I love interpersonal boundaries. They tell a story about our experiences. I can always sense when someone’s personal space is being encroached upon and will go to great lengths to maintain and restore that person’s confidence in their sense of security and safety. That’s my role as a yoga teacher. It has less to do with providing exercise than it does with providing my students an opportunity to explore their own boundaries, physical and mental.
Boundaries come in many forms. Some people don’t like to be touched. Some need a lot of alone time. Some don’t like to be addressed in certain ways. Some don’t like to be complimented. These are all valid boundaries that deserve to be respected.
I find myself, more often than not, having to turn around and grab the wrist of someone who has laid an uninvited hand upon me. People tend to mistake my amiable openness as a welcome to physical advances. This is more about that person’s lack of boundaries. And I’m happy to communicate where the boundaries are and aren’t.
Like geographical boundaries, interpersonal boundaries are largely invisible. What’s more, they are entirely fabricated because they usually derive from experiences we have in our lives in which our sense of safety or security are interrupted. I don’t like to call them walls because I don’t believe they are permanent structures. Boundaries are fluid and context is important.
However, the pressure is on each of us to both respect and communicate boundaries.
You don’t know what someone has been or is going through. Your words and actions toward them could potentially be triggering. Until you understand someone’s boundaries, you should respect the possibility that they exist on all levels. You should respect everyone’s space and time and body and feelings. If you knowingly stride past someone’s boundaries without their express permission, you are committing an act of violence.
This doesn’t mean walk on eggshells around people. It means be observant and use the best of your communication skills to inquire about someone’s needs. Not only does it save you from a dramatic incident, it shows that you truly care about another person. I find that the best relationships possess a sense of respect for each others’ boundaries and a sense of flexibility and forgiveness when they are unintentionally crossed.
Those of us with boundaries that we’re aware of also need to develop the skills to communicate our needs directly so that we feel safe and so that other people know how to address us. This doesn’t mean running around telling everyone you don’t like to be touched because you were sexually assaulted – you don’t owe that story to anyone. But it does mean forgiving others for their ignorance and gently educating them on the way you want to be treated. Honesty with others and with yourself is paramount.
Most of all, respect your own boundaries and be willing to be honest with yourself about them. This will help you to navigate the world in which we are constantly being tested. With patience and awareness, your own unhealthy boundaries will fall away and more opportunity for love and growth will come rushing in.
Stefan Piscitelli is the director of Outermost Yoga. When he’s not inspiring with his word, he’s bringing playful mindfulness to his classes, hitting the beach, and dodging tourists on his bicycle. Follow him on instagram and read more on his website.