Razer: Katy Perry, naked yoga and ridding yourself of the flab of social order

To know the strange embrace of compression pants is, very often, to know the ignominy of group fitness. Like many westerners convinced of the importance of my abdominal strength, I have moved often to a soundtrack of licenced pop and Les Mills instructors urging me to “bust it out” and to remember that “the range makes the change”.  Of course, I have often fantasised about doing physical harm to these people and the Katy Perrys who provide the martial music for their war against good taste. But, knowing not only that I would lose badly against a soldier built from protein powder and positive thinking but that there are few more time- and cost-efficient ways to stay trim in my forties than going to a dumb class, I bust it out.

Group fitness classes are awful but they are reasonably cheap and more-or-less effective in steering me away from my inclination to look much like a golden Labrador pregnant with 17 pups. I do not wear adipose tissue well and even if this personal aversion to flab were not culturally manufactured — and it absolutely is — these hideous classes strip me of it. In other words, exercise classes do as they promise and, if regularly endured, change one’s muscle-to-fat ratio.

Although there has been some creditable study performed on the uselessness of commercial fitness, I have found it to be of sound use value. Which is to say, I give them some money and they give me a (barely) visible result.  I am not “empowered” by these excursions and judging by the looks on the faces of my age-mates, neither is anyone else. We go to these absurd, alienated places for much the same reasons we might consent to care in a hospital: it’s an unpleasant but functional one-size-fits-most approach to the transformation of the body.

Across the last decade or so, however, I have noticed a shift in commercial fitness from simple use value into the more complex commodity. Once, Les Mills offered me fat-loss and muscle-gain. Now, he offers me balance, empowerment and inner-peace. These things are not easy to measure with a fat calliper but, apparently, they are selling to the point that I can’t very easily attend a “BodyPump” class at short notice but I can almost always go to a session that promises to give me a sense of self-love and enlightenment.

It was around the turn of the century that persons of my acquaintance began shunning the plain Phys Ed of aerobics in favour of belly- and pole-dancing classes or the genuinely stupid Bikram yoga. I became briefly convinced that performing Hatha stretches in a room heated to crotch temperature would offer me some sort of express route to muscle definition and went to several, quite expensive sessions until the fog of mass body stink cleared momentarily to allow me focus on what the instructor was saying. Amid a lot of quasi-Hindi, there were a lot of quasi-scientific claims about immunology and how sticking my arse in the air at an oblique angle to my arms would produce a cure for “western illness”. It was at this point I hung up my rented mat and vowed to avoid the western illness of merchant bullshit and resumed the boring work of Busting It Out.

More traditional fitness classes have become so small and irregular that I have taken to independent running; occasionally with the accompaniment of Katy Perry from whose hideous pop bugle I find myself motivated to flee. In the meantime, classes that promise to unleash femininity, pride and spiritual self-awareness have seen medicine balls consigned to the dustbin of commerce and replaced with mantras and diaphanous textiles.

It was a few years ago that I caught bitter wind of nude yoga which is now a practice so widespread, it has even been recommended by FM radio “crews” in Western Australia. According to Fairfax, “Perthonality” Heidi Anderson was so moved by the experience of disrobed downward dog, she wept.

The session, apparently, was not only “sexy and feminine” and “invigorating” but of a force so keen that it was able to upturn “body image”.

And this, it seems to me, is the quality many participants, particularly female ones, are seeking in group fitness. No longer do we assemble simply to enact a tedious series of body-weight exercises designed to change the relationship of fat to muscle. We attend group fitness to change the relationship of our bodies to the society that inscribes meaning on them.

In one popular reading, this is a noble goal. Like the corporeal feminisms of the ’90s that attempted to locate the body in relation to the culture, this kind of mind-body union seems to seek a sort of liberation.  But, worse than the very worst practitioners of Les Mills, what it also gives us is the hope that purchase of a one-hour class provides a ticket out of body discourse.

I do not suppose that one can displace personal understanding of the body, most particularly the female body, through a class in nude yoga. And this is not just because it is something that costs money nor is it because it is recommended by a Perthonality who has displayed her perfectly normative young, white, female bottom as proof of this scheme’s spiritual effectiveness.  Rather, it is because the idea of displacing poor “body image” with its opposite is an impossible exchange and a much more complex matter than the biochemical one of turning fat cells into muscle.

I am not, for a minute, recommending the idiotic self-torture of old-fashioned exercise to anyone. I do this, in my unambitious way, for a range of reasons so ridiculous that they can be a prescription to no body. But, what I am saying is that the view that “transforming” body image, a lifelong change produced through a range of discourses more powerful and painful than any reps devised by Les Mills, from negative to positive is a meaningful displacement is hopeful.

If people like themselves better, of course, that’s great. But if this affection is predicated on the idea of a sort of psychological fitness, it’s doomed to fail.

Even if it is less dualistic and relies on a purported post-Cartesian meeting of body and mind, it remains an idea of corporeal perfection just as static as that in the brochures for Les Mills. The idea that You Too can rid yourself of the flab of social order, when bodies are always social, it at worst cynical and at best naïve.

I do not see how “accepting” yourself in a group setting is ultimately any better than rejecting yourself. Moreover, I am terrified that the farts I inevitably emit in a yoga class would not be buffered by compression-wear. But, mostly, I think that a difficult thing like the socially marked body cannot ever have its meaning erased and the hope of doing so is ludicrous.

Bodies are never naked of meaning, not even in a nude yoga class. But the meanings we write for them could, one day, be more flexible.  We simply can’t expect a single text to displace us from the everyday. Not even if that text reads “empowerment”.

Image from NakedYogaSchool.com

18 responses to “Razer: Katy Perry, naked yoga and ridding yourself of the flab of social order

  1. Oh my downward-facing dog!
    “Perthonalities”
    Pass me the most western alcoholic drink you can – STAT!

  2. Australians need exercise more than ever but the gap seems to be widening between normal people and the fitness industry.
    Healthy, functional bodies are not exclusive to boutique ‘lifestyle’ gyms and patronising pseudoscientists on sugar-free high horses.
    Why would I believe that someone wants to help me when they are peddling complicated and expensive products of unproven effectiveness?

    For that reason I will always be grateful for easy and accessible Les Mills classes. The music can be really annoying but the instructors are genuine and helpful. Les Mills has survived the test of time. Maybe some of these other fadsters should take note.
    Or maybe they don’t want any normal people turning up, it might reflect poorly on their brand.

  3. Zero chance of me exposing my imperfect body to a group of toned health nuts, except possibly for shock value, and even then I’d want to wear a mask.

  4. *ESPECIALLY if that text reads ’empowerment’!*

    Unlike you Helen, I love yoga and kale but the best exercise investment I ever made was to get a dog. Our memorandum of understanding is that if I take her for a run every day, she won’t dig holes in the yard and chew up all my best shoes.

  5. An acquaintance recently completed a fitness course at a women’s gym and lost some weight. Great, give a virtual high-five via social media and all that. What was weird, though, was that there was a celebration at the end of the “journey” and talk seemed to be about achieving goals and personally transforming and being an inspiration for others. It was like some sort of 80s Amway thing. It was strange and perplexing, but then I haven’t been to a gym or fitness class since the early 90s, when we knew it was just about jumping or pumping iron to high energy dance hits in order to not pop a button on your 501s when you downed 8 bourbons. There was no delusion that there was any sort of “journey” of transformation, let alone a pretence than it was beneficial to others. I can’t see me going to the gym ever again.

  6. I agree Jessica.

    I think a lot of these fads arise because people overlook the science of it all, or aren’t aware of it, and people are looking for a hack or easy out. There isn’t one. Basically, if you’re burning more than you’re taking in, you will lose weight. That’s really all there is to it, and nobody needs to think about any of it harder than that. You don’t need to burn incense and bend over naked in bizarre yoga classes. You just need to do more and eat less. In fact you could lose weight on a diet of deep fried gummi bears and coke as long as your output exceeded your input. It’s just physics.

    Anyone who has tried to cut weight in bodybuilding will tell you the workouts aren’t the hard part, it’s the dieting. When you’re starving and your body is screaming at you for food, yeah, it’s horrible.

    Again, I don’t think women who has visible sinews are attractive. I’ll take a cute Give pudgy girl all day long, thanks. Preferably literally.

    1. LADIES. Please take note that the above commenter doesn’t like your visible muscles and you should take care to avoid any infraction against these personal tastes.
      I for one would like to commend him for his #brave #sobrave presentation and the reminder that the core purpose of any written article, particularly one written by a woman, is to permit open discussion of what gives him a boner.
      I would also like to thank him on the behalf of all men for representing the desires of all men. As we know, all men have a one-size-fits-all libido which is always aimed at women and at women of a particular fleshy, but not too fleshy, body type.
      You should remember, men and women, that if you have nothing to “hold onto” or no desire to “hold onto” a ratified female form, then you are an abnormal pervert. Fantomas, by contrast, is normal and right to represent himself as such.

  7. Also, I’d like to add that I do not know a single heterosexual male who likes the kind of ultra-lean, sinewy bodies that some of these women hell into yoga get…..it’s just not nice. If I was turned on by bodies like that, I’d probably be gay.

    Curves for the win! And for the girls out there with a bit of something to hold on to–you’re sexy. Don’t ever change.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up. I will immediately amend my form in the precise shape of your desire. It’s so important for women to remember that their primary physical task is to arouse commenting men.

      1. Helen,like most men I know, I appreciate a lovely womanly figure,rounded & sexy.I cannot understand how women are “conned” into believing “skinny” is the desired look.I look at a star filled sky & think How marvelous,but so also is the night sky with only the moon visible.So please don,t think it,s all about “rousing commenting men” An “ordinary” woman is an attractive “see” (I hope without being a perv.)for both sexes,I wish all ordinary women well,have a great day.

  8. Many of these exercise fads end up being so frustrating and pointless. If your aim is just to maintain a healthy weight, a good mix of cardio and weight-based exercises will serve you well.
    There are so many random classes coming onto the market now…including box and bike…where half the time you’re on a spin bike then the other you’re punching boxing pads…seriously…why? What happened to actually doing a sport to get good at it? Or doing specific exercises to achieve certain fitness goals? I can’t handle any more hybrids! Make it stop!
    And naked yoga? It all seemed like a big publicity stunt by these Perthonalities to me…plenty of ‘cheeky’ behind shots of the girls’ butts featured prominently in the articles I saw. Hardly a ‘body acceptance’ movement. Don’t get me wrong, being naked is liberating…in your own home/on a nude beach/whatever…but exercise clothing generally has good moisture-wicking abilities that’ll help prevent the waterfall of sweat impacting yoga moves too much. Naked yoga sounds like there would be a lot of slipping, sliding, unpleasant smells and gawking…

  9. Yoga isn’t real cardio…pretty much useless really, unless you can’t do something better as a result of some kind of health condition.

    Before anyone slams me with the ‘ol ‘don’t knock it til you’ve tried it thing’, yes, I have tried it ( GF made me at least give it a shot). The whole time I was thinking ‘wow, this is uncomfortable and embarassing, but when does it get hard’? It didn’t. I dunno. I train muay thai a few times a week, I suppose it’s not meant to be as difficult as that or whatever, probably it’s better for women than men (is it designed for women?).

    Better off punching on a bag or going for a run IMO. I always find it is easier to work out more effectively alone anyway really, if you can get away with it. Gyms are pretty much meat markets.

    Would never even consider training naked in a class session…cannot understand the value in any part of that.

    1. Yoga isn’t ‘designed for women’ but it is an Eastern-based system and so often gets put into the bag of ‘the Other’ so I get what you mean. I can’t punch bags (shoulder injury) or run (E-cups, catcalls) so yoga and group fitness classes -which provide a tiny amount of privacy and some ‘at least everyone else is doing it’ – factors into a lot of women’s fitness choices. :)

    2. try an advanced Iyengar class – if they’ll let you in – you’ll be sweating and sitting in a crumpled ball by the end.

  10. Naked yoga? Does any woman over a size 8 ever go? I don’t even like my partner to see me naked let alone a bunch of strangers, even if they are caring and sharing. I’d rather sit naked in front of a full length mirror eating cake. And THAT is pretty low on my list. Thanks society.

    1. I suffer a fairly delusional body-confidence, myself. Even so, I can’t imagine wanting to see the arses of class full of child poses nor of having my own arse-ana seen.

    2. I actively go out of my way to avoid my *clothed* reflection, so finding strategic pillars/ angles/ tall people to stand behind at the gym is a workout in itself.
      But I would argue a yoga class without at least one fart is a bit of a let-down, and that disinclines me to the naked one even more. :/

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