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Aunt Johnny checks out Naked Yoga in Hillcrest

Like method actors who totally immerse themselves in the life of a character they are about to play and bring an authenticity and truth to their work – I take the same approach when taking an on investigative reporting assignment.

Quite frankly, I’m the Johnny Depp of journalists … and I’m not afraid to dive deep into a story to bring my readers the who/what/when/where and how hard.

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News knows this – which is why I was the first person who came to mind when they decided to cover the biggest fitness news to hit Hillcrest since the great shower curtain heist of ’07 at 24-Hour Gayness:

Naked Yoga.

While the concept of practicing yoga in the nude is not new – it is a new activity for the neighborhood of Hillcrest; sort of surprising given that it’s the 3-dollar bill of San Diego … and who loves assuming a downward dog-facing pose in the nude more than gay men?

Well gentleman, it’s here now – at a new convenient location in the heart of the gayborhood. Namaste Pacific Yoga officially opened its doors Oct. 31, at 3919 Fourth Ave. in Hillcrest (between Washington and University) and will offer Naked Yoga three times per week.

As soon as I accepted the assignment, I wasted no time getting prepared for my very first yoga experience in the buff.

There was much work to be done – so I called my best friend Betty White to help get me limbered up, exfoliated and sufficiently airbrushed so that I would be presentable for public and pubic scrutiny.

“For the last time, no.” I insisted, “You cannot take the class with me. It’s for men only – and while yes, you do possess most of the qualities of a gay man, there is a very important one that you don’t have – which will be all the more obvious if you’re completely naked.”

“Whatever,” she scoffed, “I’m an American Treasure, gawddamn it. I don’t need your stupid class. Now hold still or this airbrush tan will streak.”

I must have looked like I was getting ready for a red carpet walk at the Oscars. But in my defense, I may have gone a little too far with the Botox this time … and my skin is about as pale as a glass of skim milk – so I didn’t want the other students to mistake me for a corpse gone AWOL from the morgue.

After a week of seaweed wraps, full body exfoliations and six applications of fake-n-bake, I was finally ready for my naked yoga experience. I just hoped my tan wouldn’t sweat off onto the floor and cause someone to trip and fall on their soft currency. That would be embarrassing – and painful.

I was under the impression I’d be attending a “soft opening” class for those exclusively invited to the grand opening of the studio’s Hillcrest location on Sunday, Oct. 31 – but that isn’t what happened at all.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the instructor, Paul Tucci, and the studio’s owner, Chris Van Der Merwe.

The studio was very clean and bright, with high ceilings and had that “Manhattan loft” feel. There wasn’t much to distract. No pictures on the walls. No loud paint colors. No sculptures of nude men wrestling (a missing detail for which I was slightly disappointed).

It was very tasteful – and while I’m not one of those earthy “who moved my Chi?” types, I found the environment oddly peaceful and soothing; a feeling I usually only have a few moments after mixing in a Percocet with my mid-morning martini.

Paul and Chris removed their shoes and asked me to remove mine. I gathered this would be the first of many items I’d be removing in the next few minutes.

As we started talking, I kept wondering where all the other guys were. Surely this wasn’t going to be an individual session? If I wanted that, I could have stayed home and stretched naked while Ricky Martin hummed in the lotus position. I was here for group activity, damn it. Where was the group?

“The first time I did Naked Yoga was in San Francisco,” Paul began. “I was taking classes with a teacher who invited me to a yoga retreat. While there, he asked me if I wanted to take a Naked Yoga class. I remember thinking, I dunno – Naked Yoga – that sounds a little bit like a bunch of gay men being cheeky.

“There was something not quite right about it, or not very yoga,” he continued. “It seemed more like a sexual thing to do and I wasn’t sure about that. But because I respected him as a teacher, I decided to check it out. I went there and was very surprised. It wasn’t a bunch of gay guys staring at each other naked. It was just yoga. It was very humbling.”

Just yoga? This was not encouraging. I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars in manufactured tan to look like an overripe mandarin, for just yoga.

“It was an equalizer,” he explained. “When you take your clothes off, everything kind of just hangs out, all of your flaws – everything. There isn’t anything between you and everyone else. It’s very humbling.”

Speaking of, when exactly was everything going to just hang out? My patience was waning.

And seriously, where were all the guys? It was Hillcrest for goodness sake. I practically tripped over six half-naked ones just getting here from the parking lot across the street.

“Hillcrest really is the ideal place for Naked Yoga,” Chris chimed in, “There is such a wonderful energy about this neighborhood. Yoga is about the concept of everything being one – and Hillcrest is a very open place where people can be whoever they want to be. It’s such an accepting place.”

I was starting to get the impression there would be no other guys or disrobing this afternoon. Or any kind of yoga, for that matter.

Clearly the only stretch I’d be getting with these guys was the perpetual yawning that was sure to ensue with all the talk of Naked Yoga, absent the actual site of it. I wanted to cry. Or drink – heavily.

Since Namaste Pacific Yoga Studio will primarily teach clothed yoga classes with Paul teaching Naked Yoga a few days a week, I wondered why Chris wanted to bring Naked Yoga to Hillcrest in the first place – especially since he’s never actually done it himself.

“I know Paul from his classes downtown, and I have friends who take his class,” Chris explained. “I had feedback from so many about what a wonderful teacher he is – and I really like where he’s coming from.

“I got the feeling that people were getting a lot of hard work done – healing, overcoming their insecurities, dealing with their issues. So when I got this studio, I wanted this to be a place where that kind of class could be offered. It’s a great fit here in Hillcrest.”

He made a fascinating point that until then, I really hadn’t thought about. I was so wrapped up in the idea of seeing a bunch of naked dudes holding stretched-out poses and being all bendy – I didn’t consider that for many, this may actually be a beautiful form of self discovery that inches them closer to a higher appreciation of their body. Like therapy – but without the couch or the “what I hear you saying is ...” part.

“The first time someone comes to class is usually the biggest wall to jump over,” added Paul, “And after that first time, most guys are surprised that it really isn’t as big of a deal as they thought it would be – that it really is pretty simple.”

Much of that has to do with the environment they create from the very beginning. It isn’t like that awkward first two minutes in a dark room with the guy you just met on Adam4Adam at 2 a.m., where you’re not quite sure what to do first – and the removal of clothes becomes a mad race to the finish, where the winner gets to decide whether or not there will be kissing.

What? Like you haven’t been there.

At the beginning of class, everyone is made to feel comfortable by joining in the middle of the room in a circle, where they remove their clothes at the same time. This ritual formation is designed to allow everyone to become at ease with being naked with openness and eye contact. The “equalizing” effect is that judgment is left at the door – where body type and physical fitness are expected to be in broad range, and accepted.

Comfort with taking off your clothes is one thing; but once you’re naked in the presence of other men who are also naked – it stands to reason that biology will take over and certain matters will just sort of “rise” to the surface.

It doesn’t take a couch session with Dr. Ruth to know that there might be some men out there (not me, of course) whose interest in a class like this would be primarily sexual.

“Yes, there have been times when guys have come into class and it’s obvious that they’re super excited,” Paul said, “but once you get started, physically the blood flows to the muscles – so … sorry – unless you’re 17 or 18, it’s very hard to maintain a hard-on while you’re doing yoga. And your mind has to be focused on your movement, so it’s difficult to have sexual thoughts for an extended period of time.”

This was good, because I was officially not thinking about sex anymore. We had been sitting on the hard, cold wood floors for an hour now, fully clothed – and the closest we came to removing any clothes was untying of shoe laces. But – all things considered, it wasn’t really a bad thing. These two guys seemed to be very cool, and they clearly have a passion for their work.

I was curious, though, how one could keep sexual passion out of the equation when what he does for a living is teach yoga to people not wearing clothes.

“It’s hard sometimes as a gay man. I am a guy,” Paul confided. ”I have my own sexual needs and if there is a guy there that I think is really hot, there can be a flicker of sexual thoughts. It’s human. I just remind myself that I’m there to teach yoga. Most of the time I forget I’m naked. I forget everyone else is naked. And when I’m teaching a class, time goes by very quickly. I’m so focused on keeping time, giving commands, keeping people safe. My priority is making sure they have a good experience.”

While for some, the motivating factor to practice yoga in the nude is eroticism, there is a pretty healthy contingent of men who practice Naked Yoga simply because they enjoy the freedom of being without clothes. And even though most are usually gay, there are also a number of straight men that practice this type of yoga.

Not to worry though. If the idea of stripping down to your birthday suit to exercise still makes you a bit squeamish, Namaste Yoga offers other styles of yoga that are all fully clothed, as well. The naked part is purely optional – and there should you decide to explore and expand your consciousness a bit.

You know, like the pills in the “candy dish” at any party thrown by Courtney Love.

Love ya like an Ashtanga strip tease,

Aunt Johnny

For years now, Aunt Johnny has been doling out advice to celebrity friends and family - bringing a little dose of wisdom wrapped in wit, sprinkled with satire and sautéed in drama to those who can't seem to get their act together. He's helped to prevent fashion catastrophes, stupid career choices and petty romantic theatrics to some of the most famous names in show business and politics ... all from the comfort of his martini glass. Now, he's bringing his celebrity and pop culture buzz to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. With tongue in cheek, he's taking pop culture shaken and stirred. Then he's shaking it some more.

Naked Yoga class weekly schedule

Tuesdays - 8:15 pm
Thursdays - 8:15 pm
Fridays - 7 pm

For more information about naked yoga at Namaste Pacific Yoga Studio, go to www.sdnakedyoga.com or www.namastepacific.com/npw.

To learn more about instructor Paul Tucci, visit his website.