Navigating Change: The Benefits of Boundaries and Japa August 22, 2018 11:23


 Just as the pericardium is a natural boundary that protects and stabilizes the heart in the human body, a regular japa practice can offer stability for practitioners, and it can also reinforce the importance of establishing healthy boundaries in life.

On a mala, the knots represent the challenges or obstacles, and the beads represent the beautiful aspects or treasures of life. On some level, the mala itself is a metaphorical boundary, and the japa practice symbolizes the importance of setting healthy boundaries. The beads and knots are bound together, sharing space on a single cord or sutra. If boundaries are too tight and rigid, they are confining and stifling—the beads crack and break under the pressure. If the boundaries are too loose, or porous, the beads slip, or worse, the cord snaps and beads scatter. Either way, the practitioner loses touch with the benefits of the practice if his/her boundaries are out of whack.

 “Our boundaries are the truest measure of how we love ourselves.”  Wendy Strgar

My life was significantly more tumultuous and stressful before I practiced meditation.  When I was in my twenties, long before I discovered japa, meditation, and movement practices, I taught English at a very large high school in Indianapolis. In the beginning, the job, while rewarding, was also demanding, stressful, and at times, overwhelming.  As time passed, the expectations, demands, and responsibilities steadily increased. I was dedicating more and more of my time and effort to my students, and less and less to myself and to my family. By the time I was in my mid-forties, I was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and had reached the point of burnout.  I had been giving too much, and I wasn’t honoring my own boundaries. I knew that if something didn’t change, I was dangerously close to manifesting a serious illness.

“Setting a boundary is equivalent to letting go of the outcome in any situation.”     Martha Beck

In 2007, I had an opportunity to teach at a much smaller, dual-credit high school in the same district. I gratefully accepted this new position, and I also made a promise to myself (setting a boundary): if I started to feel the slightest twinge of burnout, that ache of overdoing and over striving, I wouldn’t hesitate to make a career change. I had options. I could serve in another capacity, and that would be OK. I wasn’t practicing meditation or japa yet, but I was learning to honor my own boundaries. I was listening to my heart, and, as a result, I started to find balance in my life and enjoyed teaching again.

“To thine own boundary-defined self be true.” William Shakespeare (with a slight addition)

The leap occurred six years later. At this time, in addition to a full-time teaching gig, I was practicing yoga regularly, and I was also beginning to explore meditation and japa. I’m not sure if my personal practices were the catalysts for change, or if I was simply honoring a boundary and promise that I had made six years prior. Those old feelings of fatigue, stress, and overwhelm started to resurface, so I quit teaching full-time, started tutoring part-time, and I also taught a few yoga classes at a local studio.

“When you can be a loving presence for yourself, you will draw more love into your life.”     Martha Beck

What I discovered through these practices was the importance of listening to my own heart and establishing clear personal boundaries. Coming to this practice allowed me to come back to myself.  My japa practice has been a steady, reliable constant, a trustworthy friend, which allowed me to shift and move gracefully though life’s inevitable changes.

 I’ve noticed that my life is changing more rapidly now, but I’m not daunted or overwhelmed by these changes. On the contrary, I look forward to future opportunities, and I’m less prone to endure and tolerate situations and circumstances that are not a good fit for me. I’m finding that I’m able to recognize and release toxic people, places, and situations much more quickly than I used to. I’m also discovering new practices that complement and enhance what I’m already doing. For example, I’ve recently moved beyond teaching yoga in a public studio. I’m finding that incorporating somatic meditation and alternative movement modalities in a private setting is much more satisfying and authentic to me.

One of the unexpected side effects of a consistent, daily japa practice is it has helped me learn to establish and honor my own personal boundaries.  As a result, I continue to listen to my heart and enjoy the heart of my practices…and my life.