Knowing Your Limits

Each month Body Comes to Mind hosts the Embodiment Lab (EL) where we explore topics that impact our personal resilience and wellbeing. These live, interactive sessions supplement our online courses . They provide a training ground for anyone interested in transforming react-ability into response-ability through the powerful tool of embodied awareness.

Following is an outline of what we experienced during the lab, including paraphrased quotes from participants.

"You can do anything, but not everything."

Knowing Your Limits

Do you know when you’ve had enough? Or better yet, are you aware that you are reaching your limit before you get out of balance and have gone beyond your tipping point?

Our positive thinking perspective tells us we can do it all. We are caring and compassionate, and find it difficult to turn away a request. But when we reach our limit, the world changes. Something snaps. The situation we could endure before is now intolerable. A relationship might get disrupted, the forces at work get out of whack, or you mentally or physically exhaust yourself.

This month we used the Embodiment Lab to explore the concept of limits. By knowing where your limits are and how you react to them, you open your options and become more skillful navigating under the pressure you’re facing. You can better see what you need, sense what others might need, and maintain your balance and playfulness, saving your energy for what really matters to you.

"It’s often hard to understand when I need to take it slow, and I realize too late (when I get very exhausted or sad) that I need a break."

Finding the Tipping Point

By playing with the edges of our physical standing balance, we discovered that we could become familiar with the signs of when we’ve reached a limit. Physically we found that muscle contraction and tension was common, that we might hold our breath and increase our focus the farther out of balance we were. Some of us had the automatic reaction of compensating with a leg or counterbalancing with our torso.

In order to know where our limits are, we must first explore them. The system’s reaction gives us our initial clue that we are getting close. We can sense the physical reaction and become aware also of what is happening to us emotionally or conceptually. How does it feel to get close to your limit? What kind of thoughts do you have?

It is not uncommon to have a wide variety of reactions doing the same exercise in our Embodiment Lab, and this month was no exception. Our reactions are generated by a complex interaction of input, from external to internal, cultural to developmental; from the present to the past to our expectations of the future. So where some of us experienced anxiety and nervousness at the tipping point, others felt curiosity, focus and a sense of playfulness. Some of us realized it was hard to feel what exactly was happening because the situation kept our head way too involved.

“Right before I reached the tipping point I moved from my body to my head!”

The outcome of these experiments is an awareness that we can apply to our daily lives. Do you recognize how your physical reaction, or what you’re feeling or thinking, shows up in the way you experience your limits? Like one of the participants, you might have a tendency to become a bit “heady” when getting close to reaching a limit. When we retract into our headspace without getting the rest of our system on board, we often lose our creativity and playfulness, cutting our connection with what lies beyond our own self-interest.

Stepping Out of Your Limit

When we find ourselves out of balance, sometimes we put effort into maintaining our balance and sometimes we take a step in order not to fall over. We played with both of these reactions in the Lab.

The outcomes of these simple practices always amaze us! For instance, when we played with taking a step when we met the tipping point, some of us felt utterly drained, irritated and unmotivated, while others became playful. For some the experience gave them room to experiment with their limit, knowing it was a safe place to explore, just sensing the motion and enjoying not being in control at that moment.

“When I tried to control the situation, to stop myself from stepping out, I expended a lot of energy. But when I allowed myself to step out, I felt more playful and it created energy!”

One participant had to force her way out of her limit, not wanting to relinquish control. But when she did, she found that it gave her a sense of being able to catch herself regardless of the situation. She felt safe, even if she didn’t exactly enjoy it.

We learned that by exploring where our limit is, sensing how our body reacts, then making a choice about what to do next, we had particular thoughts and emotions that accompanied the action. And this is often the case. When we take the time to really sense what is happening in our system, we notice a certain tendency we have. Pleasant or unpleasant, either way the awareness increases our ability to respond, rather than react. And when we’re under pressure, as we typically are when facing our limit, this is an invaluable skill.

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Staying on the Inner Edge of Your Limit

So what happens when we move toward our limit and make an effort not to step, but to maintain that edge? Well . . . many different things, it turns out!

Remember how one participant was annoyed by taking a step beyond the tipping point? That same participant realized that playing at the edge of the limit was a place of personal alignment:

“I tend not to seek out a place of comfort, but stretch myself . . . It takes more effort than stepping outside of my limit, but feels better. It also might explain why I often feel tired and like I don’t have enough energy to do all of the things I want to.”

It takes energy to come up against your limits. It can require a certain amount of tension, effort or skill, some of us realizing that by counterbalancing we could play the edge longer. The exercise also helped us to realize, however, that trying to avoid our limit altogether is also not a solution, because then we don’t know where it is.

Whatever our tendency and preference, it is often fruitful to play with the opposite. So those of us who find that being out of balance is kind of fun, and more preferable even that being in alignment, might experience what it’s like to be aligned or step out of our limit. We can use that stepping out to realize it’s time to adjust. You’ve reached your tipping point, now you need to do something else, something different, as one participant remarked. You could take some time to recharge or maybe find another job, change your routine.

Or the opposite, you typically find yourself stepping away when you become unbalanced. What would it be like to make a move within the situation, have a conversation or hold back when you want to take action?

Know Your Limit without Limiting Yourself

It is not whether or not we will come up against our limit. We will and we need to, if we’re exploring life’s edges at all. The question is: How often do we get to that tipping point and how will we navigate the situation? We know that going beyond our tipping point is tiring and can result in physical pain or emotional trauma. By becoming aware of how we react from an embodied perspective, and playing with altering those reactions, we can work toward softening in the face of our imbalance, being more compassionate with ourselves and others and having confidence that we won’t fall over.

“It’s refreshing to see limits from this perspective. I’ve had experience with limits and pain, while doing sports, for instance. But playing like this is safe. I can learn something and maybe next time not push it so far.”

Limits change, depending on how you feel, what kind of energy you have, your level of animation, as one participant noted. We discovered that regardless of how we are approaching our limit at any given time, by practicing in a safe environment we can build the skill to know what we need to do and when.

“When I was in my head I started to 'wobble'. When I focused on my belly, I could maintain a much more balanced stance without tension. I could stay within my limits without struggling against anything. I could explore my limits with playfulness.”

When your energy is low, you might try just going with the flow a bit more, not working so hard to maintain control over the situation. When you are feeling energized and balanced, perhaps you can explore the edge of your limit, putting up a counterbalance as you need. As participants put it at the end of the session: Try to make being on the limit playful! And try to understand them better.

Join us for next month’s Embodiment Lab, “Saying Yes to Saying No” on Thursday, October 20th

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