The following contains photographs which may be deemed NSFW.
My first foray into nudism actually started when I was 11 years old. As a kid, my family and I lived in the desert Southwest, and we had a swimming pool where I’d cool off from the heat. One day, I exited the pool on one of those blistering 100-degree afternoons and was drying off on the pool deck. As I lay there, my damp bathing suit clinging to me, I distinctly remember asking myself, “Why do I have a bathing suit on?”
I started running around my house naked, just for the thrill of it, when my family wasn’t around. As an adult, I would take my time getting dressed on the weekends, letting the bare hours linger. I even practiced yoga naked. Who would have known, through years of my childhood rebellion against clothes, a young naturist was born?
As I got older, I ventured into the social nudist scene upon discovering Gunnison nude beach — the only public beach in New Jersey that’s clothing-optional. I felt drawn to a place where people don’t judge each other based on ill-fitting swimsuits or social status. But, to be perfectly honest, I was pretty nervous about my first visit to the nude beach as I was worried about getting an erection. I searched for an answer online and quickly found the Young Naturist America’s article, “Nudist Erection Issues and Explanations.”
I learned that while erections are known to happen on occasion, the proper nudist etiquette is to cover up with a towel or go in the water until the moment passes. This was assuring, but on my first visit to the beach, I kept my suit on to make sure I could “handle” the nude beach. Being one of the only clothed people, I felt like a voyeur, but stayed covered nonetheless.
On my second visit, I was still just as nervous but felt ready to go the “Fully Monty.” While seated on my towel, I took my shirt off, looked around, and then removed my swim trunks. All of a sudden I was nude for the whole world to see. And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. I thought the sky was going to come crashing down. I thought everyone was going to run from the beach at the sight of my naked body. But the reality was quite different — no one seemed to even notice, my naked body didn’t mean much to them. I was just sitting there, listening to the waves, feeling the cool breeze and the warmth of the sun all over my entire body.
I went back to the YNA website to learn some more about the group. YNA is a social-acceptance organization for naked-friendly people interested in naturism, nudism, and nudie-related activities. They use social nudity as a tool to promote acceptance and tolerance. Although I had just missed an event, I discovered that their next gathering would be at Goodland Country Club, a naturist resort nestled quietly in northwest New Jersey. I was psyched to find a group of like-minded individuals. And while I was a little apprehensive about being naked in a full group dynamic, I decided I would muster up the courage — that was the whole point.
That very first YNA event was just what I’d hoped it’d be. Now, a year later, I found myself packing up my tent for my third YNA gathering at Goodland, the Labor Day event. I could not help but feel giddy and excited to experience yet another great weekend with people I knew and people I had yet to meet. YNA events are pretty well-attended and some fly in from other states just to participate.
What does one exactly do at a weekend event entirely dedicated to the novelty, right, and freedom of nudity? The schedule was packed with activities like swimming, hot tubing, saunas, bonfires, naked body painting, and live music. On the more spiritual side of the weekend, there was naked yoga, a Human Awareness Institute (HAI) workshop, a hot candle wax demonstration, and what can only be described as a “peace catcher.” Of course, a YNA event would not be complete without a naked pudding toss and one to two days of naked slip ‘n’ slide. What else would a group of nudists do with industrial construction-grade black tarp? We have some real innovators at YNA.
Saturday morning we had our first communal meal, breakfast. Since Goodland doesn’t have a restaurant or food on-site, the YNAers took care of the meals. The meals were simple (bagels and eggs at breakfast; chicken parm and pasta at lunch, BBQ for dinner, etc). There’s something plain and satisfying about eating basic foods in a fully naked room.
Not long after breakfast, YNA introduced us to Anya Castellano, a naked yogi who also practices in New Jersey. Anya had a sweet demeanor, and I immediately liked her. We gathered around the small unused shuffleboard courts where we had pavement and grass to lay mats on. At these events, naked yoga always preferably takes place outdoors when weather permits it. Being outdoors gave us the added benefit of connecting to nature as we breathed and stretched, letting the sunshine drench our unclothed bodies in the breeze.
The talk of the weekend was the Human Awareness Institute (HAI) workshop. HAI is an organization that offers workshops on Love, Intimacy and Sexuality. During YNA’s Labor Day gathering, HAI came and conducted a workshop that attempted to spread their ideals. YNA has created a world that already attempts to break down some of the barriers of human connection and communication and the HAI workshop was an extension of that.
In a small nook of Goodland’s Nude Resort, we all gathered as Ben, the speaker and workshop leader from HAI, invited us to partner up in groups to share various things about ourselves. What began with the usual introductions, under Ben’s guidance, quickly developed into a deeper and personal sharing experience.
Some of Ben’s questions were very open-ended, like asking people to share something intimate about themselves, something they didn’t normally tell others. Just a few minutes in, participants were already sharing their dreams, fears, wants, and desires. We spoke about the positive and negative aspects in our daily lives as well as our love lives. People talked about their difficulties in being vulnerable with others and in forming strong relationships.
Ben had us do a few different exercises such as silently gazing into each other’s eyes and guided us through physical contact in subtle ways. The eye-gazing was so simple, yet so telling. We forgot we were naked and honed in on what was going on inside the person we were seated across from. It definitely took some people out of their comfort zones and into a more vulnerable place. Being able to reveal your true self and identity to other people is something that many of us struggle with. Emotions were raw, and one woman said it was Hooksexup-wracking to be crying and baring her soul to everyone. But afterward it was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Some people were tearing up, others were laughing, and all of this helped foster a deeper level of connection. We were bonded as a group and strengthened as individuals.
The size of the groups varied throughout the workshop. At first we began by sharing among 5 or 6 others, other times we shared with only one other participant, and other times we shared with the entire group. Each time, it got a little bit easier, to be completely naked, mind and body. By the end of it, I felt the sense of being drained yet light as a feather.
At night Goodland’s clubhouse was transformed into a thumping nightclub with a big dance floor, laser lights, and DJ KRKT spinning hits. Adding to this vibrant atmosphere was the massive Peace Catcher, an amazing art installation resembling a giant, glow in the dark, Native American dreamcatcher. Artists Christopher VanderEssen and Christian Diaz created the dreamcatcher along with the black light bodypainting. People were asked to enter the Peace Catcher with positive intentions. Any negative thoughts would be replaced by the positive energy that was brought into the Peace Catcher by each of the participants.
Christopher is a lanky, bespectacled newbie nudist (surprisingly) who grew up at Rainbow gatherings in the Woodstock, NY area. A die-hard hippie if there ever was one. He travels around to different festivals with his paint, lights, and builds his Peace Catchers wherever he goes. He said he lets the person’s energy inspire his body painting and with 4 or 5 different colors across the length of a brush, he steadily dabbed rainbow lines down the length of my body. Before long, the dark room was filled with luminescent bodies dancing and throwing off their own light. Each person was transformed into a beautiful and glowing streak waving in the middle of the night.
Oddly enough, I have had more naked yoga classes than textile. My experience with YNA has introduced me to naked yoga — the practice of doing yoga simply without clothes on. Since then I have had naked yoga practices with Beth Nolan, Cindee Rifkin, Isis Phoenix, Zen Holmes, and Monika Werner. Naked yoga feels like a much more spiritual practice compared to any I have had in the textile world.
On Sunday afternoon, Isis Phoenix gave a partner yoga class. Isis is one of those people you can’t help but notice with her exuberant yet peaceful nature and positive energy. Class with her is never boring. This was my first experience with partner yoga and was the first time I was concerned about being a naked yogi. Did I have to have a female partner? What do I do with a male partner? What if something untoward happens?
I shouldn’t have worried. One person commented that partner nude yoga seemed as if you were being constantly adjusted by an instructor, but instead it was your partner. Throughout the practice, we paired off with different people. I was paired with a wonderful woman for one sequence and we could feel how each other’s support allowed us to go deeper into the pose more so than if we were solo. Despite my misjudged apprehension, I must admit that another partner and I were the talk of the class during an amazing Warrior Three sequence, which ended with a one legged stand with the other leg at a 90 degree angle. One hand was holding my partner’s standing calf and the other was holding his raised leg’s ankle. As a group, the tree pose was very well received.
Nudity is not all solemnity and meditation. Amongst the yoga, the group talks, and the painting, we had all been waiting for the childlike fun. Prior to a round of naked slipping ‘n’ sliding, YNA organized their signature pudding toss, this time complete with homemade pudding. If you’ve never done a nude pudding toss, imagine an innocent food fight scene but with thirty naked people, dripping in pudding and lots of laughter, giggles, and high pitch shrieks. I seem to recall that there were actual rules to the pudding toss, but in the end, most were smothered with various amounts of vanilla or chocolate pudding all over their bodies. We ended it with a group hug, just to make sure everyone got at least some pudding smeared on them.
That night before the music and party festivities, we witnessed a unique birthday ceremony by way of one couple, Jefferson and Charlie. They were new to the group, but clearly very open people. In this ceremony, Jefferson poured melted candle wax on his girlfriend, who lay still on the ground with her back arched over a yoga block.
He poured the melted candles across her torso one by one. Wax dripped down her sides and quickly hardened to form a colorful body mask. Once it was thick enough, he placed birthday candles in the wax and we were all invited to take a lit candle and make a wish before blowing it out. The whole thing was beautiful. Her body concealed over with melted wax looked like an old surrealist painting. Prior to being poured on, Charlie had her body covered in oil so when it was time to “de-wax”, it all came off like a solid layer of extra skin.
The nude retreat was not unlike a camp you attend in middle school — summertime activities, newly forged friendships, and the heightened anticipation of what is yet to come. It’d been a completely non-judgmental, accepting group and the feeling of breaking out was thick in the air. YNA wanted to slip through people’s outer shells. Now I realize that I am speaking from very limited experience as I have only been to naturist resorts in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont, but the Young Naturist America events are for anyone interested in trying social nudity for the first time. YNA and its members are all about positive body image, enjoying great weather with well organized activities, and spreading the love in a non-sexual manner. Yes, no sex. If clothing was never in the picture, the expectation and taboo quickly dissolved.
As we were packing up for the weekend, ready to leave Labor Day behind, the crowds of nude bodies barbecuing and painting each other’s bodies, there was a distinct feeling of fall coming. A heaviness set over our goodbyes. We were feeling that sudden weight of ending the connection, of filtering back into the pressures of labored and buttoned-up reality, or maybe, it was just the thin layer of clothing that would soon be around our shoulders.