Research Paper By Della Spring
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
How are yoga and life coaching related? My longtime yoga practice has led me to life coaching and greatly influences the work I do with my clients. The purpose of this paper is to explore how yoga philosophies and practices are applicable in a coaching setting. The four main areas I will focus on are Breathwork, Non-judgement, Shifting Perspective, and Action.
The principal philosophy of both yoga and life coaching is that if we look directly into our own heart, we become empowered. Personal inquiry — what am I seeking, what are my values — and non-judgmental self-awareness are the surest, most direct route to a calm and centered happiness. In our chaotic lives, we struggle against confusion. However, if we meet it head on and relax into it, we will discover the clarity within that was always there.
Breath: The Link Between Inquiry, Awareness and Peace
The foundation of a traditional yoga practice is breath work. In Sanskrit, the word pranayama is used to describe yogic breathing techniques. “Prana” translates into “life force” and refers to the energy behind all life expressions, moving, thinking and feeling. “Ayama” means a lengthening or expansion. Thus, together they mean
the guiding or expanding of the life force.
It is believed that with a strong life force it is easier to connect with inner knowing and to live in attunement with nature and spirit. Pranayama is used to draw students into the present moment, into their bodies, and ultimately, to a place where they can tune into their heartfelt feelings.
Deep breathing settles the mind so we can listen to our inner voice, so we can do the work and so we can remember why we are doing the work: it is a beacon and a reminder to keep a steady seat where we can enter the practice of self-inquiry and self-awareness. We all need to know where our inner home — that place of quiet and safety — is located. It starts with the breath. Many coaches, myself included, begin sessions with a few deep cleansing breaths, in which to center the client and allow them to shed the exterior world and prepare to enter the inner realm. Just a few moments of breath work can lead to a profound feeling of relaxation and calm.
Relaxation enables the student of yoga or the life coaching client to access a deeper realm within. In life coaching, we relax our client with some breath work and with our safe coaching presence, making sure she understands our ICF code of ethics and our personal dedication to non-judgement. In yoga, we meditate to tame the “monkey mind”, calm the fluctuations of the mind, so that we can tap into our intuition and open up to our inner consciousness. When relaxed, we can let go, allowing for more creativity, less attachment to outcome, and more connectedness to ourselves and to our place in the universe. We create a
quiet space in which the small inner voice can be heard.
With careful listening, we can hear the body’s thoughts.
Witness Consciousness: A Place of No Judgement
The ability to relax into breath work and beyond would not be possible without also implementing non-judgement. This practice is used in both yoga and in life coaching to prevent the open mind from running away from its demons, its fears and confusion. The spirit of true awakening cannot be developed without the ideal of letting go of everything. There is no right or wrong. By acknowledging whatever emotions, thoughts and feelings arise without judgement, we can allow the them to simply dissolve, and may return to the openness of the present moment. The receptive face of non-judgement allows us to open ourselves to new ideas and different perspectives which are critical in attuning to our inner truth and our overall happiness.
In yoga, the practice of non-judgement is called witness consciousness. As yoga teachers and life coaches, we must remember that we are strong, compassionate creators of witness conscious; we give our students and clients a safe place where they can feel fully. Adults in our contemporary society tend to hold our innermost emotions at arms-length. We push them further and further away until we don’t feel anything, except unhappiness. It is important to feel fully in order to feel happy and alive. But first we must stop pushing away the difficult and ugly (and sometimes embarrassing) emotions to a place where we cannot see or touch them. We must give ourselves permission to feel fully, to live in the moment and feel everything — grief, despair, even ecstasy — completely. With witness consciousness, non-judgement, these discoveries are uncovered and we may simply make a loving space for observation. Michael Singer, in his book The Untethered Soul, talks about the importance of noticing the emotion, relaxing the heart, and releasing so that the emotions can flow through us.
From Non-Judgement to Lovingkindness
To be an authentic yogi or life coach, we must live in loving-kindness towards others and ourselves. As teachers and coaches, it is essential to suspend judgement; the client must feel safe, must in fact, be safe so they may express all of their deep, most vulnerable thoughts and emotions. we all have a tendency to be harder on ourselves than on those around us. Therefore, non-judgement for our clients must begin with loving ourselves. Awareness of our need for self- compassion is essential, so we can bring that compassion for our clients into our coaching. We should be aware that the places where we may judge our clients are most likely an indication of our personal self- reflections, and perhaps also where we must work on ourselves. Despite being human, and therefore being flawed, we remind ourselves that there is good within each and every person. Without this fundamental first step of non-judgement, the client may filter what she says, thereby hindering the coaching process of powerful questioning as well as potential action steps. Further, if the coach maintains a protocol of non-judgement, it becomes a model for the client to do so as well. As yogis and life coaches, it is our moral obligation to live our code of ethics even when we are not at “work”. Our life and lifestyle must mirror our beliefs.
Life coaching provides the client with an opportunity to step back and see her situation from multiple perspectives, and then choose to act from a place of greater awareness and clarity. As we know,
your perspective determines your experience in life, not your circumstances.
Once we arrive at that place where we become aware of our truest, deep emotions, and have talked ourselves out of any emotional hijacking — by not allowing ourselves to truly feel the emotions we experience — we can begin the critical work of shifting our consciousness to help see things in a whole new way. An exploration of alternate perspectives allows us the freedom to live in alignment with our personal values, possibly for the first time ever.
Any perspective that supports you to grow and develop and overcome the challenges in your life, is a good perspective.
In yoga, this is called Enlightenment; when what you feel, say and do are all the same. True happiness can only be found in acting in alignment with one’s authentic self.
In yoga and in life coaching, the student or client has a unique opportunity to focus on herself and establish where she fits into the universe. Through each of these processes and, ultimately
through both of them, she will pass through the unreal and discover what is real. Much of what we believe comes from assumptions, inherited value systems, and society’s “norms”. We each have a choice in how we view the world, but most of us do not recognize this until we are in crisis and must finally pay attention! Thus, a shifting of perspective , and the new awareness that is thereby discovered, will ultimately lead to an authentic self-actualization.
We all have choices to make about how we live our lives. Often we defer our choices to those around us or make a choice not to choose, allowing life to “happen” rather than to steer our own ship. When that is the case, we become willing victims of circumstance or of someone else’s personal agenda. Rarely, in those cases, are we happy. We are each responsible for our own actions and inactions. Mahatma Gandhi said,
It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.
We cannot play victim by blaming another’s actions or expectaions when they differ from our own. When