Suzanne Ballantyne, Wellness and Health Coach and Yoga Teacher, recently shared this piece below with me and her classmates from her Wellness Mapping 360°training course.
“I am taking more anatomy classes for my yoga teaching and Thursday the topic was breathing anatomy. The first thing the teacher did was have us breathe – no big surprise there. Anyway, she left us in silence for several breaths and then asked what happened when we brought our attention to our breathing – paying attention or awareness or mindfulness I thought to my self – and I realized I went inside immediately and then she asked how does that effect your breathing – and the answer is, it improves it! So, she said, things we bring our attention to improve. And I thought – what a simple and powerful way to demonstrate the benefits of mindfulness.
Perhaps you’ve made this connection already!? I felt it was worth sharing ’cause it’s such a great example of what coaching can do for us – bring our attention to the things we want to change. And then Glenna Batson (my anatomy teacher) made it even better by pointing out how naturally we/our bodies have the inner wisdom to allow that breathing to fall into its natural order – the divine plan… so simple, so powerful, so wise. Trusting our bodies, the universe, ourselves to make wise choices by bringing out attention to our intention. Just noticing without judging ourselves is also key (I’ve been listening to Pema Chodron as well).
How can this help our coaching? The way we listen? How we bring our clients’ attention to what they need/want?”
Awareness, Mindfulness and Coaching – Really great coaching takes place when the experience of coaching and being coached is rich, fulfilling, grounded in the present moment and yielding movement towards growth. It is easy for the beginning coach to be so concerned about following a process or procedure, that they have and provide an experience that is a lot less than what was hoped for. Let’s take a look at how the coach can be more aware of themselves, their client and the coaching process/interaction to yield the successful and satisfying coaching experiences we’re all looking for.
• Awareness of Self
• Awareness of Client
• Awareness of Process
Awareness of Self: Coaching From The Inside Out
Call it what you will, self-awareness, consciousness, mindfulness. Despite all the hair-splitting distinctions we are talking about the degree to which you, the coach, are aware not only of your client and your surroundings, but of what is going on inside your own skin. “Reality is nothing but the sum of all awareness as you experience it here and now.” (Perls 1969). Coaching from the inside out is about being cognizant of: 1) your bodily sensations, 2) thoughts, 3) feelings, 4) intentions. Let’s look at them one at a time, even though we experience them simultaneously and all four are affecting one another all the time.
Body Awareness. What is happening and what is it telling you? It’s about noticing the tightening in your stomach when your most difficult client calls, instead of ignoring that sensation. It’s scanning your bodily awareness periodically throughout the coaching session instead of getting lost in your head. It’s practicing body awareness techniques and methods such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Qi Gong, dance, etc. to help you connect with your body more, to identify with your whole person, not just your cerebral cortex. It’s about being aware of your body and it’s position in space much like a dancer would in the middle of the dance. When you’ve danced enough you automatically are maintaining that awareness without giving it any conscious attention. You hold your frame in a centered way that allows you to be even more sensitive to the movements of your dance partner. It’s body, breath, posture, movement, all combined in an amazing living wholeness.
The “How To” of Body Awareness. 1) Notice. Don’t jump into interpretation or the paralysis of analysis. Just notice and “take note” of what you’ve become aware of. File it away and see if a pattern develops. Does your breathing become short and shallow each time your client pushes back and rejects a suggestion of yours? 2) Be centered physically. This is part posture, and part being “centered in your life”. Perhaps you notice that working with this client actually has you “back on your heels”. Sit up! You’ll be amazed at how different you coach when you are consciously aware of your posture and sitting (or standing) up and feel grounded. Think of the martial artist in their “horse-riding” stance. The purpose of this stance is to be able to respond to absolutely anything that comes at them with 360 degrees of choices. Being “centered in your life” is about being engaged in a process of living a true wellness lifestyle that is fulfilling in all areas of your life (and accepting that you are working on that process to the best of your abilities at this time in your life). Let’s face it, when you don’t feel well physically, when you’re emotionally going through a crisis, it’s hard to “be here now” and give it your very best. What I’m talking about though is what do you do on a regular basis to get your needs met, to come into the present moment, to return to a state of balance. I know that I am a better coach when I’ve had more exercise, more rest, more contact with friends and with the natural world. Do what “centers” you in your life, be it gardening, reading fiction, writing, hiking, meditating, praying, connecting with dear friends, etc.
Thirdly, 3) get centered for your appointment. Do this on a practical and mental level (as we’ll discuss below), but also on a physical level. Break your routine of what you have been doing. Stand, stretch, move, and breathe. Develop little rituals that help you prepare for your next client so you will be with them like they are the one and only person you are seeing that day (even if they are the eighth).
Awareness of Thoughts, Feelings and Intentions
Being present in your body helps you to be more present in your mind, but it takes more than that to be a good coach. Before your client arrives or calls, become conscious of your own intentions in coaching this person. Get grounded in your intention to be your client’s ally in their wellness journey. Affirm your coaching mindset as the ally not the expert as the guide not the guru. Get grounded in your own confidence to be that ally remembering the training and experiences that have brought you here.
Recall the “facilitative conditions of coaching” that need to just be a part of who you are in the coaching process: empathic, non-judgmental, warm, compassionate, genuine/authentic. This is what adds up to “coaching presence”.
The next step is to sit in “gentle vigilance” regarding your own issues and filters that might get in the way. As your thoughts lead you into your own world (your past, your worries, etc.) you leave the world of your client. As your own prejudices (how do your really feel about someone who seems to shirk responsibility for improving their own health?), stereotypes, and opinions get in the way you do your client a real disservice.
Focus on the present moment. Zero point zero multi-tasking, other than a limited amount of note-taking. Be totally with your client. This is a great part of what makes a powerful listener. This is not Chess! Don’t be thinking two or three moves ahead. It’s OK to be developing a strategy to facilitate what is happening with your client but trust the coaching process and don’t over-think it.
As you do focus on the present, note your own emotions. What feelings come up for you as your client speaks? Don’t be afraid to connect with these feelings and learn from them. At times, an appropriate self-disclosure of some feelings may be very beneficial to your client.
We’ll look at Awareness of our Client in our next post.
Please comment and share what helps “center” you in your work with others, and in your whole life. Please share your ideas about awareness and mindfulness in coaching.
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