What is exercising your ‘no’ muscle?
Your ‘no’ muscle is not tangible in the way that your biceps are. Your ‘no’ muscle is not really a muscle at all. Yet your ‘no’ muscle packs way more power than your rectus abdominis (abdominals). And it saves your energy, not dissipates it. How you exercise it is simply having the courage to say no when you need to.
I was reminded of value of this sometimes underused muscle the other day. My friend and colleague, Megan, is an enormously busy yoga teacher. Now she is a teacher trainer as well. On Saturday, she cancelled out on attending our yoga teachers’ monthly practise and breakfast. I’m sure she didn’t do it lightly. She simply needed to stay put and recharge her batteries. Hooray!
Years ago I attended a weekend seminar with an internationally acclaimed yoga teacher. He was known for a style of yoga that he ‘invented’. He travelled the world disseminating his brand. It wasn’t the smartest idea for me to take part in this workshop because I had advanced hip osteoarthritis at the time. But, I figured I knew enough to take care of myself.
During the course of a vigorous workout, this teacher directed us to do standing poses with a wide stance. At the risk of looking like a dunce or a rebel, I adopted a short distance to give me more stability and less discomfort. The teacher noticed my diminutive standing poses and came over to correct me. I had no time to tell him about my condition and just said, no, this distance is right for me.
He had six or seven acolyte-assitants correcting the students in what was a huge group of 150 people. I’ll be darned if I didn’t receive advice from most of them about how I needed to step out.
To stay in relationship with the teacher, when we had a break, I told him about my arthritic condition. He understood. But in this big workshop, I’m sure there was a percentage of students who needed to adapt their practice. It’s hard for students to do this unless they are encouraged to ‘read and listen’ to their bodies. And, to exercise their ‘no’ muscle when necessary.
Exercising your ‘no’ is all about self-care
American yoga teacher and writer, Judith Hanson Lasater, asks a pertinent question about how we generally operate in the world. She says, ‘What are we doing? We are doing everything!’ She means that we don’t want to miss out on anything. Another writer, Stephen Jenkinson, says as a society we have a competency addiction. We will keep on striving even when our health or relationships are threatened by overdoing.
Yoga teachers are in a good position to encourage students to be more in touch with their bodies and minds. We can do this by example and by the way we instruct. For instance, it’s really okay to not do everything all the time in class. It’s more than okay, it’s intelligent and intuitive.
It boils down to making self-care a priority. I would say that the majority of us need to practise caring for ourselves, over and above perfecting yoga poses. Exercising that little ‘no’ muscle can be the pathway to loving and connecting with ourselves. And by extension, with others and with the wide world.