naked. It was all women, and all of the people in the class were so grounded and so down to earth and so kind, and everyone was just in her own space . . . Being naked, you realize that we’re all one, that we have the same bodies and we have the same issues with ourselves, and there was something so incredibly freeing about it. I could see my body moving, I could see my muscles, I could see the parts of my body that I wasn’t so in love with, and something miraculous happened to me. I had a real release—I started crying in the class. In that moment, suddenly I felt more connected to myself in my yoga practice than I ever had before.
MORE: Is it hard for people to get over the whole naked aspect?
JK: I did a radio interview this morning with a morning show with a guy and a woman and the guy was like, “Oh, it’s naked!” and being immature—not being wildly disrespectful, but missing the point. I told him one of my goals in doing this series was to desensationalize nudity and really inspire women and men to cultivate a kind of reverence and respect for nakedness and for sexuality, which I think is really lacking in the world . . . When you do naked yoga, you start to love yourself more, . . . you feel better about yourself, you have greater compassion, greater patience, and then you’re sweeter, you’re nicer, you’re kinder to other people.
MORE: Many of us equate naked with sex. Is this about sex?
JK: It is not about sex, it is about harmonious sexuality. But it really is about helping people return to that innocent, joyful, free connection to yourself that actually allows you to find your connection to spirit.
MORE: You seem to have been really conscious about being respectful and using certain angles when filming.
JK: It was carefully thought out, because this is not porn. If it were, then it wouldn’t be me doing it and we wouldn’t have considered the angles. I cared greatly about the yoginis that we cast . . . When people see the series, they don’t go, “Oh my God, they’re naked.” They go, “How exquisite, how beautiful.” And that’s what we intended. We cast two women who are so seasoned and dedicated in their craft, that their bodies just speak volumes . . . I really wanted it to be a source of inspiration.
MORE: A recent episode of Kourtney & Kim Take New York showed the Kardashians and their pals taking a naked yoga class—but only the male instructor was nude and the girls, some in lingerie, some in sweats, mostly just giggled. Is that a common response when people try this out?
JK: To be honest, the Kardashian thing was a travesty. That’s not at all what this is or what serious naked yoga practitioners really do. They take it seriously, and it is not about the nudity, it’s really about joining body, mind and spirit together. My wish would be that whether you do naked yoga or not, you find a place where you’re totally at ease with yourself and you actually celebrate yourself sexually and as a person. When we have sexual balance and we have spiritual balance, we are balanced and we’re happier . . . It’s not about Lululemon—and God bless Lulu—it’s really about a spiritual practice . . . I created this series to incite a compassion revolution. I really feel the people who have seen the series think it’s beautiful. Anyone who goes, “Oh my God, it's naked!” or “It’s porn” doesn’t say it after she sees the footage, because it’s so compelling. The narration is so serious and poetic and it’s really about becoming closer to your spiritual essence, to your true self that doesn’t need clothing, that doesn’t need window dressing.
MORE: Are you a “naked” person?
JK: I’m not a nudist. I don’t believe in living your life naked. I believe in having a sacred, private or group experience for the purpose of liberation and freeing yourself from the giggles. When someone giggles in a situation like that, it’s a wise discomfort. It means someone is not at peace with themselves.
MORE: I must admit, I don’t even like to work out in shorts. How do you encourage women who are shy to shed their clothes to give this a try?
JK: I would not advocate going to a class first, at all. There’s nothing wrong with it—I mean, that’s where I had my epiphany, that’s why this came about. But as much as I’m a public person, I’m also very private, and I really believe that there’s immense self-discovery that goes on in the privacy and the safety of your own home. That’s why I created the series. I don’t teach naked yoga classes, and I don’t intend to, but I think it would be a beautiful thing if this series spawned the opening of a high-level naked yoga studio. Many of the naked yoga studios are for men only. I want women to experience this. And I also would love for there to be an all-female class, I think that‘s pretty necessary. There are co-ed classes, too, but I’ll tell you right now, that if I had to do this all over again, I would definitely want to start by myself and then ease into a class. The reward of what you discover is not anything you can imagine. It’s amazing. You feel like a child again.
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