Beyond Gurus and Guides: Personal Coaches Complement the Teachings of Yoga
by Will Doran Originally printed in Enlightened Practice Magazine, June/July 2004
Over the last century, there has been a tremendous transfer of knowledge from the East to the West. Holistic arts such as yoga have grown to such popularity that it is estimated that over 18 million Americans practice them regularly. As the teachings from the East have taken root and born fruit, they have also influenced the development of new modalities for personal growth within Western culture. Highly complementary to yogic philosophy, coaching is a service that offers very personalized support in bringing self-awareness and conscious living into everyday life. For yoga students looking for guidance beyond what they can receive in a routine class at their studio or health club, it is a perfect fit. Coaching shares the core yogic concepts that direct a person to look within to find happiness and fulfillment. What makes coaching so complementary is that it takes the broad concepts of going within further into specific steps that are customized to the unique life issues, goals, and perceived obstacles of each client. If a shortage of gurus seems to be holding you back from getting the extra help you are looking for on your path, it is good to know that other options exist.
As a certified Yoga Instructor, I love connecting with a class of receptive students and sharing the knowledge of the yogic philosophy. Wanting more direct interaction with individuals seeking mind-body-spirit balance, I pursued certification as a Personal Coach as well. My coaching practice fills the gap and gives me the opportunity to take the teachings deeper and to make them more personalized. Because the profession of coaching is relatively new—roughly 10 years or so—and shares so many complementary concepts with yoga, I thought it merited further exposure to the yogic community.
What coaching is
To understand what coaching is, it may be best to look at what it is not. Distinctly different from its cousins—therapy and counseling—coaching is a service for emotionally healthy individuals who are not in need of “fixing,” nor are they told what they should do. Coaching clients are perceived as being whole and capable of finding their optimal course of action when they are guided through the process of self-observation, exploring alternative perspectives, and making conscious choices for themselves. The emphasis is on guiding clients into the awareness of their inner wisdom, clarifying what it is they want, and establishing an action plan for achieving it that honors the process of self-discovery. Coaches may share personal experiences or insights, but they refrain from telling a client what to do. I find that this straightforward approach is a very practical and empowering way to help individuals become attuned to their roles as co-creators in their lives with the Divine.
Coaching clients tend to be individuals who have come to a crossroads in their life and are seeking to fulfill their dreams, achieve specific goals, or simply want to feel good and live in a way that is less stressful. Coaching sessions are based on establishing mutual trust and creating an environment where the clients’ agendas, concerns, aspirations, and dreams are safe to explore. The coach helps them look at various perspectives on an issue, try out alternative scenarios, identify obstacles, devise action plans, and, also, holds the clients accountable to standards they set for themselves. Because coaches listen intently and focus exclusively on their clients’ issues and learning, most individuals who engage a personal coach find that what ensues is one of the most intimate and honest relationships of their lives.
One of the strongest common themes shared by coaching and yoga is the emphasis on the process of fostering inner awareness. Both disciplines place great value on the path of self-discovery and believe that our journey begins by shifting focus from the external events and circumstances of our lives to the more subtle qualities of who we are “being” in the moment. Observing the layers of our nature makes it easier to conceptualize where our actions come from and how well they reflect our inner values. In my yoga classes, I teach my students to tune into the multiple layers of their subtle bodies as a way to identify closer with the true nature of their Divine essence. The model of the five koshas—the concentric energetic “sheaths” that make up our being—serves to develop this awareness of the physical body, life-force energy body, mental body, intellect or higher mind, and our spiritual bliss body. As a coach, I use the Transformational Model to encourage clients to look at their lives from the inside out. This model holds that there are five layers of our being. When we focus our awareness on our innermost priorities, we then can govern our actions most effectively to live and create the lives we want for ourselves. Transforming the quality of one’s life comes from identifying one’s core essence, personal values, intentions, desires, and optimal behavior, and seeing how acting from that awareness can shape our personal environment. By gaining access to our essence and core values, we are the cause rather than the effect of circumstances.
Self-observation and everyday awareness
Similar to the yogic concept of svadhyaya (self-study and personal observation), coaching emphasizes taking stock of our values and how well our actions honor them. A common tool a coach may introduce for expanding this awareness is the Wheel of Life diagram. This helps clients rate for themselves their levels of satisfaction in the key areas of vocation, service, body, play, family, relationships, spirituality, friends, home, and prosperity. Coaches frequently have their clients fill out a Personal Inventory questionnaire in which they define what issues are important to them, what has worked so far and what hasn’t, what goals they want to achieve, and what type of assistance would best support them.
It is this process of identifying and dealing with everyday issues, such as health, relationships, money, and satisfying employment—what frequently are called “little c” coaching issues—that bring a client around to the “big C” issues, such as personal transformation, inner balance, and connecting with Spirit. I find it common among both coaching clients and yoga students that they do not always consciously know what they want for themselves on the more profound levels of living. The desire to find the right life partner or to create flexibility may initially get them to call or come to a class, but invariably, when one begins to go within and starts the process of self-observation, the blinders around life issues are removed. When the realization that it is all connected is adopted, and life itself becomes sadhana (spiritual practice), more life-transforming lessons are learned and the human experience is greatly enriched. Both coaching and yoga philosophies hold that until we begin to look inside for our identity and answers to life’s questions, we are like a rudderless ship.
The power of intention
Harnessing the mind and gaining mastery over intention is the most powerful tool for personal transformation. Knowing where you want to go and how you will respond to challenges or obstacles helps create a sense of control and flow. Likewise, moving from the judgment mentality of “right” and “wrong” and into self-awareness lessens the tendency toward perceiving oneself as being a victim. Setting intentions and pursuing them with focused clarity helps develop compassion, diligence, and an optimistic perspective that goals can be reached through incremental steps and perseverance.
Both coaching and yoga teach the power behind visualization and setting intentions. Holding an image of a desired result is a highly effective way to intend a goal into manifestation. While practicing yoga, students learn to master a pose by visualizing themselves already there, before they act. This same concept can be applied by a coach in helping a client visualize his or her dreams coming true. Seeing the desired end-result as an already done deal, and reframing perceived obstacles as merely being a series of steps to work through, eventually leads to success. As a result, energetic space is made for the manifestation of a desired result or outcome. Seeing the eventual achievement of a goal makes it a matter of simply applying effort toward an end while enjoying the process of getting there. It also opens one to new and unexpected discoveries along the way. Receiving personalized coaching can greatly facilitate this process of creation by helping clients clearly define what it is they want and then helping them devise a strategy for achieving it.
When students and clients become aware that their practice and behavior are an ongoing process of aligning mind, body, and spirit, they become centered in the present moment. This is what the author Eckhart Tolle identifies as The Power of Now in his seminal book by the same name. Whether it is consciously taking one breath at a time while reaching your maximum physical extension, or identifying action steps for the day, the emphasis is on being open to a process of manifestation. Coaching utilizes the I AM model to help clients adopt a perception of how to become co-creators of their reality; it states that Intention plus Attention equals Manifestation. In short, the degree to which you can define what you want and maintain focused attention on it is proportionate to the level of success you will achieve. Process orientation means taking stock of where we are today and moving forward from there with compassion. Both as a coach and as a yoga instructor, I observe that when clients or students apply compassion toward themselves, they begin to shine with new hope and limitless possibilities. As simple as this sounds, all of those who have set out on their own to make deep and lasting changes in their lives can appreciate that it isn’t always that easy. Learning to appreciate the journey—as much as arriving at a destination—takes patience and understanding. Having gentle support from a trained guide who tunes in to their specific needs, encourages them to take action, and then celebrates their success with them can make all the difference in the world.
The power behind coaching comes from fostering the sense that we are not alone in our process and that we are really being heard and seen for who we aspire to be. I always try to reinforce the lesson that life is a unique set of learning experiences for each individual, and, as such, it is an opportunity for personal refinement and transformation. Suspending judgment creates an environment for freedom and exploration and amplifies the present-moment learning. Yoga students are encouraged to find the “edge” of a pose – where they experience their maximum stretch or point of extension – and explore their reaction to it. The coaching clients are supported in their efforts to courageously live bigger and bolder, while they explore blocks to success, clear obstacles, take action, and celebrate growth and achievements.
Hope for humanity
As individuals move into conscious awareness and learn to see the connections between their inner and outer lives, they have a positive affect not only upon themselves but also upon the world. It is my personal dream to facilitate this consciousness on an ever-expanding scale. The more I work with individuals choosing clarity of mind and action, the more I see how responsible we all are for consciously creating our own happiness and personal successes. With each individual who chooses to live in balance, the more optimistic I become. I am fortunate in that as both coach and yoga instructor I get to see how positive attitudes and conscientious living create healthy, sane, and fully alive individuals who are aware that what they think, do, and say directly influences who they are “being.” When individuals are sensitive to their responses and the interconnectivity of all beings, they have the power to transform the world one individual at a time.
Toleration of differences is a common characteristic of both yoga and coaching. Indeed, I find that one of the most compelling and attractive aspects of yoga is its acknowledgment of the different temperaments within humanity and the different styles of yoga that exist to serve them. Within the profession of coaching there, too, is an understanding that not all people respond optimally to just one path to fulfillment. With the growing availability of certified coaches, there are expanded choices for those who want personalized support and guidance in diverse areas of their lives. I specialize in working with people—especially those associated with yoga—who are open to taking the mind–body connection deeper and to considering spiritual solutions to the conditions of living three-dimensionally. Other coaches have very different focuses for their practice and offer a wide variety of support, ranging from relationship coaching to executive performance enhancement and career development. The consistent theme is that all coaches meet their clients where they are and help move them deeper into their life learning and forward into action that produces optimal results. Coaching is very action-oriented, because it holds that by the process of engaging life, people learn to define for themselves what they want; it helps them clarify their intentions, and then it encourages them to enjoy the feeling of making it manifest.
How to find a coach
Many coaches, like myself, work primarily over the phone. Besides avoiding many potential distractions, this format is a very practical way to effectively manage time. Because of the low cost of long distance phone services, phone consultations make coaching readily available and cost-effective to any client calling from any location across the nation. Coaches working with groups or in specific industries requiring an office presence are usually available within most metropolitan areas.
Finding the right coach for you can usually be accomplished easily by looking over one of the various coaching services databases on the Internet or by going directly to individual coaches’ websites. A wide variety of available coaches can be found by logging onto the International Coaching Federation (ICF) website www.coachfederation.org, or one of the coach training organizations, such as CoachVille at www.coachvillereferral.com and the Academy for Coach Training (ACT) site at www.coachtraining.com. They list available coaches and each one’s respective focus. This way, you can match your personal characteristics and the type of support you are looking for with the qualifications of the coaches listed. Choosing the right coach is a matter of making a call and seeing if the relationship is a comfortable fit. Most coaches offer a free introductory session, which makes the investigation a relaxed and cost-free process. Guidance on how to choose a coach, and what questions to ask, is frequently included on coaching directory sites on the Internet. ACT lists basic guidelines at www.coachtraining.com/findacoach.html. While interviewing your prospective coach, listen to your intuition and ask specific questions about his or her approach, interests, and experience. Taking this step forward may be the very beginning of one of the most powerful and transformational experiences of your life.
About the author:
Will Doran is certified as both a Yoga Instructor and Personal Life Coach. He teaches yoga in several Seattle area studios and health clubs. His service is available to clients across the country. For more information, he can be contacted by calling (206) 861-2775 or by accessing his website at www.TheYogaCoach.com.