Stripping down to the basics at Chelsea’s naked yoga

Monika Werner, left, and Joschi Schwarz are co-owners of Bold & Naked Yoga.
Monika Werner, left, and Joschi Schwarz are co-owners of Bold & Naked Yoga.

BY ANN VOTAW  |  Nudity is not about sex, according to Monika Werner and Joschi Schwarz, co-owners of Bold & Naked Yoga. The Chelsea business is the nation’s first nude yoga center, which recently expanded its male-only instruction to include women and co-ed classes.

“It’s too new to say something,” said Schwarz about the format, which started in January. “It’s hard to answer right now. I think it’s the people we get. They’re very cool.”

Schwarz, a spiky-haired blond from Germany, has a background in dance and medicine. He said when he sees a nude student, he examines bone and muscle alignment from a scientific perspective, not a sensual one. But he understands clients may be reluctant to take off their clothes.

“I think people have a fear of being judged for not being good enough,” said Werner, also German. “Women compare themselves to supermodels who are airbrushed. This is how we’re supposed to look. Supermodels compare themselves to supermodels until there is no normal standard.

“Men have just as many body issues as women do,” she continued. “ ‘I’m not thin enough. I’m not ripped enough. Does my penis compare to others?’ I’m sure women have the same size issues with breasts.”

To create a sense of security, Bold & Naked forbids photography and requires online registration. Observation by others is not permitted.

“We want you to commit to a time slot,” Werner said. “You probably noticed that we don’t provide our address until you register. In our online registration, we ask about your yoga experience and what you expect from participating in Bold & Naked classes. Then we send you a confirmation e-mail telling you how to get here.”

Schwarz and Werner greet students at the front desk, near two studios and a tech-inspired waiting area. Co-ed and women’s classes are taught one floor above.

Before a Thursday session, Werner unlocked the expansive, top-floor room accentuated with a skylight and chandelier. Discarding Capri pants and tank top, she sat crosslegged in front of a wall installation suggestive of bamboo. She explained that she and Schwarz acquired this loft three years ago, an addition to the downstairs space they have owned for eight years.

A former corporate headhunter and marketing event planner, Werner moved to New York in 2000. She and Schwarz also teach clothed classes. Their teacher-certification program is recognized by Yoga Alliance, a national credentialing organization.

“I want my students to be more connected, to embrace their bodies,” Werner said. “You’re so much more connected when you get dressed after class and go to your interview, your job, into your relationship. Think how much better sex will be when you accept your body. Once you accept your body and feel good about it, what a difference.”

“I want people to know that naked yoga is a liberating experience, that it’s an empowering experience,” she continued. “There’s nothing sexual or creepy about it. I really want to take this as far as it goes. I want to travel with this and bring it outside of New York and beyond. There are other people renting space and teaching nude classes, but we’re the only nude studio. We’re doing something different.”