I am a pleaser. In both my personal and professional life I wear the hat of peacekeeper and diplomat. I smooth out wrinkly conversations, look for ( and often find) the win/win in squabbles, officiate peace treaties between my 6 year old twin daughters, and find great joy and satisfaction in choosing just the right words to communicate with a harmony of candor and care. I have also been known to avoid conflict, sometimes to a fault because speaking up, and saying no is hard. It sometimes feels selfish, or mean. I don’t know about you, but the little girl in me just wants to be accepted and equates saying no or letting someone else down with being loved less. The truth is, when I resist listening to the more grown up part of me-the part that knows better -and I make the choice to put myself and my needs last, I suffer. When I push past my own fatigue to go to a party as planned, I pay the price of exhaustion the next day. When I ignore my need for a day off and agree to a meeting to accommodate someone else's schedule, it sends an unconscious message that i’m less important and inner resentment and anger start to grow. Of course there is a time and place for doing for others even when it’s tough, and I think we all know that selfless acts provide their own reward. But when we find the power to say no when we really need it the most- we are actually saying yes to ourselves.
This month we have looked at how following your dreams and making more space for joy is necessary in leading a happy, healthy existence- and how taking good care of you is actually empowering, inspiring, and loving for others too! Setting strong boundaries is one more ingredient in the recipe for contentment. Just like all the other ways we can work on putting ourselves first- drawing mindful borders is good for everyone else in your life too.
The Yogi’s have know for thousands of years the importance of boundaries, and it’s apparent in every limb of yoga’s eightfold path. Asanas ( postures) create boundaries in our bodies through alignment-think keeping your knee over your ankle instead of your toes. As a result of this physical structure we experience an increase in both our capacity for strength and ease, and we protect ourselves from injury and unnecessary pain. Yogic philosophy teaches boundaries around how we treat both ourselves and others through the Yamas ( ethical restraints) and Niyamas ( personal observances). These teachings offer a structure for living by asking us to say no to stealing, harming, lying, excess, and greed, and to say yes to contentment, self study, self discipline, purity, and devotion to a higher power. Meditation strengthens the boundaries of our awareness by tethering our attention to mantras, bodily sensations, or the breath. Ayurveda, Yoga’s sister science of health, lifestyle, and self care, provides guidelines around the best time to eat, sleep, exercise, and meditate in order to go with our natural human physiology. This is all in the name of living a happier, more fulfilling life with a lot less suffering. According to the Yogis one of the primary causes of disease in both body and mind is ignoring our own intelligence- or in other words saying yes, when what we really want and NEED is to say no.
The great news is that coming to the mat strengthens our ability to know ourselves better by providing a way to slow down and tune in. In fact any experience that brings our attention to our bodies and breath brings us into the moment and turns up the volume to our internal voice. It’s the voice of wisdom and inner knowing. It’s the voice of awareness that shines the light on where we need boundaries the most. When we we know ourselves better it's easier to recognize the truth of how we are feeling that at a faster pace is pretty easy and convenient to ignore. Chances are that when we start to realize where we feel resistance, tightening, resentment, or anger is where we need to start saying no. In my experience, it’s the anticipation of saying no that’s way worse than just doing it. Plus the payoff is huge- Not only do we experience a deeper integrity with our own health and wellbeing, but it's great for everyone else in our lives too!
Setting clear boundaries is like handing our loved ones a road map to our hearts and souls. It takes the guess work out of how we want and need to be treated to be at our best.
Also when we start to say no, sometimes we are letting others off the hook. Haven’t you ever broken plans and it turned out your friend was relieved too? Who does it help to show up half-heartedly, annoyed, or with animosity because you're not really where you want to be? Honesty, over obligation, is the best policy- and that means first being honest with ourselves. So this holiday season- what is one small, manageable way that you can give yourself, and everyone else, the gift of saying no? Every time you do, it’s one step further down the path that leads you home.
3 Steps to Saying No:
Set aside time regular time ( daily, or weekly- as needed) to check in with your feelings. Ask yourself the hard questions you may have been avoiding; am I happy? Where and how could I be happier? If i’m unhappy- how could it not be so? Remember that where you feel discontent is often a place that needs attention and maybe where you need to start saying no.
Get support. Find a friend, a family member, a group, a coach, a mentor, or therapist that can help you stay accountable with what you want and need the most. Allow their care to be a reminder that prioritizing you usually makes everything else fall into place too.
Spit it out. Be assertive. Even though it’s hard, beating around the bush makes it harder. Even if you have to fake it till you make it- trust that you're strong no is also a resounding yes! Yes to self care, yes to stronger relationships, yes to a life built on the foundation of deep truths.