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Charlotte Nude Yoga Embraces Naturism at Big Love Yoga Barn

Local organizer builds Charlotte's CYNA community with open arms

A photo of a co-ed class doing yoga nude.
Charlotte Nude Yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn. (Photo courtesy of CNY)

Getting naked is the hard part. Everything after that is rather easy.

Leading up to my first Charlotte Nude Yoga class on Oct. 13, I was so preoccupied with the idea of being naked around strangers that I hadn’t actually considered the challenge that physically taking off my clothes would hold.

The first decision involved where I would strip down.

“I usually find myself at the front [of the class],” Puck Boyles* told me. It made sense that Boyles would be front and center, as he is the founder of Charlotte Nude Yoga. I, on the other hand, chose a corner where I felt comfortable.

I noticed the barn was warm but not oppressively so; the large fan to my right provided calming white noise along with cool air. Red and yellow curtains covered the windows of Big Love Yoga Barn’s garage door to my left and a dark partition stood in front of the door next to it.

The dimmed lights accentuated the swirl of neon covering all four walls, the “You are love, share love” sign on the front wall offset by the intricate circle focal point.

Boyles said he tries to get to classes early to set up and strip nude for incoming participants. He’s found that doing such eases the awkwardness and encourages newcomers to reach the comfort level to undress.

“Honestly, when I’m in a setting like that and I’m the only clothed person, I feel more awkward,” he told me before the class.

While everyone is required to participate in the nude aspect of class as a security measure — “If you’re gonna be clothed in a nude yoga class, why are you in a nude yoga class?” Boyles asked — women are allowed to wear bottoms at all times, a technicality I thought I would take full advantage of.

After five minutes of sitting on my yoga mat in my underwear surrounded by my fully nude classmates while they hugged, laughed and indulged in a space with no confinements, I understood what he meant.

Eventually I thought, “Fuck it.” Once I stripped myself of inhibitions, there was nothing left to do but go all in.

Charlotte Nude Yoga’s origins

Carolina Young Naturist Association Social Club (CYNA), a Charlotte-based naturist (aka nudist) club based in Charlotte that caters to people aged 18-45, began in 2018 out of a passion and love for recreational nude activity.

Raised in a conservative household in Charlotte, Boyles had always been afraid of being seen naked.

“From a young age, we’re pretty much all kind of indoctrinated into this sense that our private parts have to be hidden at all times and that there’s something bad about them inherently,” he said. “Our culture then teaches children, who become adults, to shame naked bodies.”

When Boyles had the opportunity to visit nude beaches during a study abroad trip to Barcelona, his views changed.

A photo of people doing nude yoga with Charlotte Nude Yoga.
Charlotte Nude Yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn. (Photo courtesy of CNY)

“I had an amazing experience out there that opened my eyes to naturism,” he said.

Boyles still remembers the connection he made with a woman on the beach. A small translation mishap led to an hours-long conversation, one he intended to continue a few weeks later when he took a few friends to the restaurant she worked at.

On the beach, Boyles had been vaguely aware of her tattoos and piercings, but in a clothed environment, her black t-shirt, cargo pants and combat boots formed a separate judgment. Boyles felt himself immediately placing her in a box — forming a wholly different idea of her than he had formed during hours of conversation on the beach.

“[The experience] brought to my attention how much clothes change our perception of other people,” he said. “Clothing, in our society, is used to delineate people.”

After returning to the States, Boyles found the naturist scene he came to love in Spain was nearly nonexistent in Charlotte. The resorts he did find hosted an older demographic and were a far drive from the city.

Finally, in 2018, Boyles found a naturist Meetup group for young people. The problem with the group at that point, however, was that they never met up. After several months of waiting, Boyles contacted the owner of the group to discuss more regular programming and activities.

From that discussion, Boyles eventually joined the Meetup organizer, Brian Garcia, and another man named Jonathan Organ to form the Charlotte Young Naturists Association. The group has since rebranded from its original Charlotte branding to the Carolina Young Naturist Association Social Club (CYNA) to include members across both states.

“Our goal is to promote body positivity, self-acceptance, acceptance of your body and others and de-sexualizing nudity and helping to break the stigma that society and media have placed around our naked bodies,” Boyles said.

His vision for the group began with one regularly scheduled event that members could count on: Charlotte Nude Yoga (CNY).

“I knew that if I didn’t organize [the events], I’d never have the opportunity to participate in them,” Boyles said.

Recently, Boyles decided to maintain CNY as an independent affiliate of CYNA while the larger organization goes through the nonprofit submittal process.

Charlotte Nude Yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn. (Photo courtesy of CNY)

CNY found a home at the Big Love Yoga Barn, a space behind Pure Pizza on Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood, though it took some convincing to let them host their events there.

“Some of the board members of the [Big Love Yoga Barn] nonprofit are a bit conservative,” said Jason Kierce, who founded the community center. “I had [Boyles] write up … a letter as to why he feels good with the naturist lifestyle, and how it would fit in with the Big Love Yoga Barn’s philosophy of love and expansion and consciousness and connecting community.”

In the letter, Boyles detailed his encounter with the woman on the beach in Barcelona and his authentic devotion to nudism. He was able to sway the members of the board who had held out.

“Naturism strips away the superficial indicators we as people use to form our concept of others and who they are,” Boyles wrote. “In my experiences, naturism has always yielded a profoundly more expeditious and genuine bonding experience between myself and others.”

I had the privilege of experiencing one of those connections. In my group was Nora, a woman from Hungary who had landed in Charlotte just the day before the event.

We didn’t speak to each other during the class, but after the session, as with every class, all members were invited for a beer at Legion Brewing. Boyles introduced us and within a few minutes we were discussing our insecurities living in our bodies and the anxiety of being bare in front of others.

Birthing three children had taken a toll on Nora’s body, she said, and she wasn’t ready to face the reality of what it had become. She explained that her country’s culture is very traditional and, rather than developing a body-shaming complex, she developed a self-shaming one.

Having events like CNY in Hungary could have helped her accept her body as it is now, she said.

“We are what we are,” she said to me after class, sounding as if she were making a realization as she said it.

Cultivating a safe space

While CNY is a sex-positive organization and discussions surrounding sex are welcome, Boyles emphasizes that it is far from the focal point of the social club.

“There is an assumption with most people that are unfamiliar with naturism that these events are somehow, in some way, sexual,” Boyles said. “That couldn’t be any further from the truth.”

Making sexual advances or commenting on someone’s physical appearance will result in immediate removal from a class.

Dani Bernall, a CNY instructor and registered yoga teacher at Charlotte Yoga with 200 hours of training, started with CNY in early 2022 after Boyles reached out to her yoga studio about potential instructors.

A photo of participants in Charlotte Nude Yoga stretching.
Charlotte Nude Yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn. (Photo courtesy of CNY)

Although Bernall had never participated in any type of nudistry, she was open to the idea — as long as she could stay clothed.

Rey Culler, another 200-hour certified instructor for CNY, expressed a similar apprehension before teaching their first class.

“As an instructor, realizing you have 30 people staring at you, it’s a little different than being just a participant,” she said.

As Bernall got to know the community and became more familiar with Boyles’ passion for holding space for naturists, she found clothes were not a boundary she needed to put up for herself.

“[I realized] it was okay to just be,” she said. “Something about being in a room with people that are okay being in [a nude] environment and just being themselves makes you feel comfortable enough to open up to the full idea.”

“Nude Yoga is so in line with what yoga is at its core,” added Culler. “Yoga is about baring yourself, and what better way to bare yourself than to bare your body? There’s nothing left to fix or adjust and you just show up exactly as you are and learn to accept yourself exactly as you are.”

Boyles said participant safety is a top concern of his during CNY meet-ups, one that he was incredibly paranoid about in the beginning. Since the start, however, there has never been an issue with misconduct.

I expressed my surprise at that fact to Boyles, but he insisted, attributing the lack of misconduct to the personality types of those drawn to naturism.

“I feel like some of those behaviors and comments come from insecurity … and never having been exposed to [naturism] before,” he said.

Boyles believes that entering into a space of acceptance and camaraderie breaks down the walls of ignorance, and the mindset of the community and space they propagate incentivises attendees to behave accordingly.

Spreading awareness

As with mostly any small business these days, Boyles has taken to social media to market CNY in an effort to attract new members. Instagram, however, is creating barriers to its growth.

Citing nudity, the platform will not show CNY’s content to people who don’t follow its account and restricts its profile to people 18+.

Boyles agrees with the latter restriction — people under the age of 18 aren’t allowed in CNY classes anyway — though he’s been disappointed at the platform censoring his posts, which do not show full-frontal nudity.

Participants doing the downward dog position during a yoga class.
Charlotte Nude Yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn. (Photo courtesy of CNY)

“The issue I have is that the additional protection depicted is in addition to the censorship tactics it already employs to hide, restrict and remove content from the platform,” he wrote in an Instagram post about the shadow ban. “By implementing both measures, Instagram essentially eradicates your presence on their platform.”

Instagram also made Boyles remove several of CNY’s AI-generated posts of semi-nude bodies. He said he’s appealed the decision multiple times and the platform has continuously upheld its decision to remove the posts.

Boyles is baffled by the lack of consistency in how Instagram applies its guidelines. An account that promotes thefudeexperience, a national food-based naturalist event company, posts similar photos to CNY, blurring or otherwise covering people’s privates, but Boyles believes the account doesn’t seem to have the same difficulties as CNY.

He attributes the inconsistencies to Instagram’s favor over large accounts, which disadvantages smaller ones like his.

“Other than Instagram, I don’t really know where to reach new potential clients except for a ground campaign with flyers,” Boyles said.

Despite the advertising challenges, Boyles remains optimistic in his goal to spread awareness around naturism. The word has been spreading.

Inclusivity and expansion for women and queer folks

While I never felt unsafe during the co-ed CNY class, it’s understandable that some women and queer folks may feel especially uncomfortable being naked around strangers.

After asking their friends to attend one of her classes, Culler learned about their hesitation in sharing spaces with men and the trauma attached to it. “If it was just for women and queer people, I would do it,” they would say.

“In all the yoga classes that I’ve done, I’ve never once felt uncomfortable by the guys,” they said. “They’ve all been very respectful … and are there for their enjoyment of being nude.”

Charlotte Nude Yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn. (Photo courtesy of CNY)

But the mother of invention is necessity, Culler said, and there was a need to create a space where women and queer folks felt safe.

Culler went to Boyles asking if he’d be okay with them starting a byproduct of Nude Yoga. Boyles told her to go for it.

Boyles didn’t see it as a shunning of his original event series but an expansion.

“Ultimately, that’s why I want to do these things, to bring more nude events to Charlotte and continue to grow this space,” he explained.

As a genderfluid nonbinary person, Culler didn’t want to restrict their class to only women, saying it would perpetuate the feeling of not fitting in with a specific community.

Culler’s first women and queer nude yoga class at Big Love Yoga Barn in October allowed 10 trans, non-binary and women participants to experience nude yoga in a space without cisgender, straight men, giving them the extra safety they needed.

Culler’s women and queer nude yoga classes will fall on the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m.

“My instructor team has been instrumental in the success of CNY+, its longevity, and the sense of safety and security that our attendees consistently report feeling after they’ve attended,” Boyles said.

The experience didn’t completely reshape the way I see and feel about my body. Honestly, the novelty of being nude wore off within 10 minutes, as I was left to deal with the yoga part of nude yoga.

And yet during the hour I spent amid others’ pure and passionate love for naturism and the exploration of a self unhindered by clothes, I felt a type of silent liberation and acceptance I’d been a stranger to in clothed environments. And that is a feeling I would recommend to anyone willing to experience it.

“At the root of it all, we are all the same,” Boyles said. “We all have the same parts, are all made up of the same things.

“I think seeing that helps reinforce the fact that nudity does not equal sex,” he continued. “I have nothing to be ashamed of about my body. People accept me and love me for who I am, regardless of what I look like.”

*Though included in the original article, we have changed the name of the founder due to threats of termination by his employer.

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