Co-written by Joey Cole
Jothi Saldanha wanted to create a safe space for women in Durham Region that represented diverse, decolonized voices and experiences. Through this vision, HERSpace was born.
“The women that come to HERSpace, we all have unique experiences but we also have similarities that pull us together, I find that we all learn so much together and we get to heal and bond that way. We all go through the same things just in different ways and it makes you feel like you’re less alone,” said Pooja Raghunandan, a HERSpace client.
Although HERSpace is relatively new to Durham, the impact it has had is evident. Saldanha said one of the driving factors for her to start was the lack of diversity in other wellness spaces.
“I realized that wellness really wasn’t representing me out in the community, I would go in to wellness spaces and not see a lot of folks who looked like me. I just really wanted to reconnect to ancient healing practices and what that meant for women of colour like me,” said Saldanha.
Before starting her own business, Saldanha had a passion for hospitality but decided to leave the restaurant and event life when she had children. In an effort to explore more personal passions, she turned her attention to art. These new forms of creative expression got her thinking.
“It opened something within me that started my own healing journey, because I used to use art as a child in my trauma and the adversity that was happening around me, but now I was looking at art as a healing tool, a space to discover who I am,” said Saldanha. “And that opened me up to thinking ‘OK, I’m discovering who I am now’, I really want to help others do the same.”
Hoping to help others heal through art and spirituality as she did, Saldanha launched HERSpace in 2019 as a wellness space where women may gather in a safe environment to connect and heal.
“Just generally speaking, women really need a space that’s just for us – to be women, to speak to our experiences as women,” said Saldanha.
HERSpace offers monthly memberships which include weekly virtual sessions, wellness gifts, one-on-one sessions with Saldanha and access to community events as well as a private Facebook group space.
HERSpace also invites outside facilitators to lead sessions like yoga, art and sexual expression.
Kerry Goring is an intergenerational sex and intimacy coach and founder of Kerry Sutra, which has held sessions at HERSpace for three years.
“We’re always nurturing other people and giving to others and what I believe is the truth about HERSpace is that it creates that cup that we cannot just drink from, but dive into and swim in,” said Goring. “When women are strong, we change the world and I think she provides opportunities for us to do that.”
During sessions, Saldanha uses her knowledge on ancestral wisdom, spirituality and creative process to assist clients in spiritual healing and wellness. Her qualifications include certifications as a sacred leader from Sacred Women International as well as evolved neurolinguistic programming and quantum healing practitioner from Avalon Empowerment.
“I don’t want to sell anything,” said Saldanha, “It’s more about having conversations and finding out what people are about and what our needs are.”
Her training in quantum time healing and neurolinguistic programming play a large role in assisting clients, according to Saldanha.
“It’s the idea that we can re-program or de-program our brains and heal what we’ve been taught to believe about ourselves or about our capacity and re-write the program on our own terms. It’s a great way to scientifically change the way things operate within our unconscious mind and our conscious mind,” said Saldanha.
Saldanha said the process for building a client base has been very organic.
“The community has reached out to me and just felt called to join HERSpace, and then there’s a bit of me inviting and calling women in, so it’s been a really beautiful dance and it’s growing very naturally,” said Saldanha.
According to Saldanha, anywhere from 8-15 women attend sessions, but she notes smaller sessions allow for a more intimate environment. Moon and seasonal ceremonies have had up to 60 attendees of all ages and backgrounds.
These gatherings, like just about everything else in the world, had to adapt to a virtual environment when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
Salanha began holding sessions with clients through Zoom, and while this may not seem ideal for a business based on connection, she said exploring new methods of delivery opened up a whole new world for HERSpace.
“It allowed for an expansion across borders, so to speak, I don’t believe in borders, but I have women from all over North America, Turtle Island, and across the globe that have been touched by HERSpace in a way that I probably would not have had the opportunity to have if we were just in person,” said Saldanha.
Meanwhile, Raghunandan attends both group and one-on-one sessions but had a particular interest in the art therapy program.
“You get to do a task, create something and work through your emotions that way,” said Raghunandan.
She noted one of the most compelling parts of HERSpace is its ability to bond diverse groups of women.
“It gives me a place to touch down and bounce back when day-to-day life becomes a lot,” said Raghunandan, “especially in the last few years, everything is a lot, all the time, so it’s just a good sanctuary to relax, ease your mind and re-charge.”