As a breathwork practitioner, or any other type of therapist, it’s likely that people will reach out to you, believing that they need healing. It’s a common perception in people that they are in some way broken and in need of fixing. So they may seek a ‘guru’ to offer a magical cure for their healing journey.
In truth, the most powerful work is done by giving a person tools with which to heal themselves. By doing so, you are able to empower them, rather than create a dependency which leaves them floundering without you.
A fundamental approach to assist with achieving this goal is the ability to ‘hold space’ for people. This term has become more common in wellbeing circles and is used in many contexts but it’s valuable to pause and reflect on what this really means.
In its simplest form this term means to be present for someone, mentally, emotionally and physically, and to put full focus on them to support them as they process their feelings and learn to unveil their inner light. It is essentially about creating a feeling of safety to allow people to be unguarded to enable them to surrender.
Bringing mindfulness to this process is a true strength. Simply assuming that you will be capable of this because you are a ‘good listener’ or are a ‘natural empath’ can leave key elements of this vital work overlooked.
Each of us will have our individual approach and ‘style’ in supporting others which will hugely influence the client experience. It wouldn’t be authentic for us all to follow a formula, without scope for uniqueness. Even so, it can be helpful to consider what might be the crucial facets of holding space so as to bring awareness of whether this is work that will align with you.
What qualities to embody and steps to take to create the most nourishing healing environment possible:
Set up a safe space
Offering a physical space that is perceived as safe is an important starting point. This means choosing a place where there will be no disturbance or interruption, and also where there is an appropriate level of privacy. In group sessions with multiple clients present, this can be achieved by setting clear expectations on confidentiality so that privacy is mutually respected. In the current climate of ‘zoom’ sessions and virtual presence consider how to support clients in creating a physical space in their surroundings that will be nurturing and conducive to their time with you.
Be present and show compassion
To hold space requires you to be present, fully - not just physically but also mentally, energetically and emotionally. Whether a session is virtual or in person this means preparing yourself to be grounded and stable to enable you to help others. For example, if you are holding a breathwork session then 5 to 10 minutes before the client arrives it is advisable that you prepare yourself using breathwork, meditation or other grounding and centering techniques. This will help eliminate any sense of scattered energy that you may have from the busyness of travelling/initiating zoom and technical set up and preparing the practicalities for the session. Once a session is underway, you are then able to deeply listen and tune in to the client, not just with your ears but with your heart. Developing your sensing and intuition are priceless tools to enhance your ability to support and understand a client’s needs.
Be a witness and serve as a container
Whatever might arise during a session we need to be an observer of this and remain objective. Ultimately, holding space means ‘being’ there without trying to change anything. Simply by ‘being’ there it creates space for a person to feel safe, to feel and express their feelings. It can be a helpful practical habit to tune in to your own breathing during a session. When intense emotions are released in your presence, your nervous system can be activated and this can alter your breathing by triggering your sympathetic nervous system. By regulating your breath and checking into your body you can choose to re-centre at any point if you feel any emotional effect. This will help you maintain a professional assessment of the client’s needs and assist with preventing unintentionally projecting any of your own emotions onto a client.
Clients may need verbal attention or soothing with appropriate contact but it is best not to assume. It is always advisable to have checked with a client ahead of a session starting on whether they are comfortable with physical contact. It is best never to assume that a hug is welcome just because you might feel the urge to give one, or would imagine wanting one in that situation. Empathy though is a powerful quality and it would be wise to reveal your humanity – your openness to imperfections, limitations and feeling emotions will make it easier to relate to you.
Accept people as they are – don’t judge
You will potentially need to expect the unexpected as you will never be able to predict from looking at a person what they are carrying inside. As a consequence, you will be unable to predict their beliefs, views, experiences, prejudices, values or traumas and emotions needing release. Any or all of these may differ to your own. It is natural as humans to make assessments and weigh people up. This is another aspect of our survival mode that is inbuilt to keep us safe. Our nervous system will subconsciously judge and compare an experience to determine our safety. It will highlight differences to you as a potential warning. Without meaning to we can easily judge others. Even well-meaning compliments, or assessments on how a client ‘should’ behave, and action they need to take to improve their situation, are judgements. Always be aware and ask yourself whether it is your place to voice an opinion and give advice... mor whether it is better to ‘hold the space’ open to invite a person to reflect and find their own answer.
Be trauma informed
It is vital to be sensitive to the myriad of possibilities that might arise for a client while you hold space. Releasing trauma can be common in breathwork, and many other therapies, and so there is a responsibility to ensure your response to that is appropriate. Gaining training that is trauma informed, so that any response does not cause more distress, is imperative.
The safest of spaces will always have boundaries. Setting clear parameters for treatment in advance helps to manage expectations. It is crucial to be clear yourself on who you are, what you are offering, and to who. It will never be possible to satisfy everyone’s needs and it is better to be focused and recognise this. Be conscious of your limitations and never be tempted to seek to support someone whose goal or issues are outside your remit. It might be tempting to accept all work, but it is better to signpost people elsewhere than risk damaging them or your reputation. This is an area with a large scope for confusing feelings. The emotional urges than can arise, for example during breathwork for a client, can lead to them feeling emotions for you as their Facilitator. Maintaining healthy boundaries and professional integrity at all times is paramount. This also includes the need to make a commitment to maintain confidentiality and communicate this to clients.
Last but not least...
in the end it all begins with you
Considering whether you are personally suited to this work is vital in laying strong foundations for your practice. Qualifications are an excellent resource to ensure the building of knowledge and skills. Whether this is breathwork, tantra, or any other mode of healing, these are the tools of your trade. Gaining a sound training will build your confidence in your abilities. Beyond this knowledge however, an equally critical part of your professional responsibility is to attend to your own healing.
Take time to tune in to your inner world before you begin. Where is your ego right now? Do you crave the recognition of a ‘guru’? Do you desire praise and thanks for the service you offer? Do you obsess over your number of social media followers and customer reviews? Any sign that you hold insecurity and the need for adulation in any form may be a red flag that there is scope for more healing. As mentioned, your work is to be a facilitator for healing and to offer the tools to allow a person to heal themselves. You must make a commitment to leave your ego at the door so that you can be fully available to serve the client’s needs and not your own. Humility is a vital aspect of holding space.
A commitment to your own personal inner work, self awareness, the release of emotional blocks and development of self-compassion should run hand in hand with any quality training. Theory is all well and good but having personal insight from your own healing journey is one of the most powerful tools. This ensures that you have the resilience and emotional literacy to support someone else. If you are carrying unprocessed trauma, emotional blocks and fears, then there is a risk that you may project some of this on to a client. If they are already vulnerable and relying on you for support, this can be a toxic and potentially damaging experience.
This is not to say that you must have reached a state of perfect enlightenment! Many of the most revered spiritual leaders of our time have hailed themselves as eternal students. Many will agree that the healing journey never ends. We grow and learn throughout our lives. It is simply recommended that you have chosen to bring a conscious awareness to your own potential issues, and where appropriate to gain support in addressing these.
In any supportive or therapeutic relationship, you are likely to find yourself triggered at times. A skilled facilitator will never project this on to a client. It is advisable to take steps to arrange support for yourself whether through a mentor, coach, or other avenue that allows you to spiritually and emotionally cleanse yourself after supporting someone else. Your own energy and wellbeing will be affected by holding space for others. Making it a priority to care for yourself will recharge you and maintain your ability to hold space with authenticity and openness without self-protective barriers.
Throughout all of this, the simplest truth should be held in mind... you are not there to ‘fix’ someone, you are enabling them to connect to their inner strength and provide them with tools to remove any blocks preventing that. People will only let down their defences if they feel safe to do so. They will need to establish trust for this to be possible. Consider what it would take for you to personally feel comfortable enough to fully surrender in the presence of someone. Is this what you want to embody in your own work to hold space?
However you choose to establish your practice, to be in keeping with your own unique approach the same universal truth applies - if you can master ‘holding space’ then you are undoubtedly creating the opportunity for the deepest and most profound healing journey for your clients. Selflessly empowering others in this way is a true gift. It is the basis for transformation and untold personal evolution.