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Episode 28

Embodied Coaching Essentials

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Embodiment is the latest buzzword in the coaching industry, but how do we actually work with it?

In this conversation with Embodied Coaching expert Mark Walsh we discover the foundational practices for coaches working with somatic techniques, a host of embodied coaching hacks you can implement right away, and the powerful Four Elements Model for designing practices. (Heads up: this podcast contains some mild swearing)

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The Foundations of Embodied Coaching

People have habitual ways of embodiment, which is to say, different ways of being in their body. These effectively limit their perception, cognition, way of relating and so on. Through embodied coaching it’s possible to help people shift into a new way of being which gives them new possibilities.

The idea is to move people from unconscious to conscious embodiment. In a session this can happen quite quickly when the client is guided to get specific about what is happening in their body in relation to a particular theme or situation.

The first thing you have to do as a coach is be good at feeling your own body. This takes practice but as Mark says, empathically resonating with a body is something you can get better at. Next you build up a concrete set of skills that include self-awareness, body awareness and self-regulation.

Embodied Coaching Hacks

There are many simple tricks to quickly increase body-awareness in your client. Here are a few:

  • Asking “What are you doing in your body now?” (implies they could do something else)
  • Coaching from different positions (don’t have to sit down) or moving
  • Pointing the client back to their own body-awareness (“What happens in your body when you say that?” or “What happens in your jaw?”)
  • Physical feedback through mirroring; “Can I show you how you’re sitting?”
  • Get them to be very specific (where, how, what does it look like, what’s happening with your breath etc.)

Centering (taking a moment to go within and ground yourself) is the basis of embodied coaching – as a coach you need to be practicing it yourself and it can be a quick win to have a client center themselves before they dive into the session.

The Four Elements Model

There are different levels of complexity in embodied coaching. It’s possible for you to coach from different embodiments and different ones can be helpful with different clients. In the four elements model, you take the client through four ways of being (earth, air, fire, water).

As they move through the different elements in an embodied way it’s possible to see what embodiment brings up something helpful in the client and then design a practice based on that to help bring more of that embodiment into their life.

Practices for everyday are key to creating embodied change in your clients. They can be micro (walking to the office in a particular way) or macro practices (karate twice a week) or link to something the client already has in their lives.

So What Is Embodiment?

Embodiment in short, is how we are in our bodies. The body is an integral part of who we are, how we think, perceive and relate, and our awareness of it can be increased. Dance, martial arts, yoga, theatre, body therapy, dance movement therapy are all ways of coming into more conscious connection with the body. 

How your client sees things is massively impacted by their embodiment, their way of being in the world. And, as Mark says, “If we can’t feel ourselves, we can’t feel others and we can’t feel the planet.” He explains that empathy is an embodied response to another, and that numbing ourselves stops us feeling others.

Embodied Practices in Coaching

Any kind of embodied practice helps you as a coach to build a stronger connection to your own feeling sense. If you’ve been doing one thing for a long time, consider trying something quite different to round out the scope of embodied skill available to you.

Embodied practices can be disembodying (if we’re not doing them consciously), so just carrying out the motions doesn’t guarantee a better body awareness.

Some main doorways into your client’s embodiment are:

  • Breath
  • Posture
  • How much space they take

Centering is an important practice not only to ground but as a state-management technique, as it regulates the fight or flight response of the nervous system.

We all have blind spots in our embodiment. Are you embodied when you’re on Facebook? When you’re eating? When you’re connecting with your partner? Where would it serve you to place more attention?

Resources Mentioned:

About Mark

Photo of Mark Walsh
Mark Walsh

Mark Walsh specializes in the embodied approach to learning and organizational development. He is the Director of Integration Training Ltd, a community of leading-edge trainers and consultants as well as founder of the Embodied Facilitator Course. Mark writes a Google #2 ranked management training blog, hosts #1 training YouTube Channel with 5 million hits and has a 30,000+ following on Twitter.
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