Question: I read your Frank Answer About Being Naked Before God. The example you give of naked prayer is a pretty full form of prayer with a lot of different body postures. I’m not sure how comfortable I am getting naked for meditation in the first place. Why would I want to be naked for prayer or meditation? But assuming I’d like to try it to discover whatever benefits it afford, it might take time just to get used to being naked without trying to do the full prayer office you provide. Can you give advice about naked meditation and offer a simple way of meditating and praying while naked?
Answer: In my Frank Answer About Being Naked Before God I gave an example of a prayer office based on the traditional liturgical Morning Prayer accompanied by body postures. Prayer, especially liturgical or ritual prayer, is different than meditation. Liturgical prayer is active while meditation is passive; prayer joins words and postures while meditation thrives in stillness and succeeds without words.
I’m also going out on a limb by experimenting with the use of the body naked in prayer and meditation and discerning what might be gained by this practice. Obviously, it is not necessary to be naked to pray or meditate. I also recognize that nakedness is a barrier to cross for most people in our society. (I’m not a nudist!) We live in a clothed society, so we’re not used to being naked even when alone other than when we bathe or shower.
Moreover, many men and women in our society have a low body image and low self-esteem. The two go together because, as the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty and phenomenologists have proposed, we don’t just have a body, we are a body—a body with a mind and a soul, to be sure, but not a body that is just a container for the soul, as Plato taught, or an appendage to the mind, as Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) implied. Apart from its dalliances with Neo-Platonism in late antiquity, Christianity has taught a unity of body and soul. And modern neuroscience speaks of an embodied mind. Modern psychology has come to see that what affects the body affects the mind (and the soul, I would add).
In the light of these understandings, we recognize ourselves as embodied beings. We cannot be in touch with ourselves, much less with others or with the world or with God, unless we are in touch with our bodies. We may want to achieve more awareness of ourselves in relationship to others, to the world, and God by use of mental processes. But the mind is part of the body. We may want to purify our souls from the compromises and corruptions of our engagements with the world, but the soul (who we essentially are) is affected by the experiences of the body. We cannot come to terms with our being and existence apart from coming to terms with our body. If we are naked, consciousness of our bodily selves is unavoidable. Since we are a body, if we have a poor body image we will definitely have a poor self-image.
What contributes to a poor body image? Here’s where the world comes into play. Poor body image occurs when the body is disparaged by oneself or by others. The body is disparaged for not measuring up to ideal representations of the body in our culture. If the ideal representation is that of a healthy youth, then realities like aging, physical disfigurements, being over weight or too skinny, being too small or or too tall, etc., can inevitably lead to a poor body image and cause body shame. And the easiest way to deal with that is to cover the body.
Of course, clothing is how we cover the body for warmth, for protection, for social modesty, or for festivity (getting dressed up for special occasions). Clothing is culturally conditioned, although we still have to make stylistic choices that say something about ourselves. Our clothing choices express the way we want to present ourselves to others. In a sense we invent ourselves by the fashions we embrace.
But nakedness or nudity is our natural state. When naked, everything is exposed. Nakedness reinforces honesty—to ourselves, to others, and to God. This is why couples share more deeply with each other when they are naked than when they are clothed. This is why families and friends bond in the saunas of Finland and Sweden. This is why men and women often conduct business in public baths like in the Japanese and Korean spas. This is why holy men like the naga sadhus in India or Christian desert fathers meditated or prayed in a state of nakedness before God. Nakedness could help us come to terms with who we are.
Naked in the Presence of God
Some would say that it makes no difference whether we meditate clothed or unclothed because we are into our minds anyway. But our minds are not separate from our bodies. The naga sadhus (naked holy men) in India gave up wearing clothes as part of their project of renouncing all worldly encumbrances in order to focus on things eternal. The fact of being naked was a constant bodily reminder of their calling.
That cannot be the reason we would practice naked meditation in our world today. We don’t go around in a state of permanent nakedness. We wear clothes in public and might be naked only in private. Yet even in private many of us would find meditating in a state of nakedness to be a challenge because it is so out of our frame of reference since we live in a clothed society. We might even be ill-at-ease about being naked in private when we are focusing on being in the presence of God. But just so, sitting naked in meditation causes us to reflect on what we think about our bodies—that is, our selves—in relation to God and the worlds of which we are a part—the social world and the natural world.
In meditation, whether naked or clothed, we are exposing ourselves to God and to ourselves as we really are with all our shame and vulnerability. We are, after all, the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who transgressed the limits imposed on them and discovered that they were naked and ashamed. So they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid from God—and concealed their “private parts” from each other.
Vulnerability, Shame, and Honor
Precisely because we are clothed most of the time, and can fashion our identities by what we wear, nudity is often seen as making us vulnerable by exposing who and what we actually are. Meditating naked might be an opportunity to be honest about ourselves to ourselves and before the Holy One. In any event, being naked is a condition to notice and reflect on in the course of meditating while being naked.
Many cultures teach that nakedness is something to be ashamed of. In fact, being naked in public is often a form of punishment since it contributes to public humiliation. Floggings have been administered either on naked backs or on a totally naked body. Roman crucifixions hoisted totally naked bodies on crosses. But Jesus, who died stark naked on the cross, also shed his grave clothes when he rose from the dead with his glorious body.
The antithesis nakedness/clothing is a rich symbolism in many religions. In Christianity the body is an embodiment of honor as well as shame. Christians believe that Christ bore our shame on the cross and brought honor to the human body by being incarnated in a human body and rising bodily from the dead. Ancient Christians practiced nude baptisms because Baptism was a sacramental means of dying and rising with Christ. Candidates shed their old clothing and went naked into the font and put on a new white tunic when they emerged from the water. Christian martyrs who often were naked when they went to their deaths in the arenas regarded their public shame as an honor of witnessing to Christ.
God created us as bodily creatures; he pronounced his creation as “very good.” So, objectively considered, from a Biblical perspective we have nothing to be ashamed of. But if we have transgressed limits and have something to hide, we express that (as Adam and Eve did) by covering up. Ironically, clothing is more an expression of our shame as human beings than nudity is. But our cultural conditioning makes nudity a tremendous personal barrier for many of us to cross.
Loving Our Naked Self
If we are going to be naked before God and ourselves in meditation we need to accept and love our bodies as they are. This isn’t easy because we live in a media-driven age and are constantly exposed to models that present ideal images of the human body for consumerist purposes. So we need to recognize that few of us will look like the models whose photos in magazines and on computer screens have had all blemishes removed. Most of them also work very hard by means of exercise and diets to keep themselves in good shape. Maintaining their bodies is as much the work of models as being in front of the camera and knowing how to pose. But that’s not most of us. And even though we may try to get adequate exercise and eat a healthy diet, we have other things to do that occupy our time and we’re not likely to develop model bodies.
Second, we may need to become more comfortable being naked, which means practicing being naked more often (not just when taking a shower or changing clothes). One would think that people get naked to have sex, but that’s not always the case. Spouses or partners should spend time being naked for each other or with each other. You could practice sleeping naked with your significant other—or by yourself if you are single. There are actual health benefits to sleeping naked, such as keeping the body cooler, allowing better circulation, and airing out our genitalia. Spend time just being naked in your house. Remain naked when you get up in the morning and make the coffee. Remain naked after your shower while cleaning up the bathroom and making your bed. In other words, just become comfortable being naked and start enjoying it. There can be something spiritual in just being naked before your God and being who you are. It might also be important to sometimes disassociate nakedness with sex, although not with sexuality.
How to Practice a Naked Meditation
Practicing a simple meditation while being completely naked can help us become more familiar with and accepting of our naked self. Here are some steps to follow to practice a form of naked meditation:
- As with all personal meditation, you need a time and place where you can dedicate yourself to meditating and not be interrupted or distracted. Don’t bring your cell phone or other electronic devices into your place of meditation. Some people use meditation music. But music can also become distracting. I recommend silence. But create a space for meditation by lighting a candle and placing a figurine or icon in a visible position.
- Take off all clothes and accessories before the meditation. Wearing a wrist watch will cause you to be distracted by looking at the time. Instead, set a timer for the length of time you want to meditate.
- Sit in a comfortable posture that isn’t going to irritate you if you sit for a long period of time. You might use a cushion or folded blanket to sit on with your legs crossed on the floor. The classic posture is lotus pose, but few of us are able to do that. Legs crossed is adequate, but with a straight back. Hands resting on your knees or thighs can allow your arms to prop yourself up. Palms facing up creates an arm rotation that helps you to sit up straight with shoulders back and chest (heart center) open. Open palms is also a gesture of openness. You could also sit with your back against a wall or in a chair. Note: if you are sitting with crossed legs, you need to change the cross occasionally.
- Begin with 5-10 minutes of deep, slow, even breathing until you feel more relaxed and centered in yourself. Pay attention to the sensations of your breathing and any other sensations you feel in your body. Make adjustments as necessary because you need to be comfortable.
- I would not bring any particular thought or idea to the meditation, at least not at first. Your mind has plenty of thoughts and ideas and these will come flooding in when you are quiet. Notice them. But if they become too disconcerting, return your focus to your breath. You might, however, toward the end of your time of meditation reflect on whatever feelings are prompted by being alone with yourself (and before God) in a state of nakedness.
- A benefit of meditation is clearing the mind of junk and creating a space in which the Holy Spirit can speak to us in stillness of our bodies and minds.
- Naked meditation could be done as an alternative to regular clothed meditation, and probably not on cold days.
If possible, try sitting naked on the ground outside rather than on a cushion or blanket. Having your naked butt on the ground can be tricky (rough surface) or itchy (grass). Maybe there’s a rock or sand to sit on or a shallow pool of water to sit in. Obviously, you want a secluded place. The benefit of this is to connect with the earth since the same material that is in the earth is in our body. The outdoor setting might provide a pleasant natural surrounding for our meditation. Also, the earth is an electromagnetic field that can charge the electrons in our body and replenish our energy. If you can’t find a suitable place for a full naked outdoor meditation, try a barefoot walking meditation across a grassy field or along a beach. See Frank Answers About Walking Meditation.
Alone or Together
Here is a tough issue. It’s usually helpful to have a partner or others to meditate or pray with. It keeps us more disciplined to meditate or pray with others. Spouses or partners could meditate together, but one of the spouses or partners might not be interested in meditation or might resist being naked in this way. So might you have friends who practice meditation (probably people of the same sex) who would be willing to get together for joint meditation? You would have to discern how comfortable they are with nakedness. If you have tried naked meditation first, you could share your experience with trusted friends and see where the conversation goes. Would they allow you to meditate naked even if they don’t?
Yoga classes often provide meditation time. A naked yoga class might provide an opportunity for naked meditation.
If you have a friend you have been naked with in the gym locker room and steam sauna, it wouldn’t seem so strange to sit naked with that person in meditation. I have been to the Korean Spa in our area with Korean graduate students/pastors and we’ve sat together naked in the pools having theological conversations. It should be possible to sit together naked in meditation. There are also retreats at which nudity is practiced and group meditation might be included.
A Personal Practice: Add Yoga
Having written this article in response to a question, I have to own up to the fact that I’m more comfortable with ritual prayer than with meditation. My personal experience of meditation has come with yoga practice. So I have found it more helpful to add in a yoga vinyasa (asana flow) with the meditation—especially since in the morning my body needs stretching after sleeping through the night. My practice is to sit (naked) for about 5 minutes regulating breathing. Then I move onto my hands and knees in table pose for cat and cow stretches. Then into child pose—also moving in child pose to the right and to the left sides of the mat for side stretches. Then from child pose moved forward onto belly into cobra. With inhale and exhales move up and down three times in low cobra and once in high cobra or upward dog. Then into downward dog. Then into pigeon on one side. Back into downward dog. Into pigeon on the other side. Back into downward dog to standing. I do a half sun salute three times (for the Holy Trinity). Then I squat on the floor and lay on my back. In extended bridge pose I raise arms overhead and lift my pelvis up and down three times and conclude with happy baby and a brief savasana. All this takes about ten minutes, but it awakens my body. You might have other stretches and movements. But it helps to awaken the body and mind before engaging in a few minutes of meditation.
It would be helpful if readers have experiences of naked meditation to share and would post them in the comments section.
Pastor Frank Senn