Oxygen: or saying yes to saying no

How many times have you heard a flight attendant instruct you to ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others’? More than you can remember, I’m sure! And if you’re like everyone else, you didn’t give it much thought, but there is some pretty potent self-care in that message.

I got that message in a whole new way after a coaching session last year. I had a major headache, and had a coaching session booked, and went ahead with it anyway. It was an ok session, but just ok. There wasn’t the spark of magic, or a moment of courage, or anything special to speak of. Why? I was stuck in my head. As a result, I was unable to help my client get out of her head and into the delicious realm of possibility that coaching usually leads to. Well, that was bad enough, but it happened during my coach certification program. I had to submit this call to a supervisor who would listen to it and provide feedback. After he listened, he offered this tender bit of advice. “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first!”

We need oxygen in our lives, and yet it’s so easy to drive ahead in an oxygen-depleted state, neglecting our own needs. Over the course of a month or so, I began to notice how frequently and how easily I put others’ needs above mine. It happened as a mother, as a partner, as a friend, as a volunteer, as a designer, and as a coach…. It’s exhausting, and almost impossible, to do a fantastic job at just about anything when you’re gasping for breath!

It wasn’t an easy lesson for me, and I’m still learning to recognize when I need to “say yes to saying no.” I’m learning to carve time out for me: for fitness, for quiet, for connection with family and friends. I’m learning a more graceful dance where important things get done, without sacrificing my own needs.

So what can YOU do to ‘put on your oxygen mask’ first?

Well. First, just PAUSE.
Check in with yourself. Make yourself comfortable and take a few breaths. As you ask yourself these questions, let your answers come from within your body, not just your head.

  • Are you giving yourself time to breathe?
  • Are you getting the oxygen you need?
  • Are you in an oxygen-deprived environment (and not aware of it)?

If you, like most people, become aware that you’re not in a rich, oxygenated state, try some of these tips:

  • You’ve heard it before (a lot), but, here it is again: take time for you. Make sure you get to your yoga class, or out for your run instead of dealing with someone else’s urgent needs. Don’t compromise on the things you need to do to keep you healthy and sane!
  • Take time for you AND your partner/family/friends. Don’t sacrifice all your time to work or meeting the needs of others.
  • Notice in your life where you are saving others at the expense of your own energy, health and well-being. Ask yourself what you’re sacrificing when you do that.
  • Try this simple meditation (thanks to Philip Shepherd):
    • sit upright in a chair with your feet planted on the ground
    • close your eyes
    • feel your hands resting on your legs
    • let your body relax and feel the your breath drop down into your belly
    • breathe not from the chest, but from your belly
    • squeeze your perineum to wake it up (kegel anyone?)
    • let your consciousness drift down through your body as you continue breathing
    • encourage it gently all the way down until it is resting on your perineum
    • as you breathe in this place, feel your belly expand and contract
    • know that you can revisit this place at any time
  • Most simple of all, live your life by being curious about it all – the people in it, the world around you and the choices you are making!

Here’s to deeper breathing and more oxygen!

2 thoughts on “Oxygen: or saying yes to saying no”

  1. Hello allyson! Thank you for this piece…this feeling has been building for me as over the years I have felt more and more disconnected from my physical self. I realize it IS because I don’t make time to look after my body.

    Your message is a quiet, but life-altering reminder of why this shouldn’t happen. If I am not tending to my muscles and joints, then I am certainly not tending to other aspects of myself as well, they all walk hand in hand.


    amyjo 🙂

    ps I do like the small case “aw” on the site!

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