The Daily Mail is reporting on the Bold & Naked studio in New York City which is offering co-ed naked vinyasa yoga courses.
"While many equate being naked with sex, this couldn't be further from the truth in a naked yoga class," the studio reports on its website. "It's about being comfortable in your own skin and the amazing confidence that comes with it."
Co-ed classes cost $25 and are also available in segregated and/or fully-clothed studios.
On it's Q&A page, the site admits that sometimes teachers will incorporate "partner work" into their classes - which involves touching and body contact - but goes on to say: "However, this is not to be 'sexual touching' and should any contact of sexual nature occur, it will not be tolerated and will result in the offending member being asked to leave. Anyone who has been asked to leave will not be allowed back to attend classes in the future."
If a teacher has to touch you to correct a pose, the studio promises that the touch "will not be sexual in any way."
These assurances are a bit lame when we consider all the sex scandals associated with yoga that never quite make it to the front page of a newspaper.
For instance, there's John Friend, inventor of the popular Anusara yoga, who decided to step down for "personal reflection" after being accused of sexual impropriety with his female students.
And let's not forget about bikram yoga found Bikram Choudhury who was sued in Los Angeles Superior Court last year for sexually harrassing and discriminating against a female student. Choudhury, who likes to teach in a skimpy speedo, claims to be Jesus and Elvis rolled into one and loves to brag about his fleet of Roll-Royces.
Lest you think these are isolated cases, consider the story of Swami Muktananda (1908-1982). As I detail in this blog, he was a charismatic guru who reached the height of his fame in the 1980s when he attracted thousands of devotees, including movie stars and political celebrities. He set up hundreds of ashrams and meditation centers around the world and kept his main “shrines” in California and New York.
“In late 1981, when a senior aide charged that the venerated yogi was in fact a serial philanderer and sexual hypocrite who used threats of violence to hide his duplicity, Mr. Muktananda defended himself as a persecuted saint, and soon died of heart failure,” reports William Broad in his book, The Science of Yoga.
As it turns out, actress Joan Bridges was one of his lovers. She was 26 at the time and he was 73.
“I was both thrilled and confused,” she said of their first intimacy in a Web posting. “He told us to be celibate, so how could this be sexual? I had no answers.”
Eventually, the victims began to fight back. For instance, protestors with signs saying “Stop the Abuse” and “End the Cover Up” marched outside a Virginia hotel where Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), a superstar of yoga who gave the invocation at Woodstock, was giving an address.
“How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor,” a former devotee shouted from the audience, “when you have molested me and other women?”
Another case involved Swami Rama (1925-96), who was sued in 1994 by a woman who said he abused her at his Pennsylvania ashram when he was 19. Shortly after Rama died in 1996, a jury awarded her $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Former devotees at Kripalu, a Berkshires ashram, also won more than $2.5 million after its longtime guru — a man who gave impassioned talks on the spiritual value of chastity — confessed to multiple affairs, Broad reports.
When you consider all of the above, it's not really surprising to learn that naked yoga is nothing new. As the Mail reports, it's called "nagna yoga" in Sanskrit and has been practiced since ancient times in India. In fact, the hatha yoga that is the basis of most yoga styles practiced in the U.S. today began as a branch of Tantra.
“In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness," Broad explains. "The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. . . . ”
Hatha originated as a way to speed the Tantric agenda and used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss.
But Tantra and Hatha both developed bad reputations over time with the main charge being that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.
I can't help but think history is about to repeat itself as the naked yoga craze continues to unfold.