Every yogi has a reason for why they started practicing, and why they continue. My yoga journey began promptly after a panic attack landed me in my doctor's office with EKG chords spread out on my chest like a dartboard. It's been a long time since I've endured a panic attack as intense as that one, but I continue my yoga practice as a way of sustaining a healthy relationship with my physical body, as well as the mixed emotions of love and resentment I sometimes feel toward it. To celebrate National Yoga Month and take my practice one giant step further, I set out to learn how to do yoga naked without passing judgment on my outer shell. I committed to five days on the mat, clad only in my birthday suit, and completed my experiment with a newfound sense of gratitude.
To quote the ancient Indian text The Bhagavad Gita, yoga “is the journey of self, through the self, to the self.” So, it doesn't matter if you choose to flow on your living room rug or in a guided class in a yoga studio. Every yoga practice is a completely personal experience, concerning only your body, your mind, and the energy flowing between the two. And, as a beginner, even a simple child's pose can feel a little daunting. Once you've settled into any given posture, all that's left is balance, breath, and your thoughts. It's part physical, part mental, and all vulnerable, because you're not just forming your limbs into a triangle or opening your chest and finding your heart center; you're getting to know your body and mind on a deeper level that requires your undivided attention and acceptance.
And sometimes, I struggle to think happy thoughts when it comes to my own body.
Confession time: The first day of my experiment wasn't totally executed in the nude. I made the impulsive decision at the very last second to slip my underwear back on and continue topless.
I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. I never thought of myself as a chunky kid, but when I was just 9 years old, I recognized that the round shape of my body was different from the skinny build of my ballerina best friend. Then, in high school, I became hyper-aware of my hourglass figure and high cheekbones as I tried to maneuver my shape into the cute outfits made for magazine cutouts. I was uncomfortable, and it would only get worse from there, leading to a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa during my college years.
I've been in recovery for about three years now, but still, body image dysmorphia is a battle I continue to fight. So, while I decided to keep my undies on, I also decided to turn my camera on, too.
I committed to following the first week of Bad Yogi founder Erin Motz's official yoga challenge. I woke up at 7 a.m. each morning, retreated to the living room, closed the blinds, stripped down to nothing, and set my camera down in front of me. Though I didn't need to use the camera in my experiment, I found that watching my naked body -- in addition to feeling my naked body go through the motions -- added more value.
Seeing your naked body flow through a yoga sequence is definitely vulnerable, but also incredibly rewarding.
According to Rebecca Weible, founder of Yo Yoga!, "doing yoga naked gives your body total freedom to move without being restricted, squeezed, or tangled up by clothes."
She tells Elite Daily,
You can keep your focus on alignment, breath, and movement, instead of interrupting your flow by having to adjust your sports bra or hoist up your leggings. Your attention won't stray to the sometimes unflattering way tight-fitting clothes can cause rolls, leading you to become distracted by negative body image thoughts. Your mind will be free to focus on the amazing, powerful, and graceful things your body can do.
I'll admit that the first few days of my naked practice were awkward, and I judged myself pretty harshly. My concerns flip-flopped between whether or not I was performing each pose correctly, how I looked doing them, and shooing my cat away from the blinds so she wouldn't poke her head through and simultaneously give my neighbors a show.
I felt connected to my body, but not exactly on a deeper level. I was hyper-aware of the curve of my stomach sucking in and out during a series of cat-cows, the size of my thighs as I swung my right leg over my left for a supine spinal twist. I was less concerned with how it felt to perform these movements without the restriction of clothing, and more interested in how my body looked performing them.
Is this what people would think of me in a studio setting? Would they see my body the same way I see it?
Naked yoga allows you to see your body in its truest form.
Halfway through the experiment, I decided to compartmentalize my thoughts about the entire ordeal. It wasn't really fair to my body or my mental health to pick apart my self-proclaimed flaws. Instead, I decided I'd rather than find the beauty in my naked practice.
The first step was to dismiss any negative comments I had about myself. If I didn't like how a certain part of my body looked from a specific angle, I allowed the thought to flow in one ear and out the other. If I've learned anything from meditating, it's that we may not always be in control of our thoughts, but we can choose the ones we allow to consume us.
The second step was to not only watch my body, but listen to it as well. If something didn't feel right in a pose, I wouldn't strain myself for the sake of looking like a professional. I started to realize that I get so caught up in caring about what other people think, that sometimes, it's as though I'm an outsider looking in, judging myself so harshly. If you can't be 100 percent authentically you when you're bare naked and alone with your thoughts, then when can you?
According to Weible, practicing yoga -- naked or fully clothed -- can help you develop a "deeper connection to the body and what it needs on and off the mat."
Yoga helps fine-tune body awareness, as the practice requires you to explore the alignment of the whole body in each pose, and uses your breath to test and grow your strength, balance, and control.
With this thought in mind, I started to watch myself go through each motion with a newfound appreciation. I thought about how, too often, society defines a person by her outer appearance. But we are so much more than the shell of our souls. We are complex. We are a string of thoughts. We are full of hopes and dreams. We are human. Beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder, and it's what's on the inside -- how we feel about ourselves -- that matters first and foremost.
I can't say I've come out of this experiment a totally changed person. I am still perfectly imperfect, hopelessly flawed, and 100 percent human. But the difference is that I can now recognize when I'm failing to see my body for more than its aesthetic.
Yoga teaches you that the human body is a beautiful, powerful force that takes care of you and allows you to move and operate with grace and agility. So the next time you hit the mat, consider ditching your clothes like I did before going through the sequence. You might feel vulnerable, shy, embarrassed, insecure; but I can assure you, by the end of your flow, you'll be in awe of your body and all of its amazing, beautiful capabilities in and outside of your practice.