My naked yoga practice never gets old. In fact, the more I do it, the deeper it connects to all aspects of my life journey: physical, mental and spiritual. It has, over the past year, become my soul food, in fact, the foundation upon which I stand in the midst of storming changes.
One of my favorite pieces of literature is a book by TKV Desikachar called “The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice.” At first, I thought that this was the 900th book on poses and sequences for a physical home practice. To my joyful surprise, the personal practice described here is a much deeper work about the practice of the heart.
“Yoga subscribes to the notion that deep within us there is something that is also very real but, unlike everything else, is not subject to change. We call this wellspring purusa or drastr, meaning ‘that which sees’ or ‘that which can see correctly.’ When we are swimming in a river and cannot see the bank, it is difficult to notice the current. We are moving so much with the river that we may scarcely see its flow. But if we go to the bank where we have firm ground it is much easier to see how the river is flowing.” p. 12.
This excerpt falls under a section called “Constancy and Change” within the chapter “The Foundations of Yoga Practice.” It resonated deeply with me, because so much of the yoga conversation where I live is about change, how it is inevitable, exciting and an adventure, even if difficult. While I generally embrace this perspective, it is a notion that, honestly, feels hollow and void during this particular chapter of my life.
With the turn of summer to fall have come massive changes in my life. I’ve made some major decisions, had very difficult conversations, and am planning some big shifts to align with the passions and dreams that have come alive in my belly through the blessing of clothes free life. Other changes came that I did not anticipate: changes in dynamics, relationships, challenges at work, etc. As these changes have unfolded, I’ve walked through significant emotional twists and turns, things that have kept me awake until 4 AM, distracted my appetite and required that I go outside and take a clothes free pause more often than usual. Kleenex is certainly experiencing a rise in sales as I’ve used more tissues than I can count.
In the midst of all this change came the question, “What is my foundation?” Yoga has been a important part of my life since I first stepped into a yoga studio four years ago. To be honest with you, my initial motivation for going was to get a good workout, as the gym I frequented was closed for renovations. And those motivations remained fairly surface for a while, even distorted at times (e.g. wanting to be skinny and look good). But something Desikachar writes in his book hit the mark for me:
“One may ask, is it an expression of asmita (the ego) when someone begins yoga because he or she wants to be better? … I doubt that there is anyone who really does not want to improve himself, and even if our first step springs from the desire to become better and is therefore rooted in the ego, it is still a right step because it takes us on to the first rung of the yoga ladder. Furthermore, we do not stay permanently committed to this initial goal of self-improvement. According to the Yoga Sutra, the recognition and conquest of avidya (incorrect comprehension) and its effects is the only ladder by which we can climb upward. The goal of wanting to make something better may be the first rung on the ladder.” p. 13.
Indeed, what was initially a tiny dot of motivation for going to yoga slowly began to draw color, texture and depth. The more I engaged in a consistent physical practice in classes, workshops and trainings, the more I began to inquire about the dots in my life, and I connected with the desire to draw color into how I was living. “Why am I doing this? Why did I say that to her? Why am I pissed off? I seem to be eating my feelings again.” I began to see, really see, more and more.
As wonderful as that shift has been (and continues to be), I hit a wall again last year where nothing seemed to help me find my way through the challenges set before me. I kept going to the studio and practicing regularly, but there was still this feeling of running in circles trying to please people, not knowing what I wanted or who I was at the core. And I didn’t have the courage to connect with a truth that I knew had to be somewhere inside of me. This is where clothes free yoga and clothes free life came in: they connected me to the deepest essential truth in me, the part of me that sees.
In the initial days of my naked yoga practice, the first thing I noticed was how much I felt. Air touched every part of me. Beyond the usual places that are generally exposed in a clothed practice (hands, feet, forearms) I began to notice its touch between my fingers and toes, inner thighs, belly button and the elements around the pelvic bowl. And everything (everything!) touches the mat, which makes splits, seated straddles and seated hip openers quite interesting. There was a deeper sense of feeling through the full physical exposure of the body, and that deeper sense of feeling on the mat gave me access to how I was truly feeling in my life and to a clearer seeing.
I love practicing both high energy styles of yoga and slower, more reflective styles naked. During this phase of my life, though, what has really helped me find foundation has been my clothes free yin practice. In a yin practice, one holds poses for extended periods of time. The sequences I use keep me in a pose anywhere from 2 – 10 minutes, which demands that I focus on breathing and committing over and over to completing the experience. I’ve found myself shaking, crying, frustrated, screaming, silent, still…all sorts of ways during my naked yin practice. And that practice of “staying with” nakedly has given me access to confronting things in my life and staying with the process.
I have taken on some big conversations in the past few weeks, and I was able to do so, because I thought, “If I can sit and breathe through a wide legged straddle naked for 10 minutes and come out on the other side, I can sit through this conversation and know that, in the end, everything will be fine.” That is truly how I have approached everything during this storm of change. I have, in my muscles and bones, the proprioceptive experience of enduring something with nothing. I know that being in my own skin, being an empty canvas in my naked body, is enough for me to endure, create and become anything. So, I am less afraid to confront an issue, to have difficult conversations with family and friends, to speak truthfully with my boss, and to see my new passions through. I might be scared and experience a whole host of human feelings, but I’m not as likely to run away or ignore the issue.
In the midst of all this change, not knowing who will be around or disappear from my life, not knowing what I will have, not knowing where exactly I am going, I now have access to a part of me that isn’t necessarily subject to these storms. I can return to my place of truth and move confidently and freely from that space (even if I’m crying and screaming in the process). That’s the gift naked yoga is giving me right now: access to the part of me that sees no matter what.