Yogi Aaron, aka Aaron Star, began the practice of Naked Yoga to appeal primarily to a gay male audience. He achieved fame in the yoga world with his DVD series “Hot Nude Yoga,” which allowed aspiring yogis to practice nude in the privacy of their own homes. This is his story.
In 2001, I founded Hot Nude Yoga. Fresh off the boat, literally, (my previous career was in the cruise industry) I pulled into NYC on January 2 on the train. My goal was really small: live a simple life, develop a small clientele of private yoga students, and deepen my own experience in the practice.
What transpired over the next few months was anything but.
As I worked to establish myself, I inadvertently started what later became the popular Hot Nude Yoga. As a gay man, I thought other gay men would feel more supported working with me as their teacher, alongside people who understood and accepted them. Back in 2001, there was little support for men in yoga, let alone gay men. Much has changed since then.
In order to develop my clientele I knew I would need to introduce myself to the community—and I would need a hook. I had grown up primarily around men most of my life—living in boarding school dorms with communal showers—and nudity was something I had come to appreciate. There is an authenticity revealed when all of one’s clothes are off.
When we are naked, we are exposed.
So suddenly one February day, soon after my arrival in New York City as I was crossing the Avenue Of The Americas, it hit me: Hot Nude Yoga. The concept came to me as if the top of my head had opened up, allowing the sun to illuminate my brain.
For years people have asked, Why Hot Nude Yoga? Why that name? My answer has always been the same: “It is nude, it is yoga, and it is hot.”
Initially, I didn’t anticipate Hot Nude Yoga would last more than a few months–but it continued nearly a decade, attracting as many as 50 students at a time.
In time, I said to a close colleague, “You watch, in 10 years naked yoga will be offered across America in many studios. We are starting something.” Little did I know we had started a movement that would gain popularity around the world. By 2005, we were hearing of naked yoga groups cropping up in Moscow, Beijing, Sydney, Argentina, and even London.
But why? Why did this practice grow?
In my classes, students learned quickly that these were real yoga classes—challenging, yet profoundly healing. Men who couldn’t keep up physically–or those with the wrong idea about HNY—left within the first ten minutes.
Each class was an event, lasting up to two and a half hours, sometimes three, on a Sunday evening. What I couldn’t have predicted was how transformative the classes would be for so many men.
When I founded HNY I knew I would get people to class a first time. I soon began to explore Tantra and partner yoga to develop practices that, even fully clothed, students would find intriguing and energizing–practices that would keep them coming back for more.
Certainly practicing in the nude required courage. It also created a sense of freedom; in a room full of naked men, it’s impossible to tell who’s a Wall Street banker and who’s a starving artist. We were on a very level playing field–completely vulnerable, opening our hearts and connecting in an authentic and meaningful way.
Of course, there were rules: no kissing, no touching penises. And please, shower and don’t eat beans before class. For some, the no touching rule was a real tapas, creating more energy and an opportunity to go beyond the physical elements of the practice.
Before HNY, the gay community had no place where nudity wasn’t equated with sex. But here was a sanctuary where men could be intimate in a new, healing way. A gesture as simple as standing face-to-face, a hand placed on another student’s heart brought out one’s essence of love and compassion. We worked with breath. We looked into each other’s eyes. Egos dissolved and we related at a deeper level.
Class began in a comfortable seated position, chanting “OM” followed by a few minutes of silence. Typically we discussed an aspect of yoga philosophy then established an intention for our practice, helping form a community based on higher ideals and setting the tone for the class.
For the first hour to hour and a half of class we focused on a strong vinyasa-style practice—“flow” yoga—constantly moving in and out of challenging postures. It was difficult and strenuous; in fact today I feel some remorse over how demanding I was, yet the men seemed to love it. At times the music would stop and you could hear sweat dripping off our bodies onto the mats below.
The second half of each class was dedicated to partner yoga. It was gratifying to teach from the back of the room, watching these beautiful male forms make the most incredible shapes. Partner yoga became one of the pillars of Hot Nude Yoga and an opportunity for men to connect in a meaningful way.
For me, and I believe I speak for the entire HNY community, the brotherhood and close connections that we built in our classes, workshops and retreats were tremendous. Even today there are hundreds of men around the world with whom I feel a deep sense of connection and a tight bond.
Over the years, Hot Nude Yoga gained a lot of notoriety and positive feedback. Time Out New York’s Les Simpson called us an “underground sensation” after attending a class. Even Saturday Night Live gave us a shout-out in 2010:
“Several yoga studios in cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have begun offering male-only hot nude yoga classes. So enjoy those mats, next class!’ – Seth Myers
But even with the positive attention we received, we also met with an enormous amount of criticism—from people who judged us harshly and unfairly, without really understanding—and even more, not caring to understand. I have found that many yogis place themselves on a pedestal of self-righteousness.
Even my own teacher severed ties with me in 2009 out of fear that his reputation might be tarnished.
His disassociation with me was one of the greatest disappointments in my life; I wholeheartedly believe I was delivering on his instructions: get students in the door, and then share this profound ancient knowledge with them. He took issue with the concept of HNY and my promotional methods, yet his opinions were not based on direct experience. In spite of our differences and broken relationship, I continue to value all that he taught me and hold love in my heart for the teacher he was to me.
Facing criticism has taught me to discern those who are truly devotional yogis, not just in my community, but in the larger yoga community. So many preach acceptance and love on the one hand, but that there are “good” ways to practice and “bad” ways on the other. And when a yogi doesn’t follow that specific teaching, he or she is shamed.
I have been shamed by many people in my life, and it has been disheartening to see how much is dished out within the yoga world. So many questions and comments I’ve received over the years have been seeded in blatant ignorance:
“How do you practice with all your parts everywhere?”
“How do you stay focused with all those asses in the air when everyone is doing downward dog?”
“If I was teaching that class, I would have an erection the entire time.”
“Doesn’t every class just end in a big orgy?”
Now that I have stepped away from Hot Nude Yoga for five years, I’ve had time to reflect, and I am sure another fifteen will provide even more perspective. What I see now is that Hot Nude Yoga provided me my first real community. There I found my home, my brothers. I dared others to be courageous and become naked; in turn, we all found a safe place to be, to practice, and to connect. It was not at all about sex. And at the end of the day, it really wasn’t even about being naked. It was about something much more than that.
Each of us longs to understand ourselves and our place in the world. And to a worldwide community, Hot Nude Yoga was about just that—a practice that led us deeper into our humanity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yogi Aaron, author of “Autobiography of a Naked Yogi,” brings passion and adventure to his teaching. Inspired, he guides students to secret and far-flung locales, empowers them to realize their own limitless potential, and makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002 he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide and currently serves as the yoga director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica.
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