“Holding space”—a task given to many a yoga teacher and holistic practitioner, a responsibility and a blessing that gives us a sense of unity and connection and safety. I spent many years leaning on my teachers to hold space for my personal healing, whether it was learning about the anatomy of a yoga posture or helping me process long-held anxiety and doubt that had lodged itself into my tissues. Those teachers were, and continue to be, a phenomenal aid to my process of self-inquiry, but when it came time for me to step into the role of teaching that element of the job terrified me. I knew how to lead a class, how to listen, how to decide whether words of reassurance or silence would be the best medicine. But holding space—that intangible, enormous, awe-ful no-thing? Not even a million hours of training seemed sufficient to do that for myself, let alone for other people, who had entire worlds worth of space in and around them.
In the months since the coronavirus pandemic sent us all inside to be with ourselves, our relationship to space has changed dramatically. The people, activities, commutes, work, routines, and even thoughts that took up space in our lives may have been modified, shrunk, or disappeared entirely, leaving behind a sudden, disarming emptiness. In the mad rush to adjust and reclaim normalcy, we may have tried to fill that space with alternatives, projects, and busyness; maybe the emptiness swallowed us whole; maybe there’s been a bit of both, alternately or at the same time. In Ayurveda, we refer to this reaction as a manifestation of the vata dosha, and one of the most effective remedies to a vata imbalance is to be held—contained by the sense of touch, soothed and reassured we’ll be okay.
And yet those spaces where many of us felt most lovingly held—yoga studios and healing centers—were among the first to empty out underneath us, and may remain empty for an unforseeable future. Ripe with the aroma of palo santos and sweat, the familiar stack of props in the corner, and the sounds of breathing intermingling with street traffic and lobby chatter, yoga studios are where many of us met the teachers, friends, lovers, and family who helped us love ourselves a little more. As our practice has moved online, into living rooms and basements and porches, we can still experience the joy of yoga, but there’s no doubt about the fact that we are all realizing just how special those spaces were, and continue to be in our memory.
As I’ve been living through the uncertainties of the last few months, I’ve found myself waking up in the middle of the night, or in the early morning, or in the middle of the day with an image in my mind of standing at the edge of a huge cliff. Infinite space spreads out before me, and I sense the earth slowly giving way under my feet. For a long time that image elicited a feeling of dread—no net could ever be big enough to hold that expanse of space for me should I fall in.
But then I realized: What if I stepped into the space? What if, instead of resisting and fearing space, I surrendered to it?
Space is around and in us always. Without space, we could not hear, speak, chew, swallow, digest and eliminate, reproduce, or move our skeletons. Right now, there may seem like more space than usual, but it is a necessity we now have an opportunity to relate to in a new way. The ubiquity of space reminds us that it does not need us, even the most “advanced” yogis, to hold it. Rather, we can take comfort in knowing that space will hold us; that when we step into it, we will not be swallowed but can trust ourselves to fill it.
Join The Space.