Vulnerability comes in handy: What we can learn about coaching with our teachers of Tai Chi, Pilates, or Yoga (or any exercise type).

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The idea of understanding and appreciating our physical sensations as we coach has never appealed to me. My dismissive assumptions about a somatic approach to coaching range from too soft and light, to rarely useful for the demands of executive coaching. Today, after an instructive Pilates class, I experienced a few metaphors for what we address in coaching and all of them were drawn from physical sensations and my reflections.

This definition of Pilates has delightful similarities to coaching. I especially like the idea of increasing intensity over time in the last sentence. Developed by Joseph Pilates,

Pilates is a form of exercise that improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the whole human body. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginner to advanced…and also in terms of the instructor and practitioner’s specific goals and/or limitations. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilates)

As coaches, we experience our clients’ lack of balance. In both the client and their organizations, we see over-use of excuses, lack of alignment with objectives, habits of leadership (both positive and negative) in the culture, and depletion of energies and endurance. Perhaps, as I learned from Andrew my Pilates instructor, we might explore what the client knows about any particular sport or exercise regime they may employ to allow reflection on new and instructive metaphors for coaching effectiveness. For example, in Pilates, I must develop new muscles to counter-balance my over-used muscles. Andrew cautioned: “You are over using this muscle and you must evenly distribute the workload of your muscles.” In fact, this imbalance I have causes discomfort and pain. He also cautioned, “You are over flexible in certain areas and stiff in others.” How true this is for me in Pilates and in coaching.

With the approval of a client that I coach, together we will explore this analogy of physical imprints, imbalances, and health and apply our reflection to coaching.

Some avenues to open:

  1. “What have you learned about yourself in your activity (Pilates, soccer, Tai Chi, dance, biking, walking, or whatever)?”
  2. “Specifically, what insights about who you are have you gleaned from both positive and negative aspects of your activity?”
  3. “What drains you?”
  4. “What muscle do you overuse?”
  5. “What energizes you in this activity?”
  6. “Why did you choose this activity?”
  7. “What do these insights tell you about your leadership?”

In my Pilates case example, I realize I am ‘stiff’ about appreciating physical observations. I overuse strength and action versus patience and consequently, I have to back-off certain activities and train new muscles.

Finally, vulnerability comes in handy when exercising. We enter a room of learners, we make mistakes, we cannot do a backbend well, we overcome fears, we try something we did not think we might do (headstand?). I am grateful to my teachers over my many years of yoga, strengths training, and Pilates.

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