Saying “Yes” to Saying “No”

Each month Body Comes to Mind hosts the Embodiment Lab where we explore topics that impact our personal resilience and well-being. These live, interactive sessions serve to supplement our online courses and to 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 be a good person with a kind heart and still say no.

The difficulty with saying no

Have you ever noticed how hard it can be just to say “No”? And it’s such a simple word!

But “no” is a challenge for a lot of us. This happens especially when we’re in high performance situations or in positions where it is our job to care for others, when we want to be seen as cooperative and caring. Under those circumstances it can feel as though saying “no” puts you in jeopardy or as though you aren’t doing your job right.

But as the “Yes”es keep piling up, you find yourself overloaded, working beyond your limit, and maybe even neglecting other things that are important to you: your family, your friends . . . yourself! Saying “yes” more than you can manage, or in situations where you really want to say “no,” will eventually take you out of balance; your integrity becomes compromised.

Saying “no” can be exactly what we need to care for ourselves and other people in our life! So how do you say “yes” to saying “no”? How can your system be comfortable with saying “no” in a way that works for you and, as a result, works for the other person? Saying “no” can actually open up communication, even though we think it might close things down. It’s a way to align with clarity and honesty. By saying “no” from a position of comfort and confidence, you save energy and maintain a calm headspace. You don’t feel the need to develop excuses, cover things up or figure out how to present yourself in order to maintain your status or be liked. Saying “no” is really important. As is saying “yes,” of course! But we have to know when to do what.

In this month’s Embodiment Lab we experimented with the way “no” takes shape in different locations in our system, and what it’s like to say “no” coming from a place of “yes.”

The Implications of Saying “No”

We began the lab in our heads, by sharing our thoughts about saying “no.” A lot of us feel as though we’ll upset or disappoint someone by saying “no,” or that it means we’re not a team player. Or maybe if we say “no” the other person won’t like us anymore. It can even mean that we’re a bad person. Our culture and gender also impacts our level of comfort with “no.” Across the board, though, we agreed that saying “no” was harder than saying “yes.”

Responding with a “no” means that I'm not a team player.


Settling In to the System

Each session begins with a short centering practice. By centering we get out of our head, where most of us spend a majority of our time, and sense our entire mind body system. We shift from our thinking self to our sensing self, and experience sensations and thoughts connected to different locations in our body. The more we practice this skill, the more readily we can tap into our ability to develop a measured response, rather than a hasty reaction to a situation. We are better able to navigate difficult situations — like our ability to say “no” — when we’re under pressure.


“No” from Three Centers

We have found it helpful to relate to our systems in terms of having three primary loci of control: the head, the heart and the hara, or gut. Each of those locations in our system have unique characteristics that can be distinguished from one another. The hara, located in the abdomen, below the belly button, is generally considered as the place from which our energy emanates with a calm and steady presence. The heart generates connection and passion, and the head, clarity and foresight.

We used the three centers as a vehicle for exploring “no” from different perspectives. By placing a hand on the belly, for instance, and sensing “no” from there, would it affect how we experience “no” in our system?

The hara “no,” we found, was generally grounded, serious, steady and honest. “Deep . . . Strong but friendly” one participant observed. “Powerful and determined,” remarked another.

When we moved up to the heart, the quality of “no” shifted into a softer expression, with more care and concern for the other. In general the heart location produced a lighter “no,” more related to connection.

I’m a gut thinker! I found the heart no softer, kinder, more compassionate. Whereas my gut was a definitive “No!”

Some of us recognized a more apologetic “no” when we approached it from the heart, as though we needed to excuse ourselves for saying “no,” beginning with “I’m sorry but . . .” And for some of us there was a sense of protecting ourselves when we expressed “no” from our heart, but for others, the heart centered “no” was about protecting the other person. So the same location resulted in opposite experiences! At some point during these monthly written reflections we convey the inevitable and profound observation that the embodied awareness outcomes are always unique to each individual. Profound because the implication is that the structure that Body Comes to Mind provides results in a custom-tailored “solution,” so to say. It is a personal experience that cannot be generalized. Each of us must take responsibility for what it is we need in order to fit into the world in the way that works best for us. And that cannot be duplicated!

The solution that will work best for you is unique to your circumstance. Your ability to tap into your embodied awareness provides you with your customized approach to face the challenges ahead of you.

Moving up to the head resulted in a variety of experiences, ranging from sensing this “no” as clear, sharp and pragmatic, to one that produced excuses and “fussy” reasoning. This “no” seemed generally more disconnected and, for some, the least convincing:

The “no” from my head seems to have the least strength. It’s not as convincing. It’s small and without emotion.

It generally seemed as though the head space “no” was less lively and energetic, whether that energy carried emotional connection or strength of spirit. We have observed that when we are frequently more heavily weighted in one of the three centers over the others, its innate strength is obscured. If we are too heady, for instance, the “no” might lack emotional connection or become overly explanatory without underlying conviction, and in that way, the clarity is lost.

Taking Advantage of your Resources

Are you typically a head thinker? A gut reaction decision maker? Someone who tends to connect and tend to others, perhaps considering their needs above your own? By developing a sense for what your habitual pattern is you can then practice shifting out of that space to develop a kind of “support system.” As one participant noted: “By using my gut I could enhance my heart ‘no’ or make my head ‘no’ bigger, stronger.” After discovering the differences between “no” from each of his three centers, another participant realized that information could be put to practical use:

I can figure out how to use this discovery: I could go to each of my centers and see how I feel.

In what situations could you imagine your different “no”s might be activated? If you open yourself up to saying “no,” can you imagine how your “no” might differ, depending on the situation? If you are having difficulty saying “no,” determine where your strongest “no” resides in your system and call that up when you need to.

In general, there was a sense that the “no” coming from the hara was connected to core values, that from the heart arising in times where connection and care was needed and the head, regarding tasks. Do you recognize this as well?

Often, when our system is expressing a “no,” we’re not listening. We override the message because we don’t trust it, or because it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. When we have to live with saying “yes” to a situation, either literally or figuratively, when we really mean “no,” it takes a toll on our system. We expend a lot of energy to keep our “no” below the surface. It can result in physical reactions perhaps too minor to sense outwardly. Our muscles contract or our heart rate increases. And over time these micro reactions and the emotions coupled with them build up in our system, or we have a general sense of unease or stress; our well-being is off balance.

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Saying “Yes” to “No”

So how can we increase our ability to say “no” in challenging situations? How can we refine our discernment so that we hear our own “no” and then have the skill to listen, gather our resources, and respond? Knowing that “yes” settles more comfortably in our systems in general, and that “yes” can automatically open our hearts and minds, we experimented with “yes.” We began by sensing “yes” in our system, taking that “yes” to our three centers, and then experiencing “no” in whatever form it arose, verbally or otherwise. And what we found was surprising for us all! We found that settling “yes” into our system before saying “no” from each of the three centers often markedly altered the outcome.

Just feeling “yes” to myself changed a lot. I felt less reactive to outside impulses. It was as though I had less need to protect myself. It gave me space. I became softer.

The “no” was more accepting and positive, when it came from the position of “yes.” One participant even remarked: “I didn’t think the exercise would make that much of a difference, but it really did!” For another participant, when she began with “yes” she no longer felt the need to protect herself. Starting with “yes” could even change the timing, though it was different for each of the locations: “From my gut time expanded. From my heart there was a pause and then a settling in, a relief. From my head the “no” was released more naturally.”

Though not all of us had such a definitive experience: “I didn’t feel much difference between them.” (Saying ‘yes’ before a ‘no’ or just saying ‘no.) Does this mean that the exercise didn’t “work”? Yes, if we are looking for a particular outcome. No, if we consider all information to be useful. Sometimes we simply don’t feel anything. That is due to a variety of conditions. It could be that we have numbed ourselves for protection. It could be that we are not used to sensing in to our system and so we need more practice. Or perhaps our state of mind that day or at that particular moment is just not open to it.

This we do know: the body mind system is always on board, whether we are aware of it or not. The nervous system has played a pivotal role in the longevity of our species and is far from taking a back seat. The body reacts before the mind realizes what’s going on. By engaging in practices that develop our embodied awareness and increase openness, the body mind connection becomes the vehicle for allowing us to do what we want to do in difficult situations.

Daily Practice

We discovered different ways to work with the saying “no” experiences we had. Many of us found that the exercise of saying “yes” to our “no” was an effective way to give ourselves permission to say no in a way that felt aligned. Some of us felt like we could practice using support from our hara in our “no” to give it strength. And some realized that the embodied awareness is a way of slowing down and considering where the “no” is coming from, which is something they could use in other ways as well. Other take away practices were:

I could see using this daily as a way to support my head “no” with my heart and my hara. By finding the middle path: practicing by starring in my head and then bringing my gut and heart into the conversation.

Our monthly lab is a place where we hone our skill of listening to our system. By increasing our ability to receive important information and practicing how to integrate that knowledge, the less energy we expend and the more we have available for engaging in ways that give us satisfaction and joy!

Increase your comfort level with saying “no” and discover your unique solution by bringing all of your resources on board!

Connect with us to learn more. Get guidance with your first steps toward embodied awareness and join us for next month’s Embodiment Lab, “Making Sense of Frustration” on Thursday, November 17th.

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