If I’m honest, I don’t know how serious I was the first time I approached Jon about hosting a topless yoga class at Astroetic Studios. It was one of a million fleeting ideas that seemed to spring forth at the same time, though I had no idea then that its seeds would blossom into what Free the Nipple Yoga has since become.
I think what made me grind my heels in was Jon’s initial skepticism that anyone would even be comfortable taking such a class. Always eager to play devil’s advocate, I insisted that I could round up plenty of women who would find this style of yoga beneficial. No doubt still skeptical, Jon agreed to supply the location if I could prove the demand.
I began by asking my most free-spirited friends if they’d be interested in the class. The answer was a resounding yes, but I quickly realized that my friends were not a representative sample. I started asking other women I came in contact with, and finally, satisfied with my survey and convinced that Los Angeles was ready for its debut Free the Nipple Yoga class, I began searching for an instructor.
If I had doubts before, they were put to rest when I began interviewing potential yoga instructors. I was vague in my job posting and, not wanting to engage in conversations about ethics or censorship just yet, I described the class as feminist and body positive. You can imagine my surprise when, after cautiously broaching each instructor with the concept of topless yoga, I found almost all of them to be immediately receptive. The only concern, which I shared, was providing a safe space where students felt comfortable baring it all without the threat of objectification.
I knew from the get-go that I didn’t want to do a female-only class. For one, women are already well-aware of how much their breasts are politicized and criminalized, and for the most part, are comfortable being topless or nude in spaces with other women, such as in spas or locker rooms. In order to change policy and normalize breasts, I knew that we’d have to allow everyone the opportunity to participate in the movement. Men would have to come to terms with the (somehow groundbreaking) idea that breasts do not exist to be judged and lusted after. They have a much grander purpose: sustaining human life.
As we moved forward with Free the Nipple Yoga instructor Llyn Stransky, the three of us brainstormed ideas for creating an environment that was equal parts inclusive and safe. We decided to host an evening candlelit class, figuring that less lighting would help people get more comfortable. Llyn suggested a long meditation and sound bath at the end of the class, which many believe to have healing qualities. We made it a requirement for men to contact us prior to attending their first class.
Before I knew it we had created a mission statement and community guidelines, but I was still baffled as to how I would explain the class to my somewhat-conservative parents. Ironically enough, that’s when it dawned on me how much I truly care about this project and its success.
It would have been easy to to block certain family members on Facebook from seeing (and relaying) those posts, or to withhold the more controversial details. I’ve done as much in the past, with projects that I wanted to share in some capacity, but didn’t feel like hearing a lecture over. When it came to Free the Nipple Yoga though, I found myself more than willing to engage. I realized that I wanted to change minds.
And there’s the larger point that Free the Nipple Yoga isn’t doing anything wrong. If anything, we’re making things right. We are challenging the hypocritical notion that men can be casually barechested, but a woman who does the same is overexposed. I remember being in a hot yoga class several months ago and glowering at the men who were able to practice only in mesh trunks, while I pulled a sticky t-shirt off my skin and tried to corral my boobs back into a pinching sports bra.
A woman should be able to breastfeed her child in public — whether that means a shopping mall food court, a park bench, or the teacher’s lounge at work — without being shamed or ridiculed. She should be able to sunbathe without having to obsessively keep track of her bikini strings. The mere sight of breasts should not send a movie rating soaring to PG-13 or R.
Free the Nipple Yoga is a step towards normalization. It’s a safe community that is committed to uplifting others and dismantling the oppressive laws that prevent our society from moving forward.
When I first practiced Free the Nipple Yoga, I came out of my meditation and had forgotten that I was topless. It was bizarre, since there’s hardly a moment in the day when I’m not trying to catch a glance in the mirror, hyper-aware of any hairs out of place or whether my stomach is spilling over my jeans. At the same time, I had never felt more appreciation for or more connected to my body. It made me realize how rare it is that mind and body are actually in sync.
As we navigate societal laws, all most of us want is to live a life that feels true to us, or to put it more simply, to be free. We started Free the Nipple Yoga because we believe everyone has a right to freedom, and we wanted to provide a space where, for at least one hour once a week, people can just be. It is a magical thing to be loved and accepted just as you are.