February 20, 2013

Out of Bounds. ~ Amy Taylor

When I’m in adho mukha svanasana and a teacher approaches from behind, hooks her hands in my hip creases and pulls, all my internal alarms go off.

One of my best friends is also a counselor for our family.

Our town’s not that large and really competent mental health help doesn’t hang from the trees anywhere. My friend is highly ethical and she’s good at what she does.

She has a good sense of boundaries.

In a recent session, we discussed this very topic. She drew a circle for a person and then encircled the person with dashes to represent healthy boundaries.

Then she described how we can maintain those boundaries by being appropriately assertive—and how an aggressive person stabs right through those porous walls, leaving you sore and raw.

Somehow, I think this relates to the discussion about touch.

For me, healthy boundaries are essential. I startle easily. My heart leaps out of my chest, cartoon-style when I am anxious. I stop breathing.

In today’s lingo, you’d say I have sensory processing issues. I also pick up on the energy of others. Crowded grocery stores leave me frazzled and cranky.

My sensitivity fuels my writing but it can make real life seem full of land mines.

Once I received a massage as a gift.

I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I sensed that the therapist didn’t want to be there any more than I did. She clicked her tongue as she my kneaded my neck and shoulder muscles, asking how a yoga teacher could let herself get so tight. I’ve never gone back, although I feel guilty.

What’s wrong with me that I can’t enjoy a massage?

I know a little girl who lives on the opposite side of the boundary spectrum. She’s loose and floppy like a fish. During a recent savasana in classroom yoga, she rolled into me and started pounding on my shoulder. She was testing boundaries, seeking her own. Her teacher climbed over the sprawled little bodies and gently pried her off of me.

Before I left, this little girl asked if she could give me a hug. It was very good that she asked before barreling me over. That’s progress for her. Still, I heard myself say, “Next time.”

I didn’t want to be touched anymore. She had already violated my boundaries.

Again, I feel guilty.

What’s wrong with me that I don’t want a child’s hug?

It would have been better if I had been assertive and asked her to stay in her own space.

It would be even better if we had mats for the classroom.

Honestly, I would be happy in a world where we all sailed around glued to yoga mats, keeping our personal space—our own private islands as I call them in kids’ classes—intact.

I might invite you onto my island. But probably not.

It’s nothing personal. It’s a matter of boundaries.

When I’m in adho mukha svanasana and a teacher approaches from behind, hooks her hands in my hip creases and pulls, all my internal alarms go off.

My body perceives that as an aggressive action, a boundary violation.

I’ve had the same experience in savasana, waiting nervously to see whether or not the instructor will bring his body into my space to manipulate and massage me. With my eyes closed, I won’t know until it’s too late to prepare myself. So, I lie there tense, eyelids flickering, missing the chance to settle into that needed restoration.

Better adjustments (or assists), in my experience?

  • >> A gentle hand to the wrist in extended side angle or triangle
  • >> A spot in handstand, expected and requested
  • >> Anything from a partner who’s a peer rather than an authority figure

Best assists?

  • >> Words of encouragement
  • >> Verbalized and modeled cues
  • >> A teacher drawing near (when I’m upright and can see them approach) and conveying gentle guidance or concern when pain or emotions arise

While my boundaries may make me sound like a block of ice, I’m actually a hot, throbbing mess that needs a container.

In order to hold it together—and access the deep breath and concentration that allows yoga to work its integrating magic—I have to feel safe.

That’s why I need you to give me some space. Please stay outside my dotted line.

Then, maybe, I’ll be able to let you come a little closer.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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