I've been assisting at the yoga studio teacher training for the past six years - we're two months into the class of 2015. And during that time, I've heard the term "holding space" for ones students; I've been told that I "hold space" well, I've witnessed miraculous transformations and transitions through the "holding space" of my teacher, Barbara, the training she has developed, and the staff she has gathered around her.
But the concept of holding space has always been somewhat fuzzy or amorphous - what I have picked up over the years has been through role modeling, watching and learning, and perhaps some innate or natural tendencies / habits. So this posting and list are a wonderful attempt to quantify this important skill.
A few thoughts based on this list, from my own experiences:
- Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
One of the biggest issues in yoga communities is the guru-student relationship, how that is often abused, and how it sometimes stunts the growth of the student who cannot hear his/her own voice over the admonitions and instructions of the teacher.
- Give people only as much information as they can handle.
"You can't handle the truth!" - how often we come across students whose struggle and root cause may seem perfectly clear (to us) and are tempted to share that with them, or push them in a certain path or direction - it takes a lot of internal strength and wisdom to let them figure it out on their own.
- Don’t take their power away.
It's always kind of terrifying when folks who I have known as "teacher trainees" begin to blossom into their own power - that "you are not worthy" voice within me calls out and it would be so easy to cut them down to assure that I keep my place in the order of things. How many gurus or teachers, afraid of losing their own power, keep their students pot bound and dependent.
- Keep your own ego out of it.
On the surface, there's that "I am so freaking amazing" vibe that some of us seem to exude from our pores. But down deeper, there's our own struggle, grief, fragility that can get in the way of being of service. It's a weird trick - to be solid and real, authentically ourselves, and yet to not present our students with our own rough edges for them to get caught on or cling to.
- Make them feel safe enough to fail.
First and foremost, by being honest about our own failures and limitations. By presenting challenges and goals that are attainable, but not assured. And by making the journey the goal, not the destination.
- Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
"We have no right to take another out of denial" - one of our training mantras. If someone asks, answer with gentleness and consideration. But taking inventory of another's issues or struggle, suggesting cures or resolutions that are unsolicited, or having a library of platitudes or rote answers is not helpful.
- Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
We have a saying around our studio "losing it on the mat" - every so often, one of us (and it has surely happened to me) will just start to weep, or be overcome with exhaustion, or pull down into child's pose. In the training program, we're often stepping in to lead another trainee away, who may be offering tissues or contact or trying to make someone smile to assuage their own discomfort with anger, with grief, with pain. Sitting with an individual who is releasing deep emotion, without trying to fix it, or make it better, or making it look good, is perhaps the most important thing I do.
- Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
My teacher has so much wisdom and so much life lessons learned - and to this day I marvel that I (who ignore a lot of what she says, and sit in my own struggle so often) am valued by her, am given an opportunity to contribute.