The Tao of Wellness Coaching: Part Two – Practical Applications

Photo by Michael Arloski

When the best leader’s work is done the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’                                Lao Tzu

In Part One –  In the previous post “The Tao of Wellness Coaching – Part One – What Centers Us?”   http://wp.me/pUi2y-lN   we grounded ourselves in the history and context of The Tao and the concept of Centered Coaching. We examined how relevant the practice of Tai Chi can be.

Essential Concepts

Effective wellness coaching is, inherently, very much in harmony with the Tao. Let’s look at two key Taoist concepts and how they apply to wellness coaching.

Yin-Yang Balance

Fundamental to Taoist thought and foundational to Chinese Medicine is the concept of Yin and Yang. These are the polar opposite, yet complementary, forces of the world that, for health and wellbeing to exist, must be in balance. The Yang forces are active, positive, hot, overt, masculine, light, and hard. The Yin is passive, yielding, negative, cool, quiet, feminine, dark, and soft. In the classic symbol the Yang rises to the top and is represented by the light area with the black dot in it, while the Yin sinks to the bottom and is represented by the black area with the white dot in it.

The key is to understand that the two are opposite, yet interdependent, complementary and interconnected. When we experience having too much of one and not enough of the other, we experience dysfunction whether it is at the physical, psycho-emotional or behavioral and practical level. Regaining balance becomes the return to a level of healthy homeostasis.

As coaches work with clients to achieve a wellness lifestyle the goal of achieving a healthy balance is paramount. We must rest, but not become lethargic. We must move and exercise, but not to the point of exhaustion and fatigue. We must find a way to take in sufficient calories, but find the right level for our optimal health, etc.

As coach and client co-create a wellness plan the concepts of Yin and Yang can be very useful. Our culture tends to reinforce and promote the Yang forces while not supporting those of the Yin. We are urged to be productive, work hard, play hard, achieve, accomplish, try harder and push. Seldom are we reinforced, much less accommodated for self-care activities such as getting adequate sleep, relaxing, taking time to get a massage, meditate, or enjoy our leisure. In fact, we may face criticism for such ‘indulgence’.

Many components of a wellness plan involve greater frequency of self-care activities. As clients look at their health and wellbeing through a more holistic lens, they often see the value of taking more time to meet these needs to balance their lives. Often these same clients have been admonished by their healthcare providers to engage in more self-care activities in order to improve their health. Many times wellness coaches work with clients who have been foregoing their medical self-care, such as taking time to do self-testing (e.g. diabetes), following up on medical appointments, doing rehabilitation exercises, etc. Instead they have been consumed and distracted by the Yang-style demands of their work, and their own belief systems.

When wellness coaches work with their clients to construct ways to manage stress more effectively, they are inevitably working to achieve Yin-Yang balance. Without ever speaking of the terms (Yin and Yang), we might consider how all actions possess either Yin or Yang energy and help our clients to decide how much to include in their lives. There may be great stress management wisdom in exploring strategically with our clients when it is best to push, and when to yield.

At a fundamental level our clients are often in a state of ambivalence about change that displays the push-pull of Yin and Yang forces. Should I, the client, change my way of living, or not change? When we really examine the ambivalence resolution methods of Motivational Interviewing (MI) we can see a Taoistic stance taken by the therapist or coach. The coach does not “pull” for one path to be taken over the other. Instead, they neutrally allow the client to explore and experience both energies; change and no change. The coach using this MI approach remains as centered and non-judgmental as possible helping the client to weigh the pros and cons (again a Yin/Yang process).

Wu Wei – Effortless Effort

Living in harmony with the Tao is about letting nature take its course and not interfering with the natural order of things. The concept of Wu Wei conveys the idea on ‘non-doing’, ‘non-action’, or ‘non-intervention’. This concept seems antithetical to Western thinking. In Western culture we are taught to make things happen. In Western Medicine the expert seeks to find the best intervention and implement it as soon as possible. To accomplish a desired outcome by ‘allowing’ things to simply be and progress on their own seems either too slow or doomed to failure. Yet think for a moment. Have you ever needed to relax and unwind and the harder you tried to do so, the more anxious and tense you got? There is only one way to relax; you have to allow yourself to do so. When we intervene medically to treat a wound, the actual healing that follows is something we have to patiently allow to happen.

Wu Wei is perhaps best thought of as living in a state of effortless harmony and alignment with the natural cycles and ways of nature. We are truly ‘going with the flow’, and able to respond to whatever comes our way. As coaches allow such a way of being our ability to ‘dance in the moment’ is maximized. We aren’t there to intervene, to fix things. We are not attached to a therapeutic agenda, to a treatment-oriented course of action. The client is in the lead and we are able to effortlessly dance with them.

Keeping It Client-Centered

At the heart of all coaching is the client-centered approach. From the psychotherapeutic roots of Carl Rogers this ‘person-centered’ way of interacting has become the basis for the coaching alliance.

“There have been parallels made regarding Carl Rogers’ person-centered theory and the way of doing nothing in Taoism (1). Rogers suggested that the most therapeutic counseling occurred when the therapist was authentic and real in the relationship and placed trust in the client to discern what was best for himself without interference from the therapist (2). A central concept of Taoism is doing nothing and being natural. Both Rogers’ theoretical beliefs and Tao philosophy maintain that when these conditions are achieved successfully in therapy, the human organism will develop almost spontaneously (3).”

An excellent review of this is found in “East Meets West: Integration of Taoism Into Western Therapy” by Rochelle C. Moss and Kristi L. Perryman. (4)

Coaches following these principles ‘get themselves out of the way’ and trust in the wisdom of their clients. We see our work as helping to bring forth, or evoke, the inner wisdom of our clients. When we are not attached to rigid protocols, yet operating out of grounded principles and methodology we can serve as guides to help our clients get to where they want to go.

Coaches and clients walk down a pathway together at night in the forest. The coach’s job is hold the flashlight and illuminate what is before them.

The client’s job is to choose how the path will be followed.

Neutrality allows the coach to operate without bias, without their own judgments and prejudices. This allows the client to be in the lead, making their own choices. This is where wellness coaches must adhere to the ethics of coaching and not be promoting their own products or particular courses favorite ways to eat, exercise, and so forth.

The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without a condition
The highest justice is to see without a preference
Lao Tzu

Coaches who find value in the concept of Wu Wei see the value in yielding. In Western society yielding is often seen as failure, as giving up. Yet, some of the most storied successes on both Eastern and Western battlefields came because of strategic retreat. In wellness coaching this may take the form of allowing a client to set their own levels of accountability. For example a client may state that they can perform a certain behavior, such as walking, five times in the coming week. The coach may suggest that going from not exercising at all to doing so five times a week may be less likely to be successful. The client insists that they can hit this target of 5x/wk. The patient coach then allows the client to go ahead with their experiment rather than argue and let the client experience what the Adlerian psychologists would call natural consequences.

The power of yielding may also be something for our clients to discover. Often people approach situations with only one option in mind; to win! The wise person approaches any situation wanting to have all options at their disposal. In dealing with conflict, in managing stress, the option of yielding often pays off better than pushing for one’s initial desires.

At the heart of both the coaching process and Maslow’s theories of self-actualization and personal growth is the principle stance that human beings are inherently moving towards health and wholeness. With barriers removed and balance achieved, people will naturally make progress towards their highest good. The continually accumulating evidence from the Positive Psychology research substantiates this position. Such a way of looking at human beings and their experience in life is in complete alignment with Taoistitc principles of the interconnectedness of all things, synchronicity and the let it be attitude of Wu Wei.

The Centered Wellness Coach

Drawing upon what may be called “Philosophical Taoism” as opposed to any kind of religious or institutional Taoism, the wellness coach can find wisdom that does not necessarily contradict any other beliefs they, or their client may have. What we find is real alignment with the principles of growth and self-actualization that form the foundation of the wellness field. What we also find are very practical guidelines for practicing as an effective coach.

1. Practice What Centers You In Your Life
The wellness of the coach is the foundation all else is built upon. When we embrace whole-person wellness that includes, body, mind, spirit and our relationship with our environment, we practice a lifestyle that moves us towards optimal functioning. The key here is the word “practice”. Coaches are usually very caring people who place the needs of others far above their own. That can easily result in a lack of self-care, a neglect of the very well-living practices that we encourage in our clients. Find what “centers” you and practice it with regularity. Connect with friends, read novels, garden, hike, bike, walk, dance, meditate, do Yoga, Tai Chi, go fishing, enjoy your grandchildren, play with your photography or poetry, pray, volunteer at a non-profit, scrapbook, quilt, take your neighbor’s child for a day in the park. Do whatever gets your healthy needs met and gives you meaning and purpose.

When you get knocked off-center, accept how this is simply part of the normal human experience. The centered person does not tip-toe through life like they were on a balance beam. The idea is that of reducing our  “center-recovery time”. If we are practicing what centers us in our lives we can come back to center more quickly.

2. Practice effortless effort.
The primary mistake I notice when I observe coaching students who are learning the craft, is that they work too hard. The coach is working much harder than the client. When coaching does not go well it is usually when the coach is trying to make things happen. The coach is busy “fixing” the situation and/or the client, instead of facilitating the client doing their own work. The coach is busy attempting to convince or persuade the person to be well. The centered coach is patient.

3. Embrace Paradox
By trusting their coaching methodology, and by trusting their client the coach is able to offer a “coaching presence” that is: calm, yet lively; supportive, yet challenging; accepting and nonjudgmental, yet discerning; empathic, yet not colluding; compassionate, yet firm. Again, it is from this centered “stance” that such paradox can exist.

4. Know When To Push And When To Yield
We have a culture obsessed with “interventions”, with taking action. The Tao teaches us that there is a time for both action and non-action. I’ve observed coaches attempting to appear “powerful” by pushing for action whether the client is “ready” or not. When we use Prochaska’s Readiness For Change Theory we are actually acknowledging the reality of the energetic state our client is in. An old Gestalt Therapy expression is “Don’t push the river”. But, we also know the need to paddle when we are in a dead-calm lake! There is a time in coaching to forward the action through request. The Tao is as much about taking action as it is about pivoting and moving with no resistance. Again, the coaching metaphor of “dancing in the moment” means know when to push and when to yield.

5. An Effective Wellness Plan Is About Balance

A well-crafted wellness plan, co-created with our client would resemble the Yin/Yang symbol of Taoism. Ideally there would be as much involvement in active steps to build energy and there would be for more passive steps to help one relax, restore energy and achieve more balance. One side would balance out the other.

The reality is that as coaches we have been practicing The Tao of Wellness Coaching all along whether we called it that or not. Taoistic principles have already been infused in psychology, psychotherapy, business, leadership and more. Being more conscious in their application expands the coach’s repertoire of options and helps them nurture their own wellness as well.

References

1. Hermsen, E. (1996). Person-centered psychology and Taoism: The reception of Lao Tzu by Carl C. Rogers. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 6(2), 107 – 125.

2. Hayashi, S., Kuno, T., M
orotomi, Y., Osawa, M., Shimizu, M., & Suetake, Y. (1998). Client- centered therapy in Japan: Fujio Tomoda and Taoism. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(2), 103-124.

3. Hayashi, S., Kuno, T., Morotomi, Y., Osawa, M., Shimizu, M., & Suetake, Y. (1994). A reevaluation of client-centered therapy through the work of F. Tomoda and its cultural implications in Japan. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Client-Centered and Experimental Psychotherapy, Gmunden, Austria.

4. Rochelle C. Moss and Kristi L. Perryman
“East Meets West: Integration of Taoism Into Western Therapy”
https://www.counseling.org/resources/library/vistas/vistas12/Article_33.pdf taken from web 1.13.17)

Advertisements

China Embraces Real Balance Wellness Coaching

Real Balance Wellness & Health Coach Certification Class in Shanghai – 2017

Faced with the same lifestyle-based health crisis many other countries are experiencing, China has been searching for a way to help people truly succeed at lasting lifestyle change. Over half of the men in China smoke. The diabetes rate is now higher than the United States, with heart disease, COPD and other “lifestyle diseases” on the rise. Health information campaigns and medical admonition, as elsewhere, has only gone so far. Last month when Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (https://www.realbalance.com) teamed up with Chestnut Global Partners China EAP (http://chestnutglobalpartners.org) to bring live wellness and health coach certification training to China it was enthusiastically embraced.

The concept of wellness is new to China, and wellness & health coaching is even newer. Though there is a long tradition of Traditional Chinese Medicine that blends with Allopathic Conventional Medicine, these are still remedial treatments and do not address how to help someone improve lifestyle behavior. Smoking cessation programs are vigorous but face a huge challenge in this population. Wellness coaching provides an innovative way to make behavioral change possible for those who need it.

What impressed me most about my entire trip to China were the students in our live training in Shanghai. The class was composed partly of Chestnut Global Partners EAP employees. These were mostly physicians and department directors. The rest of the class was a mix of M.D.’s, dieticians, counselors, Human Resources professionals and even a few independent life coaches. Throughout our grueling six-day training their level of engagement was extraordinary. While all students are faced with the “mindset shift” challenge (going from a prescriptive, consultative way of interacting, to a coach approach), this group did so with less resistance than we anticipated. They really got the concept that when it comes to helping people change behavior, it is very different from treatment or education. Fortunately, the training I delivered was coordinated with my translator and co-trainer, Dr. Li Peizhong, psychologist and V.P. of Chestnut Global China. He performed live translation as I spoke, and added greatly to the interaction and processing.

All of our trainings are highly interactive, and when students shared information and stories of work they had done with patients and clients, the level of humor employed was amazing! Much was “lost in translation” for me, but they were continually breaking out into boisterous laughter. Also, the Chinese students were more natural in their continual use of empathy in their coaching practice. While they tended, like students everywhere (we’ve found), to jump right into problem solving first, they used empathy and spoke of the importance of it, more than any other group I have trained.

Chinese culture is well known for valuing the group. As our training went on, group cohesion increased rapidly. Students supported one another in their learning through a real sense of caring for one another. When one student volunteered to be our client for a round of “fishbowl coaching” practice (where a student works on a real life challenge and is coached by a number of students) she left the exercise still perplexed about a way forward. Students formed a circle around our volunteer student and spent their entire break time collectively discussing with her about how to address her challenge.

The other evidence of this collective spirit was in the almost instant formation of a class group on the app WeChat. Before the training was even finished, and then vigorously once it was complete, they were on WeChat (http://www.wechat.com/en/) connecting, lining up their Buddy Coaching, and then sharing photos and stories of how they were following through on their own lifestyle improvement action steps.

Practicing Tai Chi On The Great Wall

The students were unbelievably appreciative, kind and treated me like royalty. I had integrated some of my Tai Chi and Xi Gung practice into our energy breaks, much to the delight of the students. At the conclusion of the training, at our celebratory class dinner they gifted me with a beautiful white Tai Chi practice suit to show their appreciation.

On To Beijing!

After our training in Shanghai, we flew to the country’s capital, Beijing, for a special Book Release Event. At Peking University (yes, it is spelled differently), Chestnut Global and my publisher, The China Translation & Publishing House, hosted a large gathering of executives from several multi-national corporations, representatives of the Chinese government’s smoking cessation program, and others, to witness the release of my book, Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., (https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml)  in its Mandarin translation. Speakers from Chestnut Global, Peking University, and the government’s smoking cessation program joined me in delivering talks to the very receptive audience. This was followed by one astonishing Chinese banquet.

A World of Wellness

I have been fortunate to take our training to a number of countries around the world and each experience has been special. The beautiful thing is that whether it is a training session in Indianapolis, Sao Paulo, Dublin, Shanghai, or Fort Collins, our students know that this training is going to make their work so much more effective. They know it is going to make their work so much easier, and more rewarding. They know it is going to help them enhance the lives of others.

I’ve stood at the front of the room around the globe, but it is the people who stand behind me that really make it all possible. It’s the allies we’ve formed in other countries and it’s the people right here at home. I’m able to write books and deliver keynotes and trainings because others are operating the office, servicing our students, teaching classes and representing Real Balance to the world as well. I come back from China with a heart full of hope for the people of our planet and with gratitude for those who help me step out there and make it a better place.

The Bonus Benefits Of Exercise

Michael Arloski hiking in Conamara N.P., Ireland
Michael Arloski hiking in Conamara N.P., Ireland

Harvard’s School of Public Health (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/staying-active-full-story/) is quick to tell of all the prevention advantages of exercise. We know that getting more movement and exercise into our lives can help prevent the onset of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. Exercise can be vital to positively affect the course of these illnesses once they are diagnosed as well. What is perhaps even more motivating is not just avoiding illness, but discovering how exercise can improve our mental functioning and improve the quality of our lives.

“Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain sparkfunction” says Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey (Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain). He and fellow neuroscientists are showing us that exercise can combat the toxic effects of stress and make us more resilient. “Adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels: First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation; Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.” Research is showing us that exercise can help lift depression, improve memory and mental performance, relieve insomnia, boost immunity, and even help stave off Alzheimer’s.

ExerciseAfAmBicycle
It’s always nice to get a bonus. An unexpected pay-off for some effort of ours puts a grin on our face and increases our chances of continuing that activity. Often we see people create a wellness plan and do their best to increase activity, improve their nutrition, etc., only to find that the changes they hoped to see are slow in coming. The person seeking weight loss may hit a plateau and the scales just stare back at them. Rather than sink into discouragement, we might ask “What else am I noticing?”

When people focus on the scales as the single indicator of success they set themselves up for some real motivational challenges. As we improve our wellness the scales will move in the right direction, but while we are getting there we need to fuel our motivation by noticing what bonus benefits we are gaining. When we take stock of our whole lives we start to realize that we may be sleeping much better, have more energy, feel less fatigued, be able to walk, hike or bike longer, or simply get up off the floor or out of a chair with greater ease.

YogaTaiChiBenefitsFocusing on the benefits of exercise alone, research is showing us astonishing bonuses we didn’t even anticipate. The windfall of advantages we gain can motivate us through that weight loss effort and provide incentive to the person with a slim body type who mistakenly thinks they don’t “need” to exercise.

Diversify the exercise you do. Include flexibility, strength and endurance though a variety of activities and cash your bonus checks often!

Small head cropped1The Coach’s Take Away
Convincing or persuading our clients to exercise is not an effective strategy in wellness programming, or especially in coaching. However, if your client is:

• Someone who is up for increasing their mental performance at work
• On the edge of readiness to begin exercising
• Someone with a slim body but unaware of the multitude of benefits exercise offers
• Someone with or without a “weight problem” but who needs the benefits of exercise to more positively affect the course of a chronic illness
• Someone you are coaching around stress, insomnia, etc.

Then sharing this kind of information may provide just the “tipping point” leverage they need to make some lifestyle improvement.

James Prochaska always says that people underestimate the benefits of change, especially exercise, and overestimate the costs. Help your client tip the scales in a healthy direction. And…don’t forget to be the sharpest coach around by taking advantage of these benefits of exercise yourself!

Simply Centered

You may not be a martial artist, a trained mediator, or a practitioner of Tai Chi. You may not be a trained athlete whose performance depends on how balanced they are on a ski slope or an ice rink. You may not be a professional dancer whose moves reflect what appears to be effortless grace. So, you may not be familiar with the term “CENTERING”.

“Be centered.” “Center yourself.” “Come from center.” “Move from center.” “Return to center.” “Centering practice.” Unless you are watching Kung Fu movies (and actually listening to the soundtrack), or remember what Obie Wan Kanobi was saying about “The Force” so long ago in Star Wars, you might not hear phrases like this. Yet this concept, once understood and applied, can dramatically improve your life.

You have been speaking prose all along, but didn’t know it. You have experienced what I am referring to here as being centered. When you made a decision, without anxiety, that was true to yourself, that was being centered. When you sank a long putt, a three-point shot, hit a solid line drive or threw the third strike exactly where you wanted to, that was being centered. When you twirled on the dance floor beautifully, carved your best run on a snowboard, or made the perfect cast with your fishing rod, that was being centered. You were “in the zone”. When you found a poem or piece of expressive writing just flowing out of you like liquid, that was experiencing a centered state. When you ended a relationship, not to relieve anxiety or fear, but because you knew, with calm certainty, that it was the best and right thing to do, that too was being centered.

Think of how different you life can be if you realize that becoming centered is always an option you have in every situation. Think of the effectiveness of decision-making and creativity of effort that can result from operating more from a centered state! Choose to be centered!

How do we “become” centered? Instead of it being a magical and elusive state that is hard to create again (that 15 foot putt was just luck, right?), what if centering was a skill that you developed and practiced? What if knowing how to center yourself was always accessible information that you could draw upon in conflict, leadership situations, in emergencies, and opportunities that demand peak performance?

A centered body centers the mind. Centering has a physical aspect to it, and a mental/emotional aspect. They affect each other and you can start in either domain.

Quieting your thoughts will relax your body. Nervous and fearful internal self-talk can produce muscle tension, increased heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acid production, and more. Quieting the internal chatter and soothing yourself with more positive and calm self-talk, or enhancing it with mental images of tranquil and safe, even idyllic settings has just the opposite effect on the body.

Physically you can center yourself by focusing on your breath, changing your posture, lowering your center of gravity and movement, broadening your stance, becoming more in balance. Breathe slower on each breath, and a little deeper. Close your eyes for a moment, perhaps. Sit up straight, or stand with your feet further apart, your knees slightly bent, your weight equally distributed on both feet. As you do this, especially the breathing, you’ll notice that your mind is slowing down and you are focusing more on the present moment.

Move from center. Place your right index finger in your naval…yes, your belly button! Now take your first three fingers of your left hand and place them across your belly right below your right index finger. At that level on your belly where the third finger rests imagine the point that is half-way between your belly and the skin on your back. That spot right in the “center” of you is what the Chinese call “Tan Tien”. The Japanese call it the “Hara” center. Imagine that this is where your body moves from, not up higher somewhere.

Stand like you have just mounted an invisible horse. This is the “horse riding stance” that you see all of those martial artists assume in the Kung Fu movies or in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Keep your back relaxed but nice and straight. Look straight ahead. Now flex your knees and shift your weight back and forth from one leg to the other while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Feel very connected to the ground you are standing on. Take small steps with one foot while leaving the other one “planted”. Move so “Tan Tien” is just floating at the same level all the time.

The “horse-riding stance” is one you can feel very solid in. Someone who is centered in this stance is no “push over”! It is a stance you can move quickly from and be very flexible in. Solid, quick, flexible. Sounds like a good way to be in a conflict or a high performance situation.

The next time you are out in public and need to make an important decision, or deal with a challenging situation, just adopt this stance. When the others around you stop laughing the conflict will be over. Yes, I am kidding! Getting yourself centered physically can really help though, so try more surreptitious methods like the following.

Breathe. A good, long, slow, deep breath can do wonders. It cues your mind to come out of a tendency toward overwhelm or panic, and allows you to take in more immediate information about the situation. Sit up or stand very straight, with your feet firmly planted on the floor or ground.

Now the mental part! Think of this “Tan Tien” center in your body and adopt the ancient Samurai notion of “expect nothing, be prepared for anything.” Be aware of everything around you where you are, right here and right now in the present moment. Let the past and future evaporate. Focus on the present.

Bring your thoughts to an observation of the present situation without letting your past prejudices influence it. Take what the moment brings you without judgment. Then from that calm, centered place make a distinction between your choices, based on the values that are true to you.

Do the things that “center” you in your life. There are probably favorite activities that you like to do that produce in you this experience of centering. They are usually activities that are very healthy, that give you perspective, that refresh you and renew your soul. Do them. Do them more often. They may be as formal and consciously designed to develop your sense of center, such as the practice of Tai Chi, Yoga or meditation. They may be as simple as a walk in the park, a hike in someplace a bit “wild”, throwing pottery, gardening, or just getting together with good friends with no agenda or expectations. Do what “centers” you more often and you will have more access to “center” when you really need it!