Monday, January 22, 2007

the naked truth

I am not a nudist. Hardly. So, why practice naked? In Swami Satchidananda's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he translates Nirvana as "mind nakedness – absolute serenity and peace. Your mind isn't clothed; your Self isn't covered or colored with anything. It's completely free. A totally liberated person is naked. The Self is naked, uncovered. That's the meaning of nirvana." Of course he is speaking metaphorically, and is referring to the mind more than the body. But why not apply this idea to the body?

When I started practicing naked, I felt freer. I felt liberated. My practice is my life prep, and by tapping into this liberation on my mat I began to feel more liberated out in the world (fully clothed). Matt Meko, who teaches naked classes in Seattle, had a similar realization. It's odd – just as an aside – but I feel no need to practice naked with other people. I have. I enjoyed the energy and the charged atmosphere but I'm more interested in the personal exploration when it comes to practicing naked.

The only thing that is truly mine and at my disposal in this life is my body. If the body is my most accessible tool to unite with the Divine, then it is in my best interest to get to know it completely on as many levels (gross and subtle) as possible. As I began to practice with less and less clothing, I started seeing more; how muscles react in shapes, and how bones rotate (or don't). For instance, I learned recently that because my left leg is a bit longer than my right, my left thigh wasn't moving onto the bone as much as the right thigh in Prasaritta. As I got naked more often I started feeling poses differently. Whether it was the feeling of the skin on the front of my rib cage beginning to graze the tops of my thighs in a forward bend, or the soles of my feet shaping around the flesh of my buttocks in Virasana, there was now more understanding and awareness of where my body connects and how it fits together like a puzzle.

My body is not perfect. I'm fully aware of that, and I'm also okay with it. I'm not always happy about my body's imperfections but that's life. What I have noticed is that because I look very closely at my body on a daily basis I've been able to make friends with the imperfect parts. It's just a body, it's not my Self.

There's a practical side to practicing naked: no laundry. It sounds a little simplistic but it's true. The original yogis didn't need the latest gear to alter their consciousness. Do I? Why should I? There are so many veils to hide behind already. All the fancy gear is just something else with which to fidget. It's status, and creates separation. But that's for another day... If the purpose of my showing up on my mat is to unite with the Divine, why not do so the way I was made by the Divine? God is fully aware of what I look like. Some would argue that as a yogi one should be modest and austere. I don't disagree. It simply depends on how you define modest and austere. If you choose to go with "placing a moderate estimate on one's abilities or worth," and "stern and cold in appearance or manner" as definitions, count me out. But if you choose "decent" and "unadorned", I'm right there. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden story. When Eve and Adam ate of the tree of knowledge, their brains started clouding their clear sight and they became ashamed of their pureness and their nakedness. I'm not ashamed. (see also the story of Dattatreya) If my body is my main tool for union, and if I am the instrument of God (Bhagavad Gita) and God's partner (Bible) why would I encumber myself with coverings and fabrics? Why not be naked and free?

At first, practicing naked made me feel vulnerable. Not so much now. I'm not afraid of being exposed on my own any more, and it's made me more willing to be vulnerable with others. I think that's great. That's been an unexpected benefit. This practice is, in my opinion, about stripping off the layers, and moving toward the essence of our own truth. It's a practice because as we remove layers, others have a way of showing up. Getting naked, getting dressed. Layers off, layers on. In the West we tend to start with the physical practice, and hopefully the other aspects of the practice become more accessible in time. So if I'm striving for this nirvana, this mind nakedness, why not bare it all? Sure is nice to be naked and free!

Om Namah Shivaya!
naked asanas by Vladimir Kalabin