Anecdotally and through many online posts, conversations, feedback and discussions, it’s clear that many of us have been delighted to have the community of Naturists around us, giving us the opportunity to be active, to meet others and share experiences. This has been particularly true during lockdown, when life turned upside down and the activity and society that we took for granted all but disappeared. Has Naturism and the Naturist community contributed to our mental health? Three Naturists tell us it has…
We have a basic human need for connection and interaction with others. Naturism and particularly social nudity provides many with an opportunity to address that need in an enjoyable and safe way. We all know the barriers are down, literally, figuratively and psychologically, as soon as you are in a naked environment, providing opportunities to feel connected to others, whether through being a core member of a club, attending the occasional BN event or just popping to the beach every now and again to smile a greeting at a fellow Naturist.
As a therapist, I know that attachment theory (Bowlby/ Ainsworth) underpins much of what we know about the impact of our early life on our developing cognitive and emotional system. It demonstrates that babies need a responsive relationship with a primary care giver, usually a parent, to have their needs met and develop a sense of security in the world. Children who do not experience this through neglect, absence or incapacity will respond by either becoming more demanding or becoming withdrawn and ‘giving up’ – people may recall the sad scenes from eastern bloc orphanages of unattended babies sitting inert in cots. If a child experiences warm, close and consistent care, they become ‘securely attached’ and begins to use the parent as a safe base from which to explore and can generally tolerate longer periods of separation with minimal stress. If the caregivers are inconsistent, various, absent or neglectful then the child’s attachment is likely to be ‘insecure’. Subsequently, the infant is often more clingy, reluctant to move away from the attachment figure and explore their environment.
Along comes the pandemic, throwing all of us into a new and strange psychological and emotional environment. Psychologically, we all still have that child in us and during such a period of unprecedented stress our experience of the world in which we live can link us back to old behaviours and needs. Lockdown robbed the world of the usual opportunities for social interactions and connection in the usual ways with family, friends and day to happenings, and we have seen an epidemic of isolation, loneliness and disconnection.
Naturism already provides an opportunity to connect with others through shared philosophy, beliefs and lifestyle choices. Many of us enjoy connecting with others at beaches, clubs and events, which again was not possible during a pandemic with necessary restrictions on movement and gatherings. A huge hole opened up in life.
The good folks at British Naturism speedily stepped up to the plate, providing a wide range of online opportunities for connection from Aerobics to Yoga for the active and pub nights, quizzes, coffee and chat for the garrulous. The way the online activities were designed and delivered enhanced the connection. What a professional bunch of facilitators. I can only mention those with whom I personally engaged during lockdown
Yoga with Georgia – This was my first foray into the world of yoga and now I’m hooked. The discomfort of downward dog was soon replaced by the relief of having body parts stretched and energised that I’d forgotten I had. Starting naked yoga at home made it far easier to develop the confidence to appreciate the benefits of nude yoga – no restrictive clothing and far fewer ‘sweaty bits’. Our lovely teacher is a superb example of the BN activity leader. Encouraging us to benefit not only from the physical advantages produced by yoga, but also the psychological – without the interference of our usual anxious or angry thoughts, the stress response system relaxes and the body can do a better job of healing itself and focusing on the breath and concentrating on the yoga practice certainly enabled that to happen. Engaging, caring and superbly competent, with a kind sense of humour, understanding that we are not all uber flexible/strong, and encouraging each person to join in at their own level, Georgia connected with each of the 100 plus people in the class in a unique way, which left people feeling cared for and somehow valued. Connecting with others who are also suffering, striving or relaxing into their practice helped us continue trying harder ourselves and a conscious focus on the essential mind/ body connection encourages us that we are doing what we can to improve wellbeing.
Fitness classes with Sheryn, and with Roy – Not only a chance to leap about energetically with others as we tried to synchronise our bodies to a range of relaxing tunes and energising beats led by the enthusiasm and skill of the teacher, but also a moment to connect with the class at the end of the session through the parading and sharing of pets and cuddly toys, to the genuine delight of Sheryn. Sharing the joy! Crazy but fun. And once we got to Nudefest we could of course share the odd celebratory ‘whoop’ in the flesh. Exercising, whether it’s going for a walk or doing a vigorous fitness class, can often lift your mood, as endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.
Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body – despite the demands of fitness classes delivered by Roy, encouraging participants to keep going beyond their usual comfort zone and challenge themselves physically – the feel good factor afterwards was worth it. And again delivered in such a way to offer a feeling of connection to the wider group. Psychologically and emotionally, the exercise facilitators all provided what a good ‘parent’ provides for their securely attached child.
Quizzes – How grateful are we to the Irish bunch, who opened up their cranial endeavours to the rest of BN and all the volunteers who spent hours of research to come up with fascinating questions. Breakout groups gave a chance, not only to combine brain power for the team answers, but also to share the wrong ones in a considerate and accepting environment, chatting, connecting and appreciating the company of other Naturists. Linking back to attachment theory, the BN moderators, who were visible at every online event, maintained a safe space for all to feel ‘held’ securely, maintaining the respectful and trustworthy environment that is a fundamental part of Naturism.
Engaging with others, seeing others strive and enjoy activities reminded us we are not alone and gave psychological permission to ‘go for it’ ourselves. As we emerge from lockdown, blinking like moles into the bright lights of the world of going out and about, British Naturism are maintaining the online programme to continue to offer the benefits of virtual connection alongside face to face meetings, proving that despite the dreadful impacts of the pandemic good things have arisen from the experience.
When the first lockdown started in March 2020 we were same things too, which would open up the conversation for all plunged into a very different and unknown world. All the things that we normally rely on to give us a sense of safety and wellbeing disappeared very quickly. I found myself cut off from most of my friends and the activities that I enjoy and facing a very uncertain and quite frightening future. The world had become a very shaky and unreliable place. With all these uncertainties and very little positive news to balance it I very quickly fell prey to worrying and increasing anxiety. Although my wife and I were basically okay and coping quite well, I really missed the broader support that one gets from one’s friends.
However, when I started attending the BN coffee morning and pub things began to get better. There I found companionship, a place to have a moan and lots of good natured joshing. But also, every now and again I found myself in a conversation in which someone would say that they were feeling anxious or frightened or lonely and that allowed me to say that I was feeling those myself and others to discuss our fears and worries. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in my anxiety and uncertainty and being able to admit to other people that that was what I was feeling helped me enormously. It helped me regain my perspective and feel that I wasn’t alone in what had become a very scary world. The fitness classes really helped too. They gave my wife and I a focus and a routine – and they also turned out to be tremendous fun.
Thanks to BN’s Zoom events, I have made many new friends both in the UK and from around the world and I have also met some of them in real life as well. My social circle and support network is now much bigger than it was and as a result my mental health and sense of wellbeing are much, much better. There have been times in the past year and a half that I really don’t know what I would have done without the pub and the coffee morning.
Lockdown came at a difficult time for us, a couple who lived 25 miles apart. I had been made redundant following a reorganisation, and Gill had just spent a time in hospital with heart problems. She was at home shielding, with me visiting with shopping. The online events gave us an opportunity to take part separately, and occasionally together. Particular online events that we enjoyed initially were the Afternoon Tea, the drum workshop and Pimms on the lawn. Later on we tried the Life Drawing classes, taking the opportunities to draw other people and also act as models ourselves. The Coffee Mornings were a chance to meet up with each other and other people. Sometimes we would be in the same breakout room and other times not. As the restrictions started to lift and Gill’s health began to improve, we tried more activities, such as Laughter Yoga with Eva, Yoga with Georgia, the weekly quiz, and the Monday Forum Live. Gill also joined in the Women Uncovered meeting.
What has been uplifting has been the opportunity to dance and jump around as part of a group. We enjoyed the Lockdown Keep Fit with Sheryn. It became a tradition at the end to have a dance with pets and stuffed toys, which included Gill’s collection of toy carrots from Aldi – it soon became our trademark dance! Other chances to move with music were GroovX with Jooles and Fitsteps with Caroline.
The highlights were the Naked Discos, dancing around the Christmas Tree wearing nothing more than a Santa Hat or reindeer antlers! Like many others we purchased disco lights to enhance the experience and danced naked into 2021 with just a bow tie and tiara! Then followed the ‘decades’ nights during the dark months of January and February. Gill found a wig for me so I could relive my younger days dancing with a full head of hair!
2020 was a difficult year, but it was more bearable thanks to BN, or should that be bareable!