On a chilly day in March of 2016, I entered a room filling up with what would turn out to be 14 people who were taking some of the biggest stretches/leaps in their lives. That number and those dynamics included this author turned emotional bungee jumper. Any heart palpitations that we were each experiencing were because within the hour, we would be invited to ‘peel off the layers and reveal the real,’ both emotionally and physically.As I looked around, I took note of the fact that with few exceptions, the participants who had signed up for a workshop called Love The Skin You’re In: A Body Positive Journey co-facilitated with my friend Beth Nolan, didn’t know either of us and didn’t know each other. They placed their trust in us that we would create a safe container into which we would, as a group, pour our fears and vulnerabilities. As we designed the workshop, Beth and I reminded ourselves that we would have no idea what issues, messages, baggage and trauma would follow the participants through the door. We agreed that if someone needed individual attention in the midst of what I think of as an ’emotional breakthrough’, one would focus on that person and the other on the room. We knew that once people opened up, we would need to responsibly symbolically sew them back up before they returned to their daily lives.
Beth is a yoga teacher who offers clothing optional classes, so teaching in her altogether was not a stretch for her. Even as a career speaker (30 years or so), I have never taught in the nude (except in nightmares where I am the only person in the room buck nekkid) and this added a wee bit to my anxiety.
Our intention was to make the experience fun and playful as we explored sometimes serious subjects. Each person courageously faced their gremlins that fed them negative messages about their bodies, whether they showed up as a result of trauma, illness, injury or growing up in a culture that shames us for being fully embodied.
When we arrived at the moment in the workshop where we invited participants to take off as many layers as they were comfortable doing, some chose to remain fully clothed, some took off the top layer and kept their underwear on, others wore sarongs and still others, such as Beth and I took it all off. We used music and humor as a way of easing the transition. From that point on, emotional layers came off as well. People seemed more at ease making eye contact, communication flowed, information was shared (confidentiality reigns supreme in this workshop; even as to who attended, unless they choose to divulge) that would not normally be exchanged among strangers and perhaps even among intimates. Beth and I kept looking over at each other, sometimes in tears and with goosebumps as we acknowledged the magic that was occurring in the room. We knew we had something of value to bring to the world.
What I discovered was that this was a far less sexually charged environment than that of a public beach. No one was there to take a gander at a naked body. This was not the French Riviera. These were adults with ‘normal human bodies’ of various ages, shapes, sizes, levels of fitness and configurations.When we are able to look at ourselves and each other as innocently as if we were children, then personal growth occurs. On the subject of said growth, a question arose about arousal. Since we are human, in proximity of other humans; naked or clothed, we may get turned on. For men, the evidence is more apparent. We encouraged people to breathe and relax their way through it, knowing they couldn’t act on the feelings in the workshop.
The time spent together was framed as a lab setting in which folks could practice feeling at home in their bodies, as they interacted with others in their lives, clothed or unclothed, sexual or not. While there is nothing overtly prohibitive about being fully clothed out in the world, for comfort and climate control, we are garbed. It is when those ‘protective’ layers keep others at bay emotionally, that we might want to have fun taking it all off!
The next opportunities to attend are: