Holding Space


What Exactly is ‘Holding Space’?

You might think of Holding Space as just the job of the teacher, but in reality, we all play a part in this sacred act.

In his podcast episode on Holding Space, J. Brown interviews Heather Plett, the author of The Art of Holding Space: A Practice of love, liberation, and leadership to tell us all about holding space.

When she started the podcast, I thought we’d be diving right into yoga and holding space, but she actually started with a story about the Hospice nurse who held space for her and her family as they dealt with the passing of their mother.

Heather talked about how this nurse didn’t seek to take away their pain or change their experience, she just simply provided a safe space for the family to BE.

Holding space in yoga is so similar. As a teacher, it’s my job to provide the space for your yoga practice to unfold.

That means it’s my responsibility to make sure you have the tools you need to really experience yoga. But what does that mean for the space holder, as an individual?

We release attachment – Outcomes don’t belong in yoga, only experience does. So as a teacher, the first thing I have to do to hold space is to understand that all of my students are on their own path, and my job is just to witness.

Self-awareness – How many times has someone else projected their own fears, anxieties or traumas onto you? It’s happened to all of us. Space holders have to be super self-aware so that they don’t do this! That means we check our own baggage and ego, and we really dig into our own stuff so that we can continue to heal. That way, we can make space for others to heal as well.

Figuring out needs – After those first two things are done, only then can I figure out what each of my students need. And that can be so complicated! The same student might need something completely different from one practice to the next. And then, it’s my job to figure out the needs of every student in the room. Maybe you need to be pushed outside your comfort zone today, or maybe you need to take a step back. Either way, I’m here to help and guide you.

These lessons aren’t just for yoga teachers, though. They’re for all of us. At some point, we all hold space. We hold space for our friends, our loved ones, our kids, our colleagues, and our communities. And in order to do it in a way that doesn’t impede on the other person’s experience.

In order to hold space well for others, we have to be willing to get a little uncomfortable…

Liminal Space and How Yoga Gives Us Room to Get Messy

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At the surface, liminal space simply means “transitional space.” It’s this place where we’re not really where we once were, but we’re not exactly where we’re going either.

In essence, it’s uncomfortable!

Heather Plett talks a lot about the beauty of liminal space. Yes, it’s hard and it’s uncomfortable. There’s a lot of unknown when we realize we’re in this in-between state.

We can succumb to the anxiety of it all and worry and project and complain OR we can lean into the unknown.

So what exactly does that look like?

When I was listening to the podcast episode with Heather, she really talked about liminal space as a deeply spiritual place. This transitional place gives us a different capacity for seeing and operating in the world in a new way.

It is in the in-between that we get to grow the most if we choose to.  She used the analogy of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

Before the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, it has to succumb to the chrysalis first, which is just a pile of goo! I mean literally. The caterpillar literally turns into mush before transforming into a butterfly.

This is the perfect example of that transition. Isn’t this how you feel when in transition? Like a pile of goo just waiting to get to your next destination?

Luckily, we have yoga to get us through. Yoga provides the container to hold all that goo. The practice is that space where we can get messy. Through the Inner Shala, we can focus on that liminal space. Our mats provide us the anchor where we can feel safe to explore and the asana is where we come to work through the emotions and being uncomfortable. Yoga is the cocoon we can use to work through the waiting.

And this is why as a teacher, my sacred responsibility is to hold that space with open arms, judgment-free. Transition is a deeply spiritual place, and to hold that space is a deeply spiritual practice.

The Three Layers of the Bowl


I’d like to hone in on the fact here, that teachers and people in leadership positions aren’t the only space holders. We look to these people in these roles and think of them as the primary space holders, but really, we’re all space holders in our lives. When we come to the mat, we learn a lot about ourselves.

We get this really special time and space to connect to our breath and our bodies. On those days where we’re really in the flow of the practice, we can observe our minds and how they operate. We get to know ourselves better. The practice, the teacher, the mat, the Inner Shala— all of it works together to hold the space for us to explore.

And as we explore, we become better space holders ourselves.

This is where the idea of the layers of the bowl comes into play. It’s an analogy that Heather used to help the listeners understand what space holding is, and why it is for everyone to consider.

The bowl has three layers: the inner layer, the guts, and the outer layer, and each layer has a specific purpose.

The inner layer represents what we offer to someone else when we hold space. It’s the nonjudgement we tap into when we’re listening to a friend. It’s the guidance we give our mentees or children. It’s the compassion we extend to others.

The “guts” of the bowl is what we tap into in order to be able to offer that compassion and guidance and everything else we give to others. We use curiosity, intuition, discernment, and courage when we hold space for others.

The outer layer is like that protective barrier. It’s what holds us together so that we can hold space for others. Heather says this is where the idea of something bigger than us: community and some kind of spiritual container (whatever that looks like for you. It could be nature or love or mother earth… anything you identify with as spiritual) is needed. So we look at who is standing by us so we can do the work of space holding. We look at our practices and rituals that feed us.

This is important because, in order to hold compassionate space where others can grow and flourish in their own right, our egos have to be in check. We check our egos by remembering that holding space is bigger than us.

In order to hold space for others, which is something we do every day, we must know ourselves, know what we have to offer, and remember that we are just the vessel. We must be brave…

Brave Space vs Safe Space


I’ve heard so much talk about safe spaces. That we need to create safe spaces so that people can be seen and heard. Society tells us that safe spaces are the best for everyone. Safe spaces provide the containers for people to get comfortable enough to explore the hard things and express themselves.

Heather challenges this idea of safe spaces though, and instead, she says what we really need are brave spaces.

This quote from her talk really resonated with me:

“If the most privileged among us are asking for safety in a space, it’s probably going to mean we’re marginalizing the safety of those who are less privileged.”

Yoga’s sacred gift to all of us is brave space. If we lean into the practice and our own vulnerability, we step into brave space. It’s in that space that we are able to grow. Safe space is all about being comfortable, but brave space is where we get to challenge ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Entering into brave space is scary though! I know for me, this concept really made me look at my own shit! I really started thinking about the things I have an aversion to and why.
I invite you to do the same.

Holding brave space is just as challenging! For those of us who are space holders, it means sometimes making hard choices. It also means challenging our own egos and beliefs.

But the beauty of the yoga practice is that we’re all learning and growing together, and if we’re really striving to do this thing to the best of our ability, then we are both comfortable and vulnerable enough to really dig into the gifts of the practice.

I hope through reading this, you really start to dig into how you hold space for others and how to take care of yourself so you can hold space in meaningful ways. Remember, the practice is always there for you to get a little messy and explore with bravery.

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