What image comes to mind when you think about boundaries? Maybe you see something fixed, rigid and inflexible, like a fence keeping sheep inside a pen, a white line on the road or a moat safeguarding a fortress? Now think about the boundaries that you keep around your emotions, your energy and time, how does this image change? Where do your feelings start and finish, where is the separation between what you keep for yourself and what you give to others? What are healthy boundaries and how can we use yoga to create healthy boundaries for ourselves?
What are healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries do precisely what they say on the tin - keep us emotionally healthy and safe. For people who are naturally drawn to caring professions, emotional boundaries can become leaky, full of holes like a sponge and sometimes stretched beyond limits that it is a constant battle to keep the content inside. We can intuitively feel when a healthy boundary exists - when it feels right to say yes or no. That ickiness when we say yes but wish we said 'no not right now' is a heavy thought that repeats in our heads. In contrast, when a healthy boundary exists and is respected we feel empowered, content and joyful.
What is the difference between being nice and being kind?
Niceness and kindness are often used to describe the same thing - but take a moment to think about the real intent behind these actions. Niceness comes from a need to please - and the result can be self-centred. Niceness is largely dictated by what we think we 'should' do not what we would like to do. Being kind, on the other hand, allows us to act in the best interest of the other person. We genuinely want the other person to make progress towards their outcome. Kindness comes from a sense of love and compassion and at the same time, can respect our needs and the needs of the other person.
Are we helping or supporting other people?
For those of us drawn to caring roles in life, help can feel automatic, but, we do not always need to be the person to fulfil this role for everyone or every situation. By reacting instead of consciously acting, we can be filling a need to be needed instead of supporting the emotions of others. Helping someone can create a belief that the other person is not capable and we impose our beliefs on that person. In contrast, supporting another person includes a sense of non-attachment. Our opinion is not as important as a supporter. People who are supported feel empowered to help themselves and at the same time, we can protect and maintain our own healthy boundaries.
How can we ensure we act to meet our needs?
Boundaries will feel healthy when we don't compromise our own needs in place of other people's. Knowing our own needs is the perfect place to start. What are your vision for the bigger picture in life and the way you want to live it each day? What are the small things that will allow you to meet your daily needs? Keeping these central at the forefront of our minds can keep us focused on our needs, not always at the expense of other peoples but to ensure they are respected and maintained. Setting self-care as a priority and switching the to-do list to a ta-da list can nurture your soul and refocus efforts on your own happiness.
How does yoga help us to define our own boundaries?
The practice of yoga on and off the mat helps us to be more mindful of our own emotions and needs. With regular self-compassion practices, we can consciously identify when a boundary is crossed - if this boundary is repeatedly crossed we can identify patterns and solutions to address them. Yoga teaches us to honour our emotions and the use of them in the same way that we honour the use of our physical body. Knowing when our emotional energy needs calm and regeneration and when we have more energy to expend and share.
Creating yoga mantras to use in situations can also reassure us of being on the right path or trusting in our own decisions. So next time you are about to say yes - take a pause and think about your own needs, your boundaries and your emotions. Take a few moments to think of your own mantra that supports your vision - will this serve me, will this allow me to feel whole, will this bring me joy? Respect your own healthy boundaries as much as you respect other people's. Take conscious actions to be kind, loving and supportive to yourself and to the people around you.
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