You slip upstairs to the attic, before anyone else in the household is awake. You drop your pajama pants. You slough your top. Goosebumps prickle. You mount the stair machine and start to climb.
It began innocently. You were in a morning time crunch with just 15 minutes to spare, and thought: "Why put on workout clothes just to sweat them up? Every minute I spend dressing or undressing is one less minute of exercise. Simpler just to wear nothing."
But then, you learned the surprising sweetness of exercise unclad. Several minutes into your climb, just as your breathing is starting to deepen, you break your first sweat, on your scalp and forehead, just as you would in a public gym. But then, the difference: as the beads of fluid form all over your body — droplets on your wrists, your back, your chest, under any fold of skin — the air touching you cools them, making you feel them more.
You're exquisitely conscious of the first full-fledged drop that slithers down your midriff, tickling you as it goes. Then another, down your side, below your armpit: a sensitive swath, rarely touched.
You're breathing hard and deep now. You're past your warm-up, well into the thick of it. You've always failed at meditation, unable to keep your mind clear for even a minute. But you find that when you're pushing hard like this, it's easy to concentrate on nothing but your breath. The music is pounding loudly, and you're breathing along with its rhythm. You're sucking in air and puffing it out: breath on the beat. Breath on the beat. Thinking of nothing. Just breathing.
And now you're post-peak. You're easing up, catching your breath. You feel a droplet jiggle and then run down your lower back, into the dip of your coccyx. Multiple drops from beneath your armpits. Now is when the sweat flood comes, as you slow up.
You savor the ratcheting down, the return of your normal breathing. In the dimness, in the mirror across the room, you see your back sparkling, diamonds of liquid catching and reflecting the light. And you think, "That's beautiful."
Still not convinced? Let us enumerate points of persuasion. (And let us stipulate that not all of us have private enough places to indulge. Also, let us note that high-impact exercise may require bodily straps and supports to fight the physics of dangling and jiggling; but stairclimbing, recumbent biking, and many strength workout moves do not.)
1. Join the classical aesthetic tradition
Remember all those full-frontal muscular men on classical vases? Don't they reflect a custom of nude workouts and competitions? I asked Harvard's Emma Dench, professor of the Classics and of History. (Actually, I had a false memory that it was the Romans who did all that posing and prancing.) Her response:
The Romans got terribly worried about the idea of exercising in the nude (moral laxity/homosexuality), which they thought of as a very Greek custom. But the ancient Greeks indeed exercised and competed in the nude, enjoying a cult of the beautiful body that often has upper class connotations and that is also associated with male-male admiration and sensual or even outright sexual pleasures that were sometimes problematized. I don’t think they came up with any utilitarian explanation: I think it was rather an aesthetic ideal.
Obvious. According to family lore, a cousin of mine even moved to a nudist camp to avoid laundry.
3. Back to essentials
Here's what a Boston-based Meet-Up group for nude yoga, Skyclad Yoga Club, says:
This is a group for people who practice Yoga nude. We practice this way for many reasons. Some of us practice nude to distance ourselves from superficial contemporary ideas and values. Some seek a return to their most essential self. Others simply enjoy the company of friends and neighbors in a warm room practicing Yoga. It doesn't matter you are welcome to come which ever way.
4. Self-Inspection and Other Health Benefits
Recent headline from Parade Magazine: "Want A Long Life? Get Naked! And Six More Surprising Longevity Tips."
Parade featured an excerpt from "A Short Guide to a Long Life," a new book by Dr. David B. Agus, medical adviser to the Clintons and many other famous people, including this:
1. Get naked
We throw our clothes on and off daily, during which time we’re partially or wholly naked for a few seconds or minutes, and we spend quality time in the shower in our birthday suit. But when was the last time you took a good look at yourself butt naked in front of a mirror—front and back? You’d be surprised by how illuminating this exercise can be. You can spot trouble on the horizon in the form of body oddities that you didn’t have before and signs of skin cancer.
The skin acts as an indicator of the state of the entire body, and external skin discolorations, blemishes, lesions, rashes, blotches, or other unsightly marks can be signs of underlying internal disease. Once in a while, take a visual inventory of every square inch of yourself, including your hair, nails, and the inside of your mouth.
5. Alignment awareness
This from Boston-based personal trainer Kat Setzer, who writes the How To Be An Athlete roller derby blog (I figured anyone brave enough to skate with the Boston Derby Dames would be game enough to take on this topic):
Many folks know that working out barefoot can help improve balance, because your feet can stabilize against the floor without shoes' cushioning throwing your senses off. Similarly, ditching the workout clothes allows exercisers to get a better sense of their alignment in exercises, which can mean more gains from the workout.
6. Stretching and holding
Also from Kat:
Fewer clothing restrictions also allow for increased range of motion in movements and stretches. Even better, when you lose all the slimming panels from fancy workout pants and tops, you force your own muscles to learn to keep things pulled in on their own — which actually helps you stabilize your spine and hips. Win-win!
Many workout spots don't have mirrors, but if yours does, you may find it's quite a different experience to see your reflection while you're exercising instead of frozen in self-critical self-contemplation. You're too busy working to do your usual judging.
I asked Harvard-affiliated psychotherapist Jean Fain, author of "The Self-Compassion Diet," for her thoughts on looking in the mirror at our naked selves with compassion. Her response:
“Seeing yourself as you really are, and not how you might like to be, you are committing a deliberate act of self-kindness. You are actively appreciating how much more you are than the sum of your parts. Kindly seeing your body, your whole self, just as you are, it’s only a matter of time before you discover what research scientists have already discovered: that a little self-kindness and acceptance goes a long way toward feeling a lot more comfortable in your own skin. When you treat yourself with love and acceptance day after day, week after week, you can’t help but notice an appreciable difference: significantly less self-consciousness and body dissatisfaction, markedly more self-compassion and appreciation for this body of yours. Try it, you just might like it.”
8. Air everywhere feels good
Why is it fun to relieve yourself in the woods?
9. Sensual vs. sexual
My friend's meditation teacher advised her that as we get older, and our sex drives perhaps wane somewhat, it becomes ever more important to savor the sensual pleasures of life, whether cuddling or a great meal or the delicate scent of a daffodil. I asked Boston-based sex therapist Dr. Aline Zoldbrod, an enthusiastic proponent of sensuality, to comment:
Some people —- more than I would like there to be —- are terribly afraid of pleasurable sensations in their body. This fear of feeling, this sense that a body that feels sensation is out of control, can come from many sources, including puritanical cultural messages, one’s religious training, or growing up in a family where you learned to guard your body against emotional, violent, or sexual assaults. Pairing nudity with this exercise-induced, expansive feeling of energy streaming through your body is a powerful tonic for emotional health, sensuality, and sexuality. How liberating to be an agent of your own pleasure!
It’s pretty clear to me, from reading the research and from my clinical experience, that exercising in the nude will help increase sexual pleasure. I know, I know: realistically, people who feel free and uninhibited enough to actually exercise in the nude are a special group of people, who are already less self conscious about their bodies. But it’s a group many of us might want to strive to be in. Because exercising in the nude is likely to significantly reduce body self-consciousness in people who are struggling with it, and the research all finds that having a positive body image is associated with a more pleasurable sex life, particularly for women and homosexual men.
10: Sheer joy
It feels free. Why do you think toddlers run away when you try to dress them?
Readers, 'fess up. Do you dare try it? Have you? Did you like it?