Stripping down with other men is a radical ritual

I remember the first time I did yoga naked. I was on spring break in Austin with friends and looking for something to do on Sunday morning while they slept off their hangover. The studio looked like any other yoga studio, except a group of naked men casually chatted with each other. In the bathroom, I was excited to find a couple showering together before class. This clearly wasn’t a typical yoga practice.

I was a certified yoga instructor, so I knew the many healthy benefits of yoga: engaging and toning your muscles, strengthening your core, better breathing, stress relief, and relaxation among others.

But I quickly realized that doing yoga naked was more than that.

When we practice naked yoga, we get all the typical benefits from yoga, plus others:

Clothes restrict us in multiple ways. They can limit our range of motion and obstruct a teacher’s view of alignment and breathing. Plus, clothes are a powerful component of our egos. They can give us a false sense of who we really are, and what matters.

Nakedness is a natural state of being that is too often accompanied with shame, an expectation of sex, and unachievable standards of beauty—especially for gay men. Naked yoga creates an empowering space to honor and strengthen our all bodies and promote body positivity.

Being naked fosters vulnerability. We remove our daily armor meant to protect us physically and emotionally, and our natural selves are revealed. We expose that vulnerability to others, but more importantly ourselves. This allows us to connect with something greater and it challenges the stigma attached to gay male nudity.

The more men I work with, from all ages and backgrounds, the more I learn about the challenges we face as gay men today—even when being gay seems to be more accepted than ever before.

Some struggle with their place in the gay community, feeling as thought they don’t belong or that there isn’t space for them. Others struggle with relationships, having a hard time connecting on a deeper level, or feeling anxious about their partner’s feelings towards this practice.

One thing is present in all of these experiences: We all carry shame. Shame for how our bodies look, or how they move. Shame for desiring other men. Shame for wanting to be around naked around other men. Shame for how we like to spend our free time. Shame for not having a certain type of job.

So much shame, and much of it we don’t even realize because it has become normal for us to feel that way.

Two years after starting this practice, I realized that our community is a radical yoga practice. The ritual of removing our clothes goes deeper than simply stripping down. Being naked with other men forces us to confront and release this shame and taking a step toward undoing damage dealt to us by society.