How to set boundaries that better serve yourself AND others

Man flies over landscape / cityscape on a swing.

Exploring Boundaries, Building Bridges: A conversation with Farah Nazarali, non-violent communication expert


How should we complain, offer criticism, express disappointment, or demand action within a yoga community? It’s awkward, and conflicts with common notions about yoga. These are some of the questions we’re posing at our upcoming conference: Exploring Boundaries, Building Bridges: Connecting Yoga, community, and self.

That’s why we booked our friend Farah Nazarali to facilitate a workshop on setting boundaries, assertively and compassionately. For a hint of the wisdom Farah will share on May 25th, we asked her to reflect on what makes boundary setting so difficult. Here are her responses.


YO: How is setting boundaries part of maturing spiritually?

FN: Mature spiritual beings value themselves and have a healthy esteem. The word esteem means ‘to value’. As a culture, we have confused pride and arrogance with esteem. Pride and arrogance involve measuring ourselves as better than another; whereas esteem is valuing ourselves (our minds, our bodies, our spirit) as much as we value others. Valuing ourselves is the foundation of spiritual life – we value what we put into our minds, what we feed our bodies, and how to move in a way that maintains the health of the body. We value others so we are careful and kind in how we speak and behave towards all our relations.


When we value ourselves, we learn to say no when saying yes exhausts the body. We learn to go to bed early when we are tired even though our friend has invited us to a social event. We learn to ask for a time out when an argument gets heated and we start saying mean things to the person we love. We say no to our boss so we have time and energy to spend with our family. These are examples of what it means to value ourselves and set healthy boundaries.


YO: Why does setting boundaries sometimes feel unkind?

FN: Because we confuse a boundary with rejection. One way to ease how a boundary is received is to say no to the specific request and affirm and validate the relationship. For example, we say to a friend, “I can’t come to the party next week because I’m really exhausted and large group gatherings aren’t my thing. I’d like to spend some time with you though – can we make that happen?”


Also, setting boundaries can feel awkward because as a culture, we haven’t learned the skills nor the language of how to be assertive and kind at the same time. It is possible to be honest, authentic and truthful, and be kind and compassionate at the same time. The challenge is in changing our language and shifting perspective. Non-violent communication, conflict resolution skills, and yogic wisdom all teach these skills and I feel honored to share what I’ve learned from these paths with others who struggle with communication, conflict, and intimacy in relationships.


YO: How can we help others who are struggling, without crossing boundaries they may not be able to express?


FN: We can only be of service by obtaining consent first. Consent and permission are fundamental. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there is a set of vows called the Boddhissattva Vows. One of my favourites has to do with consent – before teaching (or offering any advice), ask for consent. I have tried to make it a practice to always ask people before I offer help or give my advice or opinion. This accords respect, dignity, and choice to the other person.


Building esteem

FN: The other way to be of service is to help people build esteem. We must believe that the person we are helping has the capacity and resiliency to overcome whatever challenge they are facing. We can do this by seeing the potential in others and reminding them of all their positive qualities. When we don’t believe in ourselves, the belief of others is our greatest asset. For me personally, my Guru holds me up to a higher version of myself than I ever thought possible and this makes it possible for me to grow into this person.


To learn more about setting healthy boundaries with compassion, attend Farah’s workshop as part of the Exploring Boundaries, Building Bridges conference May 25 in Vancouver.


Farah Nazarali is a yoga teacher, podcast producer, and communication coach. Farah is a pioneer in integrating conflict resolution skills with yogic practices and Buddhist wisdom.  She has studied classical yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Non-Violent Communication and is currently enrolled in the Certificate Program in Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute.

As founder of Drishti Point Yoga Podcasts Farah has spent hundreds of hours interviewing and studying with Master Teachers. She currently leads Retreats on Bowen Island, Salt Spring Island, Hollyhock, and in the tropical paradise of Costa Rica. When she’s not in a Retreat or teaching, Farah is the podcast host of In Conversation: The Podcast of Banyen Books and Sound.


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