It’s commonly assumed that good leadership styles are mostly mind or personality based. Although it’s recognized that leaders should look the part too, being physically fit and well groomed. And some even give consideration to speech training and the way a person carries herself. But beyond that the body isn’t thought about much…
That’s a mistake because ultimately what’s inspiring is a leader’s presence and way of being.
An embodied leader is aware that planning and leading are definitely whole mind/body/spirit activities. And that’s what makes business leaders who have embodied leadership skills so different and more much effective.
Take for example a leader we’ll call Sarah.
She’s so busy she doesn’t have time for breakfast as she rushes off to meet her team. They greet her with demands that pull her in eight different directions. She tries to handle them all at once, while not giving any of them the attention they deserve. Oh, her frustration and stress levels are rising. She has deadlines to meet, so she cancels another lunch date with her best friend…again! She just hates putting her friend off like that, but she couldn’t have eaten a bite anyway.
The presentation scheduled this afternoon is making her sick to her stomach. And no, she can’t make it to the gym today. She’s must keep her doctor’s appointment because her blood pressure pills need to be adjusted and she want to talk with the doc about getting something for the anxiety and depression that’s closing in on her.
Everyone thinks she has it all together. That she’s so successful. She looks like a leader. Yet she’s falling apart inside. Something is drastically wrong. Her leadership style is impossible to maintain.
Are you starting to see that effective leadership styles requires that the body be completely congruent with the mind?
A successful leader must be able to intervene in his or her own physiological responses to stress and have the awareness to know which decisions are going to support the things that are really important in life.
Sarah, from the above story, wants to be calm and collected. She has every intention of reaching her goals for having a successful business, strong friendships and good health. Yet as stress is introduced, her body betrays her. Because she’s only thinking with her conscious mind of doing the things she know good leaders do, her body rebels, because it reverts back to patterns that have been formed by a lifetime of habits.
Your habits live not only in your memories, but in your tissues and cells. The body remembers. Embodied awareness lets you hear what your body is saying. It helps you watch yourself from an outside perspective. Then you can engage in practices that develop your ability to take more effective actions. In time, you develop a new muscle memory that lets you do things you couldn’t have done before, whether it’s being calm under crisis or being an assertive introvert.
Extreme stress can cause a mind/body disconnect that makes people act in crazy ways. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “She’s not herself today.” When stress triggers an interaction in our brain between the hypothalamus, which regulates hormones and the amygdala, which assigns emotional significance to an event, the fight or flight stress response takes over the conscious mind. Normally you wouldn’t scream, yell, shake, and cry, but the brain/body disconnect makes you behave in a way that’s foreign to you.
Let’s put it in another way…you may know you’re not supposed to run from a bear, but your legs don’t believe you. This is a really dangerous mind/body disconnect that gets you in trouble. Because the next thing you know you’re trying to outrun a bear…not a good idea!
So what can embodied leadership principles do for you that other leadership styles do not?
It supports you as you make slow and steady progress toward a strong awareness of your mind/body/spirit connection. Through mindfulness, centering, somatic exercises, breathing techniques, and NLP anchoring techniques you learn how to be present in the moment of stress in a relaxed, unattached way. It gives you time and the skills to slow down, be fully mindful so your actions truly reflect a peaceful state of mind. If you’d like to work with me as you master these skills, I’d be honored for you to contact me. We can set up a time to meet in person at my Ashland, Oregon office or via Skype.
Would you like to fully develop your potential for leadership? The principles of Aikido (The Way of Harmony or Peace) can help you. Aikido is a unique form of martial arts that emphasizes the blending of energy, rather than resisting it or attacking. It lets you peaceably deal with conflict by taking the energy directed at you and neutralizing it or diverting it. Aikido helps you be extremely calm, focused, and effective in the midst of chaos. In the process you learn to handle yourself around others with confidence and it gives you a powerful presence as an embodied leader.
Aikido heightens your sense of the mind/body connection. It strengthens your capacity to find and maintain a sense of calm while staying vigilantly aware. You develop an alert relaxation that appears to be very still but is highly engaged with your surroundings. With practice, you can become very stable AND ready to move with 100% of your power at will.
What principles of aikido serve business leaders best in today’s high-stress, high-demand world?
Be balanced and centered. If you feel like you’re under attack, you’re out of balance and are possibly operating from a place of disrespect or distrust. Instead of giving in to the fight or flight response or freezing up, you can use centering and breathing techniques that promote emotional calmness and mental alertness that enable you to respond gracefully to even the most stressful situations. The loss of a centered mind results in loss of balance as you instinctively start to fight for control. A centered and balanced mind doesn’t need to fight, control, or dominate.
Be calm. Many business leaders get caught up in reacting emotionally to everything, living in drama so that they’re always putting out fires. You can deepen your mind’s capacity for calmness. If you feel calm, you can maintain calm under any circumstance. Aikido teaches you to get closer to your attacker and move in the same direction as he is, which may seem counterintuitive, but is a very powerful life skill for diffusing tense situations.
Be fully present and aware. Too many people are disconnected or distracted from the here and now because of worrying about the past or the future. Or they’re so busy thinking of what they’ll say next they aren’t listening to what’s being said. By becoming fully aware of the other person or of the situation, without being attached to a preconceived outcome, you can build a harmonious relationship with what’s happening. By doing so, you get out of your own way and develop the ability to access your intuitive self. You learn to succeed by surrendering.
Be open and adaptable. The fear of losing control in actuality spins a person out of control. Let the situation unfold without resisting. Rather than letting your mind lead you, learn how to lead your mind. Become comfortable with not knowing everything, which in turns opens you up to creative solutions that are best for everyone on your team.
Be proactive and responsible. While it’s easy to make excuses for why something doesn’t work, an embodied business leader takes responsibility, provides guidance and support as he or she start influencing others to do their best. For those who are painfully shy, introverted, and uncomfortable in social situations, the principles of aikido teach you to assert yourself in relationships without being aggressive. You learn to successfully lead a person, so that he or she willingly follows. This is an invaluable skill for you in your role as an embodied leader.
You have the tools to deal effectively with conflict within you. You just need to find them. Just as silence is always present even if there’s a great deal of noise going on around you, you can experience silence if you shut out the distractions and listen for it. In the same way, you have the capacity for peace and calm under all stressful situations. You just need to learn to access it.
When you achieve peace, no one is going to take it away from you. Only you can give your peace away. With that simple understanding, you know that conflict is not about you, it’s about them and their insecurities. By modeling your peace, you can diffuse sticky situations and improve not only your life but the lives of those around you.
Would you like to learn more about how a complete body/mind approach can help you excel in life and business as you step fully into your embodied leadership role? Contact me and I’d be happy to set up a somatic coaching session with you in person in Ashland, Oregon or via Skype. And don’t forget to get your free copy of “The 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment”, so you can build your life on a solid foundation.
It feels so good to deeply relax! Do you find that these moments are all too rare for you? Does the idea of relaxing at a deeper level seem illusive?
While there are no specific guidelines for how much relaxation a person should incorporate into their lifestyle, making time to unwind and enjoy life is an important part of maintaining good health.
To get the most benefit from your periods of relaxation, strive to achieve deep relaxation via the body, via the mind, and via the soul.
1. Deep Relaxation via the Body:
Deep relaxation, like meditation, exercise and deep breathing, when practiced regularly, is shown to have many potential benefits, such as, improved mood, decreased blood pressure, alleviated stress, anxiety and pain, and improved immune and cardiovascular systems.
You can achieve deep relaxation of the body by practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Here’s how:
Create a relaxed, uninterrupted atmosphere by putting on loose clothing, playing soft music, dimming the lights, and shutting off the world around you.
Sit in a comfortable chair that supports your head and back. You can also do this exercise lying down if you’re trying to get to sleep.
Taking a few deep breaths, close your eyes and clear your mind. As you breathe in slowly, visualize what’s making you tense. As you slowly breathe out, visualize that you’re releasing those feelings. Imagine that all intruding thoughts are clouds sailing over you, so they move on and don’t fill your mind.
Progressively tense and relax every area of your body. As you proceed, think about how you would describe the relaxed state. If you can associate the relaxed state with a color, word, or image, you’ll attain deep relaxation more quickly in the future.
- Make a fist with your right hand, tightening the muscles of your hand and forearm. Count 10 seconds. Then allow your hand to open and your arm to relax as you count 10 seconds. Do the same with your left hand and arm. Feel the difference between the relaxed state and the tense state. Repeat.
- Make a fist with your right hand, and bring it up to your shoulder, tightening your upper arm. Hold for 10 seconds. Release. Repeat with your left arm. Allow tension to flow out through your fingertips. Repeat both arms.
- Now focus on your head. Raise your eyebrows as high as you can, hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Allow your forehead to become smooth. Repeat. Next bring your eyebrows together, as you frown deeply. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat. Next, purse your lips into an ooh (like a monkey sounds). Hold for 10 seconds. Fully relax until your mouth falls slightly open. Next, clench your jaw tightly. Hold 10 seconds. Release. Relax fully. Repeat.
- Raise your shoulders toward your ears, allowing your shoulder and neck muscles to tighten. Hold for 10 seconds. Allow your shoulders to drop. Feel the tension flow down and out fingertips. Relax for 10 seconds. Repeat. Next, press the back of your head against the chair, tightening the muscles in the back of your neck. Hold 10 seconds. Relax 10 seconds. Focus on the relaxed feeling and allow it to spread throughout your neck. Repeat.
- Move your focus to your upper back, mid-back, and abdomen. Begin by pressing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds. Release 10 seconds. Repeat. Take a couple of deep breaths in and out, releasing any remaining tension. Next arch your lower back just enough to tense the lower back muscles. Hold 10 seconds. Release 10 seconds. Repeat. Tuck your abdomen in tightly. Hold for 10 seconds. Release 10 seconds. Repeat. Breathe deeply a couple of times to release any remaining tension.
- Finally, focus on your buttocks and legs. First, squeeze your buttocks together, hold for 10 seconds. Release for 10 seconds. You can choose to work on your legs separately or together. Bring your legs straight out in front of you and point your toes toward your face. Tighten your calves and thighs. Hold for 10 seconds. Release for 10 seconds. Repeat. Allow tension to flow down your legs and out the bottom of your feet.
Once you complete the Progressive Muscle Relaxation routine, scan your body for areas that still feel tense. Repeat the tensing and relaxing for that muscle group. Allow yourself to stay in the relaxed state for a few moments. Open your eyes. How do you feel?
Note: When tensing the muscles, don’t over tighten a muscle to the point of pain. If you have an injury, consult your doctor or therapist to determining the best method of tensing and relaxing that muscle group.
2. Deep Relaxation via the Mind:
Making time to find enjoyment is also an important element of relaxation. Get out of your mind often and distract yourself from your worries by making room for leisure and play. After all, laughter is good medicine! It decreases pain, helps your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation and reduces anxiety.
We’ll discuss Deep Relaxation via the Soul in an upcoming blog post. Many people have found that they relax more fully if a coach guides them through the steps, rather than trying to do them from written instructions. If this is true for you, contact me and we can arrange a session that works for you.
Aren’t you drawn to warm, affectionate people? We feel immediately comfortable with them. What is it that makes them so approachable? It might be the warmth of their smile or their eye contact with you.
However, if you pay attention, you might be surprised to find how often warm people touch others. They shake hands with firm, full palm contact…not a limp-fish handshake. They may even pat you on the shoulder as they shake your hand. Or they let their hand rest just for a moment on your forearm. Or they greet you with a side hug, knowing that a full hug seems too intimate and may make you uncomfortable. All during the conversation, they continue to communicate through touch.
Touch is our primary language of compassion. Maybe you can remember a time when you were hurting, and a trusted confidante or parent enveloped you in their arms. Your heartbeat slowed, your sobs subsided, and you were able to breathe again. Touch changed your life at that moment. You knew you were not alone. Someone was there for you.
Communication through touch is fundamental to human bonding and health. At Berkeley University of California they studied whether people can communicate compassion through touch. They built a barrier in the lab that separated two strangers. One person stuck his or her arm through the barrier and waited. The other person was given a list of emotions. He or she had to try to convey each emotion through a one-second touch to the stranger’s forearm. The person whose arm was being touched had to guess the emotion.
Remarkably, the guesses were correct nearly 60 percent of the time. They got the emotions – gratitude, anger, love, and fear – right more than 50 percent of the time. Gender seems to have a bearing on the results. Interestingly, when a woman tried to communicate anger to a man, he had no idea what she was doing. And when a man tried to communicate compassion to a woman, she didn’t understand it.
In another study these researchers found, “People can not only identify love, gratitude, and compassion from touches but can differentiate between those kinds of touch, something people haven’t done as well in studies of facial and vocal communication.”
People understand your words better if you touch them. No that doesn’t mean if you’re angry you should punch someone. However, when you’re working to keep the line of communication open enough so that you can touch them, you’ll be more mindful about controlling your emotions. As you touch them, it reminds you that you love and appreciate this person and you want to mend the rift in your relationship, which helps you calm down. And they will feel that intention despite the hurt or anger and will be more open to listening to you.
Do you see how powerful touch can become in your communication? Which do you think will have more success? Yelling at your daughter to “get in here” then standing with your hands on your hips glaring at her? Or putting your hand on her shoulder, guiding her to the couch where you can sit closely as you look her in the eye and discuss the problem earnestly?
In the office, which will create greater team spirit and employee loyalty? Sitting behind your desk, writing on a notepad as you talk with an employee? Or greeting the employee at the door with a handshake and pat on the shoulder as you guide them to chairs that are next to each other?
Remember, to pay close attention to the signals that someone might be uncomfortable with being touched. You want to respect their boundaries so you don’t unwittingly increase their stress. Also, because of your background and upbringing, you may not feel comfortable with touching or being touched. But you can choose to make changes in an effort to improve your communication skills. It’s a basic human need. Not only will it make you healthier, it will make your relationships thrive.
Somatic coaching and therapy is an excellent way to create subtle shifts in how you use your body to influence, listen, and communicate. If you’re ready to make real and lasting changes in how you relate to others, contact me to learn how in a way that leaves you feeling wonderful and at peace.
Touch is just one of the indicators of a healthy life. Take the 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment to see how you measure up. Click here to download your free copy. And don’t forget that January 21, 2016 is National Hugging Day. Who will you hug?
“To touch can be to give life.” ~ Michelangelo
Can a hug a day keep the doctor away? There’s plenty of evidence that the power of human touch like a hug, a pat on the shoulders, or holding hands does improve your physical and mental health!
It’s no wonder that people in our society are lonely, depressed and anxious. They are touch deprived. Especially in the United States, people minimize the importance of closeness and touch for adults because we’re raised to be independent, resilient and individualistic. It’s amazing how many people claim they don’t have anyone to hug or to get hugs from. Sadly, most people have not experienced good touch or platonic touch that doesn’t lead to a sexual encounter. So they’re afraid to be the person who reaches out with a touch or hug.
The science behind the power of human touch
Neuroscientist Edmund Rolls discovered that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Touch soothes cardiovascular stress. The skin contains encapsulated nerve endings called corpuscles and Merkel cells that register the pressure of each touch and sends a message to the brain, which then triggers a hormonal reaction. So a hug from a loved one reduces cortisol – the stress hormone, while releasing melatonin, serotonin and oxytocin – the feel good and love hormones.
To show how powerful human touch is studies show that a person can identify strong emotions like love, anger, gratitude, or fear just from a touch without even being able to see the other person!
Neuroscientist, psychologists, and researches have discovered fascinating things about the power of human touch. Here are some of their findings:
- Those who are touched are much more likely to cooperate and share with their partner.
- NBA basketball players who touch each other the most win the most games.
- Touch from a loved one calms the stress activity in the brain so perceived threats aren’t as scary.
- Preemie babies gain 47% more weight, have less pain and autoimmune disease symptoms after touch therapy than preemies who receive standard medical treatment.
- Touch helps Alzheimer’s patients to relax, make emotional connections, and reduce depression symptoms.
- Massage therapy reduces pain and prenatal depression in pregnant women.
- Eye contact and a pat on the back from the doctor boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.
- Students who receive friendly pats from the teacher are three times more likely to speak up in class.
- When librarians pat the hand of a student checking out a book, the student likes the library more and is more likely to come back.
- Autistic children, widely believed to hate being touched, respond well to being massaged by a parent or therapist.
- Touch lowers glucose levels in children with diabetes.
- Touch therapy improved immune systems in people with cancer.
- Patients who get a massage regularly heal faster, feel more comfortable and get greater pain relief as they are able to relax more fully.
- Cuddling your furry pet improves immune function, reduces blood pressure and eases the perception of pain.
As psychotherapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” No matter what our age, we need to be touched, whether it’s a hug, a back rub, a pat on the back, a squeeze of the shoulder or even a hand shake. Touch is fundamental to everything we think and feel, how we communicate and bond, and whether or not we catch a cold.
A word of caution, however – let the reaction of others guide how much you touch them. If someone has been physically abused, touching them without permission may increase their stress.
Somatic coaching and therapy is an excellent way to create subtle shifts in how you use your body to influence, listen, be resilient, manage stress, maintain energy and be more effective. Rather than numbing yourself to uncomfortable circumstances and powering through them, contact me to learn how to respond in a way that leaves you feeling whole and at peace.
Touch is just one of the indicators of a life well lived. Take the 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment to see how you’re doing. Click here to download your free copy. And don’t forget that January 21, 2016 is National Hugging Day. How many people will you hug?