Space Element = Holding Space for Others & Self

Think of your conversations over the past month.  These could have been via Zoom, over the phone, or in-person.  In those conversations, ask yourself the following questions.  Were you mostly listening, talking, or a combination?  If it was mostly you talking, think about how much time did the other person talk vs you?  Was it fairly even or not?  If the person did share something with you about their life, did you immediately compare it to yours and interrupt them?  Did you tell them a list of “should’s” as maybe a way to offer help?  Did you have a reaction to what they were saying that clearly stated your opinion on the subject?   “Oh wow!” “What?!” “Oh my goddess!” “Really?!” 

If you were the one mainly sharing, consider the following…

What if you just listened?  Did not offer suggestions to help, did not compare to your life, and did not have a reaction that showed your opinion on the subject. How do you think the other person would feel?   

When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

Amy Wright Glenn

Why was I thinking about this so much?  I attended a yoga continued education session for Yoga for Healthy Aging.  One of the exercises we did was active listening with a partner.  We just “held space” for that person to share for 3 minutes and at the end we just said “Thank you”.  No reactions, follow-up questions, etc.  The experience was eye-opening. It made me reflect that we rarely do this outside of a training session environment.  But what if we did?  I think this would be an amazing way to allow someone to share in a safe space. 

I feel this aligns with taking yoga off of the mat and into daily life.  Giving someone the gift of a nonjudgmental space to be fully heard. Personally, I would love this more often in my life! 

I am not saying offering help to others with suggestions is a incorrect thing to do.  I am only suggesting that once in awhile, this might be a loving and powerful gift to give someone in your life.

Holding Space for Self…

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this also applies to ourselves. Setting aside time during our day to do something creative or calming. Taking a step away from responsibilities and “to do” lists to hold space to be our whole self. Sounds simple enough, but it is easy to get swept into the action of the day with work, family, friends, household items.

For me, I enjoy my daily 20 minute savasana. My silent, dark (eye pillow) time to just focus on the sensations of my breath and rest my body, mind and spirit. I find that when I skip this, even for just one day, something feels “off”, not right. I really miss it.

Holding space for yourself is a gift and a necessary part of our daily life.

Holding Space for Others Exercise…

  • Inform person ahead of time that you would like to hold space for them, even mention this blog post as a reference. Let them know you will only listen and at the end of the allocated time, only respond with “thank you”.
  • If person is on-board, have them share something in their life with you while you set a timer.  Could be 3 to 5 minutes or even longer depending on the situtation.
  • While person is sharing, maintain eye-contact and stay silent.  No audible reactions. Head nodding is fine to do.  
  • When person is done.  Just say “thank you”.
  • If the person is open to it, invite them to share how they felt during the exercise. Maybe they will even want to switch and do the exercise for you.

Want to stay updated with related topics? Join my twice a month free newsletter.

Space Element = Yoga Connection

Just think of the word “space” and see which words come to mind, how does the word make you feel?

If you paused to do this word-association exercise, you may be surprised by the amount of words, images or feelings that came to mind with just a single word as a prompt. I think this is the exciting part of using the space element as a theme for a yoga class because it can lead in so many creative directions.

My words were…planets, stars, sun, moon, galaxy, vastness, exploring, adventure, sense of wonder, silence, darkness, infinite, expanding, void.

When I say a yoga practice, I do not just mean a Vinyasa flow. It could be chair yoga, seated meditation, breath work, long savasana, yin or restorative. This theme can be tailored in many forms of yoga, both very active and also restful.

Only in a space of silence and deep inner listening, do I receive guidance for my personal life journey.

Carol Bailey (Reiki Energy Yoga)

Space Element Pranayama Practice

This practice is to notice the pause, or the void of activity in the breath cycle, after the exhale. Instead of seeing it as an “empty” feeling, see it as a full completion of the breath cycle. More of a “soaking in” of the breath, instead of a lack of breath, is more comfortable and restful.

You can do this with or without the mental image. I find that using a focus for the mind makes it a little easier for you not to become distracted (aka give your mind a task to do, otherwise you will just think of random stuff). I am using a white light but you can select any color you wish or even seeing it as a blanket of stars. Entire breath cycle done via the nose and I am NOT closing off the nostrils after the breath.

Note: The duration, in seconds, of the parts of the breath cycle are really based on each individual. Even each breath cycle itself is unique and will not match to a perfect timing. However, if you find counting to be helpful, then what I normally use is 3 second inhale, 4 second exhale, 3 second pause.

Inhale = Pull in the light and have it settle around your heart

Exhale = The entire body is filled with this vast healing light

Pause = Allow the light to soak into every cell in your body

Space Element Mudra (Akasha)

  • Connect tips of thumb and middle fingers.
  • Extend the little, ring and index fingers straight out.
  • Rest the back of the hands on the thighs.

Invokes the quality of vastness. Openness to new possibilities. Directs energy/awareness to throat and neck areas. It is linked to the sense of hearing. Tuning out everything else in order to listen to your internal world.

Yoga Practice

  • Taking your feet out wider than usual in Warrior 2, Wide-legged standing forward fold or Warrior 1.
  • Stepping half on / half off your mat to explore walking toe heel (one foot directly in front of the other) on the very edge of the mat. Either select one long edge or trace the entire outline of the rectangle mat.
  • Reclined on your back reaching arms and legs in organic movements to explore the area around you.
  • Standing in star or goddess or taking side to side lunges, reach your arms up towards the ceiling, on the horizon line and towards the ground. Getting a side stretch if reaching right arm towards the right or a gentle twist if reaching across the midline.
  • Spreading fingers and toes.
  • Space themed shapes = Star pose, Half Moon 1, Half Moon 2, Moon salutation (either slower speed or near the ground utilizing table top, cat/cow and kneeling in the movements).
  • Not going to your ultimate forward fold, having some space to lengthen the spine instead of going into flexion.
  • Supported backbends using props (blankets, bolsters) to create a release in the upper chest and armpit area where we are usually “tight” due to poor posture.
  • Focusing on getting into muscle groups that are not normally stretched during a practice like the quads (dancer, side-lying quad stretch, reclined hero’s pose, King Arthur).
  • Move arms and legs away a little further in Savasana (like a starfish).
  • Allow for more silence during the practice. Tuning inward to sensations and the breath. Inviting yourself to be comfortable with silence.
  • If you feel safe in a pose, close your eyes to explore the darkness of space.

Water Element = Soothing Sound

Related post: Water Element = Yin Yoga Connection

Music is the most powerful sound there is since we both recognize it quickly and associate it with something as well, either positive or negative. This is part of our basic survival instincts. This music also includes natural sounds like bird singing or water flowing. For example, we recognize birds singing as a survival signal that everything is OK outside. Hearing water reminds us of a relaxing vacation at the beach or a cozy night inside as it rained. We can utilize pleasing sounds to increase our vagal tone, which is the same thing as saying better physical and mental well-being.

Hold on…What is Vagal Tone?!

The Vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and is a fundamental component of the parasympathetic branch (rest/digest/recover) of the autonomic nervous system. The nerve is one of the longest and most complex in the body and connects from the brain, thorax (chest cavity including heart and lungs) and abdomen. The nerve regulates internal organ functions including digestion, heart rate, breathing rate and certain reflex actions like coughing and sneezing.

I think the coolest part is that it is a mixed nerve, it has both sensory and motor fibers. This means motor signals are carried to the organs, to decrease heart rate for example, but also the organs also relay back sensory information back into the central nervous system!

Vagal tone is the activity of the vagus nerve. Using different techniques, we can stimulate this activity (aka vagal tone) to promote wellness. One of the activities can include decreases heart or breathing rates which has a restful impact on the body.

Sound impacts us on many levels that we may not even be aware of, I found a very interesting TED talk by Julian Treasure, as well as scientific studies done on natural sounds, including water. Noting that ocean sounds are linked to the natural breathing rate while we sleep, both are around 12 cycles/times per minute.

Sound impacts us four different ways…

  1. Physiologically (physical body functions) = Brings the body into better balance by increasing the rest/digest/recover nervous system called the parasympathetic response. This includes hormone levels like lowering cortisol in the body which is a stress hormone and also decreasing heart and breathing rates and brain waves.
  2. Psychologically = We recognize water as calming. Unlike maybe the sounds of a rainforest, which we do not have personal experience with, we do have various personal experiences with the sound of water. This recognition triggers both an emotional and mental relaxation, reducing anxiety and anger. Water sounds also are rhythmic and build up or dissipate gradually which are qualities that the brain finds soothing.
  3. Cognitively = We have a small bandwidth for processing auditory input. Which is why a loud surrounding while we are trying to work or concentrate is extremely unproductive and distracting. (There is a 66% decrease in productivity due to open office spaces (aka no traditional office doors to close, just open air rows of desks)…which makes me think that working from home is actually a benefit to both the company and the individuals)
  4. Behaviorally = Simply put, pleasant sounds make us happy! Even can allow a deeper resting state or sleep.

For this post, I will be focusing on the element of water. I have always been drawn to water. It is very peaceful and serene. I love water so much that we even were married on a beach in Maui! For me, both the recognition and the association of water sounds makes it a powerful relaxation tool.

There are some powerful ways to use sound during our yoga practice to compliment our intention to rest and promote a natural body response of calm. These sounds could be something we generate ourselves using the breath or listening to via an external device. For example the calming breathing practice called Bhramari, or Bee’s Breath, is generating a vibrational humming sound on the exhale. (for more on humming/chanting see this related blog post = Mantra Meditation ) I have found that humming to myself before savasana has resulted in a more restful practice. I also have enjoyed listening to ocean wave sounds during meditation. Each week on Wednesday evenings, I tune into my teacher/friend Kim’s restorative yoga class via Prairie Yoga (Virtual Zoom link as of writing this blog post). She is a highly trained and skilled singing bowl and sound specialist who plays her crystal bowls during the practice for an enhanced relaxation experience. I have found it to be an essential part of my week.

My intention for this post is for you to take inventory of the sounds around you during the day. Do you have many distracting and/or loud sounds? Can you utilize headphones to play nature sounds or white noise? Can you get outside and listen to birds singing or go near a water source? Even a long shower and a bath can promote well-being. Notice how you are impacted by water sounds and find some creative ways to incorporate them in your day.

Cell phone app & instrument for sound that I use/recommend…

  • Relaxing Melodies = There are created sound melodies as well as a composer section that you can create your own. There is even an entire section dedicated to different water sounds.
  • Koshi chime aqua version

Book & Online Articles