Ah, ‘holding space’…
It’s something you’ve probably heard about, but aren’t quite sure exactly what it means. Or is that just me?
I first heard the term a few years ago within a coaching context. Back then I wondered if ‘holding space’ was some sort of euphemism or secret code.
Since then I’ve found myself in the presence of those who I believe hold space for others beautifully.
Whether it’s in a small or large group setting, a professional encounter or a personal relationship, I know when I’ve been ‘held’ in a space of presence and acceptance… and when I absolutely have not.
You may have experienced holding space yourself, but find it hard to explain or express.
With this term entering the mainstream, I wanted to not only decode the meaning of holding space, but go one step further…
I wanted to find out how to hold space better.
So with that desire in mind, I reached out to some phenomenal healers and teachers. People I consider ‘experts’ who possess not just the knowledge but the genuine ability to hold space for others.
I asked each of these experts:
How do you hold space and what 3 tips would you give to someone who wants to start holding space for others?
And holy moly — I was blown away by the depth of their responses. Their insights are so rich and considered I can’t wait to share them with you.
So if you’re curious about holding space for others, you’ll find amazing tips here.
Here are the 12 experts sharing their wisdom and insights… born from their own experiences.
1. JAMIE MARLOO THOMAS, Cultural & Ceremonial Leader + Founder of Wayapa Wuurrk
“To me, holding space is about stopping and absorbing the environment or the information I am receiving, not thinking about the future or the past but sitting in the ‘now’. To hold space, or to ‘deep listen,’ is to be in a space of healing or deep connection.
It’s about being fully present in the environment, absorbing the smells, sensations, temperature, but also absorbing the ancestors that have walked on our land. Every space on the planet has been walked on by the ancestors and by honouring and acknowledging my connection to my ancestors I am honouring my connection to that space.
So while it is about honouring the present moment, it’s also about honouring the people who have come before me and will come after me.”
- Honour the land on which you’re standing.
- Honour the Creator.
- Honour the Ancestors and connect to the land the way they did.
“If you do these things, your life will be richer for it.”Holding Space Tip #1: Honour the land on which you're standing Click To Tweet
2. Samantha Nolan-Smith, Business Alignment Coach + Teacher
“For me, holding space starts with the intention to be fully present, to bring the wholeness of yourself to what you’re teaching or sharing with your students or clients.
When clients book a 1:1 with me or enrol in one of my courses, they’ve subconsciously accepted an invitation. The invitation is to step into a certain energetic field.
So when I’m teaching about feminine power for example, the invitation they accept is to step into the energy of the divine feminine. If I’m not fully present and bringing myself completely to my work, then I can’t cleanly facilitate that experience.
The role of the teacher or healer is to hold a certain energetic vibration so that others can cleanse their fields and align with that. As they do that, all sorts of old wounds and inner blocks start rising to the surface. Anything that’s inconsistent with the energetic vibration will reveal itself. It’s therefore critically important that the teacher is congruent with the vibration, otherwise she shares a perverted truth.
That’s also why everything you teach should come from a place of emanation, rather than ideation. You want to be embodying an energetic reality that your students and clients are eager to explore and deepen in. That’s how they heal and that’s where miracles occur. If you’re seeking to teach something because you think it’ll be a good or interesting thing to teach, you don’t bring the same integrity or authenticity to the subject. You don’t bring the same energetic truth or the same benefit. You simply bring thoughts and perhaps you’re able to offer some mental inspiration, but that doesn’t cause deep transformation. It merely offers a temporary solution to a deeper problem.”
- Be clear in your intentions.
When I teach and when I work in a healing capacity, my intention is always the same; to heal and awaken. I ask that any of my own stuff (wounds and inner blocks) that could potentially get in the way of my client’s healing and awakening be taken from me, beyond my level of awareness. That allows an energy of healing and awakening to effortlessly transmit through me. It also sets the energetic container for our time together which means that my clients and students are able to work with me with with the subconscious awareness that they’re safe and that everything that’s about to occur is in their highest and best interests.
- Be vigilant of your own stuff.
As you work in this way it’s inevitable that your own stuff will rise to the surface. Anything that’s not yet free will reveal itself and cause problems for you if you aren’t vigilant in clearing it out. It’s imperative that you become aware of what it feels like when you’ve been triggered versus what it is to hold the space for someone else as she works through her own triggers.
People sometimes find resistance to working with clients. We think it’s about the modality; ‘Oh I don’t want to do that. It’s too time consuming, or I’d be too exhausted/weighed down by other people’s problems’ we say. In truth, other people’s problems aren’t heavy. Our problems are heavy. The resistance we feel is resistance to dealing with our stuff; the stuff that’s inevitably going to arise as you work with people whose issues mirror your own. So turn within first. Clear what’s there for you. Then hold the space for others. If you ever find holding space to be exhausting or depleting, it’s because there’s something there – something that’s about you, not your students or clients – that needs clearing.
- Holding space is not the same as giving away your energy.
When you give someone your energy, either consciously or unconsciously, you’re not helping them. You’re trying to make yourself feel better by feeling needed or useful. You might have created a belief that the way to help people is to give of yourself, but giving of yourself is not the same as standing in your centre, allowing people into that space and then taking appropriate action.
When you’re ready to be a sovereign being, not exhausted or lost in other people’s energetic spaces, but radiating from your core, then you become very powerful. People come to you. They’re magnetised by you. What they then do with the experience of being in that energetic presence is really none of your business. Some may heal from the experience, some may turn from it. That’s their choice.Holding Space Tip #2: Holding space is not the same as giving your energy away. Click To Tweet
3. Sara Brooke, Reiki Master + Facilitator
“I feel that the most important foundation for holding space is trust. Your clients and students need to trust you, otherwise they will not feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t become vulnerable and without vulnerability no healing or growth can occur. Trust is not something that can be instantly created, it must be earned & built. I have learnt over the years that building trust comes down to these three main qualities.”
100% presence is required when holding space. You can’t be anywhere but fully in that room and moment with your client or students. Without presence, there is no grounding, no focus, no awareness. People always know if someone is being present with them or not. If they sense that you aren’t then trust will instantly be broken. On the flip side when someone feels they have another person’s full focus and presence they feel deeply loved, seen, understood and accepted. It’s really at the core of what every human desires. If someone senses your full presence they feel your heart, fully supporting them.
Presence also means fully being there for someone in a non-judgemental and compassionate way, rather than taking on the role of “fixer” or “advice giver”. Truly listening, rather than just waiting for you turn to talk.
Healthy and professional boundaries must be established and maintained in order to hold a safe container. Obvious things like starting and finishing when you say you will. Let the participant/s know of what is expected in the session from them and what you role you are there for. Make the physical space safe & comfortable. Simple things like a cushion, soothing candle and box of tissues can go a long way. If it’s a long day, making sure you have regular breaks is important.
If you are holding space for a group then you are in charge of keeping the boundaries balanced within the group and making sure different students aren’t dominating the space and that there is room for everyone. Naturally there is always a mix of extroverts and introverts – so catering to both personality types is very important so everyone feels seen and held. Nothing worse than being in a group where one participant takes over and the facilitator does nothing about it.
To hold space well you have to be in your utter most integrity. Authenticity, honesty and walking your talk are so important. People can sense bullshit a mile away, and the moment that happens the safe space is tainted. Integrity also flows through how much you charge, how many people you have in the space and how you behave and what you say within that space. I remember going to a workshop once where the facilitator spent the lunch break bitching about a past student and it felt really toxic, in that moment she destroyed the trust that had been previously established with the group.
I have learnt over the years that I prefer to hold space for smaller groups of 8 – 12 people max, unless I have an assistant with me I trust as extra support for the group. I have been to a few workshops over the years that crammed too many people into them and that really threw off the energy of the environment. No one likes to feel like they are just another number or dollar.
Holding Space Tip #3: Healthy boundaries must be maintained. Click To Tweet
4. KATE REID, Women’s Circles Facilitator
“Holding Space is a complex weave and a delicate balance of tuning into and attending to the emotional landscape of the group as well as keeping on track with the tasks of the group (like agreements, timing, topics to cover).
It means creating a contained environment where participants feel safe enough to let down their guard and share from the heart. It means communicating in a clear and loving way and encouraging others to do the same.”
- Do some reading and training on how to facilitate groups. There are a lot of dynamics that require conscious attention when holding space and doing some homework and training first will help.
- Have a clear set of Group Agreements on how you will be operating in the Circle eg. Confidentiality, Co-Creation, Non-Judgement, Being on Time etc.
- Always do a ‘check-out’ at the end of each session so you know where everyone is ‘at’. Sometimes it is hard to tell and this allows for any final processing that needs to happen before the Circle closes.
5. TARA BLISS, Author
“You and your friend are meeting up tonight at a concert. You’ve got seats in the upper levels and she’s running a little late, so you place your bag on the seat next to you, and save it for her.
You don’t feel any particular attachment or feeling towards the seat, but your intention is that she has somewhere to land that is hers. It is an offering to her, from you.
I view holding space like this.
The term ‘holding space’ – in my eyes – is often sugar-coated and can be misconstrued. You do not need to send someone White Light to hold space for them.
You don’t need to pray that they be relieved of their pain and suffering.. If you want to, sure, ritual rocks every day of the week, but what’s most important is that you simply save their seat.
This time, that seat is in your heart, or in your womb, or in your mind – wherever you feel like you can ‘hold’ it. You acknowledge this person, fully. You allow them to process and journey and grow in their own way. You bare witness.”Holding Space Tip #5: You do not need to try and save and rescue them by smudging sage in their… Click To Tweet
6. JULIE PARKER, Coach + Founder of BYCA
“Holding space to me is all about deep listening. Not the surface type of listening that most of us do on a daily basis where we may be looking at our phone or thinking about the ‘answer’ to give someone or worrying about what we are going to cook for dinner that night.
Deep listening is where all distractions are removed, our focus is devoted to the speaker and we are active, curious and compassionate to every word we hear. To me when we listen like that we are holding space for someone well.”
1. Learn how to develop deep listening skills.
2. Hone and trust your intuition.
3. Understand it’s not about you – it’s all about the person you are holding space for.Holding Space Tip #6: Understand it’s not about you – it’s all about the person you are holding… Click To Tweet
7. BRIEANN BOAL, Yoga Instructor & Personal Trainer
“I have an unapologetically eccentric, wild, wide-ranging motley crew of a client base. From women wearing multiple hats (mothers, lovers, business owners, artists, poets, full time gypsy’s, bloggers, care-providers) to those who are receiving treatment for drug addictions, eating disorders, anxiety or post-traumatic stress. I draw on a range of rituals, techniques and gestures to enter an instant portal into peace and presence.”
- Kundalini Meditation Technique: I have everyone close their eyes at the start of a session. This gives everyone, including myself, a chance to settle and turn their attention inwards. During these first few moments I have a very specific ritual (poached from Kundalini yoga). I focus my inner-gaze at my third-eye, I feel the pulse in my left wrist with my right hand. With each beat of my heart, I mentally chant Sat Nam (basic translation: truth identified). It gives me a sense of being in communion and alignment with my highest Self – with the divine. It’s a quiet reassurance that I will show up as my most clear, most sincere, most elevated self.
- Collective Breath – Synchronised: Take 3 full belly breaths (helps you shift gears out of sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) to enter a state of presence.
- Choreography: If you want to hold space better for clients/participants, don’t underestimate the power of planning, session structure and design. Collect a swag of powerful rituals and activities and consider how best to arrange them. They are the glue that binds your session and keeps your space intentional and pure.
Brieann recommends this sequence:
- A grounding ritual (something that calms you and brings you into your heart space).
- Set your own personal intention for the practice and the space.
- Invite your attendees/participants to set their own intention.
- Have a plan while being 100% open veering off course. (Trust your intuition and allow your workshop/session/event to unfold in intuitive and delightfully unexpected ways.)
- Close the circle: have a sign off sequence. (Mine includes a guided meditation, gratitude ritual and sound shower.)
8. NAOMI ARNOLD, Coach + Writer
“How I hold space for others changes depending on the context. However, it generally involves taking care of myself, actively listening, showing empathy and being generous.”
1. When you know that you are about to enter an environment where you need or want to hold space for others, make an effort to ground and centre yourself beforehand. When you are feeling scattered, stressed or unfocused – it can be difficult to truly hold space for others. For me, this sometimes involves deep breathing, meditation, going for a walk, or doing another self care activity or ritual.
2. Make a deliberate effort to focus on active listening and listening to understand. Don’t listen to respond, to have the answer, or to give advice. Just listen to understand and empathise, and you will likely notice a shift in your dialogue and experience with holding space for others.
3. Focus on what you can give to others – based on what you’ve ‘heard’ through practicing active listening. Sometimes, all they need is someone to listen. Other times they might need you to show initiative or help in some way, a hug, a gift to show your support, or some other gesture that shows you truly heard them.Holding Space Tip #8: Don't listen to respond. Listen to understand. Click To Tweet
9. WILKA ROIG, Dream Work Facilitator & Therapist
“To me, holding space is allowing and accepting the other to be, say, and do as they must in order to get closer to his or her truth. Holding space is safely containing that process. ‘Safely’ means for the other to feel safe enough to undergo the process.
Holding space is also validating the other’s experience, not necessarily with words, but with attunement. I hold space by first preparing myself emptying from my self, and then making the person or people I am holding space for be the focus, priority, and center of attention.
I hold space by making myself fully present and available, by perceiving myself as mirror, and putting myself completely on the side of the other person/people. I am there to listen, to receive, and to reflect back if requested. I am there to lovingly allow and accept the other as he or she is in the present moment.”
- Be Present.
- Practice Active Listening.
- Attune to Your Felt Sense.
10. Mel Farrugia, Kinesiologist + Facilitator, Soul Wellness
“The phrase ‘holding space’ is so widely used in the healing community, though admittedly when I first heard it, I was baffled. It was the early days of being a healer, and at the end of a session one of my clients said to me “you hold space so well, thank you.” It took me awhile to realise what she’d actually said is she’d felt safe, seen and heard, and that all of what she’d shared had been welcomed, rather than judged.
When I’ve reflected on how I knew how to ‘hold space’ for her, I realised I’d been taught to; by every person who had ever received me compassionately, especially when I was most vulnerable, and that I’d gone on to develop the craft of holding space for myself too.
This is the key to deep space holding; developing the ability to be present with yourself, all that you fear and deem unworthy, through the eyes and heart of compassion, rather than judgement. This takes time, curiosity, courage and patience.
When I reflect on the times I’ve most effectively held space for myself, I know I’ve embodied two archetypes most obviously; the wise woman/mother, and the maiden. The wise woman says “go ahead, I’m listening” with a strength and compassion that imbues safety, and in return the maiden whispers her fears and insecurities. There’s an honest conversation, back and forth, and then when all is said and done; liberation, relief, release The peace that comes after an emotional wound has been healed. This is what it feels like to hold space for myself.
I also believe we consistently hold a space for one another, consciously, effectively or otherwise. And sometimes we’re more effective at it than at other times.
Do we control and shut others down, or do we allow those around us to show up however they need to? This is a complex topic, though this is the kind of space I speak of. What do we allow for others, and in turn ourselves? It’s similar to the concept of being a ‘good manifester’. We’re constantly manifesting, though are we manifesting most effectively? It’s the same for how we hold space.Holding Space Tip #10: Develop the ability to be present with yourself, with all that you fear… Click To Tweet
11. HEATHER PLETT, The Circle Way Facilitator + Narrative Coach
“Holding space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or palliative care nurses. It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.”
1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
2. Keep your own ego out of it.
3. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.Holding Space Tip #11: Keep your ego out of it. Click To Tweet
12. MEGAN KOUFOS, Psychic Soul Healer + Medium
“Holding space for me is about having wholehearted presence to create a sacred energetic container for people to feel held and surrender into. Whether its my child having a big emotional release (aka tantrum), a client going through some big breakthroughs, or women sharing at my events – it about helping them be feel held, supported, heard, loved and accepted, just as they are without judgement, through what ever they are experiencing at the time. Holding the highest vision for them, and reflecting their beautiful light within, back to them – when they are unable to see it for themselves.”
1. Leave your own ego/worries at the door – its about them in that moment
2. Do your inner work of honoring all the parts of yourself and holding space (though becoming the observer) for yourself through your triggers, releases and challenges.
3. Connect to your heart, and love yourself more – the more you love and honor yourself, the more capacity you have to do this for others”Holding Space Tip #12:The more you love and honor yourself, the more capacity you have to hold… Click To Tweet
13. PAULINE POLLARD, Parenting Coach, Speaker and Educator
‘Holding Space’ for our children is a relatively new concept in the parenting world but one that I feel has a huge impact on the way we can support our children during those challenging times.
Holding Space is about letting go of all our expectations of our child and instead, meeting them exactly where they are in the moment.
To let go of what WE think they SHOULD be doing, thinking or saying by putting our own judgements and criticisms aside and actually looking at our child with new eyes and truly seeing them for who they are, not who we want them to be.
When our kids are acting out and pushing our buttons it can trigger us to feel like it’s a personal attack on us. We need to be able to look beyond the behaviour and not take it personally. When we can put our stuff aside and see our kids actions as a way of communicating a deeper issue we shift our perspective and are able to support them.
We cannot give our children what we don’t have ourselves. So in order to hold the space for our kids we need to raise our own energy.
We do this by dropping from our mind (and the endless chatter and distraction) into our heart space. The heart is fuelled by love and this process enables us to be kind, open and compassionate towards our children. We become present, grounded and focussed.
We step into the situation feeling empowered knowing we can confidently support our child and give them what they really need – guidance to their own inner wisdom.
Pauline’s Tips for holding space for your children
- Fill Yourself Up Energy Ritual
In order to support your child, you need to be full of positive supportive and compassionate energy yourself. It is important that you create a bubble of this higher vibrational energy within and around you which then enables you to flow that energy towards your child.
Some ways to achieve this include:
- Breathe work- done correctly we are able to calm our nervous system and respond rather than react
- Connecting with Divine Spirit (God, Universal source, whatever is meaningful to you.) This process enables us to feel supported ourselves.
- Send love from your heart -this is unconditional love that is pure and abundant. The more you give the more that energy is replenished.
- Shift Your Mindset
Place your hand over your heart and ask
“What would love do?”
This is powerful beyond words.
This creates that energy shift to “How I can serve my child for their highest good”
- Validate their emotions
Let your child know it is okay to feel into their emotions and when they are ready to talk you will be there for them.
Whisper in their ear “I love you unconditionally”
“I appreciate and respect you”
“I support you”
Communicate to them “When you are ready we will take a deep breath together.”
Unless we are full of love and light ourselves we cannot hold a space for our children that is pure and divine.Holding Space Tip #13: We need to be able to look beyond the behaviour and not take it… Click To Tweet
Wow. I’m sure you’ll agree that these 12 experts have shared some incredible experiential wisdom about holding space in this epic post.
Now I’d love to know two things:
1. How do YOU hold space?
2. Which insight or tip will you start applying today? (I’d love to know in the comments)
Thanks for reading. Please share these tips far and wide, so we can hold space for the people in our lives….. just a little bit better than before.