Every day I do yoga under the same circumstances: my practice is immersed in sunlight (if the sun is out), I listen to music that fosters meditation and I am naked.
I know this may seem funny, weird and even completely unnecessary, but I’ve found that practicing naked has transformed my mental and physical connection to yoga and my inner self. Another important aspect of my practice incorporates exposure to sunlight. Light has symbolic meaning for many things, love being one that I connect with most. When I first began practicing yoga approximately 16 months ago, my teacher, Gemma, would end our class with the same words each time: “May the light in me, see the light in you and may we share that same light, Namaste.” I didn’t realize it at that moment, but I would carry that phrase with me whenever I experienced moments of love and bliss. To me, it is the ultimate message of love as it reminds each of us sharing the practice that the love and kindness we hold deep in our hearts should honor the love and kindness in others — the central focus of what life should ultimately be lived for: love.
So back to why I practice yoga naked. Last November, I injured my lower back badly in a heated class and was unable to practice until mid-March when I took two outdoor yoga classes while visiting Sri Lanka. I have always been inflexible, have always had bone dry skin and have always had stiff joints. Yoga did help improve these imbalances, but I found myself with minor injuries more than any person should experience by simply exercising four times a week. The two classes I took in Sri Lanka changed my entire perspective and practice of yoga. I was not naked, but because it was so hot, I was wearing less clothing than I normally would. I applied lotion to my entire body because of the amount of sun I was being exposed to, which dried out my skin. The combination of oil and the humid warm air was like an immediate massage that released all the tension from my muscles and joints.
Both classes were slow moving, but deliberate with the main focus placed on intention, breathing and meditation to the sounds of nature. I never once thought, I hope my leg looks straight enough, or crap, why am I the only one who can’t put her head to the floor. It was the first time ever that I experienced yoga the way my teachers had described — no expectations and completely immersed in a slow moving meditation. There were no breathing struggles, no excessive sweating episodes and no points where I was worrying if my body looked “yoga perfect.”
I had no pain after the classes and for the first time in five months I was able to go from sitting to standing without feeling my lower back stiffen with extreme tension. I decided to give my practice a try again when I returned to New Jersey, but this time I did things a little differently and in a way that was best for my body. The trip reminded me how important exposure to sun is for our overall well-being, but being that I live in a place that is cold five to six months out of the year and requires most of us to work long days tied to a computer indoors I had to improvise.
So this is what I do: I set up my yoga mat in direct sunlight, next to a palm tree we have in our home, so that I have sun and nature incorporated into my practice. I light a candle surrounded by intentions I’ve written on smooth stones. I put on music that is centered around yoga, meditation and nature sounds. I apply a warmed oil to my entire body to increase blood flow and elasticity in my skin and I begin my slow practice naked. Instead of counting through poses, I’ll often repeat my intentions in my head (love and light are always included), which keeps my mind focused solely on my practice — no emails, no phone calls, no worries and no feelings of guilt, blame or sadness.
I now practice yoga seven days a week, sometimes for 30 minutes, other times for an hour if I have more time. This coupled with a mostly plant-based diet has cured many of the aliments I’ve suffered from due to excess amounts of stress I experienced in the past.
As I read more and more about people practicing “naked yoga,” I smile because it seems more natural than the way we’ve twisted this ancient healing practice to fit our fast-paced, looks-obsessed Western culture. It’s OK to accept ourselves for exactly who we are and let light and love surround us as we live the only life we’ve been given.
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