Are your limits physical or mental?

Last time I alluded to the idea that limits can be both real and imaginary. When the mind is not controlled properly it can create all manner of false limits: our memories are full of misleading information about how the world operates and how we should behave in it.

Whilst all this is true what has intrigued me most over the past couple of weeks is how limits can be both physical and mental. And, when you are listening and observing with honesty, one is an indicator of the other.

One of my yoga teachers taught me that you can understand a person’s current mental limit by their “Aum”. This seems strange given that making a sound with your voice is a physical act. Chanting Aum requires you try to create a smooth clear reed-like sound that trails away in one clear note. To achieve this you need to understand the capacity of your lungs: a physical limit.

However, reciting Aum is also about finding your mental limits. As soon as your mind wavers, which it does all the time, or your ego steps onto the stage and you think your “Aum” sounds pretty good, the clarity diminishes: it warbles and wavers. If you’re someone who’s apt to push yourself too far – mentally or physically – you’re often left slightly breathless and struggling to heave your next breath down into your lungs to begin the next recitation.

Yoga doesn’t provide us with the only example: at University I’d try valiantly to study long into the night. Ignoring half-closed eyelids and lethargy I’d open my books and promise myself that I wouldn’t go to sleep until I’d completed some mammoth mathetical calculation about the arcane nature of fluid dynamics.

If I’d been listening to my body I’d have recognised that it was simply letting me know that my brain had shut down hours ago. I’d consistently fail to complete these computations. Four years I ignored the fact that my body was reflecting a real mental limit. Why I didn’t change my behaviour and get up early in the morning I’ll never know!

Sometimes we see the physical limit before we experience the mental one. At other times this is reversed. Either way we have a duty of care to honour and acknowledge our limits and to not push beyond them. The truth is if we keep on pushing ourselves beyond our limits we live a life that isn’t aligned with who we really are.

On the other hand, when we acknowledge our limits we can respond from a place of internal strength regardless of the situation we find ourselves. And that is a place of power, resiliance and inner peace.

I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful emails I’ve received from people about this topic. Thank you for helping my reflections about limits expand and grow.

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