Shortly after SWIHA was founded, a guest massage instructor came to our modest campus to offer training on a technique known as “positional release therapy.” In this type of therapy, the body is positioned in strategic ways so as to release the muscles and tension stored from past injuries, accidents, and traumas. Within the first few hours of the workshop, one of the students had a reaction to the position in which her body had been placed. She began to cry and then shake; finally, her left hand involuntarily contorted into a claw-like cramp. The guest instructor (who had over 20 years of experience) stood by in confusion, looking as if he had never seen an emotional release before. Immediately stepping up to the table, I offered the student a guided visualization, taking her to a “safe place” and instructing her to concentrate on slowing her breath to calm her mind.
As the guest instructor look on incredulously, he commented, “In all my years, I have never had THAT happen on my table!” Luckily, I had the grace to not say what I was thinking, which was: “And you never will… because you don’t know how to ‘hold space’ for others!” Even if I had shared what I was thinking, this instructor probably wouldn’t have understood what I was talking about.
Holding Space and Healing Hearts for 25 Years
This September marks the 25th anniversary of SWIHA serving and honoring the mind-body connection; for twenty-five years, it has been our honor to witness and support students and clients alike experiencing emotional releases on the massage table, in the hypnotherapy chair, during a life coaching session, or on the yoga mat.
Emotions get stuck in the body; when a safe healing space is provided with just the right external stimulation, the emotions unwind from their holding places and are released. Released emotions often have a sound: crying, laughing, swearing, or just a deep sign of sweet release.
So, what does “holding space” mean? It’s the ability to create an “emotional container” of non-judgment and loving support where another human being can be vulnerable enough to be themselves and face their shadows— all of the things they have held deep within, afraid to examine, for fear they would see something they deemed bad, not good enough, or unlovable.
Linda Bennett—one the most senior instructors at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, the Program Director for the Clinical Hypnotherapy program, and co-author of the Life Coaching program—offers this insight through one of our well-respected transformational courses entitled Subconscious Intervention:
“Our lives are made up of defining moments, and often those moments can be traumatic. In those moments, we make decisions – decisions that are often colored by misperceptions and mistaken beliefs. We then store these mistaken beliefs in the subconscious mind and body, where they become the foundation for all other decisions. Through subconscious intervention (a type of emotional release of sorts), we can re-define those defining moments and free ourselves from the limitations of the past!”
In reviewing the truly defining moments of SWIHA’s history, the most transformational stories come out of our ability to provide a “safe space” for others to look at the stories that have held them back from healing and moving powerfully into the world.
”It’s just healing happening!”
One of the most dramatic moments in SWIHA history happened within the first few weeks of the opening of the original facility. In its original incarnation, SWIHA’s campus consisted of two adjoining classrooms surrounded by six therapy rooms. One evening, as a class of massage students were gathered around a model skeleton to learn the about the physical body, we were startled by a very dramatic, “BAM! BAM! BAM!” noise. It almost sounded like muffled gun shots, which were immediately followed by the wailings of what could have been a wounded animal.
We were all momentarily suspended in time— that is, until we realized that the sounds were coming from one of the therapy rooms next door. As we all ran out of the classroom, we found ourselves staring directly at a young man kneeling on the floor of one of these rooms, crying out years of pain. We were equally as stunned to see that he had beaten a hole straight through the therapy room door. We could also see the therapist who had been working with him sitting calmly in a chair. She waved us away, assuring us, “It’s OK! It's OK! It’s just healing happening!”
Visibly shaken, we all did go back to class. Shortly thereafter, we heard the “tap, tap, tap” of a hammer and chisel removing the door with the gaping hole. The young man who had had the life-changing emotional release stopped by our room with the door in his hands and addressed us clearly: “I’ll bring you back a new door tomorrow. I cannot thank you enough for providing a space where I could release years of abuse from my father and the false belief that I was unlovable!”
After the young man tiptoed out the door, the therapist came into the classroom to explain (with the client’s permission) that she had been doing a Reiki session on the young man when she noticed a gigantic ball of dark energy stuck over his heart. She described it as a seething ball of pent up energy. The man had confided that as a young boy, he had been beaten over and over again by his father and that at night he would hear the sounds of his mother being beaten, as well. As he made his confession, his voice and volume intensified. The therapist quietly inquired of him, “What do you want to do to release all that is within?” Almost at the top of his lungs, he shouted, “I want to beat the effing door down!” Very matter-of-factly, she replied, “Go ahead!” As we saw, he took her up on her invitation!
The rest has now become history– as have 25 years’ worth of stories of how SWIHA has “held space” for the peace and healing of others. While we now have hardcore doors to muffle the sound and make it little bit safer for those who would choose to beat on a door, what hasn't changed is our willingness to provide a space for those who need to heal as they prepare themselves to practice “holding space” for others when they leave the halls of SWIHA. Those who are hurt, hurt others. Those who are healed have the ability to help heal others.
How do you hold space for emotional release?
Sometimes holding space involves providing a “safe space” from a distance– sitting and listening to the client. It can mean remaining calm and allowing the client to emote loudly, profusely, or even profanely while ensuring the client has physical security as they work to regain their emotional and psychological footing. Other times, holding space for an emotional release is a very “up close and personal” experience.
Very recently, during a Transformational Yoga Coaching weekend, a young woman spent most of the weekend very closed down and shut off; she clearly needed to release the armor around her heart. Her body language and demeanor seemed to be projecting a clear message: “Don't touch me! I don't need anybody! I can totally handle life by myself!” Yet my co-teachers, Shelley Tom and Kate Shipp, could feel there was a fist-sized energetic hole in the middle of her heart.
As we began the Sunday afternoon session of the first weekend, we were sitting in community, sharing from a place of vulnerability. From a very candid and vulnerable place, I shared a little about my “mother wound”– that story stored within which is based on the false belief that I was loved inadequately by an emotionally unavailable mother. My sharing included a concept called “loving someone from a far.” Often, there are people in our lives who feed our wounds. Because they are family, we can’t divorce them, and sometimes we can’t even physically move away. In the cases, the best strategy of non-attachment can be to “love them from afar.” Consciously choosing to be as non-judgmental as possible, the concept is to energetically hold them at bay; Rather than label them or your childhood experience, consider the choice of calling them or the experience your 'teacher'.”
As I explained this concept, the woman began to weep. The core of my story had touched the core of her story! Very respectfully, I scooted over to sit beside her to hold space. Something within me directed me to put my hand on her back… and then my arm gently slid around her shoulder. Magically, she scooted right up onto my lap as if she were a tiny little girl seeking the protection of a loving mother. Her weeping turned into a full adult cry. My reaction was to rock her, to hold her, and to caress her cheek just the way a small child would be comforted. The words began to spill out of my mouth, offering her the soothing things her soul was so desperately craving: “I love you! You are so lovable! Sometimes, mommies don't know what to do or say. Mommies are human! They can only give what they were given. Hear me… you are loved!” The gentle words began to fill the hole in her soul. My words became the words of her emotionally unavailable mother. They were being channeled to and through me so that healing could occur.
When she could finally regain her composure, the woman said, “I don't want to love my mother from afar! I want to love her up close and personal! I want to have a child someday, and I want to be able to love my child just the way you showed me love.” I was then able to extend an invitation for her to make a conscious choice to be a different kind of mother– to be a loving, expressive, emoting mother! Again, the rest of the story is history. This young woman has now become a new mom—a true “softy” in every sense of the word–and murmurs beautiful affirmations to her son in word and song.
There are many classes that prepare students to become practitioners and proficient at how to hold healing space for others. The encouragement is always the same: do your work so that you might hold the space for others to do theirs!
Who do we draw to us?
One of the most dramatic community healings I have witnessed happened a few years ago in a Polarity I class that I have had the honor of facilitating every January. A woman came into the class having obviously been in some sort of tragic accident, as her face bore many deep scars, leading up to deep gashes in her scalp which her hair couldn’t hide. This woman made it known early in the weekend that it was difficult for her to work with male therapists, and that she sometimes had a bad reaction to the cranial holding work that is a part of the Polarity program. Honoring her boundaries, we promised her she would not have to work with anyone she was not comfortable with, and if we needed to modify the protocol, we certainly would so to create the space for her to do her healing work.
The deep question posed during this particular January session was, “What did your soul contract–on a whole different level–which you’re now being asked to fulfill on the earth plane?” The metaphysical concept we were exploring was our “soul contract work.” Do we metaphorically, spiritually, energetically draw to us people who provide us lessons that are for our soul’s evolution?
Just as we were breaking for lunch, the woman came to me and said, “I don't know if I really believe we do contract for lessons we experience here on Earth before we were born!”
I was about to offer up a clarifying coaching question, yet was stopped when she closed her eyes and said in a quiet, yet obviously frustrated, voice: “I don't think I contracted to be gang raped, beaten with a baseball bat, and left to die on a basketball court?” The intensity took me back a moment, yet there was a deep knowing within which prompted me to whisper, “And what if you did?”
As we prepared to go into the final afternoon of the weekend intensive, the entire protocol was to be demonstrated, followed by an exchange of sessions between the students. The woman approached me and whispered, “I don't know if I'm going to be able to stay this afternoon. It feels like I am very close to accessing something big–really big–and it’s not going to be pretty!”
Always honoring where people are, the assurance I offered was this: “When you are ready, we will be here to hold your healing process!” Challengingly she said, “Oh, I’m not sure anyone is ready for what has to come out of me!”
My eyes became piercingly clear as I said, “Nothing ever comes to us which we aren’t perfectly prepared to hold, including the process of freeing a soul!” Even I was surprised with the intensity and clarity from which I spoke these prophetic words of wisdom. The woman simply said, “Then let’s do this!” With this affirmation, she volunteered to be the demo client for the final Polarity demonstration of the weekend.
As the entire class formed a community circle around the massage table–with the woman’s head facing north–a sacred container was being set for the healing to begin. Palpating the outer perimeter of the space surrounding the table, my hands became “tuning forks” ready to receive instructions from the “Great Healer within.” Using the “mirroring and matching” polarity communication model, I began to mirror back to her the story she had shared just before the lunch break as a way of setting up and framing the session.
I then spoke directly to her: “It my understanding that you are wondering about this outrageous thought that we contract on a whole other level—before we incarnate—as to the lessons we will experience here on Earth. Is that right?” With a chuckle and raised eyebrows, she sarcastically quipped, “Yeah, that's what I’m wondering!” Softly, with absolute reverence, I whispered, “And is it true you are wondering if you could have possibly contracted to be raped by a group of young men, beaten, and left for dead?” With a shot of anger, she pounded her fists onto the table and snarled, “Yeah, I wonder why the hell I would contract for something like that?” Then from a place of true spiritual intrigue–almost in a prayer-like way—she said, “Why would my soul need a lesson like that?”
Her body began to shake and shift, and her eyes began to flutter in memory and resistance. As I sat down, preparing to place my fingers at the back of her skull, it was obvious layers of memories were flooding through her mind and body. As she contorted on the table, I invited her to move her focus higher–to see herself above the incident–to leave her body’s memories and elevate her point of view. This invitation allowed her body to relax and her breath to stabilize.
Respectfully, I posed the question: “What is it your soul contracted to learn on Earth?” With absolute clarity, she affirmed, “I wanted to learn that I am fully capable of taking care of myself and healing from anything… so that I might be perfectly prepared to help in the healing of others! In this lifetime, I want to fully understand the gift of forgiveness!”
The contract was clear! She took a deep breath of completion, remembrance, and resolve!
Almost under my breath, I inquired: “Are you ready to forgive them?” With a deep sigh, she exhaled “Ha! Yeah, I want to forgive them! And then I want to send them so much love that they will squirm in their skin!”
With her eyes closed tightly, she extended her right hand into the air, waving it in the direction of the park in which the lesson occurred, shooting bolts of love toward the souls that had been her rapists… her teachers!
At this point, everyone in the circle got the message! We all extended our hands toward the heavens, sending forgiveness to anyone and everyone who had ever harmed us, or anyone we knew. As the woman did her forgiveness around this act of personal terrorism and began to heal, we all began our own personal healings. As one demonstrates the courage to heal, it gives others permission to do the same.
Thank you for your service!
There’s more to this story—and many more stories from the annals of healings that have taken place over the last 25 years in the classrooms where our committed staff has held space for healing. With this in mind, we honor the commitment of our senior teachers who have been serving for over a decade: JoAnn Sanchez, Lyn Matthews, Linda Bennett, Gary Strauss, Jennifer Yohe, Heather Principe, James Arena, Loren Evans, Elmas Vincent, Richard Seaman, Cheryl Speen, Pam Field, Ann Cabano, Lance Martinez, Earle Dusky, Nacho Verdugo, Suzie McLaughlin... and so many more.
Special thanks to the executive leadership team that has led Swiha to where it is today:
Mary Ritter, Chief Executive Director, Shelley Tom, Dean of Students, Brad Boute, Director of Compliance and On-Campus Education, David Dye, Director of Online Education, Salisha Kacic, Director of Finance, and Autumn Grijalva, Director of SWINA. Humbly honor all of the administrative staff and instructors that have served at SWIHA over the years, on campus and online! We offer a big ‘shout-out’ to Will Zecco and James Patrick for all the support they provide to our students and graduates as they help prepare and support them in going out into the world in a loving and profitable way as holistic entrepreneurs.
Over the course of these 25 years, our original two mottos have become our healing model and are now our legacy: “Let me be an instrument in the peace and healing of others as I strive to touch lives, heal bodies, and free souls!”
Come celebrate Swiha's 25th year anniversary by attending the September 8 Labor of Love or
to attend virtually, please register through the link below: