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Inside Urban Sanctuary in Denver's RiNo neighborhood. Courtesy of Urban Sanctuary

Get Naked (And Centered) at This Yoga Studio in Five Points

Run by former police officer Ali Duncan, Urban Sanctuary isn't your typical yoga studio. It offers a range of unique classes— hello naked yoga—and other healing practices.

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I know it seems paradoxical—because I am naked right now and it is the middle of winter—but this is the coziest I have felt in recent memory. The snow may be falling outside, but inside, the lights are dim, the heat is turned up, and I’m doing cat-cows in a room full of other naked women.

This is Skins Yoga, just one of many eclectic offerings that can be found any day of the week at Urban Sanctuary, a Five Points yoga studio that opened in 2016. Class philosophy? “Shedding what does not serve us comes in many forms.” Indeed. And sometimes, I guess, this stuff is just literal. I wonder why to date I haven’t attempted yoga—a practice meant to connect us with our souls and flow—in any other getup other than a sports bra that aggressively smashes my breasts down.

The class was thankfully mostly twists and other low-key poses—a perfect match for my energy and a synchronistic balm for the stiff back I’ve been experiencing for the past few days. Afterward, I approach Urban Sanctuary’s founder Ali Duncan, who taught the class, and tell her as much. “Is the class always this low-key or…?” I ask. Not always, no. It varies. “I read the energy of the room,” she says, with a sly smile that makes me feel just a little bit (more) exposed.

Ali Duncan is the founder of Denver’s Urban Sanctuary. Courtesy of Ali Duncan

Founded by Duncan, a self-described “spiritual guide and energy healer,” Urban Sanctuary is a comprehensive (and incredibly cozy) wellness studio featuring yoga classes along with massage, Reiki, and workshops in everything from tantra to meditation. As far as the yoga classes go, there are traditional restorative and flow options along with cannabis-infused yoga, a Tarot-guided class, and classes targeted to specific groups, such as POC (people of Color) and Alzheimer’s patients. And then there are the Skins classes. In addition to the women’s class I attended, there’s a coed version, and a men’s-only class that is reportedly quite a community—they have monthly potlucks in Urban Sanctuary’s back courtyard.

Before she made a career out of peering into people’s souls for the purposes of healing, Duncan spent nine years as a police officer in her hometown of Fort Collins. However, she says her reasons for joining the force were different than every other cop she knows. “I wasn’t a fan of the action. I wasn’t the first on a hot call,” she says. Rather, it was the community connection that drove her to the force. She spent a lot of her time on calls counseling people and de-escalating intense situations. But, after she was introduced to Reiki by a woman who worked in records at the police department, Duncan got hooked on studying every healing modality she could, eventually traveling to India for an immersive yoga teacher training. “Reiki was my gateway drug,” she jokes.

When she returned, her interactions with the public rang hollow to her. In India, she’d fallen in love with the way everybody on the street made eye contact and acknowledged each other with the Hindi greeting namaste. “That deep connection was the hardest for me to leave when I came back here,” she says. So, in 2012, she quit the force and made a career transition with the intention of creating a space where people can experience that sense of deep connection.

Urban Sanctuary is about “finding reconnection through touch and being seen, being witnessed,” says Duncan. “I think that’s where in the West we’ve f*cked ourselves up from just disconnecting through touch….We just have ‘take a pill,’ or one-on-one therapy, which I’m not saying is bad, but we don’t see each other. We try to stuff it down, we try to hide it, put on this—‘This is what I’m supposed to be.’” She shakes her head.

“That’s why I created this. To create community. We can get that back….So if you have community, and if you have some energy clearing, if you’re not showing up to be like, ‘I need to get a workout,’ it’s just gonna be so different,” she says. “It’s gonna be deeper. The physical truly doesn’t matter if the mind is not where it needs to be. If the clearing doesn’t happen, then the physical just happens to be an Eastern calisthenic.”

Winter in Colorado

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