The Naked Yoga Effect
From cancer survivor to naked yoga teacher
Assisted by Steve Robson
Naked Yoga expert Doria Gani recounts her own transformational journey to help you challenge your hang ups, combat shame and develop new body positive attitudes.
In this inspirational story, discover how Doria overcame critical illness, learned to deal with unexpected
consequences for her life as a woman, and set out on a new path to reconnect with her soul.
Enjoy the benefits and freedom that practising Naked Yoga can bring and discover your true self – with no barriers, limitations or social constraints. With Naked Yoga, you really can learn to love your body and heal your mind.
Includes photographs and easy instructions for practising Naked Yoga either at home or in a group.
Doria Gani is a Naked Yoga teacher and an ambassador for body positivity. She started practicing yoga in 2010, as a form of rehabilitation after fighting cervical cancer. From that beginners class, she found that the clear, mindful asana instructions improved her memory, spatial relations, focus, and sense of connectedness with her mind and body. On a greater scale, the daily practice showed her the value of acting deliberately. Yoga was the key to her recovery and transformation, and now she lives her life with a greater sense of purpose and intention.
Eventually, her expanding yoga path led her to India and Bali to train as a professional teacher – she is now qualified in Ashtanga Vinyasa, Rocket Yoga, Yin, Mandala, and principles of Ayurveda and Shamanism. But it was after a liberating experience at Burning Man festival that she decided to start practicing and teaching Naked Yoga. There were no barriers, no inhibitions, and no restrictions – just like with yoga practice. Naked yoga finally taught her to accept her body and accept herself exactly how she is today, with all her imperfections. She now wants to share this feeling of calm acceptance with others.
Doria has been featured on the BBC and in many press articles including in Cosmopolitan, H&E Naturist, The Sun, Unreported London, The Londonist, the i and Dojo.
Steve is a successful entrepreneur who came to naked yoga as a means of release from the stresses of business life. He has found that it enables him to be very present in his body, and allows him to develop a way of moving meditation and a way to slow down and notice the here and now. Steve worked with Doria to write the book and felt strongly that her story should be told.
«Doria’s inspiring story is the pathway for anyone wishing to explore the freedom of naked yoga. It’s a story of huge courage, of overcoming pain and hurt, and o f finding hope through the healing power of nature and the purity of self expression!» – Russell Amerasekera, life coach & stylist
Watch the booktrailer here
Watch a naked yoga session with Doria here: BBC feature with Cherry Healey
Read about Doria in The Times below
How naked yoga could transform your life
After a traumatic childhood, an eating disorder and cancer treatment, Doria Gani found liberation in naked yoga. Now she’s persuading people around the world to strip off and salute the sun. Jane Mulkerrins has a session
Friday May 14 2021, 12.00am, The Times
It’s a Monday morning and I’m naked on the floor of my flat, in front of a laptop, while, from the other side of the screen, a woman, also naked and whom I “met” a matter of moments ago, directs me into some pretty undignified positions.
There’s nothing remotely sexual about this exchange – in fact, if there were, I’d be in serious trouble. “This is not a space for sexual or sensual energy,” my flaxen-haired enforcer makes crystal clear. “If anyone misbehaves, I will block them and report them.” And it is not a venue for voyeurism. “This is not a popcorn-and-Coke, watching other people vibe – your camera has to be on too, at all times.”
I can safely say that I don’t think anyone would find what I’m doing right now in any way titillating. As the No 73 thunders past, I pity the people on the top deck. “This,” my instructor says, with admirable casualness, “is just yoga, naked – that’s it.”
The trend, which started in New York (obvs) and then predictably spread to Ibiza, does have celebrity devotees, including Matthew McConaughey and Lady Gaga, but still remains somewhat niche. My instructor this soggy morning, 44-year-old Doria Gani, is one of only a handful of UK-based instructors who run classes in which students literally let it all hang out.
“By stripping down the outer façade that is clothed, in a secure space, you learn that it is safe to be naked and vulnerable,” she says. “You stop judging others, and instead start to appreciate yourself and others more. It increases your self-confidence, as you are challenged to step out of your comfort zone.” On a more practical level, you also don’t have to try to find a clean sports bra, or tuck your T-shirt into your yoga pants after every sun salutation.
Pre-pandemic, Gani taught in-person, one-on-one classes in her basement flat in west London, and mixed group classes of 20 at a time across central and south London, where men and women of all ages laid out their mats (you must bring your own, for obvious reasons), arranged themselves in a horseshoe fashion, stripped off and struck warrior poses together. Before Covid, Gani would also frequently be flown around the world by wealthy “Doritos” – as her devotees call themselves – who want her to train them privately, in person. She has several celebrity clients, although, disappointingly, she won’t divulge whom.
I never thought I would say this, but thank God for global pandemics – Covid means I can’t take Gani’s class in person, or worse, with 19 naked strangers. I’m generally game, and up for pushing my boundaries, but I’m still not sure I’m bold enough to do yogain my birthday suit, with others. Not least because I’m completely crap at yoga.
In readiness for our class, I’ve read Gani’s forthcoming book, The Naked Yoga Effect. Part instruction manual, with naked yoga poses and pointers, plus photographs of Gani performing them, and part memoir – detailing her emotionally and physically abusive childhood, stage III cervical cancer and her naked yogic liberation – it’s an evangelical rallying cry, for us all to cast off our Lululemons and liberate ourselves too.
“Naked Yoga can free you from the shame and embarrassment of feeling that your body is not good enough, and help you to feel good about being nude in front of others,” she writes. “Naked Yoga has also helped people suffering from unachievable ideals of bodily perfection, and it can help those suffering from eating disorders or obesity to learn to love their bodies and care for them.”
It’s all about “becoming connected” with your body, she says – which millions of us aren’t. And I’d include myself in that camp. I broke my shoulder in a mountain bike accident last summer, requiring serious surgery, and I haven’t been able to work out properly since. I feel weak, unfit, untoned, which is all the more frustrating since, pre-accident, in the early months of the pandemic, working out daily with a trainer on Zoom, I was in probably the best shape of my life. Now, I can barely hold a plank for 30 seconds.
I’ve also just moved back to London after a decade overseas, and am living out of a suitcase, in a string of temporary spaces. My subconscious is doing backflips from all the change and instability. The weekend before my class with Gani, my dreams are a weird, anxious mash-up of work situations and scenes from Line of Duty (eg I must go undercover with an organised crime gang, for the Magazine). All of which is to say that my usual cynical guard is somewhat lowered, and I’m more open than normal to a spot of mind-body-spirit stuff.
I could pretend to you that I worried about getting a wax before class, but I didn’t – I’m passionately pro-bush and proud. I did, however, worry about working my angles. After 14 months of virtual meetings, I’ve figured out how to avoid having 17 chins in a Zoom room, but I’m not sure how to do Sukhasana – sitting cross-legged – without giving Gani a gynaecological eyeful.
I log on. In a kimono. Gani is already naked, kneeling in front of her laptop, on her mat, in front of a fireplace. Feeling a bit silly, I follow suit and strip off. Aside from her lithe, lean, strong, enviably yoga-toned body, Gani has another advantage – her long, wavy blonde mermaid hair, all the better to modestly cover her nipples with. My bleach blonde pixie cut offers no such coverage.
We start with some meditation, to focus my backflipping brain, which Gani urges me to try to practise for five minutes every day. I’m relieved to find that she’s positioned herself side-on to her laptop, so I’ll be able to see her doing the poses. Mine is also positioned to show my side view, while, at the foot of her mat, she has an iPad so she can watch me and correct my positioning. In short, I can sit cross-legged and meditate without fully flashing her.
Gani asks me about my relationship with nudity. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle, I say. I don’t hate my body to the extent that I need to have sex with the lights off, but equally, I’m not booking a summer beach break at a naturist resort. I’m happy to hang out naked on the sofa in the right company, but I’m not, you know, Scandinavian.
Gani tells me that I actually seem very confident naked. I’d say that’s largely down to her – she’s warm, welcoming, encouraging. She talks a lot about “energy” – protecting your own energy, surrounding yourself with positive energy, and, particularly, about other people’s energy – and were I also the sort of person who talked a lot about energy, I would say that Gani has very good energy.
A couple of minutes into meditating, I’d completely forgotten about the lack of clothes. Which, I suppose, is the point of meditating.
Often, she says, beginners are crouched with their knees up and their arms around them, covering every centimetre of skin they possibly can. I’m far too long in the tooth for that sort of self-consciousness, and Gani agrees that age is a factor.
“I have an older audience in my group classes than in my one-on-ones, because they just don’t give a shit any more,” she says. “They’re like, ‘I love doing this, so I will do it.’ ” Her younger, one-on-one clients are also more likely to be suffering from anorexia, bulimia or body dysmorphia, she says.
There are, she says, three major groups who seek out her classes: the simple yoga lovers; the women, and a surprising number of men, who struggle with their body image, and want a better relationship with their body; and the naturists – “the people who just love being naked, can’t wait to get naked, and are the happiest people in the world when they are naked”.
I’m probably less enthusiastic, and less confident, about the yoga than I am about the getting my kit off. But Gani is an intuitive instructor, and takes me through sun salutations A and B gently and repeatedly, correcting and making suggestions as I go. In salutation B, there are several poses I can’t manage with my shoulder, which is still weak, with a limited range of motion, but Gani encourages me to make modifications as I need them.
Perhaps it’s just that I’m focused on my injury, and what I can actually get my body to do, but I don’t spend more than the first few moments of the session even considering what my bum or stomach or thighs look like, even in some deeply unflattering and unforgiving poses.
Then, all of a sudden, it’s time for Savasana – ie, having a little lie-down. We say a final, naked namaste, then I put my knickers on and Zoom with my parents, who comment on how relaxed I look.
The next morning, fully clothed, I meet Gani in the garden of her flat. I am greeted at the door by Lollipop, her tiny white pekinese, who is so excited to meet me that she wees on the tiles in the hallway. While my pelvic floor is in pretty good nick, I am instantly struck by all the ways in which our class could have gone awry. And sometimes, Gani admits, it does. Men worry about getting spontaneous erections, which can occur, she says, since “yoga moves energy around the body”. They tend to get into a Child’s Pose until the moment has passed. “There is certainly no need to feel embarrassed.”
However students arrive, nobody stays self-conscious or embarrassed for long, she says. “It’s all about overcoming fear. It’s only a yoga class – we’re not doing anything crazy – but it gets people out of their comfort zone, and it gives people courage. They walk out saying, ‘I just did something that was so big and scary, and now I feel amazing.’ And they say, ‘So, if I can do this, then I can do this, and this, and this.’”
Her pupils often make big life changes after taking up naked yoga, she says. “People leave their jobs and change career, leave their relationships that they’ve felt stuck in for ever; they start travelling alone.” Gani is a big proponent of solo travel, and above the fireplace is, appropriately, a huge stack of Lonely Planets.
She also has three trans students who have transitioned – all male to female – since working with her. She pulls out her phone to read me a WhatsApp thread from one student who is due to have gender confirmation surgery next month. “Can you imagine what you can go through when you are in the wrong body, how disconnected you are?” she says. “I help them to get out of their comfort zone. I get them out of their fear of what the world is going to think if they wear lipstick, or a miniskirt, or a wig, and shave and grow their hair. F*** it,” she says. “What the world thinks of you is not your problem.”
Gani’s mission is very much to normalise nakedness because, she believes, “nude is normal”. The problem, she says, is a toxic combination of religious, familial and societal conditioning that keeps us trapped in our prison of expectations, self-consciousness, fear and trousers.
Nakedness, says Gani, brings myriad physical health benefits: stronger bones (thanks to greater vitamin D exposure), improved male fertility and, crucially, no tan lines. She quotes studies asserting that “participation in nudist activities leads to greater overall life satisfaction”. Nudist participants in such studies reportedly had a better body image and higher self-esteem compared with non-nudist participants. It’s not, Gani believes, that the nudists already had better self-esteem, rather that “being naked together with other people is incredibly powerful in improving your self-esteem and body image”.
If naked yoga’s not your thing, you can still “practise” being naked, and feel its benefits. She advises trying naked gardening, naked hiking (find special naturist trails, she advises, or at least very quiet ones, to avoid potential public indecency issues), dance, sunbathe or swim naked (the last I’m a big fan of already, particularly in lakes and rivers – maybe I am part Scandinavian after all).
Gani grew up in the picturesque Tuscan town of Cascina, where her father ran a successful family property business. He was authoritarian, controlling and verbally and physically abusive. “I was fighting a war every day at home.” At 12, she attempted to take her own life.
Her parents never knew she was suicidal. Won’t they know now, when they read the book? They don’t speak English, she says, “so they wouldn’t be able to read it, even if they wanted to. But they’re not the most supportive family. I don’t think my dad knows that I even wrote a book.”
She left home as soon as she could, moving to Spain, where she worked as a translator, then to London, carving out a career in retail. The overhang from her childhood, however, was a tendency to fall for other controlling men, men who never made her feel worthy. At 25, she developed bulimia, her weight dropping to just over six stone.
In her early thirties, after noticing that she often bled a little during sex, she went for blood tests and a biopsy. At 33, she was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer, then, soon afterwards, told it had spread to her lymph nodes.
After a seven-hour operation to remove the cancerous cells, Gani underwent a gruelling trifecta of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy), all at the same time.
The radiotherapy would render her infertile, and doctors told her she could have her eggs removed, to be frozen, before she began treatment. They also said, however, that the egg removal procedure could potentially touch the cancerous cells, running the risk of spreading them. It wasn’t much of a choice. While she’d never felt particularly maternal, “It seemed that the option to become a mother was being taken away from me before I had ever seriously considered it.”
The treatments pushed her into early menopause: “Hot flushes and sweating like a pig, and then I had to start taking HRT, at 33.” She felt, she says, “like I’d become just a patient, rather than a person”.
The nature of her particular cancer also troubled her. “It didn’t surprise me when I discovered that I had cancer in the reproductive area,” she says, having always felt guilt and shame around sex, complicated by messy romantic entanglements with unavailable men. “I punished myself all the time, telling myself: you’re not good enough to be chosen by someone.” She even blamed herself for her sickness.
Having never attended a single yoga class or meditated, after her second class, specifically for current and former cancer patients, run by Macmillan, at Charing Cross Hospital, “For the first time in my life, I felt connected with my body,” she says. “I hadn’t even known what that meant before. But I felt the benefit immediately, and I suddenly felt happier about my life.”
From there, it was a hop, skip and a lot of downward dogs to becoming a “yoga freak”, taking classes every day across the capital, and travelling to Goa to train as a teacher herself.
The naked aspect came a few years later, at Burning Man, the annual arts festival held in the Nevada desert, in the summer of 2015. “Have you ever been?” she asks me. I have not. I don’t like dust, and dust is an integral part of Burning Man.
One morning, at sunrise, cycling around the enormous temporary city that sets itself up for the festival, Gani came across a 45ft high art installation of a woman in mountain pose (R-Evolution by Marco Cochrane). Another festivalgoer was posing for pictures, naked, in front of the sculpture. Inspired and emboldened, Gani stripped off and began doing yoga in front of the installation.
It was a breakthrough moment. In spite of having found yoga, she’d still spent the past few years hating her body. She felt “broken” and ‘incomplete”. “Because I was infertile, I felt like I wasn’t woman enough. I thought nobody would ever want me.” That morning, at Burning Man, “I felt freedom in its purest state and acceptance. I didn’t feel judged; I just felt supported.”
Back in London, she wondered, could she share this newfound freedom through her classes? “I thought, nah, people will judge me, think I’m a prostitute, that I’m going to be having orgies with the clients.” But, when registering her teaching on a new website, she found herself ticking a box offering naked yoga. The next morning her inbox was filled with inquiries from all corners of the globe.
As the UK reopens, Gani will soon resume in-person classes, but a year of Zoom sessions has led to a solid international client base too, including across the US and Australia. Her next project is a membership site, where, as with the Peloton app, students can access on-demand recorded classes as well as live ones, in any time zone, anywhere. Personally, Gani’s looking forward to finally travelling again, but aside from that is “content”, she says. She’s single, but not particularly looking. “I like the person I am, so I’m quite happy. I don’t need a man to validate me.” And her relationship with her body has never been better. “I feel like a lion. I feel powerful. I feel like I can do anything.”
I still aspire to leonine levels of power and contentment, but I certainly subscribe to Gani’s philosophy on fear and readiness.
“People always say, ‘Oh, I would like to do your classes, but I’ll do it when I’m ready.’ There is no ready,” she cries. “You will never be ready for anything. You’re never ready to deal with your difficult dad. You’re never ready for cancer. You’re never ready to do something scary. Ready doesn’t exist – you just have to do it and deal with what comes after.”
The Naked Yoga Effect by Doria Gani is published by Supernova Books (£15.99)
Read about Doria in The Sun here
In Cosmo here
In H&E Naturist here
In the i here
see more at doriayoga.com