Yoga instructor Joey Barnes enters the room where his class is set to begin in just a few minutes. He drops his bag and opens his folded notes, making a last mental record of the movement and balance poses he has planned for this afternoon’s session.
After a quick scan he puts the paper in his pocket and removes his jacket, shoes and socks. He is left wearing a tank top and track pants. An agreeable uniform for the practice of yoga — in most instances anyway.
In a moment these items are also peeled off and Barnes is nude. He turns his attention to the similarly unclothed assemblage of men resting cross-legged before him. I sit nervously among them. Following a genial exchange of hellos and how have you beens, Charlotte’s first and only naked yoga class for men gets underway.
I take a deep breath and try to relax. “Why in the world do people want to do this,” I wonder silently.
In no time my muscles are burning and my mind is solely focused on the practice. The earlier awkward awareness of my own nakedness is completely wiped away. Time passes quickly and when the class is over, like most, I mill around the snack table making smalltalk.
If not for the fact that we are all undressed, this could be any mixer I’ve ever been to. It occurs to me how comfortable I have become with my own naked body in such a short period of time. It’s one of those wonderful “a-ha” moments.
According to publicity materials, the goal of the group known as Charlotte Nude Yoga “is to provide an opportunity for male community and holistic social interaction between supportive, centered individuals who enjoy the practice of yoga as well as the company of other naked men.
“We strive to provide an atmosphere of camaraderie, body-acceptance, and sensuality (not sexuality). Although sensuality is an intrinsic part of this group practice, it should be clear that this is not a sexual venue. You will work…you will sweat…and you will love it.”
The group’s genesis can be traced to a one-off, clothed yoga class held at Charlotte Yoga one evening in early October 2010. The event was a special Takeover Friday offering that drew a roomful of gay men and a few women. Barnes, who is gay and an instructor at Charlotte Yoga, led the class, which I attended.
I had taken a number of yoga classes prior to that one, but none with Barnes. I was immediately drawn in by his broad smile and open spirit — not to mention his gay disco music selection that eschewed sitars and tablas for Gaga, Beyonce and Rihanna.
To accommodate the wide range of fitness, flexibility and familiarity with yoga among the participants, Barnes kept the practice pretty basic that night. Still, we were all focused and wiping sweat inside of 10 minutes and that’s usually a good sign. Afterward the buzz was uniformly positive.
Howard, a friend of a friend, mentioned to me that he and a few other participants belonged to a loosely organized group of gay and bi male nudists who were hoping to organize a regular naked yoga class under Barnes’ direction.
I’ve never been too comfortable being naked in front of people — a feeling brought on by any number of middle school gym class traumas, I’m sure. Still, I was intrigued enough to give Howard my contact info.
He said he would let me know if the effort led anywhere.
A few weeks later, I was emailed a message that the first class had been scheduled. Interested parties were instructed to reply ASAP because demand outstripped the available spaces. Only those who made the cut would be sent the location, the email noted.
On Nov. 13, nine guys gathered in the meeting room of a massage studio on Tyvola Road for the inaugural Charlotte Nude Yoga class. I wasn’t one of them — my nerves having gotten the better of me. I felt foolish for my reticence and vowed to attend the next one.
The second class, held a couple of weeks later in a member’s finished garage, was my introduction to naked yoga. As I said, participating changed my self-perception tremendously. According to the group’s website, charlottenudeyoga.com, that’s one of the primary goals of practicing without clothes.
“[Naked] yoga provides a great way to deepen body acceptance. Also, being naked can bring up many of our vulnerabilities. By facing these fears in the context of a safe and supportive community of men, we naturally become more grounded and comfortable with ourselves.”
Beyond my own interior growth, through Charlotte Naked Yoga I have been introduced to a great group of men who represent a variety of ethnicities, ages (must be at least 18), orientations and — for you larger men who are no doubt wondering — body types.
In fact, the website directly states, “By no means do you have to have a perfect body to attend our classes. Our yoga classes are about the journey of enrichment of our bodies and minds, not a pursuit of the perfect form.”
Charlotte Nude Yoga met for 36 classes in 2011. For most of the year they rotated between the massage clinic and a yoga studio in NoDa. Due to their respective sizes the number of men who could attend classes was limited to 12-17 per session.
In all, around 120 guys attended one or more classes. They came from all across the greater Charlotte area, as well as other North Carolina cities including Raleigh, Asheville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. South Carolina was represented by men from Rock Hill, Columbia and Charleston. Out-of-state attendees were from Vermont, Ohio and California.
A resource listing at NakedYoga.Net reveals just how widespread the nude yoga movement is, with groups meeting in more than 30 U.S. cities. Interntionally, naked yoga groups have been established in Canada, Mexico, England, France, Russia and Australia.
Now that a large permanent space has been secured for Charlotte Nude Yoga, organizers are working to increase awareness of the group’s existence through its website, promotional flyers and word-of-mouth. Attendance is expected to grow substantially in 2012.
Interested men are encouraged to visit the Charlotte Nude Yoga website where they can register to receive via email the monthly list of class dates and times. A fee of $15 is collected at each class to cover expenses.: :