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The art of holding space

I first came across the idea of ‘holding space’ in yoga teacher training, although exploring what it actually meant fell into the background of learning techniques and worrying about being good enough at it all. I probably found it a bit intangible back then. Creating a scared space is one thing but, once that space is filled with people and activity, holding space is the art of working with what unfolds.

As I began to assist my teachers on trainings and workshops participants would often say ‘thank you so much for holding space’. I had been doing nothing, in fact often battling feelings of uselessness in my meditations. But slowly I started to realise how the energy of a silent, non-doing presence can support others growth. We become an anchor which steadies not only participants but facilitators in the busier tasks of learning and teaching.

We are all space holders on a daily basis; at home, at work; with loved ones and with less familiar faces. But in a therapeutic or teaching setting it is ‘feeling held’ that creates strong relationships and trust, often more than what we say or do. I noticed a powerful shift in my interactions with retreat and workshop groups when I relaxed the emphasis on knowing and spent more time preparing to be present. I also thank my work with the gong, for when working in subtler spaces without words we must rely more on feeling.

Like playing an instrument or moving through a sun salutation, anything new takes effort at first and eventually becomes light and flowing. When we believe we have a lot to ‘do’, holding space will be draining. When we are managing things, stuck to a plan for fear of making a mistake, filling space with words for the sake of it, we also miss the opportunity for inspiration to flow into ourselves and others.

We are moving into times when learning feels more like remembering; teacher and student hierarchies are falling away and we facilitate experiences for each other in a grateful exchange. Perhaps the phrase ‘holding space’ can be appreciated better with an image of open palms, offering their support, rather than closed fingers holding on … to old ways of control or running the show.

Holding space is not about taking away or taking on responsibility, it is simply being present, receptive, authentic and non judgemental. I say ‘simply’ but these are some big qualities, hence why holding space with confidence takes time and practise for most of us! It requires a certain honesty and openness which allows others to step forward (or stay back) and honour themselves, rather than taking the limelight ourselves. Again when we are present and receptive we will know when to share and when to be silent.

During the deep silence after a gong bath not so long ago I had a clear image of myself as a tiny divine drawing pin on a map of the universe. I was simply keeping things there for a moment, anchoring the energies onto the earth. In a week of tiredness, travel and long hours it made me smile and lightened my step to feel so supported.

What can we do to evolve our space holding?

·             Making time to be held by those who inspire us, not to take notes or copy, but just to feel

·             Being respectfully prepared and being wondrously prepared to let go of any plan of our own

·             Respecting spaces that don’t feel ‘held’ as learning opportunities  

·             Creating a ritual to prepare ourselves, or calling upon guides who allow us to step out of the mind and into the heart

·             Meditating, for when we are out of our own way we are most available

·             And of course, holding space for ourselves to grow without judgement