If you want to have healthy boundaries with other people, it’s easier if you have them with yourself first. ~ Dr. Anna Kress
Growing up I had a lot of energy and naturally gravitated toward athletics. I ran cross country, track, and city races with my Dad. I also played volleyball, but gymnastics is what truly dominated my life for over a decade. Gymnasts are literally scored on who is most perfect. Straight legs aren’t enough. My teammates and I would spend hours pushing on our knees, bottoms on the floor with heels raised up a couple inches on a mat to hyper-extend our legs – to make our legs straighter! What is straighter than straight?! Between running and gymnastics I did a lot of damage to my body. Not only in obvious ways – a torn patella tendon, broken toes, shin splints, constant blisters on my hands and feet, bruises. I was also pounding on my joints constantly – doing damage to the future me. Perhaps most importantly, I was driving myself crazy striving to be perfect. I have never been good with boundaries, or easy on myself. I never allowed myself to accept second place, or to say “no”. Performing well is what I was good at – it made the people around me happy! Even when my body screamed for me to stop, my desire to please others said “Go! Go! Go!” I was trained to be straighter than straight and I would make it happen.
My determination to go beyond what is healthy is not reserved for sports. It bleeds in to my relationships, as well. In the same way I over extended myself physically, I also jumped through too many hoops for too many years for people that rarely did the same for me. I was a single Mom working two jobs and helping other people pay their bills; I was writing college papers for others and hadn’t completed my own degree; I was running around at all hours of the night driving my friends to work, and when my tire was flat all I heard was crickets. I have had to learn many lessons the hard way in my life. After years of this behavior my body revolted. I broke out in a full-body rash, I was constantly stressed, I didn’t sleep, I put on weight, and I was in pain. Mentally, I completely shut down and when, for the first time I had nothing left to give, I lost everyone. My friends disappeared. The man I spent six years taking care of didn’t even bother coming home.
I was driving home one day and passed a sign for yoga practices. Athletics has always been my comfort zone, so I decided to go. It would be a safe bet – of course I would be good at it! I could probably already hold tree pose with my background! When I showed up for my first class, it was not what I expected. I had hidden in the corner – always my favorite spot. Jodi started the class by reminding everyone that there were no expectations, no judgements. She said it was not a competition. Your practice was your practice, not your neighbor’s practice. Most importantly to me, she said to be kind to myself. In the moment she meant to my body, but I know now she meant across every area of my life. Thoughts, words and actions. The whole shebang.
After class I went home and cried on my bathroom floor for an hour. It was not a sad cry. To be honest, it wasn’t even a happy cry. It was a cry of relief. In one class I had started to learn it was okay to love myself just as I was, laying right there on the bathroom floor. It hit me that I was jumping through all these hoops for others when I needed to be loving myself. I pounded my body for years, when I should have been being kind to it – pushing it sometimes, yes, but also knowing when enough was enough and that rest is sometimes the best choice. I started to learn it is called practice for a reason.
Growing up, my Dad always told me to do my best with what I have, every day. I used to think that meant performing perfectly. I have practiced yoga for a few years now and although I am not magically cured, I know now that being good at yoga doesn’t mean being perfect or doing the most difficult move. It means I know I can choose to say “no” & take child’s pose if my body starts creaking. I am not a balanced person by nature, but yoga helps me find some balance where things used to be extreme. It grounds me. I may still be single, and not all those friends have shown back up, but I love myself. Through my yoga practice I found a tribe of people that love me, too. Yoga has helped me appreciate boundaries. Boundaries keep me safe and healthy – physically and mentally. Setting boundaries is me loving myself enough to know I don’t have to push too hard, damage my body, or jump through all those hoops to be loveable – to be the best version of me. Yoga has taught me that having boundaries means my legs can just be straight, they don’t have to be straighter than straight.
Originally published: November 30, 2019