The Day I Took My Clothes Off in Yoga Class

I had tried a short stint of Bikram yoga a few years back. From what I remembered it was hot, and it was painful, but it was also really invigorating. So when I came across a Groupon for a $40 6-week course, I thought, “Eh, why not? I could use some exercise.” (And anything that induces a cardio workout without running is my kind of thing.)

I remembered enough not to wear pants or a t-shirt to the first class — I had made that mistake in my previous Bikram spree and had suffered through the heat with what felt like twenty pounds of water-logged synthetic hanging from my Bambi-like body. Instead I donned my (only) pair of athletic shorts and a tank top.

It was hot. Really hot. But I survived.

The next class I wore the same outfit, but as I arose from my pre-class savasana and looked around, I noticed something different: almost every woman in the packed 30-person class was in their skivvies. Nearly naked. I mean, skinny, plump, love handles, cellulite and all, just hanging out there and oozing confidence.

For the first time in my life I felt self-conscious for not being less self-conscious. I considered stripping off my extra gear right there, but I hadn’t quite worked up the nerve, so I endured that class with what now seemed like far too much clothing and body awareness.

Before my next class, I bought a pair of bike shorts. That night I stood in front of the mirror wearing nothing but the shorts and a sports bra. I examined my reflection closely. It wasn’t terrible; but really, it wasn’t great. The elastic in the shorts accentuated my thigh jiggle and created a lovely little muffin top. The sports bra showed the fat right below my shoulder blades and the space in between did nothing to hide my less-than-sculpted ab region.

I folded and stretched and readjusted things until it seemed I was covered in at least a slightly more flattering way. As long as nothing untucked, I might be able to pull it off. I decided to bring a tank top just in case and make a game-time decision.

In the locker room before class women changed and walked around fully nude with nary a thought. One woman even squatted — SQUATTED — butt-naked (literally) while checking her phone.

“Well, damn,” I thought, “it’s not like I’m obese. If they can do it, so can I.” I stripped off that tank top, hiked up my elastic waistband, and sauntered out like I owned the place. Or at least a modicum of self-respect.

When I entered the hot room it was still pretty empty. I rolled out my mat and towel and laid down to enjoy a good ten minutes of savasana. When the lights came on I stood up, ready to partake in a strong, body-positive, self-loving session.

I looked around.

Everyone was in yoga pants and tank tops.

Even the skinny girls.

And then there was me, a 5’5″, 150 lb. honey-baked ham in my god-loving hip-hugging spandex shorts and bra.

Suddenly I felt more acutely self-conscious than I have since my teenage years. Sandwiched between two men and surrounded by much thinner women who had opted for full coverage, I thought, “Who am I to be showing off so much of my body? How dare I be so flagrant with my fat?”

But what could I do? Class was beginning, and I had dedicated myself to the next 90 minutes of a sauna workout. I took a deep breath and looked at myself in the mirror.

“You are here to be strong, not pretty,” I told myself. “You are going to rock this class.”

And you know what? I did.

Much to my surprise, being more aware of my body actually made me a better yogi. When the instructor said, “Look at your waistline, pull in your abdomen,” you better believe I listened. Oh I came face-to-face with my own ab-flab in several poses (thank you forward bend, triangle, rabbit), but in some strange way I was starting to accept it. It was just a part of my body, and my body was doing some goddamn amazing things at the moment.

(Really, I think that anyone who can stay in a 105+ degree, 40% humidity room for 90 minutes holding a series of awkward poses is a rock star.)

For the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of self-acceptance — belly rolls and cellulite included. It wasn’t my favorite part of me, but it was a part of the me who was exceeding my own expectations. It was a part of the me that was being strong and tenacious and self-challenging. It was a part of the me that was feeling victorious.

After class I happily re-donned my pants and sweatshirt, grateful to no longer feel so exposed. But I walked away from the studio with more than just some sweat-soaked towels and a demanding thirst — I walked away with a new confidence.  I walked away with a sense of my body’s power, and the knowledge that that power was not tied to my appearance.

Will I go nearly-naked in yoga class again? I think I’ll probably try to strike a slightly happier balance. But yes, if it came down to it, I would roll up my spandex to sweat alongside complete strangers for 90 minutes.

Because yoga is not about how you look, it’s about what you can do.

And that is a lesson to remember.


One thought on “The Day I Took My Clothes Off in Yoga Class

  1. Yes!
    What an inspiring post! Although we don’t feel like taking one of those hot ass yoga classes, we feel a little more acceptance toward our luscious bellies, love handles and pleasingly plumpness. LOL
    Women hold so much wounding around our “imperfections” because of societal pressure, that it is refreshing to hear someone being so honest about their body, and coming to love it for its strength and essential rightness.
    Thank you for your wonderful post!


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