May 4, 2013

What I Learned from Teaching…Naked.

This past weekend, I taught my very first naked yoga class.

That’s right—buck naked yoga.

Let me tell you, I did not walk into that room amped about getting naked with a room full of strangers. It wasn’t an especially exciting idea to me—in fact, it was kind of scary.

As a young woman, the idea of taking my clothes off in front of people opened up a whole lot of boxes—the marginalization and standardization of beauty, cultural ideas of sex and sexual expression, the objectification and belittling of a full human form to a mere sack of well-appropriated body parts, fears of abuse and trauma…the list goes on.

Those boxes opened because they are all part of my stories. But my stories aren’t only my stories—they are the experiences of my girl friends, my guy friends, my mentors, my parents. It’s all the same stuff.

Part of the stuff is: every single woman I know has either been sexually abused, assaulted or harassed—every woman I know, all of my friends-of-friends-of-friends. Check it: that is 100%.

For the most part, we decide it is our responsibility to undertake the task of making it stop. It’s in the clothes we wear or the gestures we make, and goes all the way to how we allow ourselves to be expressed—we tailor ourselves around dampening unwanted attention.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a culture that teaches us not to rape. We live in a culture that tells us don’t get raped. And if you are raped, there isn’t an appropriate conversation to start dialoguing in, so it’s best to just keep quiet about the matter. And that’s not anybody’s fault—our culture doesn’t equip us with the necessary conversational tools to talk about our grief and our heartache and our traumas in an empathic, constructive way.

This is the part of the story where I begin to unpack my boxes for you; in French, “rape” is a term that means “to shred.” So at 17, I found myself shredded. Shredded and alone because when it happened to me, I felt compelled to be quiet about it.

But we have to talk about it—we have to talk about it in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone or any groups of people by placing blame.

Our cultural conversation is not a conversation of healing. Well...fuck that conversation.

This is not a woman problem; this is a human problem. This isn’t a conversation women should be having—it’s a conversation humans should be having. About respect, about healthy sexual expression, about our accepted (and sometimes unhealthy) paradigms of monogamy, about how to effectively communicate our wants and needs in all situations so that our boundaries stay in tact and our full expression of self preserved.

Healing is a community event.

I didn’t know if I could ever be healed but seven years after the shredding, I found myself taking off all my clothes and teaching a yoga class.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I walked in there—I only knew that it was important for me to have this experience: the experience of nakedness.

And you know what? I felt amazing. I felt space between my ribs that I’d never felt before because of compression of my clothes. I felt a completely new expression in my chest with my skin being exposed to air. And I felt…accepted.

There was no weirdness, no misaligned intentions, no self-consciousness. It just seemed obvious to practice in a room of people without clothes. And as I stood there, totally and completely naked, I felt accepted. I felt accepted in a way that I don’t feel when I walk outside, in a way that I sometimes don’t feel in my close relationships, in the way I want to feel accepted when I stand in front of my mirror.

The space inside of us that houses our ability to accept is that same place that holds our pure love, our compassion, our courage and our ability to approach each moment outside the confines of our metaphorical clothes—that which restricts us.

To be honest, I feel more naked out in public fully clothed than I felt in that yoga room; I didn’t feel naked, I simply felt myself.

Even though most of my weekly classes require me to teach with clothes on, I now know how it feels to show up to a place exactly how I am—completely free in my own expression of self…every stitch of me, even the shredded bits.

Our stories of shredding are the same stories that ripen us to our power. And if I can take off my clothes and allow myself to be seen—to be truly seen underneath the layers of conflict and judgment and insights and opinions that I adorn myself with daily as I adorn myself with underwear and shirts and mismatched socks—I can do anything.

With or without clothes.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise



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Sarah Feb 1, 2016 11:24am

Bravo! I’m not sure I could do that 🙁

meryfernandezs Jun 10, 2014 10:45am

Thank you. It is a great article.
I was very recently abused and I find that whenever I speak about the subject people get more uncomfortable than I do. I wonder why. At the beginning I took it a bit "personal", I thought maybe I should not be open about what happened, but then, I thought: If I had won the lottery instead I would tell everyone so why would this be any different?
It is not my fault that this wakes up uncomfortable feelings in the other person, including my family and friends. I can share this experience because I only witnessed with my body something that humanity experience all the time in different forms. The only difference is that I became more aware of it now and I can open a window to share a different perspective of this continuous impermanent reality.
Thanks for sharing.

Jun 10, 2014 8:14am

Fabulous and inspiring. I love the part about being in a culture that doesn't people not to rape, but us not to get raped, and in that same culture, to not talk about the event or impact. Thanks for changing that culture some with this writing!

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Brentan Schellenbach

Brentan Schellenbach is a yoga teacher, writer, adventurer and happiness enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Yoga In Your Living Room, an online platform that helps people develop a fulfilling home yoga practice and learn how to be happy in life, regardless of circumstance. Join her and her partner, Oli, for free Weekly Letters every Sunday, which feature happiness lessons learned from life on their San Diego hilltop, along with new free online yoga classes and blog posts on the nature of happiness. She also helps local yoga studios and teachers move their branding online to connect with a broader audience. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.