The world goes on turning and with summer’s arrival we’re navigating these new realities with weekly updates and shifts. Personally, I’ve seen a lot of yoga studios opening up to host outdoor-only yoga classes — some even at teacher’s homes. After all those weeks (or months, for some of us) in isolation, moving on your mat in the comfort of your favorite teacher’s backyard or porch probably feels like the most blissful retreat (even if you’re only there for an hour).
With outdoor yoga classes being the best option for most parts of the country while we wait for the go-ahead for studios to re-open (which, let’s be honest, might be another year or so), it’s best to not take these for granted. Come Autumn and Winter, those outdoor classes won’t feel so welcoming and cozy unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere sans-seasons. Still, it might feel a bit funny to gather with others and not wear a mask the entire time.
This is where boundaries come into play. We’ve known them since we were children on the playground learning not to throw dirt at another kid and not to stand so close to new friends for the sake of personal space. I don’t expect you’re throwing dirt at any of your fellow yogis, but the personal space bit rings true. When building new boundaries and habits in how we move through the world, time is necessary. Be patient and kind to yourself as you learn what your needs are in these new paradigms. Call in some grace while navigating new spaces and hone in on the warrior heart (we’ve all got it) within so you can use your voice to establish boundaries as needed.
Finding Your Boundaries
Here are a few questions you might sit with when exploring and building your new boundaries:
- How does leaving your house feel right now?
- How does wearing a mask when outside make you feel? Safe? Anxious? Unbothered?
- How does wearing a mask during yoga/movement practices make you feel? Constricted? Unbothered? Safe?
- Do you feel secure enough in your boundaries to openly share them with others, especially those who are pushing your boundaries?
- What are your boundaries right now? Write them down as clearly as possible. This way, if the time comes that you need to voice them to someone else, you can already have the words in mind.
Think of this as a preparatory practice — the same way you practice meditation or asana — so that you can fine-tune these methods. They’re new and we’re all beginners in the world of social distancing and COVID. While it might feel like it has been around for ages, we’re just at the beginning phase. Mind yourself, mind your boundaries, and respect the same of others. Show up as best as you can, and if that means staying home and finding those tried & true Zoom classes to log onto, then do just that.
Hanging in the Balance
Everyone’s boundaries are going to look different. Some people might continue social distancing and hanging only with roommates/family members until the fog that is COVID clears. Other folks might be cool with an intimate summer BBQ situation, but not a yoga class. To each their own, as always. Unless someone is breaking your boundaries and disrespecting what you have put in place for yourself, do your best to practice non-judgement. You can control you and no one else (except your kiddos & pets if you’ve got ‘em).
Release control. While you can voice your discomforts, other people’s reactions are not yours to control.
With that, have no expectations from others. Expectations lead to disappointment some of the time, and who wants that? While you should feel comfortable and secure in voicing any discomforts you might feel if you’re in an outdoor class or something similar, speak without expecting anything in return. If a person reciprocates or responds in a positive way, in that they honor your request or voiced boundary, then great! If not, you did what you could.
Where do you go from there, though? If someone fails to respect your boundaries after you’ve voiced them, practice self-compassion. How can you care for yourself in that moment? Is it possible to remove yourself from the situation or space? Stepping away is not a sign of failure. Rather, it’s a sign that you are awake and aware enough within your own being to prioritize protecting yourself over pleasing another or fitting into the group. Now is definitely not the time to fall in line with peer pressure. Embrace your boundaries — no matter how quirky they might be — because they are yours and they deserved to be honored during a time as strange and fragile as this.
If you’re out and about and get into an uncomfortable situation where boundaries are pushed or someone doesn’t show up as you’d like, utilize those yogic tools you have come to know. You might very well be in the middle of a flow class and find yourself worrying about someone who feels a smidge too close to your mat. What can you control? Your breath. Breathe. Pause. Step back. If you need to move your mat or step away from the class for a bit, do just that. But first, breathe. Focus on something that grounds your vision and steadies your gaze. Let your lungs fill with fresh air. Stop moving if you need to and find stillness. When you’re settled and have released worrisome thoughts, return to the present and move onward from there.
Beyond yoga classes you might be attending, you can implement simple breathwork — natural and flowing — while out and about in the shops. Five breaths — inhale, exhale — for five seconds in and five seconds out is enough to regulate the nervous system, especially if you feel that fight or flight has been triggered. With all the news headlines and neighborhood gossip sessions escalating about who’s doing what and going where, our fight or flight instincts have been pushed into overdrive. When you feel them kick into gear, breathe. Focus. Steady your gaze. And then, go onward from there.
With that, now is a stellar time to begin to notice your personal fight or flight response cues — physiological or psychological. For many, they appear first as bodily responses. Your heart might start racing. Your breath might become slower or more shallow. There might be a lump in your throat. Perhaps your body temperature rises or falls noticeably. In spaces of discomfort, you can witness these shifts. You can come to know yourself better. Then, you can rewire those neurological impulses and alter your fight or flight response so that it’s no longer in overdrive and only appears when really needed. It’s a necessary aspect of our human being-ness, but social media, social interactions, and COVID have pushed it into a rapid dance that isn’t necessary.
At the end of the day, this too shall pass. Until it does, though, and as regulations and social distancing guidelines evolve, now is the time to bring your breath, your yogic philosophy, and your witnessing of self into every moment of every day. It will only bring good into your days as you come to better know yourself and who you are in these strange times. We aren’t who we were in February or March of this year — none of us are — and learning how we’ve changed can be a deeply beneficial yogic practice right now, even if you aren’t enjoying those outdoor yoga classes from a nearby studio.
PSA: If you are going out into public - please please please wear your mask. It's a form of mutual respect, love, and compassion for those around you. Spread love - not Covid-19