Naked Yoga, Breathwork, and Ecstatic Dance
Reading Time: 6 minutes
An ex-girlfriend once told me, “I’ll try anything once.”
I’ve embodied that philosophy over the last few years. On a pursuit of truth and meaning, I’ve experimented with dozens of practices designed to challenge my worldview, deepen my consciousness, and enhance the quality of my life.
In 2018, I wrote about how 12 of those practices have improved my life. Since then, I’ve continued to explore what life has to offer, uncovering a few new and unconventional practices along the way.
Below, I discuss my experience with those four practices – naked yoga, breathwork, sound healing, and ecstatic dance.
If you try any of these practices, keep in mind that your experience will be different from mine. It’s best to approach these types of activities with an open mind and no expectations. That way, you’ll be ready for whatever happens and not be disappointed.
Thanks to our culture’s discomfort with sex and the many unhealthy ways in which that discomfort manifests, millions of people have guilt about their bodies, desires, and sexual activities.
This situation is a societal bummer. Without a positive relationship with our body and a vibrant sex life, we’re not getting the most out of life.
Thankfully, brave and compassionate souls from around the world have created companies and experiences that allow people to cultivate healthier relationships with their bodies and sex.
One of these companies is Naked in Motion, which hosts fully nude yoga sessions to promote body-positivity. I stumbled across Naked in Motion while living in New York, and I decided to try it out to see how a naked yoga practice might benefit me or others.
I strolled from my apartment in Brooklyn to a small studio in Manhattan with a yoga mat and a slight grin on my face. Unsure if I had arrived at the right place, I turned to the two women on my left and asked if they were here for the “uh…naked yoga.” Thankfully, they were.
We walked into the studio without exchanging words. I quickly rolled out my mat and laid down. The instructor gave a 5-minute introduction to cover the purpose of the experience and the ground rules. She told us to get naked and return to our mats. And with that, the yoga began.
On the whole, I had a good experience. As a first-timer, it’s unsettling to go to an unfamiliar space with strangers and take off your clothes. It requires you to violate all of the safety rules you learned as a kid. But once you do your first downward dog, you begin to settle into the practice. From there, it’s like any yoga session. You move, breathe, and feel pretty good at the end.
If you want to develop a healthier relationship with your body, consider giving naked yoga a try.
Breathwork is an umbrella term for consciously working with your breath to influence your mental, emotional, and physical state.
I first experienced breathwork while living in a small beach town in Nicaragua. Without knowing anything about the practice, I joined 20 people in an art warehouse in the evening. After a brief demonstration of the breathing technique, we began.
As I lay on the floor in the darkness and began rapidly breathing to over-oxygenate my body, tribal beats filled the room. After five minutes, my hands and feet curled up and went numb. Fearing that something was going wrong, I slowed my breath. But listening to the intense inhales of the people around me gave me the courage to keep going despite feeling partially paralyzed.
After 15 to 20 minutes, I entered a remarkably clear state of consciousness. With my extremities paralyzed and my thinking clear, I explored the contents of my mind.
Calmly, I examined my life up to that point. I looked at the decisions that led me to an art warehouse in Nicaragua – leaving a five-year relationship, quitting my job to work remotely for a startup, traveling the world without a plan, and so on. I also drifted into the future, exploring what I wanted out of my career, relationships, and personal life.
As the breathwork ended, we reflected on the experience in a small circle. I felt an immense inner peace that included full acceptance of my past and clarity about my future.
If you’re going through something difficult or simply want more clarity in your life, breathwork might be worth a shot. Through a simple breathing technique, you can enter a quasi-psychedelic state that can be immensely clarifying and provide profound emotional releases.
After finding out that my mom committed suicide, I visited the city of Ubud in Bali. As the pain and chaos of losing my mom took my soul hostage, I confronted my demons. Instead of masking my pain, I explored its depth so that it wouldn’t crush me.
My inner journey led me to the Pyramids of Chi, a spiritual space that hosts sound healing sessions. I had never participated in a sound healing practice before, but it sounded like a potentially transformative experience, so I gave it a shot.
The practice began with a highly-ritualized intention-setting ceremony. There were incense, chants, and calls to nature. After the ritual, we went into one of the pyramids. The owner of the place sung us a beautiful song and then sent us to the second pyramid for the sound healing.
The second pyramid was a large space with instruments and beds scattered throughout. Upon entering, I followed my energy to one of the beds and laid down. Once we were all settled, sounds from gongs, drums, and other instruments began to fill the room with increasing intensity.
As the sounds and collective energy took over my body, I had two profound experiences.
The first experience began after about 20 minutes. In an overwhelming and penetrating way, I began to feel all the emotions surrounding the loss of my mom – pain, fear, sadness, guilt, devastation, disappointment, and compassion.
I wanted to resist these emotions, but I relaxed into them instead. Weirdly, this intense influx of emotions led me to feel an acute connection with the peaks and valleys of the human experience. For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt the infinite complexity, joy, pain, and beauty of the human experience.
Shortly after being consumed by the profundity of life, my consciousness began to escape my body. As I laid on the floor, my consciousness rose 10 feet above my body.
In this state, I calmly observed myself lying in pain on the floor. I began to grasp that I would have to navigate this difficult world without my mom, my source of strength. I understood how the tragedy of suicide could break even the strongest of souls. And for a brief moment, I felt genuine compassion for myself and the journey ahead.
In separating from my body and becoming a conscious observer of my existence, I gained perspective and strength. I knew that in time, I would be able to move forward and find joy again.
My experience at the Pyramids of Chi was ineffable. Words will always fall short. Something about the sounds and vibrations altered my state of consciousness in a profound and enduring way.
If you do any sound healing, your experience will be different. If you’re going through a difficult time and haven’t worked with sound previously, this practice may be what you need.
For most of my life, I’ve been anxious and uncomfortable on dance floors. While I can get in a groove from time to time, music tends to stimulate my brain, rather than my body. If only people could see the way my mind dances…
In 2018, I decided to confront my anxiety about dancing. In hopes of cultivating a healthier relationship with the practice, I directly challenged my belief that I “don’t like dancing.”
On a summer morning in New York, I ventured alone to an ecstatic dance class. Ecstatic dance is a judgment-free, free-for-all dance practice in which you express yourself through movement.
For one to two hours, you move to the beat of your own drum. You can stand still, sit down, flail your arms around, or do whatever you feel like doing. The idea is that you have a judgment-free space for you to move how you want to move, not how you feel like you should move.
My first class was fun and liberating. Not only was I able to have fun dancing in my own way, but I left the experience feeling energized, grateful, and connected with the other participants.
Since then, I’ve explored ecstatic dance in various cities around the world. Slowly, the anxiety and fear I carried around dancing began to fade, which is something I wrote about in more detail in What Burning Man Taught Me About Death, Dancing, and Intimacy.
The newfound lightness and joy I feel when dancing is well worth the effort of confronting my fears.