The class was part of a larger wellness institution called MMX, which unofficially caters to queer men. I wondered if the queer focus would somehow affect the dynamic of the class: Would it be more sexual? And if so, how does that translate when you’re in downward dog?
Then last week, out of the blue, I was contacted by Seneca, the fitness director at MMX. He asked if I’d be interested in attending a class to write about it. At the end of the day, I’m down to try anything once, and have no qualms getting naked with others, so I decided to give it a try.
“Centuries ago in India, yoga was initially practiced in the nude,” Seneca told me prior to class. “And there’s something incredibly freeing about practicing yoga without clothing.” He said nudity is “instrumental in terms of learning how positions should sit on the body,” and that removing your clothing makes for “another less thing to worry about so you can be completely centred on your yoga practice.”
With Seneca’s points fresh in my memory, I went into the studio with an open mind and heart (which totally sounds like something a naked yoga instructor would say).
Located in the heart of Chelsea, MMX is a cute studio on the fourth floor of a nondescript building. It has the ambiance of any other yoga studio: calming music in the waiting room, dim lights, and Buddhist statues and other decorations paying homage to yoga’s Indian origins. When you walk in, people aren’t naked yet.
I met Seneca, who showed me around and told me I could enter the actual studio to start stretching. I grabbed a mat…then realised I wasn’t sure if I should get naked right there. I was the first one in the studio, and didn’t know if it was an “Alright, you may all proceed to strip now” type deal, or if you were meant to come in and get naked on your own.
I figured, What the hell, I’ll just get naked. So I did, placing my clothing in the cubbies toward the entrance of the room. It turned out to be the right thing to do. Other men started trickling in minutes before the class, removing all their clothing before they began stretching.
I also get anxiety boners when I’m naked in public. It’s not because I’m getting aroused by the other naked people there, though there surely were enough hot dudes at MMX to get me hard at the studio. It’s because I know I shouldn’t be getting hard, and for some reason, that gets me hard. Every time I do a nude photo shoot, I get an erection. There’s just too much excitement going on.
Seneca had previously told me that getting an erection is one of the biggest worries of men who enter the studio. “You’re going to be working far too hard to maintain it even if you get it. So don’t worry about that,” is what he tells them. “And essentially, it’s about being in your body and allowing your body to experience its natural evolution.”
Eventually, the instructor, Phillip, came in naked and quickly broke any tension (and my fear of getting an erection) with his big smile and booming voice. “Wow, you guys are quiet. How are we all feeling?”
We then went around, said our names, and replied “fine” or “good.”
After a brief warm-up, Phillip transitioned us into an intense, quick flow between positions. Immediately, any reservations I had about being nude or getting hard with a bunch of men were gone. I was sweating bullets, trying to keep up, and failing miserably.
At this point, I remembered, Oh yeah, I hate yoga. As someone who lifts weights five days a week and derives joy from being at the gym, yoga has never been a thing for me. I’ve tried it countless times on dates, with friends, and family members, but I’ve never liked it.
After about 45 minutes of hell, the hard part of the class was over. At this point, I’d completely forgotten we were all naked—that is, until we moved into the couple’s portion of the class, which had very intimate partner poses.
Now, even though MMX’s website doesn’t use the word gay or queer once, the language and imagery of the site make it clear that this is a studio for men who are into other men. After creating an account online, you create a profile, à la Tinder or Grindr, and can message other men to see if they’d be interested in meeting up to massage or something more. In that regard, MMX does work hard to foster a friendly, queer, and sex-positive community.
Up until this point, the class didn’t feel explicitly queer. It was just men practicing yoga naked. The partner portion of the class, was—and I’m just going to say it point blank—very gay.
Phillip told us all our first partner would be the man whose mat was across from ours. Mind you, this was someone I hadn’t met before. Together, with Phillip’s guidance, we entered into a pose where one person bends forward while the other stands behind him, like in a standing doggy style position. The bent-over person then twists his body, looking back at the “top” person, who stabilises the bent-over person by grabbing his butt and chest.
This is when I got hard, and it was no anxiety boner: This partner pose was extremely sexual and arousing. Then, he got hard. After we finished the pose, we hugged, looked each other in the eyes…and kissed. It just felt like the thing to do. I looked around afterward to see that other men, although not all, were kissing their partners, too. Then I switched partners, per Phillip’s directions. After two more tender partner poses, the class ended with everyone linking up in a circle, crossing arms, and doing a backbend together as a unit. Everyone was supported by the person next to them.
MMX is kind of genius when you think about it. It starts off slightly awkward, but the ice is quickly broken by having an extremely charismatic instructor who makes you feel welcome. In the beginning you introduce yourselves, so you already start to build a sense of community within the class. Quickly, you’re working out, exhausted, and nudity is the last thing on your mind. While your endorphins are flowing and you feel more relaxed, you start the partner poses, which are beautiful, intimate, and something you feel comfortable doing after having been through the rest of the strenuous class with these other men.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hate yoga. But by the collective backbend, I felt like I’d become best friends with everyone in the room. And maybe I even loved them all? Is that possible?
Like, what just happened?
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health