Research Paper By Dina Kassymbekova
(Life Coach, MACEDONIA)
Coach training and exposure to self-development topics and literature made me aware of how my thinking impacts my emotional states and behaviour. I also started noticing my internal dialogue and how unproductive and at times disruptive it is. My search for the ways to quiet my mind brought me to meditation practice, which I have integrated into my daily routine and have been following for about two months now. After about four weeks of regular practice, I saw that letting go of unwelcome thoughts became easier for me. I also saw an improvement in my overall mood.
Seeing that regular meditation practice is beneficial for my well-being I started asking myself if I can use it in my coaching practice.
What is meditation?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary meditation is the act of giving attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed. (1)
As meditation is most closely associated with Buddhism, here is another definition introduced by a Buddhist community: meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. (2)
Meditation is an ancient practice and there are many other definitions. Approaches to meditation as well as practice techniques differ too. The United States’ 2012 National Health Interview Survey’s question about meditation listed four kinds of meditation (mantra, mindfulness, spiritual, and meditation as part of other practices) and provided 12 specific examples (Transcendental Meditation, Relaxation Response, Clinically Standardized Meditation, Vipassana, Zen Buddhist meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, centering prayer, contemplative meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi gong). (3)
Mindfulness meditation was adapted for western world view and lifestyle by Jon Kabat Zinn as part of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and became very popular. (3)
Scientific evidence of the benefits of meditation
In the last two decades, a great deal of research on meditation has been conducted and there is an abundance of scientific evidence of benefits of meditation. However, coaches intending to use meditation for themselves or recommending it to their clients need to remember that a common framework for meditation research does not exist, meaning that conclusions of an individual study on benefits of a certain type of meditation may not be applicable to other types of meditation practice. The specific characteristics of meditation practice examined in individual studies, such as duration, intensity, the spacing of meditation sessions, etc. also need to be taken into consideration. (3 and 16)
Meditation as a self-management tool for coaches
For coaches, the ability to know and manage emotions and take responsibility for their behaviour and well-being is especially critical. Without such skills, we may find releasing judgment, opinion and subjectivity challenging. (ICA learning materials – Module on self-management)
In a coaching session, the central figure is the client. The coach creates a safe, non-judgmental space for client’s self-exploration, listens attentively, observes the client’s emotions and asks questions. The coach does not bring their personal emotions, opinions and experiences into a session. Such an attitude requires a high level of attention as well as an ability to focus and manage one’s emotions and thoughts.
Regular meditation practice, according to multiple studies of different types of meditation, increases focus and attention, as well as individuals’ ability to regulate their emotions and introspect. (4, and 15) It also lengthens attention span and improves memory. (5) Even short-term meditation practice (8 weeks) can be used to enhance attention. (13)
Meditation as a tool to support coaching outside of sessions
There are some common reasons why people seek coaching. Let us look at some of them and see if and how meditation can be useful in these cases.
- People often turn to a coach when facing challenging and stressful situations in their lives. Can practising meditation help these clients? Studies show that mindfulness meditation reduces stress response and anxiety and boosts positive moods. (5 and 6)
- A different reason for seeking a coach is a client’s desire for self-development and growth. Mindfulness meditation can help individuals understand themselves better. (5, 19, 20 and 21)
- A common coaching theme is relationships and conflicts. How can these clients benefit from meditation? Meditation research shows that regular meditators show more compassion, are less aggressive and less reactive to negative feedback. (7 and 5) Even relatively short periods of regular meditation practice (in case of this study 8 weeks) can increase the level of compassion demonstrated by individuals. (14) Certain types of meditation increase empathy, especially compassion meditation, a specific form of Buddhist meditation. (8 and 13)
- Different meditative practices can be useful for clients working on their self-confidence. (9, 18)
- Decision-making often appears as a coaching session topic and can be improved by practising meditation. (10 and 11)
- Clients who are seeking support in establishing healthy habits can benefit from meditation too. (12 and 17)
Meditation is an ancient mind practice that has many forms and techniques. There are numerous studies on the benefits of different types of meditation showing that regular practice improves focus, reduces stress response and anxiety, increases empathy, and much more.
Meditation can be used in coaching practice as a self-management instrument for coaches and as a tool that supports coaching outside of sessions for clients. Coaches willing to use meditation for themselves and in their practice need to consider which particular type of meditation can be beneficial in each specific case and what are specific practice requirements such as duration, intensity, etc.
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