Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is say no.
This morning, after two-and-a-half-years teaching my 8:30 a.m. peaceful yoga class, I slept in. Another lovely teacher took over my class after I realized earlier this month that I had to let it go.
Giving up the class was bittersweet. Even though I knew it was time, I still felt a self-imposed obligation to keep teaching. After all, the class has been an integral part of my routine and I’ve loved being a part of my students’ lives.
But I had to let it go because, without realizing it, my life lately had become more about what I was doing than who I was becoming in the doing.
Simply put, my busy September schedule wasn’t leaving me enough time to recharge. When I did get a free hour (not often), I found myself sitting on my couch, staring at the wall and/or Willow, feeling guilty that I was doing nothing.
I was burned out. Fried. I found myself using the “But I don’t have time!” excuse that I wrote about last week. All of those strategies? I developed them over the past month as a way to deal with my own busy.
But they were just a band aid; something had to give. And that meant reclaiming my early Sunday morning.
Why your ‘no’ is really a ‘yes’
As much as I believe in saying “yes” in life, there’s also a place for saying “no.” Some of us (ahem, 2-year-olds) are much better than others at using this word.
Frankly, the word would be 100% easier to say if we recognized this simple truth:
Saying no is sometimes the best way to say yes. (click to tweet that!)
Yogic philosophy emphasizes learning to love what is. But sometimes “what is” isn’t healthy. Not saying “no” can lead to staying in an abusive relationship, a dead-end job, depression and, well, any negative situation you’d rather not be in.
And this is where one of my favorite Hindu deities steps in.
Ganesha, one of the most well-known Hindu deities—probably because he’s got a memorable elephant head—is called the remover of obstacles.
But there’s a flip side to Ganesha. He not only removes obstacles in our path, but also embodies a new way of thinking about our barriers: that maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason why a door closes and remains closed, even though we really want to keep it open.
The trick is discerning when “obstacles” may actually be blessings in disguise. One of the best ways to figure this out is by starting at the physical: your body on your yoga mat.
When your body says “no” you have no choice but to cooperate or risk injury. Ask yourself these three questions during your practice to get beyond the body and into the mind.
- What can and can’t I do today? Why?
Maybe you had surgery or are just getting back into a regular practice. Maybe you simply stubbed your toe. Get curious and find out why some of the postures seem more accessible than others.
- What thoughts are keeping me from doing this pose physically?
For example, fear often arises when you think of inverting into a handstand even if you know you’re strong enough to do it. Or, are you failing to see the flexibility you’re because you’ve “never been the flexible type?” (Yeah, I wasn’t either until I practiced yoga!)
- How have I really been feeling overall today/this week/this month?
Quiet time on your mat allows you to scan your physical body and also spend some time connecting the dots in your life. If you’ve been saying “yes” to so many opportunities and people, you may find yourself in child’s pose a lot during your practice.
When to say ‘no’ to yourself
Of course, the real work of saying “no” begins when we step off the yoga mat.
To say “yes” to life you have to stand up for yourself and say “no” once in a while—not only to others, but to yourself. Start with this list of non-negotiable “no’s.”
- When you allow others’ emotions and moods to take away your happy. Start by not taking anything personally, one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements.
- When you need to make room for the stuff that feeds your soul: your meditation and yoga practice, getting a massage, taking a retreat, getting together with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
- When fear is the only reason why you’re not living your best life.
- When you find yourself complaining about (fill in the blank) to everyone around you—perhaps so much so that they point it out to you.
- When you know you’re not living your truth.
- When you can’t recall the last time you had a moment to relax.
If you’re living any of the above examples, it’s time for a change.
Start by saying “no” to not caring about yourself or taking care of yourself. Your life, no matter who is in it, starts with you.
And you matter very much. Yes, you do.
No to yes: Vashistasana, Side Plank Pose
Vashistasana or Side Plank Pose is commonly met with resistance in the body and mind. It requires core and shoulder strength and stability in its full expression, so it’s no wonder this one gets a few groans when I teach it in class.
But this pose can also be modified so that your knee can support your hips, prepping you to fly high and turn a previous mental “no” into a “heck yes!” This pose can feel beautifully expressive if you gather up the breath into your heart and let it fuel your fingertips to your toes.
Try one of these versions, based on your body’s current abilities.
Side Plank with lifted leg
- Come into upper plank position, stacking your hands under your shoulders. Step the feet together and bring your left palm to the center of the mat.
- Bring your right hand to your hip and roll onto the pinky toe edge of your left leg, stacking your right foot on top. Keep the feet flexed and rotate your torso upward.
- On an inhale, extend your right hand to the ceiling and lift out of your left shoulder, arching your hips up toward the ceiling.
- If steady, begin to lift the right leg high, flying with four to six smooth inhalations and exhalations.
- Lower your leg and right arm back to upper plank. Drop to your knees and take child’s pose to rest the wrists before moving to the opposite side.
Side Plank with knee on the mat
- Come to upper plank position, stacking your hands under your shoulders, and drop to your knees. Align your left knee and left palm and plant top of your left foot and toes onto the mat.
- Extend your right leg straight behind you, toes facing to the right and foot planted so that the arch lines up with the left toes.
- Bring your right hand to your hip and rotate your torso to the side. On an inhale, extend the right arm upward. Lift out of your left shoulder and knee, staying rooted and strong through the right foot.
- Stay for six deep breaths before returning your right hand to the ground and coming back on to all fours. Take a few breaths in child’s pose to rest your wrists before moving to the opposite side.