Once upon a conversation with a dear friend, Isis Phoenix, we were sharing on the benefits of clothes free yoga for each of us. In that conversation, I remember her telling me that one of the benefits of clothes free yoga for her was that she could became comfortable with being in the question. At the time, I thought the phrase quite eloquent, though I couldn’t yet feel it in my bones. Recently, however, this phrase has landed in my body through my journey of healing.
I spent most of my life soothing away unpleasant feelings. When I was younger, I would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and eat entire sticks of butter, jars of Smuckers Goober Jelly and bags of potato chips. Food was my way of coping with feelings of loneliness, times of instability (financial, home, etc.), health problems, and with a desire to feel whole and complete. Anytime I’d feel uncomfortable in my heart, I filled my stomach until I couldn’t breathe.
As I rolled into my teenage years, the overeating turned into other kinds of imbalanced / disordered eating, including binging and purging as well as under-eating. These were always in reaction to something unpleasant in the day, whether I didn’t do well on an exam; whether someone told the person I had a crush on, “Oooo she liiiiiikes youuuuuu” (teens are cruel); or even when I simply stood in the mirror, turned profile, and smacked my stomach in pure hatred. I always reacted to circumstances by stuffing myself full of food to shut up my inner voices or starving myself in punishment.
When I embarked on my clothes free journey, however, that began to shift. One of the most powerful elements in those initial days was my clothes free yoga practice, especially yin yoga. In yin yoga, one holds poses that tend to be very close to the ground for anywhere from 2-10+ minutes. In that sitting, I felt a lot of discomfort as my body would fuss about having to be still for “30 seconds, 45 seconds, 52 seconds, 52.5 seconds, OMG why is 2 mins so long?!?!?” Despite the fuss, that practice provided me with the ability to sit with myself and any feelings of discomfort, on and off the mat. This benefit continues to help me heal.
I just sit with the feelings. I have stopped reaching for something to button them up and stuff them away.
Recently, my clothes free yoga practice has ushered me into a place where I am OK with being in the question of whatever it is I am feeling. Although my clothes free life has been amazing in so many ways to date, I still had phases where I’d stuff myself full of something, although the seasons were much shorter than they used to be. Whenever I felt anxious, uncomfortable, stressed, sad, angry, I’d fill myself up. But, my clothes free yoga practice has helped me to really tap into the intricate sensations of what I feel happening in my body when those emotions arise and what I feel after I stuff myself full of food.
When those uncomfortable emotions surface, I notice in my body an increased heart rate, tension and holding patterns throughout my body, lack of breathing, headache, lack of balance / stumbling / toppling over, among other things. These are things that I heard of from medical and yoga sources, but I never really connected with them myself in my own body. So many resources mentioned the effects of stress, but I could never really feel them in my body on my own. Recently, however, this has changed. Not only do I know in my head the effects of stress and various emotions, but I truly feel them for myself now and I notice them earlier in the process. What’s most incredible, though, is that rather than react to them by compulsively eating (or shopping), I just sit with the feelings. I have stopped reaching for something to button them up and stuff them away.
Personally, I find it quite challenging to be so intimately connected with my body when I am clothed. For some, they might feel just fine in their clothes. For me, however, my clothes freedom has become more than just a matter of comfort; it is a fight for my health. I should also mention that when I was little, I wrestled with epilepsy, so having an intimate listening with my body has become critical to creating a lifestyle of balance and wellness to keep that at bay. My clothes free yoga practice, including the meditation, has really helped me tap into a deeper listening to my body, and the more I listen without judgment or reaction, the more I can make healthier long-term choices for myself.
The best part of this stage for me is that, not only am I able to sit with myself and listen to my emotions without reacting to them to stifle or fix them, I actually want to be in the question of them. Having this deeper connection to my body, I realized that I did not like feeling the effects of overeating, such as tightness in my back and shoulders, bloating, gas, increase heart rate and so forth. Instead, what I wanted to feel was, well, what I was feeling….in my heart. I am so curious about what I feel in my spirit, I want to know what’s on my heart, I love being in the question.
It doesn’t mean that my life is suddenly perfect without its moments of freaking out, but my budget and body will tell you that they are happier. Not only am I OK with the experience of feeling disappointment after a rough day of work, but I’m actually interested in the texture of that feeling, and going deeper to observe, “OK, that happened, and this is what I felt in response to that, that’s interesting.” No longer is my life all about fixing myself or pointing fingers and things or people. Rather, I’m so interested and curious about observing what I see when I see what I see. For instance, if I feel jealous of someone, rather than stuff myself full of food, break my budget shopping, starve myself, or whatever else, I think, “Huh, it’s interesting that when she posted this picture about puppies, I immediately thought, ‘I hate her.’ I wonder what that ‘I hate her’ is about.” And I simply observe with a curiosity. Sometimes judgment creeps back in (after all, I am human, I think…let me check the label…). But, even when judgment comes back, I am now able to look at that, too, and say, “Huh, and then after that ‘I hate her’ came up, I immediately went into, ‘Why are you such a sorry existence of a human as to keep judging yourself for how you react to things?’ Interesting. OK. Noted.”
My clothes free life and yoga practice have given me the wherewithal to simply be in the question of my experience of the moment, like walking through a museum without touching the works of art. I can be in the question of career trajectory, where I want to live, what’s next, how my body feels, my emotional fluctuations when various things happen, without trying to fix or erase them. I can be in observation of my actions, past and present, and with the judgment pushed to the side, I actually am able to see patterns of my own behavior that created various circumstances, rather than pointing the finger at someone else. I can be in the question of love, without choking an answer out of it.
I gain such a rich understanding of things when I don’t try to force an answer. It reminds me of learning a foreign language. Certainly translation has its function and practicality; it is an imperative part of the process. But the interesting thing I have found in my language-learning adventures is that sometimes the sharpest understanding comes from just being in the listening of a moment, rather than picking up a tool to provide definition. Some phrases and expressions are not meant to be translated word for word; sometimes meaning comes just from the experience of it. My clothes free life gives me access to this, and I am at peace in it.