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A flexible inner peace: yoga helps gay men and lesbians stay fit and develop self-esteem. there are even classes for those who like to go naked.

One of the hottest spots in West Hollywood, Calif., on Friday nights is not a trendy club but a loft building on Fairfax Avenue that houses City Yoga. At 6 P.M., Marc Holzman is teaching Anusara Yoga--a technique developed seven years ago that uses poses to align the body and mind while teaching self-acceptance and raising self-esteem. He must be doing something right. The number of students at City Yoga has rocketed to about 10,000 in just a few years.

City Yoga makes it a point not to judge students who can't strike a perfect pose, and even the most basic beginners are welcome, especially gay men and lesbians, who "have issues with self-worth and seff-loathing," Holzman says. "This practice of yoga can be used as a reminder or a remembrance of the students' essential goodness."

Yoga's popularity among gay men and lesbians is increasing, from San Francisco and Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood to Salt Lake City. It is a great way to stay in shape, meet someone, and even improve performance in the sack. "People start interacting and talk about their lives, and they might match up," said City Yoga owner Anthony Benenati. "I think there is something innately attractive about people taking care of themselves."

While yoga first appeared a couple thousand years ago, the modern versions emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in the West. Seeing a harmony between mind and body, various yoga forms focus on muscles, including those that strengthen key sexual areas not reached during a typical gym workout, "Yoga raises the prana, the life energy in the body," says Mark Donato, a yoga teacher at the New York Sports Club in Chelsea. "Yoga breathing distributes the prana throughout the body. It makes you stronger and enables you to last longer in your sex life."

Not to be outdone, a few blocks away 32-year-old Aaron Star is teaching, yoga classes for people not afraid to bend and meditate in the buff. Star's "Hot Nude Yoga" classes are a combination of power yogas, tantra, partner yoga, and contact yoga. "I really believe that nude yoga is going to be the wave of the future and widely offered in many yoga studios," he said. "I think it will really start to change the way people look at yoga and the way they look at themselves and their body." Other nude yoga classes are being offered in Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle, and other cities.

Star stresses that his classes are not orgies. Some poses do involve physical contact, but kissing or touching of the genital areas is not allowed. Even when a student becomes aroused, the class stays focused. "I just encourage people to go back into the breathing," he says. Star's classes are so popular that he opened a larger space in February. Some students can't imagine practicing yoga any other way. Explains 30-year-old New York writer Joe Reid: "I love doing yoga, and I love being naked, and I love doing yoga naked, so it was like a perfect marriage."

Hernandez is a Los Angeles journalist.
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Title Annotation:Gay In Sports
Author:Hernandez, Greg
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Apr 13, 2004
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