Holding space. It’s an expression that pops up a lot in yoga, as perhaps in more directly therapeutic work. I guess the idea is about creating a safe container for someone, to allow them to have their time and space. The teacher’s role is to provide the context for the examination but not the answers. The student has to do the work for themselves.
I feel this very much with my own teachers and how they allow me to be, with oh-so-subtle suggestions that allow me to perceive the fluidity of experience, that all things change, perceptions find a new shape even as my muscles and joints find new alignment. I’m humbled by being granted this space by them, being given an opportunity and a framework from which to watch my own slow progress, observing the interplay of effort and not-effort, how resolution can come from a letting go much more than any actual activity. Sometimes I think it really is as simple as inhale-exhale. Everything follows from that.
All the while my teachers sit patiently by. I feel their attention and their care. They don’t hurry me and they don’t try to fix me. They simply hold this space for me. Sometimes they hold me more literally too. Holding me by the hand in the toughest of times, recently helping me breathe a little more easily through gentle touch, the whisper of a ‘physical assist’, if we’re using that language. Their presence is steady but subtle. It speaks volumes. It contains depth.
Their practice of non-judgmental observation is a bit awesome to me. I learn much from my recognition of their practice too, their practice of being with me. One day I hope I might learn how to cultivate this atttitude towards myself and then in time grow steady enough to offer this also to my own students.
I never feel ready. I never feel steady. Not knowledgeable enough, not wise enough.
But sometimes we’re called to action and we have no choice but to step up. There’s an imperative.
So none of this is about me really, it’s about the student who came to class in extreme suffering, not knowing where else to turn. But finding something in my lunchtime yoga class that called to her as the best place to be. I offered what I could. It was messy, imperfect, but heartfelt and human and of the moment. There’s no preparation time for a crisis. It arrives suddenly. It is by defintion unpredictable, stormy, and difficult. She did her practice, she breathed and moved with determination and focus, as if a life depended on it. She sobbed intermittently, tears dripping onto her mat, at times gulping with loud uneven breaths. I taught the class from my heart. No script or preparation for this, just giving voice to my best understanding of yoga and hoping that the practice would unfold for her as she needed it to.
None of this is about me, but I’m left deeply moved by the experience, by being a bit-player in someone else’s drama, by realising my role as someone’s teacher, not colleague, nor friend or relative or any other relationship I’m already familar with.
Hubby as always offered me his wise insights. He said: it’s because I like to see my yoga teaching as just a bit of a game, some form of yoga dress-up where I imitate my elders and betters, while the real yoga teaching is going on elsewhere, across town. In my own teacher’s classes in fact, because he’s the real teacher and I’m just a lycra-clad imposter. A little style, but not much substance. But on this day it became suddenly very real and I felt suddenly very responsible. Not for fixing, not for glossing over the pain and suffering with easy words. But responsibe for holding space, for being as available as required — and not a bit more. Action in inaction. Harder than I could imagine.
I went home and chanted. Shri Krishna sharanam mama. I begin to discover my own refuge and my resources, what my teachers offer, what I cultivate through my own practice. Whatever is meant by yoga lineage, for me it’s this: this cycle of giving and receiving. Of drawing strength and offering support. It’s as simple and natural as inhale-exhale.