In yoga we often throw around the phrase “hold space” but what exactly does this mean? I believe most people want to be there for others, especially those they love, but we sometimes struggle with how best to do so. Someone dies and we say, “We’re sorry for your loss”. A relationship ends and we say, “You’re better off without him” or “She is an idiot to have let you go”. These canned phrases seem to be what we say when we don’t necessarily know what to do and/or are trying to deflect our own uncomfortableness as quickly as possible, but are they actually helpful in anyway?
Holding space is the willingness to come alongside a person and offer unconditional love and support. Support that is judgement free and isn’t seeking to fix or control but instead to accept and empower the other person on their life path; allowing that person to fully experience and safely express their feelings at the most vulnerable level. Holding space has no expectations of outcomes. It allows the other person to get closer to their truth through a process of letting down their guard and digging deep into what I call “the yuckiness”.
If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and follow sweatpantsandcoffee on Instagram. Nanea Hoffman posts all sorts of hilarious (but true) tidbits that I think are great examples of how we can practice holding space such as:
“Thought for the day: One of the kindest things you can do is to truly see someone and accept them as they are. And then give them coffee. Because life is hard and caffeinated beverages help.”
Below are some lessons I have learned about holding space and try to actively practice both in and outside the studio (and yes, this like yoga, is definitely a practice).
Try not to say stupid (excuse my language) shit. People typically don’t feel better when you say things like “Think positive” or “Everything happens for a reason” or “Time is the healer of all wounds” or any of the above canned phrases.
Deeply listen - the kind where you aren’t just waiting for your turn to speak or respond but instead are seeking to truly understand - try hard not to react emotionally, and do NOT try to fix. As yogis we naturally want to help others and ease suffering but sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is to just listen and be super present (cell phones off!). When we truly listen we can function as a mirror for the other person to see themselves more clearly versus inadvertently feeding their emotional issues or taking away their power by making decisions for themselves. When in doubt say less!
Breathe through the uncomfortableness of it all. When you resist trying to fix or even give advice you can feel very uneasy. Breathe through this and choose to show up with kindness, compassion, authenticity, and an open heart. That is more than enough.
Check your ego at the door to ensure that you don’t get caught up thinking the other person’s success (or failure for that matter) is dependent on or reflects on you. In fact when you hold space, you make it safe for the other person to fail. Holding space allows for mistakes without shame or judgement. Remember it is not about you, it’s about your loved one.
Validate them while also empowering them to make their own decisions by trusting themselves and their intuition. (There may be a handful of situations where this may not apply such as needing to run an intervention on a loved one struggling with addiction.)
If appropriate, give a hug. You will be surprised how far a long hug can go.
Ensure you have people in your life that hold space for you too. When others practice holding space for you, you will naturally be able to better hold space for others. Along these lines, remember to practice ridiculously good self care so that you can show up as the best, most grounded version of yourself possible.
Finally, nature gives us a beautiful example of what holding space looks like. If an elephant is sick or injured the other elephants in the herd will form a protective ring around that elephant. The herd will continue to circle around the injured until he/she is well again.
Who can you circle around (better hold space for) today?