Ayurveda for Building Healthy Emotional Boundaries

Kripalu School of Ayurveda

The word “boundary” means something that establishes a limit. But healthy emotional boundaries can do just the opposite—they can give us a sense of freedom, personal space, and empowerment. Like that old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors,” good boundaries can lay the foundation for positive relationships in all areas—with self, friends, colleagues, and family.

For many of us, creating boundaries can be tricky. We want to make people happy. We want to do the right thing, support others, and do well at work. These are not bad things. But they can cause us to overextend ourselves and feel victimized. When we do too much, we suffer emotional and physical repercussions.

Where do you need to build better boundaries? In the workplace? With family? With that old friend who’s become an emotional vampire? Let’s explore this from an Ayurvedic perspective by evaluating the three archetypes, or doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha.

Boundaries for Vata Personalities

Vata is the governing principle of space and wind—moving, subtle, and light, like a windy winter day. People with vata-dominant constitutions move, talk, and think fast. A vata will tend to have many activities, interests, and commitments. Because they are ruled by air (wind) and space, they can sometimes seem a little flighty, careless, or forgetful. They may overcommit because they can’t remember that they already had plans. They want to do everything and are naturally very social, so they never want to say no to an exciting opportunity or get-together. FOMO (fear of missing out) applies to this dosha, big time.

If you resonate with the above, there are a few things you can do.

Keep a calendar. If you find that your friends and coworkers are getting frustrated with you because you are always flaking out, start using a calendar. Write down every commitment, from work meetings to running dates.

Slow down. Notice if your activity is creating anxiety. Is your FOMO making it difficult to be present with whoever you’re actually with, because your mind is somewhere else?

Schedule awareness. Take a few minutes every morning to look at your schedule, and work in quiet times in your day. Start with a seated practice, just three to five minutes of deep breathing or meditation.

Boundaries for Pitta Personalities

Pitta is the governing principle of fire and water—hot, intense, and liquid, like a humid summer day. A person dominant in pitta can be intense and demanding—on others and themselves. A pitta will fill their schedule with professional pursuits and meetings while training for an Ironman. Because they have a sharp intellect, they believe that they can do it all—and do it faster and better than anyone else. A pitta will lack boundaries because they feel accomplishment from and take pride in the amount of items on their to-do list. Their self-worth is often wrapped up in the amount of accolades they receive. They want to juggle an amazing career, a fabulous body, and the perfect family. All the while, they are burning their insides out from too much coffee, and feel fried from burning the candle at both ends.

If you resonate with the pitta picture, try these tips.

Just say no. Pitta types tend toward perfectionism. Remember, slowing down and saying no is not a weakness. It shows vulnerability, humanness, and humbleness. When you’re asked to plan the office party because you are just so good at it, but you have a hard deadline coming up, it’s okay to say, “Thank you for asking! I’d love to, but I have a really big project due. Please ask me next time.”

Slow down. You are perfect just as you are. Go take a nap. Go on a vacation where all you do is lie on the sand or in a hammock.

Cultivate quiet self-worth. Your self-worth is ultimately not about what you do, it is about who you are. Underneath that protective pitta exterior is a passionate, caring person. Let that version of yourself shine.

Boundaries for Kapha Personalities

Kapha is the governing principle of earth and water—stable, slow, and heavy, like a damp spring day. Kapha-dominant people, because of their watery, earthy nature, don’t do anything too fast. They are natural caretakers and feel their worth when they can give to others. It is common to see a kapha have people over for dinners, feed the homeless, be a social worker, or adopt animals. They feel best when giving. But when they begin to put the health and well-being of others before their own, this can start to look a little like martyrdom. They will get a bit blue or let themselves go for the sake of others. It is most unnatural for kaphas to put up boundaries—but it is necessary.

Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. It is crucial for kaphas to take care of themselves first. Instead of waking up in the morning and immediately making everyone’s lunches, cooking breakfast, and replying to all your e-mails seeking support, put on your oxygen mask. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Do some yoga.

Do something that you love. Just for you, not for anyone else. Then you can give all you want. It’s not selfish. It makes the caretaking sustainable.

Fire it up. Kaphas tend to be a bit passive, so take time to stoke the inner fire—with aerobic exercise, stimulating foods (like ginger and pepper), and an energy-igniting practice, like Breath of Fire. These heating exercises and nourishment will provide the energy you need to instill healthy boundaries.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.

Erin Casperson, Lead Kripalu Faculty and Director of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, is passionate about sharing how the ancient practices of Ayurveda can be applied to modern-day living.

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