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Common Ground: Naked Yoga Revealed

http://www.commongroundmag.com/2005/cg3210/nakedyoga3210.html

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October 2005

Naked Yoga Revealed SFs Edgiest Yoga Class Wants to Liberate Your Bodysattva
by Lisa Maria In a town that yawns at most New Age novelties, Naked Yoga actually made San Francisco gasp. How could it not, given that, at its core, this is an unabashed celebration of the body as temple and the orgasm as its altar? The home of Naked Yoga is the One Taste Urban Retreat Center, where the tagline is Making your body a pleasurable place to be. One Taste is certifiably hip, slick and cool, Doing the poses with only air and in love with the naked body (as evidenced by and sunlight on my skin did feel the gallery of artsy breast photographs on the first powerful and liberating. floor). Allyson Wyenn, part owner and manager Photo by Judyth Greenburgh of One Taste, says when she first heard of Naked Yoga, she couldnt believe it. As soon as she tried it, she felt reverence, freedom, and self-containment. It was way more than I expected. I had to try it. As a yoga purist and an instructor myself, I get a little suspicious when people cross-pollinate yoga with other practices. What, I wondered, would Naked Yoga do to the practice I knew to be so sacred? I took the plunge: I stuck one toe in the water and committed to the womens class. A week later, I dove right in and took the coed session. From Catholic High to Orgasmic Highs When Naked Yoga founder Meredith Medland, 33, was attending St. Marys Catholic High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, she never imagined she would be teaching Naked Yoga in San Francisco and fielding interviews from A Current Affair, Yoga Journal, the SF Chronicle and The Naturist. A Nordic blond with a curvaceous smile, she dreamed of singing on Broadway. She belts out a couple bars of the Catholic hymn Sing to the Mountains, Sing to the Sea followed by a big belly laugh. Medlands mission is to teach people especially women how to feel free in their bodies. An adopted child, she inherited a biological tendency toward obesity, ballooning to nearly 200 pounds during her teen and early adult years. She also experienced drama and trauma and pain around her self-image and sexuality. I utilized food the same way an alcoholic uses alcohol. Drugs and alcohol arent an issue for me, but when it comes to flour and sugar, thats where I go. And then it shows

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Common Ground: Naked Yoga Revealed

http://www.commongroundmag.com/2005/cg3210/nakedyoga3210.html

up and messes with me mentally. Disaster struck when Medland was fifteen. Her mother died from cancer, leaving her to decode teen life including sex on her own. Medland became pregnant at 17. Ever the high achiever, she was on the tennis team when she was three months pregnant and had the lead in the school musical at seven months. A Catholic, she chose to give the baby up for adoption. I was doing the Wonder Woman thing so I really didnt have to admit that I was scared shitless of what was happening and that I didnt have a mom. I just walked blindly through it. Liberate Your Bodysattva Moving to the Bay Area in 1997 to head the Internet division of Sharper Image, Medland landed a six-figure income and a big notch on her resume. But that wasnt enough. In 2001, she left her job to find herself. This led to a sexual epiphany that changed her life from dead to alive reborn inside essentially from pain to pleasure. Its a doorway. From trauma and victim to pleasure, to heroine, to lover, to leader, to life. Its not like Im living there all the time, butwhen I feel my pussy, I feel my life. I couldnt even say the word pussy three-and-a-half years ago. Medland continued, I was horrified. Let alone the word cock. Oh my goodness! Her laughter bounces off the walls of the room. There are so many words that have that strong charge that charge is actually all the nos that got pushed down to our genitals, coming back up. All the times we wanted to feel pleasure in our body, but we had pain or chose pain attached to that wordand literally, those times all come forward when you say pussy. It has this trail with it. Medland intentionally uses graphic language in her classes to confront her students and take them to new levels of awareness and openness. In the same way that a yoga teacher who has strong asana background takes people through the inhale-and-pose, thats what Im doing with vocabulary. Its very mindfully placed and mindfully spoken. What I bring to this path is not necessarily the teachers that come with the asana experience, but the teachers (such as Nicole Daedone, founder of One Taste, and leader in Orgasmic Rebalancing) who have lead me through bodywork, through pleasure, through threading the conversation of orgasm into the experience. Conversation of orgasm? This sent up my purist red flag. Without missing a beat, Medland continues matter-of-factly: When you thread orgasm, thats the life force, thats prana, thats energy, creativity, but specifically, its feeling our pelvis, our genitals as part of the experience of living life and being in the world. Its also coming into every movement form in a way that is pleasurable, thats ecstatic, thats fun the robustness and the richness of life. Carlos Pomeda, an esteemed yoga scholar and teacher of South Asian Studies at U.C. Berkeley, has some reservations: This runs counter to traditional yogic thinking across traditions, in which sexual energy is something to be conserved and redirected towards ones own spiritual goals, transmuting it into ojas or subtle spiritual energy. In such traditional views, orgasm is actually an expenditure of such energy. Medlands husband, Ted McElwee, 34, is her partner in Naked Yoga. While at Burning Man last summer, they married for a year-and-a-day in a temple they built together to serve the Goddess within. They have an easy, respectful and loving vibe. Its clear that they are passionate about each other and their work. They were at a couples sensuality course when they overheard someone joking about doing yoga au naturel. They locked onto the idea simultaneously, and Naked Yoga was born. Raised in Sunnyvale, California, McElwee had worked as a software engineer at CNET and Sybase. He laughs at his biggest claim to fame: He was the creator of the

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Common Ground: Naked Yoga Revealed

http://www.commongroundmag.com/2005/cg3210/nakedyoga3210.html

Internets printer friendly version option. I know that I saved some trees by not having the damn ads on the page, he says, red curls shaking. In addition to Naked Yoga, hes the Webmaster of onetastesf.com and attends massage school. Most people dont live in their body, they live in this little tiny part of their body, says McElwee, indicating his neck-up with his hands. Food hides it, drugs hide it, money hides it, clothes hide it, friends hide it, the house hides it, the job hides it everything hides it. Thats why you have to get into a class, get naked and start moving around with a bunch of people until you realize that all that other stuff is only there to support this thing that you never pay attention to your body. Mind Over Yoga Mat I walked upstairs to the barn-like yoga room, framed by massive, spiky Areca and scalloped-leafed Fishtail palms. Sunlight cascaded through skylights, streaming through gaps in the velvety sage curtains. The aged wood floors had a polished sheen, and the heavy, exposed beams were garlanded with tiny Christmas lights. During class, my concerns ranged from low (not wanting the stuff on my mat to stick to me, my cellulite) to medium (not wanting to observe my classmates exposed nether regions) to high (not wanting anyone to observe my fully exposed nether regions). In both classes I attended, the students were arranged in one straight line, which decreased the exposure factor. Reversing the typical ratio of men to women in yoga, 10 out of 14 of the students in the coed class were men. Though my heel did yank on my pubic hair in Tree Pose (try breathing through that), the upside was that I didnt have to worry about discreetly freeing myself from wedgies or fret that my boobs might be showing too much. Committed to facilitating the appreciation of the body in a pleasurable and sensual way, Medland and McElwee work to create a safe environment for the class. The space is created so that people arent absorbed with whats going to happen with other peoples bodies. We ask everyone to leave without speaking to each other, so its not a place where you mingle and meet. One woman in my class, yogi Wendy Moskow, confessed to feeling uncomfortable: She had us doing poses on the floor where our legs were wide open. I felt really exposed. I just kept wondering: Why? Usually when I take a class, were working towards a pose. This class was disjointedeach pose stood alone. And it was very voyeuristic; two of the men in the class had erections. I had to leave the room and pretend to go the bathroom because I hated the free movement so much. Im not psyched to free-dance naked with a group of strangersand she [Medland] was playing Sexual Healing for the music! Medland acknowledges that Naked Yoga is confrontational. What if I get an erectionwhat happens if I get turned on? What happens if I see another womans body and shes better than me or, God forbid, I just have pleasure in my own body? Or, what if I actually fall in love with my body through the experience and see a new me? Thats totally confronting. Whatever it takes to actually get through the door leaves a person better than they were before. Their life, fundamentally, is altered by the experience of living in their body. In both classes, Medland was a powerful role model, projecting an air of love and acceptance to the class. Shes been through a major journey with her body, and it shows. Scars and stretch marks crisscross her body from weight gains and losses, pregnancy, a breast reduction, and an abdominoplasty. Now a healthy 135 pounds, Medland glows. Theres a lot of freedom in what Ive been through in living in my body because Ive protected it so much. Each womans story is different. Im committed to women being free as they walk on the streets and feeling sexy and feeling alive and not being scared of anybody.

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Common Ground: Naked Yoga Revealed

http://www.commongroundmag.com/2005/cg3210/nakedyoga3210.html

Is Naked Yoga for everybody? It didnt work for me. I was repeatedly disrupted by graphic language and sequencing of poses. Yet, doing the class with only air and sunlight on my skin did feel powerful and liberating. Perhaps I just need to cultivate more focus and concentration. As taught by Medland, this practice can also be a valuable exploration, though it reflects her personal solution to body and sexuality issues. Naked Yoga has a lot to offerbut is it yoga? Lisa Maria is a regular contributor to Common Ground and teaches yoga in Marin.
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