Mindfully Holding Space for Self

May 01, 2022

Mindfully Holding Space for Self

By Angela Deen, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, YACEP, Certified Meditation Instructor, Certified Mindfulness Coach

Holding space refers to providing a safe and compassionate container for the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise within our internal experience. When we have an unwanted sensation, thought, or emotion, we may tend to fight against experiencing it. This is a common response to unpleasantness- actively going to war within ourselves. We may also tend to avoid our experience by distracting our attention away from the unwanted thought/emotion by instead focusing our attention on something else, such as social media. In each of these coping strategies, we are not holding space for what is present within us. 

To fight against the unwanted thought/emotion, we may feel that we are “taking action” to rid ourselves of the unpleasantness. However, when we fight against what “is”, whether this is an unpleasant thought or emotion, or maybe it is an unpleasant external situation, we are instead closing the space around this unpleasant thought/emotion and not allowing it the freedom to exist and then move through our awareness; we are instead keeping it locked in our awareness longer when we choose to fight against this unpleasant feeling.

To use distraction as a way to avoid facing and holding space for our unpleasant feelings also keeps the unpleasant feeling within our awareness. Instead of a more actively noticeable presence, when we are fighting against the feeling, this unwanted feeling may linger in our subconscious. Always there, lurking in the background of our awareness, and demanding a constant flow of distractions: television, social media, over-scheduling, fretting about secondary things, etc. to keep oneself from feeling what is-the unpleasant feeling. 

Instead of fighting against these unwanted/unpleasant feelings or distracting ourselves away from these feelings, we can employ the use of mindfulness to sit with our thoughts/emotions as they arise while holding a safe container of compassionate space for all that arises-with the underlying realization that everything is impermanent-including our own thoughts and emotions! If we can hold space and accept everything we experience in our awareness as part of being human, then the thoughts and emotions may pass through a bit quicker.  

Today, we will discuss two practices of holding space for oneself:

  •   Checking-In
  •   Taking a Pause

Checking in is a quick and effective way of holding space for yourself. Throughout the day, you can ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now within my physical body, mental body, and emotional body?” Quickly scanning yourself for any sensations, thoughts, and emotions that are currently present within your experience and offering non-judgmental space for what is present.

We tend to live within our headspace during the day: thinking about the past or fretting about the future. This leaves little time to experience our current, present moment thoughts and emotions. Checking in with yourself throughout the day is helpful at reuniting the mind and body into the present moment.  

Holding Space Meditation

Find a comfortable seated position, maybe closing the eyes or lowering the gaze. Begin to take some deep breaths: inhaling in through the nose, and exhaling, sighing it out through the mouth. Return to a normal breathing rhythm and begin to ask yourself how you are feeling. Scanning through your physical body, noticing any sensations present currently. Next, begin to notice your thoughts. No judgment-simply acknowledging what you’re experiencing in your mind right now. And lastly, scan your emotions. What types of emotions are present in this moment for you?

Note: A check-in can be as long as you’d like; however, for practical purposes, a check-in can be done within 15-30 seconds.

Taking a Pause during the day can be a useful mindfulness practice of holding space for yourself. Taking a pause during your day is similar to checking in with yourself, however taking a pause typically utilizes the breath to bring you into the present moment. The practice of “checking in” is an account of your physical, mental, and emotional bodies in the present moment. The practice of “taking a pause” is a way of bringing awareness to the breath to ground yourself in the present moment experience.

The breath is a wonderful way to bring us into the present however it sometimes can be challenging to remember! Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk, suggests using everyday occurrences as mindfulness bells to remind yourself to bring awareness to the breath. Some examples of everyday mindfulness bells for the breath could be: stopping at a red light, the phone ringing, birds chirping, or for mothers-when hearing your children shout “Mom!” is a PERFECT time to practice a pause to focus on the breath. Implementing a pause during the day, can be as simple as stopping, and following with awareness, one in-breath, and one out-breath, then resuming with your day.

Practice: Find a settled posture-whether you are seated, standing, or lying down. Begin to bring awareness to your breath. Noticing where you feel your breath in the body: maybe the chest, the stomach, the nostrils, or the back of the throat. Stay with the breath, for one inhale and one exhale. Smile to yourself and open your eyes, returning to your day. 

Note: Taking a pause is a short practice-typically the length of one to three breaths.

Holding Space is a beautiful way to show acceptance and compassion for yourself. The act of holding space for self implicitly shows yourself that you are worthy in all moments, all sensations, all emotions, and all thoughts. Practicing and experiencing, firsthand, the ability to show up for ourselves in an all encompassing and compassionate way, allows us to better hold space and understand others. 

Journaling Practice:

  • Do you tend to fight against and/or to avoid your experience at times? If so, what do you employ as a distraction to avoid holding space for your unwanted emotions/thoughts?
  • Consider some ways that you can implement holding space for yourself into your daily routine.
  • Consider some ways that you can hold space for others.