One of the foundational beliefs of coaching is to coach the person, not the problem. Through asking empowering questions and holistic listening, coaches are able to shine a light on their clients and make space for them to unlock their potential through creating more awareness and shifting perspectives. As career coaches, we are providing space for our clients to find new paths during major transitions. Clients are navigating big questions like whether to change careers or look for a new job. During transitions, we may find that our clients can get “stuck in their heads.” Being able to increase the client's awareness of the body can create new opportunities. The human body is filled with wisdom, although many people have not been taught to listen to and understand what the body is saying. Somatic practices can help coaches and clients identify and get curious about sensations in the body so that new pathways can be unlocked. This can create better alignment in all areas of life, including career development.
What is Somatics?
Somatics is a field of study that explores the body as well as the mind, where body and mind are one and not separated. Somatics is derived from the Greek word “soma” which means “living body,” and was coined by the philosopher and early student of somatic practices, Thomas Hanna, in 1976. The word implies that the body is alive and continuously changing, whether unconsciously or consciously. Somatic practices can help people understand their inner world in order to make sense of the outer world. When clients can get clarity on what they are feeling internally as they navigate their careers, they can use that information to take aligned actions more confidently. “The ‘mind of the body’ has the ability to sense itself, interpret sensations as perceptions and then form thoughts, feelings, associations and imagery from these perceptions” (Eddy, 2017, p. 6).
By deepening one’s somatic awareness, a person can understand themselves more fully and shift the way they respond to outside stimuli. Somatic practices can be used when coaching clients in their career development and choices. Examples of Somatic practices are breathwork, movement exercises, touch, vocalization/vibration, and conscious dialogue.
Somatics in Practice
Integrating Somatic practices into career coaching can help clients in several ways, particularly in navigating the stress response of fight, flight, or freeze. These practices support the client in slowing down and tuning into what they are experiencing and feeling before responding and taking action, which releases tension in the body. They are then able to explore the situation from a new perspective and discover novel ways to move, think, and respond which can create new pathways in the mind and body.
In addition, these practices help to increase communication capacity through being able to articulate their own sensations, feelings, and thoughts as well as understanding others through a deeper awareness of body language. This is helpful with building relationships, networking, and engaging in interviews.
Below are two Somatic exercises to explore and integrate into your work with clients.
360 Breathing with Movement and Touch
Intentional breathwork is a way to shift one's physiology and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It brings the person to the present moment and supports being more grounded and centered. This specific exercise also places emphasis on internal shaping to create more engaged embodiment. Career professionals may read these instructions to the client before starting a coaching session or while increased tension is experienced in a session.
Mood Check In with Conscious Dialogue
Sensations are neither positive nor negative. People attach emotions and meaning to the sensations they are experiencing. For example, making a change in one’s career can be overwhelming. A client may be feeling this emotion in their stomach area and attach a story that the sensation is telling them not to take a chance on that change. The Mood Check exercise helps the client to pause and get curious about what stories they are attaching to sensations. The pause allows space for new insights and gives the client more choice as to how they want to respond, rather than unconsciously reacting. This practice can be used with a client to create a conscious dialogue.
Invite your client to identify a sensation in their body and ask these questions.
After exploring this, ask your client to observe how they feel and what new insights they may have. Connect these insights to the career transition and the goal of coaching.
Holistic Awareness Increases Confidence
For clients looking to make changes in their career, somatic practices can support them in building their confidence from the inside out. Creating a more holistic awareness allows for the client to take aligned action leading to higher levels of engagement, performance, and overall satisfaction. “Somatic education supports this balance - teaching how to pay attention to body sensations and interpreting them with a perspective that aims to enhance a quality of life in which one stays present, mindful, even while moving; consciously acting” (Eddy, 2017, p. 7).
Cohen, B. B. (2012, March 1). Sensing, feeling, and action: The experiential anatomy of body-mind centering (third edition). Wesleyan University Press.
Eddy, M. (2016). Mindful movement: The evolution of the somatic arts and conscious action. Intellect Ltd.
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma (Reprint). Penguin Publishing Group.
Strozzi-Heckler, R., & Leider, R. (2007). The leadership dojo: Build your foundation as an exemplary leader. Frog Books.
Whitelaw, G. (2007). Move to greatness: Focusing the four essential energies of a whole and balanced leader. Nicholas Brealey.
Stephanie Simpson, MFA, MA, ACC, is a consultant, coach, and facilitator based in NYC. She can be reached at Stephanie@stephanie-simpson.com or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephaniesimpsoncoaching/