For the members of Dallas Naked Yoga 4 Men, getting buff in the buff is all a state of mind
The first thing you should know about Dallas Naked Yoga 4 Men — which is exactly what it sounds like — is this: It is not some kind of Far East pick-up joint. The name is not gay code for sex, like "sensual massage," and there are no "happy endings" (unless you consider ultimate inner peace a happy ending … which, come to think of it, most yogis would).
Yoga — naked or not — is about exercise.
At least it is for Richard Keen, who for more than five years has led the group.
Keen’s interest in yoga originally stemmed from his fascination with bodywork. He holds a master’s in dance and has moved his body professionally for 25 years. Coming to yoga was merely an extension of that. And nude yoga followed.
"There were 28 people [in the studio] the first time I stepped out," Keen remembers. "I only knew one guy that showed up," which may have made it easier for him. (Keen has done nude modeling for art classes in the past as a way of combating his shyness, which no longer seems in evidence.) "It’s just like being an actor going onstage — you think, ‘It’s showtime!’"
Classes (Keen leads the group twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, in a studio near Deep Ellum) seldom if ever reach 28 anymore, but there is a constant influx of new students. Some, Keen posits, attend once or twice "just to say I did it." Others, he agrees, probably expect it to be cruisy and stop when it’s not.
But a core group of men shows up regularly to benefit from the restorative and fitness-building effects of yoga.
"I do yoga exclusively now," says Keith Callahan, who has attended classes since Day One. "I don’t go to the gym anymore."
Callahan grew up in the mountains, he says, so he prefers to be in his birthday suit most of the time anyway. But it’s not just nudists (or "naturists," the now-preferred term) that say they benefit from practicing yoga al fresco.
"I’m not a nudist but I go for the experience," says Dennis Yslas, who drives over from his home in Fort Worth as often as he can to participate. "Some people may initially try to do the cruisy thing but then realize they don’t have time! Richard is strict. But I have made some good friendships."
Yslas originally became interested in yoga when he worked on a cruise ship and crewmembers practiced on the beach. (It was a Disney Lines ship, he points out, so beach yoga was not naked.) He took part in Hot Nude Yoga classes when visiting New York and enjoyed them, and when he heard Dallas was offering a similar practice, decided to support it.
A prior yoga instructor was adamant in dismissing nude yoga, but Yslas disagrees.
"I learn more by seeing Richard do the poses without clothes in the way," he says. "I say, ‘A-ha! That’s how my hip is supposed to be.’ When Richard corrects somebody, I want to see what he’s doing and whether I can learn from it. It’s very beneficial. And I do like an all-guy class — it’s really helpful to me."
Jay Stankiewicz began with classes two years ago, at the recommendation of his physician. While discussing his desire to begin yoga, "afriend connected with D.A.M.N., the Dallas Area Male Naturists, mentioned this class," Stankiewicz. "This is the first and only [yoga] class I’ve ever taken."
George (who asked not to use his last name), a committed nudist involved in D.A.M.N., also began his yoga practice with this class. "It sounded like fun; it is!" he says.
Everyone seems to agree on one thing: Despite the word "naked," ultimately there is nothing unusual or awkward about doing yoga in the nude.
"The first time was a little scary — not so much the nudity, but the fear of failure and embarrassment," George says. "There is nothing odd about nude yoga."
"Thinking back to high school swimming class, we were all in the nude — am I telling my age?" adds Stankiewicz. "Back in the Air Force, the latrine and showers were all open. So, while we’re all the same, we’re also different."
"I enjoy yoga immensely for the breath control, core exercising, stretching and mental focus," says Callahan. "Nude yoga is simply a state of mind." •
Visit DallasNakedYoga4Men.net for more information on classes and schedules.
Laugh ’til it helps: Yoga to smile by
A priest, a rabbi, six gay men, four lesbians and two grandmothers walk into a vegetarian restaurant. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one already.) But this is no joke. This is a typical gathering at Laughter Yoga, the funniest yoga experience you might ever have.
Michele Schamburek, who works at COREhealth Wellness Center by day, moonlights as the high priestess of hilarity (not her official title) over at Cosmic CafÃ© every Monday, leading a group of people with at least one thing in common: a love of laughter. Lots. as in non-stop-for-an-hour kind of yuks.
No skill, coordination or balance is required for this kind of yoga. You won’t need a mat or expensive workout gear. In fact, you can walk in wearing street clothes and be just fine, though the high-energy class will definitely make you sweat.
"Each week of Laughter Yoga offers a new and fun theme. On the week of the 40th anniversary, we all took a trip back to Woodstock for the night. The next week it was the ’70s and Studio 54," Schamburek says.
As the music blares, Schamburek leads everyone in an exercise, whether disco-dancing or clapping each other’s hands while screaming ho-ho-ho and ha-ha-ha. But it’s silliness with a purpose. The result and the goal are the same: smiles turn to laughs, which often become uncontrollable.
"Within 10 to 15 minutes, the stresses of the day melt away, and by the end, most students are prepared to go back to their lives realizing that life is not quite as serious as we make it out to be," Schamburek says.
There’s something about the physical activity combined with hearty laughter that brings about an endorphin high unlike anything else. And even if you aren’t the type of person who laughs freely, here, it’s perfectly fine to fake it. The body benefits from the laughter process even when it’s not completely genuine.
Now when you laugh at your boss’ jokes, you’ll know you’re healing your soul while maintaining job security. And that’s funny.
Cosmic CafÃ©, 2912 Oak Lawn Ave. Mondays at 7 p.m. Free, but donations encouraged (and anonymous). LaughYoga.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2009.