Denver Clark – C-IAYT, LMT #91897
Many of us in the healing industries of Yoga and Massage are called to our work with the aim of helping others. We’ve felt the magic that yoga and holistic approaches bring to our health and healing and we decide that magic is so special that we’d like to share it with others. For many of us, it has always been a part of our nature to be “helpers,” and this leaves us spending extra energy, time and resources to make our work accessible to the world. After all, who doesn’t need yoga? But what happens when we start to feel the pinch of our work as “helpers,” and what if we start to feel drained, burnt out or even resentful?
I’ve suffered from all of these feelings, coupled with the guilt of desperately wanting to set boundaries without letting down all the people who rely on me for their healing. Here is what I have learned in the past 15 years as a yoga teacher, massage therapist and now yoga therapist..
- Boundaries are individual.
So many forms of holistic medicine from Ayurveda to Chinese medicine and more tell us that each individual is born with a specific balance of elemental energies. In Ayurveda, we call this the 3 Doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha). Having done the work to acknowledge my own tendencies, I know that I am a very fiery person. Those with strong fire element are often built to handle tremendous amounts of stress, allowing us to keep pushing through even when others might stop. This has allowed me to place boundary lines on my time and energy that are fairly flexible. I have had many times in life where I feel perfectly comfortable giving out my cell phone number and receiving messages and email questions from my clients at all hours of the day and night. I can multitask very well, cooking dinner and answering an email on my phone at the same time.
But not everyone is built this way and that’s perfectly healthy and normal. Those with high Vata (air and ether) are highly creative and driven to help but may need a bit more personal space (get it?) between them and their students/clients. Kapha heavy individuals might need more structure to their workday to feel at ease in their work/life balance, with specific days and times set for office work and appointments.
- Boundaries can change.
I have recently entered a phase of life where I need more space to focus on my own health and my family and have changed the amount of hours and personal information I choose to share with my clients. I’ve had a myriad of personal and familial health issues and my priorities have shifted from work to quality family time and rest for my body and soul. At first as I began to slowly create new boundaries, I experienced pushback from a few clients. A few of them were downright upset that I wasn’t as readily available to them and was no longer willing to extend my days to accommodate their scheduling needs. I even lost a few clients who needed me to be more available than I was willing to be. I spent a day or two mourning these losses and finding an appropriate way to send my clients with love to a new referral, reminding them that I am available in this new capacity but encouraging them to find a different therapist if my options no longer suit their needs. Once I stuck to my new boundaries, I found that my current clients experienced no decrease in satisfaction and since I had a renewed sense of personal agency my work became even more influential. I became a better therapist.
- Boundaries do not need an explanation.
The guilt I have felt when drawing a line on my personal time has caused me more times than I would like to overshare my story. When canceling my clients during my miscarriage or re-scheduling a few months later after my mother’s heart attack, I felt like I had to give all the details of my personal life in to “earn” my time away from work. When my work weeks began totaling 60 hours between 2 jobs, I felt the need to explain every time exactly why I had fewer appointments available – because my family needed me, and my own health was suffering.
None of these explanations were necessary, however. My time belongs to me, and I can plan how I spend it without the need to answer to anyone else – especially a client. It is still difficult for me to answer a request with a simple answer such as, “Unfortunately I am not available that day,” or “That is against my policy.” But I am finding that every time I keep to a professional answer, I feel more and more comfortable doing so the next time. In stopping my apologies and explanations, I have also begun to truly see my practice as a business which allows me to leave work activities for my scheduled work hours, giving my brain the space to disconnect when I go home instead of obsessing over my client’s concerns. I can still help facilitate healing without sacrificing my own mental health.
- Your time is valuable.
It was difficult for me to understand just how much my time was worth in the beginning. Many people need yoga, massage and other holistic practices and there is often a perception that these should be free to everyone due to the desperate need for them. I started charging very little for my time and after a while I found I would resent spending time with clients when I could be with my family or doing things for my personal growth instead. I found the transition to balance for me was slow and gradual. At first, I went up in price $5 every year in January. I would again, apologize and explain why to clients and most of the time I would be pleasantly surprised when they would respond with “$5?! I would pay much more than that – you’re so worth it!”
After a few years, I was much more comfortable looking at other prices in my area and basing my appointments on the area average. Then, once my time became scarcer, I knew it was time to increase my price. If I ever resent spending time with a client instead of in a class for myself, that is a big sign that I need to re-consider my pricing again.
I’ve spent thousands of hours in trainings, CEUs and research to improve my practices as a yoga and massage therapist. The 15 years I have practiced have also brought me experience. This education and experience are valuable and it’s important to consider this when deciding what you will charge for your sessions.
Pricing my time appropriately has allowed me to give more freely when the situation calls for it. If a client is having a rough time and we’ve established a relationship where they have shown they truly value my work, I am more than happy to offer a discount if I think it may be needed. It feels great to be able to do this from a place of love and a desire to help and it is never expected since we’ve already established a fair price at the beginning of our time together. I have a certain number of time/sessions I am comfortable giving away for free/with a discount each season and I consider this before offering a price break or freebie to a client. If I have already reached that quota, I make a mental note (or written) to offer my gift to the client during the next season instead. This way I can still pay my bills and give the karmic offerings I want.
- Create a handbook of policies & procedures
There are many events and circumstances you will not be able to anticipate until they happen. Weather it’s in my personal practice as a single massage therapist or in my business as a manager in a group if yoga therapists, when an uncomfortable or difficult situation presents itself, I make a note to “put it in the handbook.” This handbook is a list of how to handle situations such as non-payment, sexual inappropriateness, client grievances, client intoxication, refunds, last minute cancellations and more. The more professional I can be in my language when writing these policies and procedures the better. Weather or not I ever choose to show this handbook of policies to a client, I am able to reference an ethical and professional set of steps to take if it ever presents itself again. I can place these policies on a page of my website for anyone to see to protect myself and my clients and I can confidently respond with “it is not in our policy” when individuals are asking for more than I am willing to give.
You can view policies of other practitioners in your area as a starting place and I would also suggest researching local and stare regulations on things such as refunds for services, gift card expirations and more. For example, Florida laws states: “ A gift certificate may not have an expiration date, expiration period, or any type of postsale charge or fee imposed on the gift certificate.”
- Setting boundaries ultimately make you a better practitioner.
It takes time and many mistakes to come to a place of balance as a practitioner in the healing community, but I think it’s important to re-evaluate your personal needs and goals regularly to be sure that your practice is in alignment with these needs. Spending time and energy setting boundaries and keeping to them has refreshed my love for my work and will allow me to continue helping others for many more years to come. I am so much happier and more fulfilled in my work since beginning to explore what my boundaries need to be and I encourage you to do the same.
Thank you for wanting to help others. They need you at your best self.
You deserve to set boundaries.