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  • Writer's pictureDonna Richardson, CEC, ACC

4 ways being coached is like doing yoga

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

It’s like yoga for the brain.

As we wrapped up our conversation, that’s how one of my clients recently described her experience with leadership coaching.

I don’t practice yoga very often—there’s something about the movements that doesn’t work well for someone like me with vertigo. But, since I have experienced both doing yoga and being coached, I understand what my client was getting at.

1. They both involve stretching

One aspect of yoga involves holding static stretches, which helps with building strength and flexibility. The questions posed by the coach often result in deep exploration by the client about their ways of thinking, assumptions and beliefs. In turn, the insights gained influence who they are and how they want to be as leaders in the places where they find themselves. Anyone who has been coached would be hard pressed to say they were not “stretched” by the experience.

2. They each offer standstill moments

Practicing yoga provides opportunity to slow down, be free of distractions and focus on one’s well-being.

Similarly, coaching provides occasion for the gift of standstill moments. During a coaching conversation, the client and their agenda are the focus of attention. There is time to pause, reflect, brainstorm, strategize, get on the balcony—or in the weeds—to fully consider challenges, changes or opportunities that are important.

How often do you experience, or make time for, standstill moments?

3. Being coached and doing yoga can be a bit uncomfortable

Yoga involves moving and holding the body in ways that we don’t normally. It can be uncomfortable, especially for a beginner. A sign of a good leadership coach is when that coach is impartial, holding no judgment about the client. Another indication is when they bring curiosity to the conversation, asking powerful questions in service of the client—whether or not those questions may make the client uncomfortable. There is all sorts of popular wisdom which says that if you’re not feeling uncomfortable, you’re not growing. Neuroscience tells us that learning something new—growing (or learning)—takes effort. According to Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist at Stanford University, "If you want to learn and change your brain as an adult, there has to be a high level of focus and engagement.” He explains that, as our body releases adrenaline—causing us to feel agitated and signalling our brain that there is something important to learn—it can be uncomfortable.

But, on the bright side, this experience also means your body is creating new neural pathways that fuel creativity and innovation.

4. You can still feel it afterwards

At one time or another, we’ve all experienced sore muscles following an activity, such as yoga. This is a sign that our muscles are adapting to the new activity.

Clients experience new insights and learning during a coaching conversation. In addition, learning can occur following the session when the client tries on new ideas or experiments with strategies. But, the deepest learning­—which may happen during or following a coaching conversation—comes with new insights, shifts in thinking, or new beliefs.

And so, the coaching client can still “feel it” afterwards. In a good way.

I'm not suggesting that coaching can replace yoga or the other way around. But, if you're unsure what leadership coaching is about and what the experience could be like for you, any experience you have with yoga might provide a useful frame of reference.

Do you find you're in a place where you want to stretch yourself and experience the sustainable shifts that can come through coaching? If so, reach out to me and let's talk.


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