I never cease to be amazed how many lessons I can draw from my yoga practice that inform my coaching practice…

Last week I was in a class and found myself in a particularly challenging pose and felt a really big stretch on some tight ligaments in my right hip. It was uncomfortable and my mind immediately started complaining and thinking about ways to avoid the discomfort. What if I wriggle a bit? What if I shift the weight across to the other side a bit? What if I lift myself up a bit? As though by magic or psychic mind reading powers, at the very same time the teacher said: “This stretch is not going to hurt or damage you, but it will feel uncomfortable because we are working a muscle that you don’t often use. You can try to avoid it and then you’ll just feel more tension somewhere else as well. You can wriggle if you like, and it will simply add to your discomfort. Or you can lean into it and breathe! Breathe into the stretch and let go…”. Of course, I had been wriggling and realised that not only was the stretch still there in my hip, but I was also tensing my lower back trying to lift myself up and I was clenching my teeth! Three sources of tension because I was trying to avoid one…

Sometimes we have underutilised ‘muscles’ in coaching as well. The muscle of working with silence or working with emotions (our clients and perhaps even our own) or challenging our client’s thinking. Other aspects of our coaching practice might also create a stretch or tension for us, such as when the mind tells us we don’t know what to ask next or questions if we are adding value or proposes to us that it would be a good idea to give the client some ideas that we have in our head, and we are desperately trying to stop ourselves from going into problem solving mode.

The mind, just like water and electricity, likes to follow the path of least resistance and avoid obstacles, yet sometimes the answer is not to avoid…sometimes the answer is to lean into the stretch and embrace it. I tried this in my yoga class that day, I realised that I was holding tension in two additional places in order to not have tension in one place – and it wasn’t even working, so I was tense in three places! I focused myself initially on letting go of the two additional sources of tension. It wasn’t easy as my mind kept coming in with reasons not to do that and how uncomfortable everything was. Gradually, I was able to let go of clenching my teeth and I released the tension in my lower back by returning to how the pose was meant to be. Of course, then I had to deal with the original issue of the stretch in my hip and, lo and behold, the mind kicked in again with a barrage of complaints, and I suddenly tightened my stomach. Embracing discomfort is clearly not easy! Or maybe I’m just “not very good at it…?” Ha! I caught that little undermining devil in my mind quite quickly as it wanted to tell me that of course everyone else was doing this beautifully and it was only me who was having to go into this pose kicking and screaming, either because of my ineptitude or some kind of dysfunction that is unique to me…oh dear…

After what felt like hours and hours (it was actually a few seconds) I then realised that I was holding my breath as well and so I finally surrendered to the situation. I thought, “I trust yoga, I trust my teacher, I trust my body…and I need to breathe” and with that, I found myself exhaling deeply. I just focused on breathing and with each exhale I noticed myself relaxing a tiny bit more, just breathe, nothing else. As the seconds passed, with each breath, I became slightly more relaxed, I stopped resisting and I stayed with the discomfort. It was there, of course, however as I grounded myself through my breath, I found myself more able to sit with it (literally!) and moment by moment it began to ease. I felt a tiny ripple of release in my body, and then another, and another…as I sat with the discomfort and settled into it, it shifted and let go of its own accord. My body embraced the stretch, stayed with the discomfort and it worked its way through. I wasn’t hurt or damaged and my body had opened up for me and my practice a little more.

What can you take from this metaphor into your own coaching practice? 

Which aspects of coaching do you find yourself either resisting or avoiding?

How might you embrace your discomfort and be with it?

If we are uncomfortable with silence a few moments can feel like an eternity, and yet it truly is only a few seconds, and they are golden seconds for your clients to think in your presence.

If we are uncomfortable when clients express strong emotions, we can feel anxious, uncertain, or overwhelmed by it, and yet their very expression means that the magic of coaching has already started.

If we avoid the discomfort of challenging our clients, we know that it is limiting us (and probably them too), and yet our challenge can evoke valuable new thoughts, awareness, and insights.

If we don’t know what to ask our clients, we can feel anxious and “less than”, and yet this is a wonderful opportunity to simply ask them where we are and where we might go next.

If we battle with our mind inside around whether or not to suggest something, it can consume a lot of our attention and yet just asking the client what they think about something can unlock ideas and possibilities.

Being comfortable with silence, being able to work with strong client emotions, being able to regulate our own emotions, being comfortable with not knowing, trusting our own intuition…these are all aspects of our coaching practice that we might either resist or avoid. However, as we stetch and grow as practitioners, as we trust ourselves, our clients, and the process of coaching more, we become more flexible, we stay grounded, we can access a comfort with discomfort that allows us to truly mature as instruments of our work.

In yoga, our core focus is the breath, in coaching our core focus is our presence, just be present, just be with, and the rest will come.

Years ago, I was on a course, and I was feeling agitated because I hadn’t understood what was being taught. I stuck my hand up and said: ”I’m sorry, I’m really confused”. To my shock, the teacher leapt up and shouted: “Eureka!!! She’s confused!!!” and then carried on. Later on in the break, he walked past and said: “Confusion is the precursor to enlightenment”. To be honest, I didn’t really get it at the time, but I think I’m understanding it better now…

Tracy Sinclair, MCC

Tracy Sinclair is a multi-award-winning Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. As part of this work, she collaborates closely with MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity and the British Paralympic Association (BPA). She also offers pro bono personal development and coaching programmes to young leaders (18-25-yrs). Tracy was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019 and was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award in 2021. She won the ICF Impact Award for Distinguished Coach in 2023 and is a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches. She was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and was an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019 and Vice Chair and Director at Large on the International Coaching Federation Global Enterprise Board in 2021.

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