The Latest Craze in Men's Fitness Could Be--Naked Yoga?

A.B. Davis, the founder of this underground movement in DC, strips away the mystery of the lesser-known yoga practice.

By: Ali Eaves

We've long had a diverse yoga community here, giving stressed-out Washingtonians the chance to unwind with Bikram, vinyasa, hatha, or Stroga. But for nearly seven years, A.B. Davis has been leading a group of men in pushing the boundaries of yoga--by doing it completely naked. Davis, 51, says it's a wonderful way to practice. Those who think Washington consists of a bunch of uptight, conservative types may be surprised to know there are nearly 2,000 people on Davis's e-mail list. We caught up with him to find out about the benefits--and how naked yoga could possibly be comfortable.

So the question on everyone's mind is: What's the point of doing yoga naked?
I'm really trying to help recapture something among men that I think has been lost in recent generations. I grew up going to sports clubs with my dad and his military buddies and their sons. Until the '70s, it was common for the YMCA to have naked swimming for men. There's a special kind of camaraderie among men when we can be fully ourselves naked. It can be a very family-oriented atmosphere. Everybody thinks about nakedness as fostering sexual tension, but in fact, it's about letting down your defenses. We all have imperfect bodies, and to become comfortable with that among other people of the same sex is really a healthy thing.

It's meant to be a freeing thing, not just for our bodies but for our spirits, too. It's physically very comfortable, and it's also psychologically a really nice part of the practice because it allows you to develop further self-acceptance and a spirit of oneness with the group.

There's another advantage to being naked in yoga classes, which is that [the instructor] can really get a good idea of students' alignment, so there's a practical benefit. It's also just wonderful to be in a studio and not have a sweaty T-shirt on.

Are you nudists?
I wouldn't call myself a nudist. I wouldn't say that being naked is some higher state of grace. Honestly, I think the best answer to, "Why naked?" is, "Why not?" It's just comfortable. It's a really pleasant way to practice, and certainly lots of people practice yoga naked at home by themselves. So anyone who's ever done that would understand the attraction.

It seems like if a bunch of people who aren't normally nudists are suddenly in a room together naked, there would be some discomfort and staring.
We've all been trained in the locker room on what the standards of modesty and appropriate conduct are. So I think you pretty much just apply the same standards. It's just common courtesy.

We do screen each new member so they understand our seriousness of purpose. We have a questionnaire about their interest in yoga and their level of fitness. We make it clear that the purpose of the group is to do yoga. We've never had anything but appropriate behavior in classes.

Why are your classes for men only?
There are other men-only [clothed] classes in town. We guys get a little shy when we're in a room that's 80 percent women, who can do all this ab stuff that we can't do. Men's and women's bodies have different strengths and weaknesses. Teachers enjoy being able to teach all men because they can focus on poses that take advantage of upper body strength and modify for our weaknesses.

Do women ever contact you wanting to join the class?
When women hear about us, they're like, "Where's the women's group?" And as far as I know, there isn't one.

I've been contacted by one or two women every year who would join our classes. My response is, "I would love for you to join us, but I'm not sure all of the guys would be comfortable." I've never heard from enough women to create a women-only class.

What are the origins of naked yoga?
There were a couple of groups in existence when ours started, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. It really began to gain some attention about eight or nine years ago. In the States I think we were one of the first three or four groups. Now there must be at least 15 or 20 groups like ours across the country, and more than that around the world.

What kinds of men attend your classes?
We have a diverse demographic. We've had guys as young as 20, guys in their sixties, straight guys, gay guys. It's not like we ask, but that's my sense. Racially we're very diverse. We have classes at different fitness levels; some are aimed at guys who have a solid yoga level, and there's a class specifically for beginners.

Does the instructor touch and adjust the same way as in a clothed yoga class?
You would think in a way that in a naked class, if they're comfortable being naked they would be comfortable being adjusted by an instructor. But I think at least in the beginning there is a vulnerability that makes people just want to be on their mats and have a bigger space bubble around them. But as they get comfortable, they generally come to feel fine with having an instructor adjust them. 

There is a component of Thai yoga massage in our classes. A great way to describe it is yoga done on you. Someone assists you in the stretch, and it can also include some acupressure work. Imagine sitting in child's pose with someone standing behind you and pressing on your lower back to deepen the expression. 

We also do partner poses at times. That can be the partners mirroring each other--for example, doing triangle pose back to back--which helps with your alignment. You might also do partner poses that complement each other, such as sitting with the soles of your feet together and your partner pulling you deeper into a forward fold. I wouldn't say we do it a lot, because not everyone is comfortable with that. Every once in a while we will have a class that is specifically about learning partner poses. 

What's the naked yoga scene in DC?
We're the only group here.

The question that comes up sometimes is: Is Washington too conservative and staid a place to have a successful naked yoga group? And I guess we're here to say, "It's definitely something Washington has come to appreciate."

What feedback have you gotten from your students?
The majority of them say, "That was wonderful. I don't know what I was so nervous about." The majority come back for more classes and by the second, third, or fourth time, they say, "I'm forgetting we're even naked."

DC Men's Naked Yoga holds an intermediate class Saturdays at 1 PM in Northwest DC and a beginner class Wednesdays at 7:30 PM in Arlington. Join the e-mail list here to learn the exact locations.