I am a proud new member of British Naturism! And here is my story of why. Until fairly recently I hadn’t thought of British Naturism as a cause that might be relevant to me, as something I might actively vote through membership to support. I have, though, quite naturally and spontaneously for many years enjoyed the liberating feeling of being naked in nature, mainly during my many years of travel abroad. The desire to actively support BN as a cause has come about through my own personal experiences of increasingly prohibitive and censorious attitudes to the body, and the extent to which I now see this infringing upon my personal choices. BN information about censorship and briefing papers such as “The Health and Wellbeing of Young People” on the BN website really spoke to my own experiences, and gave me a feeling of being aligned with the aims of the group.
A six-month spell living in Berlin in 2007 really sealed it for me as a naturist. Entering the sauna in my local health club I encountered a naked man. Assuming it must be ‘men's day’ I promptly left for a swim instead. Only on the third occasion of this happening did I realise it was quite normal to be naked in a mixed-sex sauna in Germany! I happily settled into this new paradigm, so different from the body self-consciousness of my Catholic school upbringing. After all, it seems ridiculous to cover opening and detoxifying sweat glands with synthetic, chemical-based fabrics. Also, walking in forests such as the Grunewald I really enjoyed the sight of whole naturist families – parents and young children – happily hiking along. This expression of naturism particularly touched me, speaking as it did of a loving ease, naturalness and innocence of being – so striking by its absence in the world we have in general created.
Leaving Berlin, I settled in London and was hit by the contrasting attitudes to nudity. At the London Fields Lido and Hampstead pools I have longed to strip off and plunge refreshingly naked into the water as I did so often in Berlin and elsewhere. I spent some time looking on the Internet for a naturist area but apart from the men's area at Hampstead was unable to find anything obvious or designated where I could turn up alone and feel safe to strip off. For reasons of both health (vitamin D intake) and indeed civil liberty, I have felt somewhat aggrieved at this infringement upon my right to choose to be naked. Especially as I, like so many Londoners, have no access to a garden, where I might at the very least exercise this right in private. Even if I did have this private facility though, I feel that what is being discussed here is nothing less than a national public health issue. To cultivate collective health and wellbeing – physically, spiritually and mentally – there is I believe a pressing need in the UK to create an intelligent and considered public sphere for the expression, experience of and dialogue about, the naked human form.
Parallel to my journey into naturism I have for many years been studying and practising Tantra. Tantra is an ancient spiritual discipline no different in its origins to any yoga, Buddhist or meditation class you might find in your local community centre. Because various forms of Tantra incorporate sexual practices though, it is subject to much misunderstanding and misrepresentation. There are many different kinds of Tantra and many different ways to practise it. A genuine Tantra practice is a discipline that involves regular yoga and meditation-style practices, enhancing our capacity to feel aliveness, and cultivating an approach to life rooted in consciousness. Consciousness means that we see life more deeply: we understand ourselves to not be separate from or different to that which surrounds us, and so act with greater integrity towards our fellow beings and the world in general. I have studied mainly neo-Tantra – an evolvement of original Tantra teachings to forms suitable for the western practitioner. These teachings generally place an emphasis on Red Tantra, which includes the cultivation of sexual energy within the context of meditation and breathing practices that increase consciousness.
Put in simple terms, in the West we have been taught for generations that heaven is above us, and hell is down below. For salvation and all that is good, look up; for all that is dirty, sinful and shameful, look down. As pointed out in the BN paper Health and Wellbeing of Young people this leads to shaming euphemisms such as ‘naughty bits’. How sad that this should be the way in which so many conceive of the generator of new life, our sex and reproductive organs. An open approach to sexuality and the body is taboo to varying degrees in much of the West, and particularly so in the collective psyche and attitudes of the UK. It is interesting however to note that the original Polynesian and South Pacific origin of the word ‘tabu’ actually refers to that which is sacred: the application of a taboo actually designating that which is holy. However, it is how we choose to exercise a taboo that has massively varying consequences.
Because something is designated sacred and holy, do we give it a special and thoughtful place in our collective consciousness? Or do we seek to banish, prohibit and outlaw that which is taboo from the public realm? Our society and lawful structures seem to labour under a collective misapprehension of how to approach the taboo. Instead of creating a sacred space for our life force as expressed through the amazing wonder that is our body and sexuality, the force of our law seeks instead to banish that which is most precious from the public realm. The consequences of this are well stated in the BN paper cited above when it states:
“There are thousands of censors, official and unofficial, but there is absolutely nobody with responsibility for combating harmful censorship. Censorship mainly serves to restrict the content of the mainstream media but it does little to restrict the availability of pornography, poor role models or erroneous information.”
The practices of neo-Tantra have evolved in ways that address the circumstances and the collective attitudes towards the body and sexuality prevalent in the West. Tantra is not about sex. It is about how we awaken the energy and aliveness of our spirit, the joyfulness of our being. How we drop into being completely our natural selves without censorship, and without falling into automatic and unquestioned patterns of behaviour that may no longer serve us. And most of all, Tantra is about how to do this fully with consciousness and awareness: in integrity within the context of our relationships with ourselves, our families, fellow beings and the rest of the world.
The experience of ‘energy’ is central to an understanding of Tantra. You may be familiar with concepts of energy through having seen diagrams of the energy centres known as the chakra system, or perhaps you have experienced acupuncture, tai chi or chi gung which all work with the energy body. This may all seem a bit esoteric (or potty!) if they are concepts you are not familiar with…
But the expansion of energy is something that naturists experience every day!!!
In fact from my perspective as a Tantra practitioner, it seems clear that the experience of an expanded energy body is fundamental to the benefits that naturists receive from the experience. A seasoned naturist said to me something like "I can't say what it is about naturism I love. But I just feel so alive, so good about it, I don't know why - but I just do". Tantra and its teachings about energy can help us to understand why this is so. All feelings such as meanness, separation and depression have a tendency to express themselves as a contraction of the energy body. Our energy body quite literally shrinks away from the world, contracting to hide in a safe place deep in the core of our body where no one else can reach it. When we feel open and loving on the other hand, our energy body tends to expand outwards to reach and meet other people. Imagine an open and loving person that you know and think how ‘big’ they feel when they enter the room. How their presence and warmth often announces itself even before we shake their hands. This is the expanded energy body in action! Through our energy body love reaches outwards to meet the other, fear on the other hand contracts energy deep within and away from the other.
Through the act of taking our clothes off, and interacting communally in this way, we tend to stimulate an opening of the energy body. Where collectively we contract and hide away behind clothes, protecting ourselves from what may seem a fearful and chaotic world, the fact of coming together openly in our nakedness tends to have the opposite effect. It encourages the energy body to expand and to open. Stimulated by the sun, fresh air and especially contact with nature and each other, our energy body is encouraged to come out of hiding and to fully meet the world. So a naturist meeting between people can feel much more open, alive and positive than the alternative! And as naturists will know, this is not about sex as some ‘textiles' will perceive naturism to be. It is simply about feeling more alive and connected with the wholeness of our being. You don't have to believe what I am saying about energy, Tantra is not a religion and does not ask for belief. It is an experiential path that asks you simply to notice and observe your experiences, and to draw your own conclusions.
I now work with people offering experiential Tantra work. Most of the one-to-one work that I offer is conducted nude. Because of the taboos of our society, the area where people have contracted most through guilt and shame is generally around the sex centre. My work deliberately includes sexuality in the context of a healing, learning, pleasurable and often transformative experience. The techniques that I draw on incorporate tantric practices utilising breath, movement, sound, meditation and touch. I am also interested in and teach how our capacity to be creative and to play contributes to our overall sense of health and wellbeing. People who come to me may feel that something in their aliveness, naturalness and capacity to feel 'whole' has been blocked. I support them on a creative journey of discovery to move beyond their current conditioning and experience.
Tantra shows us our sexuality not as something isolated and separate, but as a natural and integrated part of a healthy whole. It is probably easiest to understand if you think of receiving a regular massage, during which the whole of our body is treated to healing and attention with the exception of one or three triangular bits depending if you are male or female! There are many studies that show how touch, contact and the feeling of being seen and appreciated are essential to our general health and wellbeing. Yet many people grow up with their whole being appreciated and validated, with the notable exception and exclusion of their sexuality. Mirrors for young persons, in particular when learning about their sexuality, will often come - if at all - in distorted forms through pornography or playground rumour. Using the tools of Tantra, I work with adults of all ages and genders to help them address and move past the consequences of these unhealthy, yet shockingly prevalent attitudes to sex and the body in society.
A final note on censorship - I used to freely advertise my work within the context of health and holistic therapeutic listings through a few popular free sites on the Internet. Recently and without warning, myself and other Tantra practitioners have found their adverts being removed. The only place I can now promote my work on these same sites (if at all), is in sections reserved for prostitutes. It is true that much of what masquerades as Tantra on the Internet is little more than a euphemism for sex services. These misrepresentations are a distortion in the absence of widespread knowledge or understanding about Tantra, set within the context of societal wide prohibitive attitudes to the body and sexuality. These distortions have absolutely nothing to do with Tantra as an authentic path of disciplined learning and growth.
Similarly, the naked body in itself is not about sex, it is simply the naked body in all its natural and wonderful beauty! But somewhere between pornography and 'page 3', the naked body and sex as portrayed in the public sphere has largely become corrupted and corrupting. It is against this backdrop that interests such as Tantra and naturism - which seek to be either body- or sex- (in the case of Tantra) positive - become tainted with suspicion and fear. This has nothing to do with naturism or Tantra at all, and has everything to do with the fears and prejudices of a society that has collectively forgotten how to simply honour and be a person naturally and at ease in the body.
Thus I find myself signing up to the BN cause as I find so many parallels between BN values and that which I promote through my Tantra practice. In fact the potential for body-positive experiences through both Tantra and naturism are so numerous that a cross-fertilisation of ideas, discussion, participation and membership between the two communities seems to me to be a very fertile endeavour. Because naturism has been so misrepresented in various ways in the UK, it has taken me some time to really get to the truth of it. I hope that fellow members of BN will apply the same consideration and take time to understand the real truth of Tantra.
I will be happy to answer questions anyone may have in the BN forums! And I look forward to my participation in BN, particularly the proposed London naturist swim - that gets my vote for sure, and I'm sure many people from the Tantra community will be eager to come along with me!
Visit my new website at www.tantra4tigers.com.