The Body and Leadership Fundamentals – chapter 3

Here is the latest extract from my upcoming book The Body and Leadership.


Chapter 3 – Fundamentals

–  Know thyself…

So now we have our embodied context, have started to develop some body awareness and to learn to use our intention. Next let’s explore what are the fundamentals that make a bodymind tick and get “body literate”. In this chapter there are four models of increasing complexity. First we’ll explore the basic polarity of yin and yang; then return to the most fundamental distinctions of I, we and it, then look at the four basic embodied elements that make you work well or not, and lastly look at how a body responds to life’s six questions – what, where, where, who, why and how. A felt sense of these 2, 3, 4 and 6 sets of distinctions will massively increase your understanding of your embodied operating system. The second half of this chapter will then be devoted to centring – a major embodied tool which is used for self-management – optimising this system if you will.


Body Basics

1st Set of Fundamental Distinctions – Life’s 2 Poles

– Acceptance and Agency – Yin and Yang

There are two basic ways of being in a body, in leadership and in life – one which empathises acceptance, receiving and consent, and the other which stresses agency, offering and suggesting. These were mentioned in chapter two as the basic capacities involved in leadership and have been known by the Chinese for thousands of years as yin and yang. We each embody both aspects to some degree at certain times and places, whoever people also have a tendency and strength.


Portrait of a Yang-man’s Workday

“I jump out of bed in the morning have a quick breakfast and cycle fast to work overtaking cars at red lights. At work I make sure I get the five reports done I said I would and make a strong case to my manager for more funds for a project I know will make a difference. My colleague Jeff hasn’t been pulling his weight lately so I let him know I think he can do better and arrange lunch with John who I want to start work on a new system to promote the department. I end up working late to get my e-mail inbox empty but it feels good. On the way home I have a game of squash and lift some weights at the gym to destress.”

Portrait of a Yin-thing’s workday

“I wake up with the sun and have luxuriate having a nice stretch in bed and cuddling my partner. I walk to work enjoying the weather and take time to say hello to everyone and find out how they are on the way in. Jeff is having some problems at home so I arrange to meet him for lunch to listen to him and give him empathy. I’ve put a great marketing campaign together form seeing what the customers really need and I stop by the bosses office to ask him some questions to make sure it’s spot on. I end up working late helping a colleague but they often help me so I don’t mind. I do a spot of yoga and meditation at the end of the day to relax.


Polarity and Imbalance


It is important that these are seen as polarities and not opposites. In the classic oriental yin-yang symbol one is at the heart of the other and both “sides” will express unhealthy aspects when each doesn’t contain a flavour of the other. In motion we would also see that one drives the other. To take one example it is the quality of sleep, play and social support that a person gets that enables them to go out and work hard in the world. Corporate burn-out for example is not caused by the yang of doing, driving and getting things done (of which I am a big fan), but the lack of quality yin recuperation and nurturance that is needed to support it. I, like many in business, have learnt this lesson the hard way.


Acceptance – Yin Agency – Yang
Psychological aspect (I) Surrender 


“you are”



“I am”

Relational aspect (we) Support 

Receiving – taking in





Giving out




Work/task aspects (it) Process 




Spine Concave Convex
Gaze Wide Narrow
Movement Flowing 




Muscle tone Relaxed Firm
Breathing Soft 

Emphasis on in-breath


Emphasis on out-breath

Posture Asymmetrical Symmetrical
Hands and arms Open. Palm up or out Palm down or closed
Voice Softer Harder
Other Associations
Unhealthy Aspects 




Loses self in others



Body collapsed






Body tense

Archetypal Associations Lover 




Likely Values Fundamentalist 

Postmodern/new age

Modernist, integral (though this contains more yin)



Map of Yin and Yang in Body

Yin and yang are also associated with different parts of the body. For a four legged animal these are simple inside – the soft vulnerable yin underside and inside of the legs and face and neck, and yang outside – the back and outside of the limbs. In weird bipedal humans this same basic pattern holds. If you want to know your yin side these are the soft sensitive parts that you’d want kissed, on the body’s inside. The Yang parts are those you would protect yourself with if attacked – your outside if you were to curl up into a ball like a hedgehog.

History, Gender and Making Either Bad

Traditionally yin has been associated with the “feminine” and yang with the “masculine”, though this is highly problematic today where gender is much less rigidly defined than it once was and there are many legitimate ways to be male and female. I prefer then to use acceptance and agency or yin and yang as more neutral terms than masculine and feminine.

If we refer back to the little embodied history lesson in chapter one we can also see yin and yang at work. The fundamentalist rule of disembodied law in the Middle Ages can be seen as  primitive type of yin due to it’s emphasis on surrender however at this time male dominance was almost total and much of what was considered yin was (including listening to the body) was repressed and denied. The modern and industrial became very yang, emphasising doing and productivity and seeing all else as a waste of time. The inevitable counter-cultural swing back was way into the yin and the “alliterative” world can pathologise any kind of doing and get stuck in a swamp of relational, feeling being. What tends to happen is individuals and cultural trends make either yin or yang bad which is like promoting one side of coin and not overly helpful. This book is written from an integral perspective which while yang compared to the hippie movement is really about balance and integration.


Exercise – Are you a Yiney or a Yangey?

‘“Try-on” these different bodies, experimenting with the different aspects of gaze, movement posture etc and feel which is most familiar.

Read them to a few people how know you well and ask which fits. Self awareness is the basis of all leadership.


If you are interested in yin and yang I would recommend the work of Dylan Newcombe whose highly developed Uzazu system is a big influence and explores this in far more depth.


2nd Set of Fundamental Distinctions – 3 Areas of Orientation

– Inner-outer and task/relationship focus (I vs we vs it)

Perhaps the most fundamental part of Ken Wilber’s model introduced in chapter one as as an overarching structure for this book is his quadrants – “I”, “we” “it” and “its” (the last two can be combined for simplicity). These are always all going on, however we can be focused on either stuff an doing stuff (it), people and relationships (we) or our own thoughts and feelings (I). It is outwardly focused, I inwardly and we both. These three orientations have quite different bodies. NB: when I talk about “bodies “ in this book I am referring to ways of being in a body, posture, movement, that kind of thing not if someone is tall or thin or whatever. People change bodies to some degree depending on the circumstances (I may be more relational with the family than at work for example) and people also have a strength and tendency that goes across circumstances.


Relational Body (we) Task Body (it) Inward Looking (I)
Orientation Outer-Inner  – Relationships Outer 

– Things


– thoughts & feelings

Gaze Open Narrow Thinking – Far away 

Feeling – Closed

Movement Circular Linear Less 

Slower than others

Muscle tone Relaxed Firm Thinking – Firm 

Feeling – Relaxed

Posture Asymmetrical 

Relaxed/bent back

Symmetrical, Upright/uptight Either
Hands Palm up 

Bent wrist

Palm down 

Straight wrist

Inwards facing
Head Looking out to others 


Scanning around or focused on task Down or to side
Weight Shifts Even Even
Voice Up and down 

Ending on upwards tone


Ending on lower tone

Thinking – Flat 

Feeling – Up and down


Response Pattern


(“Be-friend” at later stages)


(Manipulate at later stages)


(Reframe at later stages)

Useful for Building sincerity-based trust 

Building rapport and relationships


Building credibility 

(competence and reliability based trust)


Getting things done

Self -reflection and awareness 

Experiencing pleasure

Intuition and moral guidance


Problematic when Ignores task and own inner world Ignores people and inner world Ignores outer world


You have probably noticed a correlation between “we” bodies and yin bodies and “it” bodies and yang bodies. This is often but always the case as it is possible to be challenging (yang) but relational for example.


Exercise – Are you an We’ster, It’ster or I’ister Mr (or Mrs)?

‘“Try-on” these different bodies and feel which is most familiar as you did for yin and yang. Again, read them to a few people how know you well and ask which fits. Self awareness is the basis of all leadership.


This section in indebted to the work of Ken Wilber, Virginia Satir and Michael Grindler.


3rd Set of Fundamental Distinctions – The 4 Things That Make You Work

– The Four Pillars

Q: What Makes A Body Work Well?

A: Relaxation, Structure, Balance and Movement

These are the four “pillars” of an effective bodymind. We just work better this way:



Bodyminds work better relaxed – fact. Sadly most people equate relaxation with what I’d call “dead” or “limp” relaxation, and associate tension with work and effort. I would therefore first differentiate “live relaxation” – relaxed like a tiger of a boxer – from “dead relaxation” – relaxed like a drunk in front of the TV.

The body works better when relaxed as tension inhibits movement – living tense is like driving with the breaks on. Muscles can only contract and relax and work in pairs. Holding on to to a contraction in a pair of opposing muscles achieves nothing and is a waste of effort that will inhibit other kinds of movement. Relaxation then is using the minimum effort and therefore maximum efficiency to accomplish a task (e.g. standing up). The mind also works better when relaxed yet alert ,and a relaxed yet upright body (see structure) facilitates this.

Bodies can only hold onto tensions (though traumatic experiences and daily strains for example) so most people need to learn to relax, let go of this to some degree, and return to the state of grace they were in as children, if they are to be most effective. Relaxation works with gravity and other forces (“letting go”) and also against them (our natural “springiness” which happens when tension is released). We will keep returning to relaxation as it is such a vital factor.


Exercise – Limp, tense and extended

Make a fist – really squeeze! Then let you hand go completely limp like a dead fish. Now open your hand as if you were reaching for a hand to shake of someone you liked (use intention). These are the three states of limp (the yin problem), tense (the yang problem) and expended (generally the healthiest state although the rhythm of tension and relaxation is also important).

Now do this with your whole body – tense everything, then collapse in a pile of mush, then get up and extend in each direction (remembering to use intention as well as muscle) while staying as relaxed as possible. Note how each feels different, the effect on your mind and emotions, what seems possible in each, how you relate to others etc Where in your life are you collapsed or tense rather than extended? How could you try alternatives? Experiment and play with this.



Human beings are a particular size and shape and subject to the laws of physics like anything else. By using appropriate postures we align ourselves with the forces acting upon us. Gravity of course is the most important of these, pushing down upon us throughout our lives and it is advisable to structure our bodies to allow it to be carried through the bones into the ground. To do this the muscles must be as relaxed as possible (they are not designed for prolonged weight bearing) and you must provide a clear “line” for gravity to go down. Think of buildings – the walls and other support structures are vertical and towers that lean like Pisa are under tremendous stress and will generally fall.The exercise below shows you how to do this with sitting and standing although this principle applies to all postures, and activities involving force such as pushing a car. The principle is to align the bones to take the force and relax all muscles not involved in the essential effort. Also, to allow the “rebound” that the springiness in the body brings to.


Exercise – Sitting and standing

How to Sit

You have two sit-bones (also called ischial tuberosities – see below). When you are sitting upright either on the floor or on a chair these are the bits gravity goes through). If you are slouching other parts of your body will bear the weight which is a bad idea -psychologically it will also make you feel lethargic (it’s closer to lying down), dependant (you are not self-supporting) and will inevitably cause tension. Most people sit like this because the sit bones as a bi-pod are not a very stable base. In order to make them a more stable sitting structure you can put a rolled up towel or cushion under your tail bones to create a tripod. This is a very secure structure which allows the rest of your body to relax while you remain alert. Don’t lie down a bit when you want to work, anymore than you’d stand-up a bit while trying to sleep. Vertical = awake, horizontal  = sleepy. Common sense).


How to Stand

Standing is actually quite a tricky feet (apologies). Imagine a tall chair with only two legs and a large water-melon on top – that’s you that is. Structurally big-headed bipeds are pretty unstable as objects compared to quadrupeds so we need continual small adjustments to stay still on our small base (part of each foot- ideally a tripod of ball, little toe base and heel). Aligning the middle of your feet with your knees with your hip sockets helps. The hips-sockets are much narrower than the hips bones – about the distance from the tip of the thumb to the forefinger – so you feet will also be about this far apart. This may take some getting used to if you are used to standing with feet touching of far apart (see “where” shortly). Again, the bones can only do their job if the muscles relax and let them.

These exercises have been largely taken from my studies of Being-In-Movement and Ideokenesis

Exercise – “Opening” and “Closing”

One way of combining relaxation and structure is to think in terms of “opening” and ”closing.”

Start with your hand and then move to the whole body. A fully “closed” body would be in the foetal position with every muscle fired – something which people will still do in extreme stress to “block out” the world. Now really “open” expanding your body to take up as much apace as possible while staying relaxed. Be careful not to close one side to open the other (e.g. the back and front).

Note what happens to your mind, emotions and how you feel about others as the body opens and closes.  Many people feel safer closed however this is an illusion as I have learnt in the martial arts we are safer open as we are more aware and connected to ourselves and others.


Exercise – Anti-gravity

Find something heavy that you can safely carry or put on your back. A large rucksack, some heavy shopping, a doberman, it doesn’t really matter. Notice how your body feels, remember you’re carrying much more with than this around daily – yourself!  Check your alignment and relax the muscles as much as possible.

Now as quickly as safely possible, let go of what you are carrying and notice what happens. Most people feel a natural springiness or “rebound” caused by the elastic nature of the body. This is also happening all the time or else we would be squashed to mush.

Note the mental, emotional and relational effects of heaviness and lightness (more on this shortly…). Can you use this bounce-back from a load to keep going a little further than from where you started and add a little more lightness to your system? What is the effect if this?

You can also have a friend push down on your shoulders (making sure to keep the back upright) to enable this upward springiness on the rebound or do this by jumping and paying particular attention to the upward movement after you land. These can be used as a centring technique as we’ll see later.


Balance and Symmetry

The bodymind works best when it is balanced. While human symmetry is never 100% possible (the heart is slightly to the left as one well-known example) a general state of symmetry in posture is highly beneficial and aids relaxation and structure. When we talk of a person as “balanced” we intuitively make this link. Beauty is also linked to symmetry cross culturally because of it’s association with health, wellbeing and empowerment.


Exercise – Exploring Balance

Stand any old way you like – pretend your waiting for a bus or for politicians to become honest or whatever and notice your weight distribution.

Is it more on one foot than the other? More front than back? More left than right?

Now take it to the extremes of the front, then the back, then each side – as far as you can until you feel you will lose balance. Notice your muscles tensing up to keep you from falling. This is what happens when you’re bones are not well aligned with gravity -the muscles have to do the work.

Next rock in circles and come back to a middle point equally balanced. how does this feel physically, mentally emotionally?

To experience the subtle emotional and psychological effects of imbalance let’s go to the extreme.  Stand on one leg. If you’re balance is good close your eyes too. Do whatever it takes to be wobbling and on the edge of your balance.

Now try and do a maths problem or say the alphabet backwards. Most people find this quite tricky. hang-out on the every edge of your balance so you are tipping over – notice how this feels. Note the sounds you make as you lose balance – wow! Imbalance and unpleasant emotion go together. Note too if you prefer to keep control of your balance or you find it easy to give away. This is significant from a leadership point of view, though neither right and wrong. Spend some time playing with thee things as children do.


Movement (Freedom and Energy)

One of the characteristics that defines life is movement. From when a baby starts to kick to when we sigh our last breath we are moving. Children move freely and find it hard to sit still, even when we sleep we move constantly and it is the internal movements of the heart, lungs and other systems that keep us alive in any moment. Put simply life=movement, and stillness is either an illusion or a profound realisation of the total stillness that that movement coms from…but that’s getting a bit Zen for now.

Where our movement is chronically constricted by numbness or muscular tension (see “armouring in chapter 8) we are literally less alive. Bodies work better when they are relaxed and able to move freely. Health, both mental and physical, can be defined by the amount, quality and rhythm of movement. The latter also includes the rhythm of rest and stillness as we shall see in chapter 4. When we feel happiest, are most engaged in our work and in relationships that nourish we move! The inclination a person has to move is a sign that we are fully alive. (This is the common-sensical way I use the word “energy”.)When we our bodyminds are working at their best we jump with joy, run wild, want to move with our partners and get a move on at work!


Exercise – Exploring Freedom of Movement

Go for walk. Notice what moves as you move. What swings and what is held? Work through the section of the body with your attention one by one.


Observe some other people, preferably from different cultures to your own. Notice where they are free to move and where they are held. What would more freedom in various areas give you? How would this change your perspective and possibilities?


4 Pillars Recap

To recap: the four fundamentals pillars that allow a bodymind to work effectively are:

  • Relaxation
  • Structure
  • Balance
  • Movement

It is possible to have some of one without the others – e.g. as stoned relaxed hippie with no structure, or a hectically movement businessman with no balance or relaxation, yet they do support one another and it is balance of the four that defines how effectively we are using our bodyminds.


This section is indebted to the work of Paul Linden and George Leonard


4th Set of Fundamental Distinctions – 6 Questions Your Body Answers

– The Six Dimensions!

Some passing knowledge of the models of two basic ways of being (acceptance and agency); three orientations (I, we and it) and the four “pillars” (relaxation, structure, balance and movement) is enough to to massively enhance your bodymind capabilities. They are a huge “operating system upgrade” and may be enough for many readers. For those who want more detail I offer the following “six dimensions” model – the most comprehensive framework for understanding embodiment that exists. This is how humans work.

Let’s start with an obvious but mysterious fact – in every culture and language there are words for “what”, “where”, “when”, “why”, “who” and “how”. These fundamental “six dimensions” are  the unavoidable and irreducible units of human experience. In embodied terms they equate to weight, space, time, meaning, identity and movement. They are the questions any good journalist ask when looking at a story, and in trying to understand the “story” of the human body they are all important. Any bodymind is an answer to these questions. You are one unique response to, and expression of, these questions.


What? – Vertical – Weight

Let’s jump in at the deep end. Perhaps the most fundamental and enigmatic question is “what am I”? In embodied terms this relates to the vertical axis. Psychologically it relates to  Commitment (what do I want/ will allow?”) and emotionally to joy and sadness, as well as excitement, stress and our foundation (“ground”). Ultimately it concerns life, death and spirituality in the widest sense. In terms of the task at hand it relates to vision and application.

When we re up we are upright and dignified morally and spiritually transcendent (or have “our heads in the clouds when we lack down to balance this). When we are up we are happy and full of life, we have the vision to see where our work is going and a clear intention to carry it out. Combined with tension or lacking the balancing down this up can become excited or “high” as a kite, “lightweight” and easily pushed around or stressed and uptight (again notice how wise language is). The Western world is an up and tense culture primarily.

We tend to use the word down to refer to the sense of lacking energy and of sadness and loss in this direction. These are emotions are useful however and this direction is about our foundation – only with collapse does down equal no energy. Ethically it is about what supports us, when someone has this direction well expressed we say they are “solid”, have “their feet on the ground” and are a dependable “heavy-weight”. In work this dimension relates to getting on with the work at hand, and when this goes to far having our “nose to the grindstone” and losing perspective.

Where? – Horizontal – Space

continued in the book…

Spacial Dimensions Summary and Combinations

These first three dimensions give us six physical directions with


Direction Concern Wider  


I We It Emotion (I-we-it)
Up Lighter Life What I am committed to Ethical principal Vision Joy 


Down Heavier Death What am I unattached to Ethical ground Application Sadness 


Outward Bigger Existing Where is my outward focus Include 

Social confidence

Big Picture Express 


Inward Smaller Non-existence Where is my inward focus Boundary 


Detail Contain
Forward Future Youth When will I do (intention) Towards 


Doing Eager 


Backward Past Experience When will I allow 




Evaluating Accepting 



The next two “dimensions” are particularly human – a rock tends not to worry about why he’s a rock or who she is.


continued in the book…