When was the last time you did something outside of your comfort zone? Something so left field that you could feel your whole body sting with nerves.
As a person who is shy, often nervous and emotionally delicate, I’ve made it a goal to purposely put myself in uncomfortable and emotionally terrifying situations to help my personality evolve and increase my tolerance level for nerve-wracking situations.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of “Joy from Fear,” says this is a smart tactic.
“Research indicates that our brains thrive when we engage in new experiences,” says Dr. Manly. “Research also indicates that our physical and mental health improve when we engage in new challenges — the brain and psyche love being engaged in novel experiences even if they feel scary and intimidating at first.”
The list of my scary and novel experiences include doing stand-up comedy, taking a solo vacation to new cities, asking a rude boss for a giant, well-deserved raise, and even exposing all of my financial information (from how much money I make to how much debt I am in) to a complete stranger.
But none of these compare to the latest experience that I added to the list: naked yoga.
What is naked yoga — and would it be good for me?
I first heard about naked yoga from a friend of a friend. Over Sunday brunch, the person chatted about Naked in Motion, which hosts naked yoga sessions in New York City, Boston and Seattle.
“Totally and completely naked? Isn’t downward dog weird enough with clothes on?” I thought to myself, wondering who in the world would pay money to do this, while also secretly wondering if it would be the next new experience I would tackle myself.
The answer was yes.
But first, I had to do my research. I wanted to know why taking off your clothes with a group of strangers and dropping into warrior one was a “thing.”
“We offer you the opportunity to shed your clothing, and along with it, judgment about your appearance, limiting personal beliefs and critical self-talk,” the website claims.
Okay, so that’s a cause I can get behind. But would partaking (and overcoming the intense anxiety that was triggered by the thought of being butt naked in front of strangers) help me grow in some way? Forrest Talley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, explained why trying outrageous new things can be attractive — and even beneficial — to some people.
“Performing yoga in the buff will make most people anxious, and consequently, some people think that 'naked yoga' is a good way to free people from the self-doubts/anxiety that hold them back,” says Talley. “While there is no body of research to support this specific contention, it can be said that pushing back against that which makes us anxious is helpful because it strengthens our ability to break through barriers set up by other fears and press forward to achieve our goals. There is a wealth of research on anxiety disorders that support this.”
Manly agrees: “For those who enjoy nudity, naked yoga can be a wonderful way to explore yoga while also feeling free of the restrictions of clothing and body concern,” says Dr. Manly.” For those who are on the cusp of readiness for this type of novel yoga adventure — those who want to be a bit more comfortable with public nudity in a fairly controlled exercise environment — naked yoga may be the perfect way to push the envelope.”
I’m not someone who is even comfortable with nudity, let alone enjoys it. But I was swayed enough by the possible benefits to check my anxiety at the door and give it a try.
I tried it: stripping down naked in yoga class
I had only ever done yoga once before and spent the whole time wondering if people would judge me for not being able to touch my toes or balance on one leg. That anxiety was only compounded by the fact that my private parts would now also be hanging out, exposed.
When I arrived at the yoga studio in Manhattan where Naked in Motion rents a room, I was greeted by the instructor who led me, and five other women, downstairs to the studio.
While the studio offers classes open to all genders (as well as one for people of color and another for the LGBTQ+ community), I decided to take a class that was open to just trans women, cis women, and anyone assigned female at birth. I felt as though being surrounded by a group of people who identified as female was the best way for me to ease into this personal challenge.
The teacher dimmed the lights and cued us to undress.
I took three deep breaths and did so slowly, keeping my eyes focused on myself and my yoga mat. That’s where my gaze stayed throughout the rest of the class. The teacher, who also undressed, walked around the room speaking through the flows of the class.
Every so often I would look over to watch her demonstrate a yoga pose that I was unfamiliar with. Since I was in the back row of the class, I didn’t have a choice but to look straight ahead at the bodies in front of me. While it was weird at first to be surrounded by strangers in the nude, it was something I quickly realized was only weird because it’s not something we see very often. I never made eye contact with anyone and while I’m sure people took quick glances at my body, it was never done in an obvious or strange way. In fact, I never felt judged or self-conscious at all. Surprisingly, I felt the opposite.
Watching the muscles on my legs, the rising of my chest, the fat on my belly shift side-to-side, made me feel a deeper connection to the movement of my own body.
What I felt throughout the class was a growing appreciation for my body. We all have things about ourselves that we are self-conscious about, but watching the muscles on my legs, the rising of my chest, the fat on my belly shift side-to-side, made me feel a deeper connection to the movement of my body. I found myself smiling often throughout class, when watching myself move and flow, which is something I never get to do in a normal yoga class when my body is stuffed into tight yoga pants and a sports bra.
I was shocked that the class delivered on its promise to help quiet the negative self-talk that I so often hear running through my mind. After the initial shock of removing my clothing, the idea of being naked faded away and all I was focused on was the movement of my body.
When the class ended, we all get dressed and left. No one spoke or seemed to linger. The group of us who spent an hour naked together would go back into the world as strangers and I have to admit, I didn’t feel strange about it at all.
Stepping out of your comfort zone — but not your pants
For some, stripping down can feel far too imposing, even in a well-controlled environment, Manly says. “In such cases, the individual may suffer more harm (fear and anxiety) than benefit. Indeed, many people find a simple, fully clothed yoga class intimidating enough; for these folks, going naked would likely be far more detrimental than constructive.”
Denver-based psychotherapist, Brittany Bouffard, says that if doing something like naked yoga feels a bit too far from your comfort zone, it’s still possible to reap similar benefits with a less drastic activity.
“Ask yourself what areas in life you are ready to expand and have more fun in, or an insecurity that could use attention,” says Bouffard. “If you’re at a place where you want to further embrace your body that you haven’t always considered good enough, maybe even wearing a fab, but revealing, swimsuit you love to the pool is enough. Or if you want to stretch your singledom skills, consider going to a concert, restaurant or festival solo; meet others and own your you-ness. You can grow your confidence and comfort at work by speaking up in that meeting or strongly taking on a project you want. Find where you seek more evidence of your [being] enough and see how you can safely take it to the next level — a challenge with self-compassion.”
That’s exactly what naked yoga did for me. It restored my self-confidence, my inner love for who I am, and my outer love for all my body's curves, crevices and cellulite. Would I do it again? I already signed up for a class next month.
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