Inside naked yoga in New York: We sat down with ‘Naked in Motion’ founder Willow Merveille

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Everyone is completely naked and happy. Women, men, and persons from other genders gather for a routine class of about two hours of yoga in New York city.

“But it’s not about sex, erections, orgies, touching or nudism. It’s just yoga but everyone happens to be naked,” says Willow Merveille, the founder of Naked In Motion in New York City.

Yoga is a spiritual and physical discipline which originated from ancient India and spread to the United States a few decades ago. It uses breathing techniques, exercise and meditation to help improve health and happiness.

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There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. But Willow’s Naked In Motion school has taken things a little further up.

“I saw there was a need for truly inclusive naked yoga for all levels, bodies, and genders,” Willow told Today News Africa’s Simon Ateba during an exclusive interview on Monday January 29, 2018.

“I had some experience with social and artistic nudity, and my rebellious mindset made me the perfect candidate to step up to the plate.

“After a few months of classes, people kept coming back, and I learned about how important my space was for their emotional, mental, and physical healing.

“I saw that my classes were meeting a need; a kind of universal desire for this elusive thing called self-love.

“My family really struggled with body image, and I was always very saddened by their constant body-shaming. I struggled daily with the monster of self-criticism. I wanted to make a space where all people could learn how to accept themselves, and how to be kind to themselves”.

And she did. She founded Naked In Motion two years ago in New York City, and now has a branch in Boston. With thousands of people yearning for more, she is expanding to Seattle in the nearest future. Naked in Motion also offers online classes and instructional resources on patreon.

Patreon is “a way to provide our followers from all over the world with online content so they can be a part of the Naked! movement and support our work,” Willow said.

“You can contribute any amount per month, and each level gets you different naked yoga educational rewards.

“I offer audio recordings of classes, instructional video tutorials, and live-streamed classes that you can also practice along with at a later time. I also do private lessons via Skype, and post videos and pictures about our backstage creative process”.

But her background did not prepare her for this. Willow grew up in a small, conservative town in the South.

Willow Merveille, the founder of Naked In Motion practicing yoga at one of her classes.

“My environment was very sex-negative and body-shaming was a regular part of family life,” she said.

“I have a background in theatre and dance, so I was always exposed to alternative viewpoints even in the bubble of my hometown.

“I eventually finished college in NYC where I felt free to express myself, growing into the queer, feminist, sex-positive, and body-positive person I am today”.

But even in liberal New York City, some of the reactions she gets still surprise her.

“There are three common reactions. Some people are totally on board, some folks are potentially interested but need some time to jump in, and many others react with total disgust”.

Those who are disgusted tend to associate nudity with sexuality. “They want to know about touching, erections, and sexual activity, and they seem very afraid”.

Willow Merveille, the founder of Naked In Motion practicing yoga at one of her classes.

“I tell them about the Community Rules, which I read before every class, rules that forbid cruising, unsolicited compliments, and enforce consent culture.

“How people feel about nudity often is directly related to how they feel about sex; there’s a lot of shame there, and that anxiety comes out in people’s reactions”.

Today News Africa’s Simon Ateba sat down with Willow on January 29, 2018, for a lengthy and revealing interview below.

Kindly tell us about your background

I’m from a small, conservative town in the South. My environment was very sex-negative and body-shaming was a regular part of family life. I have a background in theatre and dance, so I was always exposed to alternative viewpoints even in the bubble of my hometown. I eventually finished college in NYC where I felt free to express myself, growing into the queer, feminist, sex-positive, and body-positive person I am today. For movement background, I have over 20 years of dance training, plus movement, voice and theatre training, and I’ve been practicing Pilates and yoga for over five years. I’m a fully certified Pilates apparatus instructor and a yoga teacher, and I’ve been a teacher for a little over three years.

 Why did you start Naked In Motion?

I saw there was a need for truly inclusive naked yoga for all levels, bodies, and genders. I had some experience with social and artistic nudity, and my rebellious mindset made me the perfect candidate to step up to the plate. After a few months of classes, people kept coming back, and I learned about how important my space was for their emotional, mental, and physical healing. I saw that my classes were meeting a need; a kind of universal desire for this elusive thing called self-love. My family really struggled with body image, and I was always very saddened by their constant body-shaming. I struggle daily with the monster of self-criticism. I wanted to make a space where all people could learn how to accept themselves, and how to be kind to themselves.

 What type of reaction do you get?

There are three common reactions. Some people are totally on board, some folks are potentially interested but need some time to jump in, and many others react with total disgust. Most of their questions suggest to me that they’re associating nudity with sexuality. They want to know about touching, erections, and sexual activity, and they seem very afraid. I tell them about the Community Rules, which I read before every class, rules that forbid cruising, unsolicited compliments, and enforce consent culture. How people feel about nudity often is directly related to how they feel about sex; there’s a lot of shame there, and that anxiety comes out in people’s reactions.

How many members do you have and how many people have subscribed since you started two years ago?

We’ve had over a thousand students over the past two years who come and go with various levels of frequency. We have a core group of regulars, then semi-regulars who come once every so often, but plenty others who are visiting or just want to try it once.

What’s your expansion plan? Where do you see naked in motion in 6 months or five years?

In six months, I’d love to have a branch going in Seattle, Washington, plus continue to add new classes and instructors to our branches in NYC and Boston. Five years from now, I’d love to have my own brick-and-mortar studio in NYC (and potentially in other cities), where we can host all kinds of events that support our mission and values and give back to the community.

How long does a class last?

We book the space for two hours at a time, but that gives us time to read the rules in the beginning of class and have time to hang out afterward. The movement itself is usually about 75 minutes.

 How much is a class?

A regular, all-gender class in NYC or Boston is $25, but in the spirit of inclusivity, we have a few $15 tickets available per class for those on a tighter budget. We also have a student discount, offer a bunch of random monthly coupons, and we offer packs of 5 and 10 classes that make it cheaper per class. Special events and Women’s & Trans class prices vary per event.

 How many Africans attend your classes?

I don’t always know where my students are from, but I can say our classes have a lot of diversity. We have students of all different colors, ages, genders, sexual orientations, body types, religious preferences, and proficiency levels. We also get lots of visitors from all over the world who are touring NYC and want to try out our class.

Different clothed yoga classes have different mixes of people. For example, there’s a great studio in Harlem called Harlem Yoga Studio (http://harlemyogastudio.com/) and the classes I’ve attended have been pretty diverse. However, I’ve also been to a ton of mainstream clothed yoga classes all over NYC where almost everyone is a young, thin, cisgender, white woman (like me).

My classes feel totally different. Certainly the mix of each class varies, but overall I notice a lot more diversity in my classes than in your average clothed yoga setting. I think the yoga & Pilates community at large has many ways of excluding people of color (being very expensive, only using white people in advertisements, etc). Hosting a class that exists to challenge the status quo, it’s really important to me to have a space where all different kinds of people feel safe and welcome. And I think our message of inclusivity comes across in our advertising.

Is your partner supportive?

Yes! And why wouldn’t they be? It has nothing to do with them. No partner of mine will ever own me, my decisions, or viewing rights to my body. You asked me if they were jealous. Acts of jealousy come from a sense of ownership based in one’s own insecurities. I’d certainly help any partner navigate uncomfortable emotions, but as a woman and a feminist, it’s really important to me to feel that I have the authority to make decisions about what I do with my body. In teaching naked yoga, I’ve decided that people can see me naked because ultimately I don’t think it’s a big deal. And, people can think whatever they want when they look at me, but they have to follow my rules and treat me with respect. Nudity is not an invitation.

Tell us about Patreon

It’s a way to provide our followers from all over the world with online content so they can be a part of the Naked! movement and support our work. You can contribute any amount per month, and each level gets you different naked yoga educational rewards. I offer audio recordings of classes, instructional video tutorials, and live-streamed classes that you can also practice along with at a later time. I also do private lessons via Skype, and post videos and pictures about our backstage creative process. Visit patreon to get involved.

What’s your biggest challenge now?

Having enough time to do everything I want to do. I have a ton of ideas but not enough time or energy to do it all.

What’s your biggest dream now?

To start a branch in Seattle. Also, I’d really love to do a TED talk. I have a lot to say about what I do.

What’s your biggest accomplishment now?

Having started a business at all. It’s a real challenge, and I’ve been running it for two years and it’s only growing. That’s pretty much a miracle. I’m really grateful for how far it’s come.

How can people contact you?

There’s a contact form atnakedinmotion.com/contact, or you can email info@nakedinmotion.com

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

1 COMMENT

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