Yoga sure has been bastardised over the past few years hasn’t it? Not only can you downward dog with dogs, you can enjoy shavasana with a kitten, tree pose while holding beer or lizard lunge with goats.
At first glance you would think that Bare Yoga, a new naked yoga and body empowerment workshop coming to Canberra on Saturday 4 August, is also trading on gimmick but you would be dead wrong. The duo behind this initiative, Joelle Blake of The Whole Mama and yogi Sally O’Donnell, aren’t using nudity to draw punters, but are instead embracing it as a mechanism for participants to let go of their ideas about who they should be and instead step into who they are.
We asked both Joelle and Sally to chat with us about Bare Yoga, exploring your vulnerability and being comfortable in your own skin.
Leiden: How did you each get into yoga?
Joelle: I have dabbled in and out of yoga casually for a number of years, and more recently dived further and further into more expressive, body connection-based movement practices. Sal’s the true Yogi of the two of us!
Sally: I was introduced to yoga in a hybrid form as cross training and conditioning for dance. When I stopped performing and dancing regularly I began taking yoga classes at the local gym because it gave me a similar experience of mindful movement as dance had previously. I got more and more interested in the physical practice and had a real desire to train and become a teacher but didn’t make the commitment until I fell pregnant with my son. That was the catalyst I needed to realise that there was no time like the present to jump into a new challenge. I signed up to my teacher training when I was four months pregnant. That experience was so humbling because it made me confront physical limitations that I hadn’t encountered before. It was at that point that the way I related to my body shifted from one of forcing it into shape, to giving permission to be soft and finding balance between strong physical practice and the more mental and emotional practices of yoga.
L: What first sparked the idea for bare yoga?
J: I’ve worked with women on their health, eating behaviours and body image for nearly a decade now. The issue of how we perceive and feel about our bodies is so nebulous — it’s an area I’m deeply passionate about, and it’s a huge challenge to work with and on as a woman. It’s tricky to define and tricky to change, especially in a modern society that keeps us in our heads, intellectually assessing and comparing everything about ourselves against some unspoken, impossible standard.
Everyone’s hiding behind their layers because no one feels enough as they are when compared to how we think we should be, how we think everyone else is. What results is the fear that we aren’t normal because we don’t know and never see anything different.
One of the ways we can work with body image is to crack through the intellect and connect women with themselves through their bodies. A physical practice that gives us a different doorway into looking at our relationships to our bodies that, when combined with powerful dialogue and introspection, can catalyse real change in body image perceptions.
A gentle, physically-expressive based yoga practice is a great tool for this. But I wanted to take it further, to create a set up where moving through greater vulnerability would lead to confidence in and reverence for our physicality.
I wanted to remove the layers, physically and intellectually, literally unclothing the mystery and dispelling our fears of abnormality so that we can begin to see the truth: that we’re human. That bodies are exquisite and to be revered, nourished and respected, not beaten into some mould of what we’re told we should be.
From there we can cultivate our perceptions of ourselves based on something closer to the truth. That ultimately is what will help create a community of women with healthy body perceptions.
And so the concept of Bare Yoga Workshops was birthed.
L: Why do you think this is an important practice?
J: Growth happens on the border of support and challenge. If women want change, they need to visit and spend time in that space. That’s the space we’re creating with Bare Yoga Workshops: held, supported, but also nerve wracking and challenging. If women are nervous about this concept then it’s a great sign they need be involved!
S: The process of confronting your fears and shame around your body in a safe place with other women is groundbreaking. Being naked with and in front of other women is exhilarating, you feel triumphant that you’ve achieved something despite your fears, at the same time you realise that our physical differences are beautiful and that we aren’t that special.
L: What has been each of your own relationships with your bodies. How has it changed over time?
S: I feel like I have always had two voices inside my head: one defiant and confident which tells me that I don’t have to change or conform to be worthy, the other is an evil bitch who points out and exaggerates my imperfections and makes me feel small and insignificant. She will never go away but we have learned to live with each other and I try not to let her have the last word. Pregnancy was a real turning point for me to start valuing my body for its softness and finding beauty in its strength and functionality.
J: I’ve always had the pattern of wanting to be better, never enough as I am, and this was definitely how I felt about my body growing up. I was never thin enough, never pretty enough. Then I got heavily into intense exercise and training, lost a bunch of weight, got really strong and thought ‘oh great, I’ve found a way I’ll never have to worry about my body’s appearance again’. Until I broke it. I spent so long beating it into submission that finally it collapsed.
Intense fatigue and huge health issues brought me back on a journey of real health and self-compassion.
I’ve never been perfect. And I never will be.
But two pregnancies and an epic home birth experience later I now have such reverence and awe for my body. Like all good relationships we fight and ignore each other from time to time, but I can’t imagine not loving, respecting and taking care of it.
L: How important is it for people to connect with their vulnerability especially with regards to their bodies?
S: Vulnerability is something I feel really passionate about because it’s a major area of growth for me (just ask Joelle, she’s really good at reminding me). The sooner we realise that vulnerability is the best way to build trust, to grow as a human being and to live authentically, the better.
J: We all want to be truly seen. Seen for who we are beyond how we present to the world — that’s where belonging and true connection happens. What better way to remove the pretence and just be who we are, where we are, how we are, than to be naked?
That requires courageously stepping into vulnerability, saying ‘here I am, here is my body, and aren’t we all so different and beautiful?’
L: What would you say to the people who are apprehensive about practising naked in the presence of others?
S: I get it. I’ll be nervous too, but that is what makes the entire experience worthwhile. If it’s not difficult it’s not worth doing.
J: What are you afraid might happen if you actually move through the other side of this vulnerability?
What might happen to you in your life if you’re never willing to take on this kind of challenge?
L: How will the practice work? What can participants expect?
J: The space will be private, warm and respectfully lit to honour the sacredness of our bodies and the courage of the women who join us.
In sarongs, we’ll begin with about an hour of workshopping around body image, vulnerability, womanhood and authenticity, before we invite the women to remove their garments in their own time.
From there we’ll begin a body-connecting and expressive 60min-ish hatha yoga practice.
Our yoga mats will be set up in a circle and our yoga practice will be slow and gentle, designed to help us open up to the sensations we are experiencing. Focus on breathing techniques will support us to reduce any feeling of anxiety.
The yoga practice will help us to embody some of our learnings from the workshop, supporting us to get out of our mind chatter and come back to our physical expression.
We’ll wrap up the evening with a session of dialogue and sharing, delicious hand made snacks and tea to celebrate and support the integration of what we’ve experienced.
Bare Yoga Workshop
6:30 pm – 9:30 pm, Saturday 4 August
InSync BML Canberra – Yoga & Meditation
2A Barker Street Griffith, ACT 2603
Photography: Tracy Lee Photography @tracyleephotography