May 24, 2014

The Yoga of Limits. ~ Andrea Bussinger

Photo: Ian Bothwell

In my yoga practice lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about limits.

When we stretch in yoga, we feel our physical limits.

On the path of personal growth and mental health, we also feel our psychological limits. For example, realizing that we still feel fearful or blocked in certain areas, despite all the work we have done.

And finally, when we interact with others, we must decide how to approach their limits—should we challenge them, or just let them be?

Limits in interpersonal relationships often take the form of boundaries: boundaries around being touched, flirted with, or topics they simply wish not to discuss.

People who have been abused or traumatized may have triggers around things like sudden gestures or loud noises, and these become boundaries when we ask others not to do those things near us.

We all know it is polite to honor other people’s boundaries.

Yet some of us, particularly those with an awareness of the human potential for growth, find it difficult to refrain from challenging other people’s limits to (so we think) encourage their growth.

I think this often happens for me in my closest relationships, the ones in which I feel most vulnerable and needy, yet also know exactly how to push the other person’s buttons. But, I have also seen it happen in friend relationships.

The purpose of a relationship, whether it be romantic, therapeutic, or a friendship, is twofold: to support, and to challenge. Some people will ask for challenge from the get-go. They will say,

“If you see me doing such and such, I want you to tell me and I’ll work on it.”

But others ask for support in the form of not being challenged. They want us to steer way clear of their triggers and boundaries. This can come by way of avoiding challenging topics, preferring light-hearted conversations, or cringing (maybe even lashing out) in response to challenge.

Though it would be easy to tell ourselves that this person has “issues,” (especially if we feel hurt by their response,) it’s also an opportunity to practice respect. We never know what kind of pain this brings up for them. And while it is true that diving into pain can bring healing; it is also true that being overwhelmed with pain causes our nervous system to go into self-protection, which is not an easy stance from which to grow.

When we honor our physical limits in yoga, we give our muscles the chance to experience the delicate tension between shortening and lengthening. Eventually, they decide how far they want to go that day.

It’s that simple; we have so little control over it.

We hope that eventually our muscles will open—and usually they do. In the process, we are also learning how to surrender to an uncertain process, without imposing judgement about what it should or shouldn’t be.

It’s the same with honoring the boundaries and limits of those we care about.

Deep down, perhaps several layers down, everyone has a desire to grow and expand. By honoring their limits, we give people the opportunity to choose when growth is right for them, just the way we do to our muscles in yoga.

In this way, we choose to trust the part of them that seeks out growth and expansion, whether or not we fully believe it’s there. We are also willing to trust that person’s wisdom about what just isn’t right for her.

Focusing on oneself is, of course, helpful in this whole equation, since it helps us become aware of our reactions to other people’s limits.

Often, we are troubled by another person’s limits precisely because they are a mirror image of our own.

We need to practice compassion for our own limits as well, and sometimes that might mean avoiding someone or something that is too challenging at the moment. Taking time to rest or avoid challenge is part of growing new abilities and strengths, just like with physical exercise; constant improvement is unrealistic.

By honoring limits, we develop an inner willingness to be with the process. We also cultivate compassion for others in the journey which we all share.


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Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: Ian Bothwell/Flickr Creative Commons




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