Holding The Space

meditation room

When I first heard that term, it meant nothing to me.

I was studying at the Rolf Institute® for Structural Integration. Rolfing® is about finding better, more effective ways to use gravity as a support, instead of fighting against it. It involves deep bodywork and movement education.

When working on long-held patterns it’s important that somebody is holding the space. The client can’t do it for themselves and a student who is just learning can’t do it either.

So we were practicing in groups of three. One to be the client, one to be the therapist, one to hold the space. “So I just sit here and do nothing?” I asked. “No, you’re holding the space.” One of those moments when I just wanted to smack somebody. I had lots of these moments during that time… I was in Boulder, Colorado. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. I felt like I was going to punch the next person who says “Namaste” on the street.

Holding the space means to create and maintain a safe environment. It means to watch over a person or a group, without watching their every action. It means being there, without intruding. So at first I was just sitting there, bored. Until I learned it. I think I learned it because the teachers and assistants held the space for us space-holders, so we could play with our boredom, our awareness, and cultivate a sense of being aware of what happened in the treatment without judging it, trying to fix it, trying to think about “what would I do.”

It was one of the most important lessons for my life.

In meditation, you can hold the space for yourself. It’s hard. Very, very hard. It’s so hard that I rather rely on a facilitator, teacher or instructor to hold it for me. Then I can relax. Otherwise it’s just a mental workout.

Some people create a whole room, like in the picture, to hold the space for them. Some use artwork, a statue, or just a beautiful landscape.

I do yoga in a community center. There is always noise in the hallways, sometimes in the next room, and in the room people are shifting, or cough. Meditation at the end of class can be a hard exercise in holding the space for myself.

It’s easiest if everybody works on holding the space together. When I was teaching yoga last week, substituting for my teacher, I got very irritated at one student who used the relaxation time to roll up the strap, stack her blocks, and sort through her purse.

A cough, or even a sneeze is different. It’s one thing, then it stops. But these little shuffling noises that go on and on draw everybody’s attention away from themselves, into wondering “what is going on? what is that noise?”. It’s very hard to meditate that way.

So as the teacher, I felt like I had to hold the space even harder, which doesn’t work, of course. You can hold the space, or you can drop it. I kept dropping it. I had angry thoughts, at myself and the student: “I thought I was good at this! Ugh! Why won’t she just sit and deal with herself?”

Usually I’m not teaching yoga. In meetings with other business owners, when I teach classes for therapists, and especially when I’m working with clients, holding the space is easy for me.

I need to get there early, and prepare my space, so I feel secure and confident, and then I can start holding it for others.

But teaching meditation is HARD! I think I had trouble holding the space for the class because I was so distracted by the display of boredom from this one student that I could not stay in my own meditative state.

Holding the space is a form of meditation. Being aware without being attached.

I’m working on it.

How about you?

7 thoughts on “Holding The Space

  1. so hard to hold that space all the time, but the yogis say go with monkey mind and let your space share in small bite size moments, acknowledge them then let them fleet away, that woman who went through her stuff and interrupted you was there purposely to show you and to help you find your space, now that you are aware of that issue in class or where ever maybe you can look at it as a challenge and thank her for being your buddha for the day!, p.s. Namaste

  2. Lu, that is a lovely and deep reflection about holding space and its challenges. This is why I, personally, started moving towards mindfulness rather than aiming for “emptying” or nothingness in my work. As teacher, I need to be aware. Rather than really meditating myself, I am aware of needing to hold space for my students and being aware of what is going on, although in a nonjudgmental way. So, the teacher’s practice is very different from the student’s practice, as if it is raining and we are holding a large umbrella for a group of people. It is our job just to hold space for our students rather than to do, or be, what we might envision as a perfect teacher. In doing so, we probably do become the perfect teacher, though!

    Interesting topic! Nicely presented. Namaste

    • Beautiful metaphor the umbrella– you still hear the rain, smell and feel the humidity in the air, but without the discomfort of cold water trickling down the back of the neck.

      Maintaining/solidifying my connection to ground helps me let those annoyances recede into the background so that my connection with my self and my client is steady while a smaller portion of my attention allows the changing field outside the umbrella to be whatever it wants to be.

      I received advice (in a different context) to be in readiness for challenges or distractions at any time, and for me that means constantly refreshing that ground connection in a physical way as well as my attention. That centered state I feel when I’m grounded allows me to notice the distraction and promptly release any charge of annoyance which would interfere with my ability to hold the space.

      All easier to say than do at first, of course, but letting go of the anxiety about doing it perfectly helps to smooth the way, and then the feeling of holding the space brings its own satisfaction.

      Great topic to explore– I salute the best in all of us!

  3. Oh, I see. I believe you are talking about being an observer. Non-judgmental. As in meditation. Interesting analogy: holding the space. Somehow that sounds more involved than just observing.

    Thank you for your article.

  4. Yes, I think there are a lot of different forms of meditation.
    But being aware of the here and now without judgement should describe all of them. And who knows, maybe I’m wrong to compare holding the space with meditation. It’s just something that helped me “get” the concept.

    My yoga teacher told me that after we had a whole long conversation about it, she visualized herself with arms that got so long that she was hugging the whole group while they were meditating.

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