The Quiet Coach – 3

January 21, 2023


Remember that episode from Big Bang Theory where Sheldon tries a mindfulness meditation? The voice on the tape says “Breathe in; Breathe out. Breathe in, Breathe out”…and Sheldon goes “What was I going to do, two ins in a row???”

So hopefully you’re not starting this post from as much of a position of cynicism about mindfulness as that, because there is a lot that coaches can gain from having a consistent mindfulness practise of their own.

What is mindfulness? The definition I like (from the altogether remarkable teacher and writer Jon Kabat Zin) is that it is “paying attention in a particular way – on purpose; in the present moment; non-judgementally…and seeking to enhance the qualities of compassion and kindness”

Keen readers (by which I mean all of you) will notice the significant overlap between this and how we are (or would like to be) as coaches.

The International Coaching Federation even has mindfulness (ok so they call it “maintains presence”) as one of the eight competencies all affiliated coaches should be demonstrating. The competency is defined as “Being fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident”. Many of the behaviours listed under this competency are very aligned with the definition of mindfulness as above.

    So how can a mindfulness practice help us with our clients? When we can be mindful, we can

  • Truly be present for our clients
  • Observe what is happening within and around us in a curious, non-judgmental way
  • Set aside the need for control; for things to be a certain way
  • Develop comfort with strong emotions; our own and those of our clients
  • Create a space for renewal for ourselves
  • Be ok with silence
  • Feel compassion for the people we work with

I’ve found it extremely helpful to sometimes use mindfulness practices directly in a conversation with a client but for today we’re going to stay with three simple practices you could do as a coach to prepare for a coaching session.

You could read through the scripts and then close your eyes and try them or keep your eyes open and read the script through, taking the time to follow the instructions as you read them. If you’d rather have a guided recording (in my not so mellifluous voice), please drop me a mail at sunitha@navgati.in and I’ll send these across to you.

Practise 1: Arriving in presence: 3-4 mins

Sit in a comfortable and dignified posture, if you are uncomfortable at any point, it is ok to move but do so mindfully.

Look around you slowly – take in the colours, the light. As you look, relax and just take in the environment. Come back, allow your eyes to close and relax. Relax your jaws, move your shoulders slowly and let them relax. Allow your hands to gently relax from the inside. Present and relaxed. Just notice the sounds that come and go. Notice any smell or taste…or even the words I’m using that evoke a sense of smell or taste. Notice any body sensations – is there ease or tightness, vibration or stillness, pleasure or pain, warm or cold. Keep noticing – all with kind attention. Notice the state of the heart – interest, gratitude, sadness, tenderness, excitement, grief…without judging them, just notice. Notice the state of mind – doubting, planning, remembering, relaxed, curious, obsessed. Finally, feel your body again…you’ve just noticed the play of experiences with a kind attention.

Practise 2: Awareness of breath: 7 mins

Sit in a comfortable posture, your back straight and relaxed. If there is any obvious tension you can release to make yourself more comfortable, then do so. Keep your eyes and face soft. Relax shoulders, let the arms rest easy, just breathe naturally. This is a training in awareness – not a breath control practice. Allow the breaths to come naturally – just observe. And as you observe, you find yourself automatically in the present moment.

Notice where it’s easiest to find the breath – find a place where the breath is most obvious. Nostrils, upper lips, tingling in the back of your throat, chest, belly, whole body. Or place your hands on your belly.

Just observe your breath as you breath in and out. Not trying to change or control it in any way. You could mentally say the word “in” as you breathe in and the word “out” as you breathe out. This could make it easier for you to stay aware of your breath.

With each breath, let there be a feeling of calm and steadiness.

You may notice that your breath changes – longer, shorter, the gap between may change, warmer or cooler. Without trying to change it in any way, just be aware of your breath

Your attention will wander and that’s perfectly fine; it happens to everyone. When you realise you have started thinking about something else, without judging yourself, just bring your attention back to your breath and start again. It doesn’t matter if you have to do this a hundred times in five minutes.

If you find yourself thinking, just mentally note it by saying the word “thinking” and bring your attention back. If you like, you can count your breaths – “one” on the in-breath and “one” on the outbreath, all the way up to ten and then start again. We’ll do this in silence now till our time is up.

Taking your time; gently open your eyes.

Practise 3: Preparing for a coaching conversation: 5 mins

Think of a client of yours you are working with – if you are not working with coaching clients, think of any stakeholder in your life, personal or professional…a relationship where you would like to feel more centered and present. Start by holding the image of this person as vividly as you can. Become aware of your breath and notice what is happening to you as you think about this client or stakeholder of yours. What bodily sensations are you experiencing? What are the thoughts? How do you feel?

Watching all of these as though they were clouds floating across a sky. Not trying to explain things or make a plan or justify what you’re feeling – just allowing yourself to experience what comes up for you as you think of this client of yours. Observe what happens to these thoughts and emotions as you pay attention to them. Do they get stronger? Go away?

You could find yourself judging the client/being angry with them/feeling intimidated by them…without judging any of these feelings, just allow yourself to become aware of what is here. Feeling a sense of spaciousness as you do that.

You could also experiment with developing positive states of mind with respect to this client. Sense into how you want well for him/her – and how this can exist side by side with all the feelings you experienced earlier. If you were to think of one wish you had for this client – what would it be? Try starting the sentence with “may you”..may you be happy; may you feel kindness towards yourself; may you accept yourself.

If you can think of some success they have had, you could work with feeling joyful about that “I’m happy that you are happy. May your happiness continue”. If they are going through a difficult time, you could mentally say “may you be free from this difficulty”.

Taking your time; gently open your eyes.


3 responses to “The Quiet Coach – 3”

  1. Meenakshi Shivram says:

    Fabulous. Intense. Doable.

  2. Hitaishi Khullar says:

    This is a beautiful reminder of how coming to our natural state of presence helps us be the best version of ourselves ( both as a coach and otherwise).

  3. chaitra says:

    Sunitha, the above makes a lot of sense. I am not a certified coach, but as a part of leadership my job requires me to practice presence as we deal with multiple context switches from delivery planning to problem solving to strategy to having a sit down conversations with leaders who are budding. I also put my phone on silent and place it far from where I am. Enjoying the series, looking forward for more.

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