Learning to Say NO as an Act of Self-Care

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Just like yoga, saying No is a practice unto itself 

I had my dream job. It encompassed everything that I had written down on a piece of paper a few years previously for what my ideal workday would look like. 

When I wrote it down, I didn’t even think it was possible–where could I find a management position with hiking, yoga, fitness, and nutrition all rolled up in one role? Yet, that is what came to fruition. 

I loved the people I worked with. My days were diverse even though the structure was the same week to week. The changes I helped facilitate in people over just a few days were awe-inspiring. We won awards and had rave reviews. 

That was the glossy side of my life. 

The Dark Side of the Dream Job

The flip slide was that I was working a minimum of 60 hours a week (but most were closer to 80). Sometimes I didn’t go home for a three-day stretch. I was regularly told by my supervisors that I wasn’t working hard enough. 

“If you don’t prioritize your life. Someone else will.” -Greg McKeon

They said I needed to do more. I needed every client to adore me. 

I was exhausted, barely saw anyone outside of work, and escaped to the movies on my day off for those two hours with no phone. 

On the day I gave my notice they asked if there was anything they could do to keep me. No, I said. I was done. I couldn’t keep up anymore. 

I was supposed to be an ideal of health and wellness and felt like a fraud because while I did appear to be in many ways, I wasn’t in the one way that really mattered. 

I was not taking care of myself. I was burned out.

Like many in the health and wellness industry, I had put others’ needs before my own. 

This is common amongst my peers. We aim to help people live their lives better. We know how much our skills can make an impact. Yet, we forget to practice them ourselves. 

I vowed to never do that again. 

The Problem With Not Saying No

Saying No can be hard. Especially for simple requests. Maybe the request will throw off a deadline, have us running, barely on time to pick up a child, or is something you just don’t want to do for whatever reason. 

Yet, we agree for simplicity or because we feel expected to. 

I genuinely like helping out and being a team player–it feels good. 

However, I’ve realized that always saying yes actually limited myself and others. By agreeing to work extra hours, I didn’t give myself the proper time to decompress or spend time with friends. 

It also didn’t allow others to step up and take on responsibility. Because I always said yes, I became the first and last person that was asked and eventually I found myself feeling resentful.

When you say No, you are actually saying Yes to yourself and your priorities. 

Sticking to your boundaries puts you in control of your time, and the energy that you give. 

This means if fitness is important, you don’t allow anything to interrupt your workout. Same with family dinnertime, or whatever your self-nourishing priorities are. 

Personally, I’m an introvert and if I have a busy teaching day, I need time to rejuvenate. Going to a massive party is not going to happen; a cup of coffee with a close friend may.

To change your relationship to the word No, explore the following practices in self-awareness.

Learn to Slow Down

As I learned when I attended one of the first Breath and Bliss Immersions, spending two full days lying around on a Coregeous® Ball breathing does wonders for the nervous system. At the time I attended this immersion, my parasympathetic nervous system needed so much love. I had no idea.

I felt more at peace. My anxiety decreased, which I didn’t realize that i even needed. My sleep was deeper and I woke more restful. 

NeuroTuneUp “Tune in” Practice
The following practice can help you slow down enough to feel how you’re really feeling, and make wise decisions for yourself.

Materials: a Coregeous® Ball with straw that comes with it or 2-3 cocktail/coffee stirrer straws.
Breath: take 10-20 breaths through the straws in each position. 

Focus on using the breath to flatten the Coregeous® Ball, bringing awareness into the muscles of that region. 

Step 1: Begin by lying on your back with the Coregeous® Ball between your shoulder blades.
(A blanket may be needed for support under your head.) 10-20 breaths through the straws.


Step 2: Repeat the same exercise, lying on the left side with the Coregeous® Ball on the side ribs below the armpit.
Knees bent and at about hip height. 10-20 breaths through the straws

Step 3: Next, from the side, roll the shoulders down toward the ground with the Coregeous® Ball located in the Upper Right Chest.
10-20 breaths through the straws.

Repeat 2 & 3 on the right side. 

Step 4: Roll onto the stomach with the Coregeous® Ball under the sternum.
Hands can be under the head to support it and the head can be turned to one side.
Switch the direction of the head partway through. 10-20 breaths through the straws

Now, take some time to tune in and answer the following questions for yourself.

Self-Inquiry on Saying “No”

Think about how you say “No” and how you feel doing it. 

Do you have a whole song and dance about how you would love to, but x, and y, and z, and then the dog, and the car? 

Or are you like a two-year-old and say “No” quickly with ease and determination

The best way is to give a firm no with a short reason and possibly suggest an alternative if appropriate. 

Examples of an effective “No”:

  • “That sounds like an amazing opportunity! Thank you for thinking of me. Right now I’m focused on this project and couldn’t give the time required. Did you talk to Rachel? She mentioned that she was looking for something like this.”
  • “I’d be happy to take on this time-sensitive project, but you also want to have the budget done by 5 pm. Would you rather have the budget done by tomorrow at 5 pm or pass along the project to someone else?”
  • “I’d love to bake my cupcakes for the bake sale, but I’m on a major time crunch right now. I can buy some from the bakery.” 
  • “I’m sorry, but I don’t take clients on the weekends. I do offer some late evening hours on Monday and Wednesday to accommodate a busy work week. Would an 8 pm time slot work?”

Is there anything happening in your life right now that you know you want to say No to? How might you do that?

To honor my need for No, I have turned down jobs that didn’t fit in with how I wanted to work. 

The logical part of me had me looking at my dwindling bank account wondering why I would turn down a good opportunity. But I haven’t regretted any of those decisions. Other opportunities came along, or I created new opportunities on my own terms. 

Giving myself time to think about the option, looking at my priority list and schedule, allowed me time to find the right answer. 

Saying YES to What You Love

The first thing I did after quitting my job was to travel, which fills my soul. 

I spent almost four weeks in South East Asia and two in Boston & New York. I pampered myself with massages, hiking, and exploration followed by connection with family and friends.

This may sound extreme and not like something we can do all the time. But we still need to carve out time for a passion. 

Whether it is a visit to an art museum, going to a lecture, enjoying a walk in the woods, taking a class on making jewelry, or whatever else lights you up, your soul will be nourished.

When we fill our own energy cup, we can better share that with others. 

At a minimum, set aside a few hours once a month, but aim for once a week. Block it off and make it a priority. It’s better to reschedule than cancel. 

I’ve definitely improved in saying “No” and in setting boundaries. Just recently, I dropped a class at a studio where I’ve been teaching for two years in order to rent a space that will provide more freedom to accomplish some of my goals. It’s scary, as I’m making a big leap, but it’s also tremendously exciting.

I’m not perfect though. I still catch myself making choices that don’t fit with where I want my life to go. And sometimes I wait too long to make a decision to make sure it feels right. Overall,  I feel much more confident in my life’s journey right now. For me, that is the best outcome.

Mental Health and Emotional Resiliency Resource Header art

This article is part of a larger discussion on Mental Health and Emotional Resiliency.

During the month of August we are sharing educational articles and interviews to help navigate the challenges and struggles brought forth from living amidst a pandemic.  Our intention for sharing this curated list is so that you may learn new skills (or revisit old ones) to take care of your nervous system and incorporate breath, movement and mindset practices to increase emotional resiliency.  We invite you to take what works, and allow the rest to fall away.

If you liked this article, we’ve curated a list of practical how-to’s, interviews, and more on mental health and emotional resiliency:

  • How to Raise Self Awareness by Meredith Amann 
    “The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates.   Many people agree awareness, like mindfulness, is a skill, but could it be our hidden super power?
  • The Secret to the Change You Crave Beth Damm 
    Words are not just tools for communication. Words have the power to uplift, unite, bless and transform, as you will see in the examples in this post. They can change your mindset.
  • Compassionate Insight: Shifting How We Define Resilience by Emily Pantolone
    Interested in building emotional resiliency?  Self-compassion may be the entry point to expanding your perspective.
  • How to Approach and Support Mental Health When You Aren’t A Therapist by Ariel Kiley
    Dr. Christopher Walling discusses mental health and the scope of practice for fitness, yoga and wellness teachers.
  • Why does it hurt? Demystifying pain. by Dinneen Viggiano 
    Do-at-home, no-equipment-needed, non-invasive therapeutic skills are indispensable for effectively managing stress, anxiety, exercise burnout, pain and more. Dinneen shares three self-care skills and accompanying practices to help you understand and transform your experience of pain.

Related ArticlePower Exercises for Inner Peace: A Conversation with Olympic Weightlifter Elizabeth Wipff and CrossFitter R.E. Lewis

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