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Exploring the ‘Whole Body Yes’  

By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 05, 2024 5:00 am

The other evening over dinner, I had told my son Max that he was invited to his friend’s birthday party and asked if he wanted to go. And he looked me straight in the eyes and sweetly said, “No, please.” I explained to him that he might feel bad if he didn’t go and that this was his good friend. “No, thank you, Mama. I don’t like laser tag. It makes me feel stressed.”

I continued to badger him and asked how he would feel if his friends didn’t come to his birthday. And there was always the option of just joining for cake and not playing in the actual laser tag. “It’s okay, Mama, I see him every day at school and we always have play dates. I’ll just wish him happy birthday.”

This is not the only time this has happened. He’s said no very often, much to my dismay, but in reality I have a deep and profound respect for the way he always honors himself and is always truly authentic. You know that when he says yes, he means it 100% and is all in.

A moment of quiet contemplation and self-awareness

Max is the happiest little boy I know.

As I write this article, I am beginning to feel a little ashamed of myself for trying to convince Max otherwise. Why should he feel obliged to attend a situation that makes him feel stressed, bored, or unhappy? He clearly didn’t feel like it hampered his ability to be a good friend. He also didn’t feel like his friend would mind. (He didn’t, and they’re still very close.) I realized that I was trying to project on him all the feelings of social obligations that I have. I thought I was trying to teach him a lesson but clearly, it was I who had something to learn.

I have recently come across the concept of the Whole Body Yes. It’s when your three intelligence centers—the head, the heart, and the gut— are in total agreement on a choice or decision. The Whole Body Yes, or WBY, feels amazing and allows you to be continually aligned to your values and your purpose. It’s also a way to honor yourself as you move through life.

Navigating the 'shoulds' and embracing authenticity

I often find myself trying to convince myself why I need to do something or go somewhere. It’s that sinking feeling of “Ugh, I don’t want to do it but I have to do it.” When we say yes to things that we aren’t completely behind, eventually we build resentment—towards the people around us, the situation, and even ourselves. Then this slowly leads to feelings of entitlement because we feel like we deserve some kind of “reward” for doing things we didn’t really want to.

I deserve to have this because I did this. You have to do this for me because I did this for you. It’s that feeling of: “You owe me.” When we accumulate too many of these feelings, the world becomes transactional; so do our relationships. Then a sense of lack, not enough, starts to build, until we feel empty, depleted and always struggling for more.

A “Whole Body Yes” is not easy to recognize and even harder to practice. Here are some strategies to explore this.

Familiarize yourself with your three intelligence centers. The Head is responsible for logical conclusions and all the obvious and practical reasons when considering a decision. The Heart is the seat of our emotions; when the heart says yes, we feel a deep connection to someone or something. There is a sense of longing or desire, like when you are truly passionate about something. It can also feel “good” because the decision is fully aligned to your values. Lastly, the Gut is your instinct. It’s that immediate feeling of “This is it” or “Yes, I want that” before you’ve really had the time to think it through. Explore how all three feel when making a decision. A Whole Body Yes is when all three are in agreement and alignment.

Recognize a Big No vs. a Little No. If a WBY is “I would love to do that again!” A Big No is “Never again.” While a Little No is more like “That experience was fine, but I don’t really need it again.” Sometimes, when we accumulate Little No’s, they start to feel like Big No’s. It’s these ones that we have to watch out for. The small, tiny energy leaks, the hairline cracks in our buckets that silently, slowly drain you. This was my experience, I am naturally a people pleaser and an optimist, and I would always talk myself into experiences and decisions that I knew in my gut and in my heart weren’t for me.

Distinguishing between enthusiasm and reluctance: 'I'd love to do that again' vs. 'Never again'

Sometimes these aren’t even big life decisions; it can be as silly as going shopping with a friend during sale season. “Yes! You should totally buy that, it looks amazing on you!” Then you end up with some crazy, stripey knit dress that is outside your comfort zone that you were peer-pressured into buying because of the sale price. The dress probably still has a tag. The most common is being forced to go out when you are feeling low. I find in these situations, your head is often torn and manages to make a list of pros and cons for both choices, and your heart is always in the right place, wanting to support your friends or genuinely enjoying their company. But it’s the gut that tells us no, the gut that says, you need to care for yourself. It’s the gut we usually ignore, but instinct is the most important. It’s the direct connection to our inner selves and to our soul. We should always honor it.

Find your YES. There are many obligations we don’t necessarily WANT to do, but have to, because there is an underlying yes. Finding that yes is crucial to bringing joy to the experience or the work. For example, no one really wants to manage their taxes or do accounting, but we do want to be lawful and successful. That is the yes. We don’t want to get a surgery, but we want to be healthy and well. Perhaps we don’t necessarily LOVE our job, it’s just okay, but it does pay our bills, feed our family, and contribute to the economy. And for as long as it’s not making you feel empty or not valued, then it is still a yes. It’s the importance of finding purpose and meaning in all that you do.

Sincere gestures, endless gratitude: A moment of giving and receiving thanks

Practice gratitude and lean into trust. Being able to be grateful for our positive experiences helps us continually recognize them and makes us feel more aligned to our higher selves and purpose. And, more than just being grateful, we should express our gratitude, particularly for opportunities that are presented to us that we have decided are not for us. For example, being able to say no but with grace: “Thank you for considering me for this, I am really grateful! But it’s not for me right now.” “Thank you so much for inviting me, I am just not feeling 100% myself right now.”

Feel free to be as honest and vulnerable as possible. I once missed one of my closest friends’ big launch party. I was dressed and about to head out the door, but then I had a panic attack. This was during the height of my chronic anxiety. I know she was very upset, but I wrote a long letter and sent flowers. I explained the mental health issues that I was going through at the time and she completely understood. We are still very close today.

This honors the person or experience, it allows them to feel truly seen, felt, and valued while honoring yourself and your needs as well. You also need to trust wholly. Trust that other opportunities that are meant for you will come your way. Trust that true friends will understand your choices and if they don’t, then that’s all right. Trust that friends who will honor you will come along. With honesty and vulnerability, the connections and relationships will deepen. The foundations won’t be out of obligation but out of true love and appreciation. With no hard feelings on either side. Just like Max, the happiest boy I know.