In the altogether now: Naked yoga takes off in the burbs
In a leafy Joburg suburb, clothes and inhibitions are stripped away by the light of the moon
“From a young age women are taught never to look at their bodies, never to explore their bodies and never to like our bodies. Even when we are completely alone we are embarrassed by ourselves.”
Those were the words of Debbie Swart, 29, a natural healer from Parkhurst after a full-moon naked yoga celebration in Fourways.
Swart was one of 15 women who celebrated every inch of themselves in the quiet suburb on Friday night.
As in many Joburg neighbourhoods the venue was behind a guarded boom-gate with a notice to allow only residents and guests into the this leafy suburb. But as soon as the address is mentioned, the security guard replies: “Ah, Indie Yoga,” and waves the visitors right in.
Yogi Kerry Weavind, 44, has been practising yoga for 20 years and runs the Indie Yoga studio.
The centre has two studios for different yoga practices, a garden retreat, a swimming pool and a pond with enormous koi. But the most talked about feature is the naked yoga, which Weavind has held only five times in the past three years.
“I do it as and when I feel. Mostly once a year but one year we had three classes. We do a ritual when it is full moon because of the connotations of the moon and the menstrual cycle. Women menstruate to the rhythm of the moon and for us it’s a celebration of womanhood.”
Weavind calls this class a ritual because it is not performed like a normal yoga class.
“I don’t make people line up behind each other like a normal class. Although they do do that in some overseas nude yoga classes. Instead we form a circle and I give a little talk – a pep talk really because it can be nerve-wracking for some people.
“People feel they need permission to remove clothes and so I like to encourage people: ‘You don’t have to take everything off if you don’t want to.’
“We start with our eyes closed and we create a connection with ourselves.
“I use more subtle yoga for this practice. The poses are also not explicit. I won’t have everyone splayed out, especially because we face each other.
“The result is an honouring space where women can feel empowered. They come away feeling euphoric and liberated. There is a sisterhood bond that is created when we gather without boundaries. And of course there are the health benefits of the actual yoga practice.”
Weavind decided to hold her first naked yoga class for Women’s Day three years ago after experiencing a moment of insecurity.
“I was doing yoga in very tiny shorts and I looked at my legs and noticed all the bumps and wobbles and I felt uncomfortable. I thought: ‘I wonder what I would think of myself with no clothes on’.
“That was the catalyst for it [the class], the internal dialogue women have with themselves. Hating themselves.”
Although the participants all said they felt completely liberated after the class, most did not want to be named because they worried about what their friends and family would think.
“It’s been a great sense of relief and release. Being able to stand here naked with everyone is really huge for me. It’s not in my culture. It is seen as something sinful but being able to look at other women, and to be looked at is a relief. When I look at these naked women I see a reflection of myself for the first time and I recognise myself in them. They are beautiful and I am beautiful,” said a 44-year-old Joburg travel agent.
A 47-year-old Pretoria professional said she felt really anxious at the beginning of the class. “I didn’t know what to expect with all these naked people around, but it took two minutes and I was into it.”
The travel agent said she never felt comfortable. “Not because of these women, but because of my own thoughts and my judgments about myself.”
Another woman added that she felt liberated. “It’s like looking with a child’s eyes. You don’t see faults and imperfections, you see differences and that’s what makes us all beautiful.”
Swart said: “I was lying there thinking that nobody taught me to love myself. That’s what this class has done. Even when Kerry said: ‘Look at your vagina’, I’ve never been taught to look at myself and love myself.
“I love being naked,” Swart said. “I’ve told my partner we are going to start having naked days now.”