The Body in Coaching – Embodied approaches, tools and tips

Your body is the ground metaphor of your life, the expression of your existence. It is your Bible, your encyclopaedia, your life story.” – Gabrielle Roth

Why the body is important for coaches

The body is an integral part of what it means to be human, so needs to be an aspect of effective coaching. Coaching as a discipline came from the body athletic – the standard Western view of the body as a machine that carries the head around – so physicality was quickly ignored by most early coaching schools which focused on language and thinking. As coaching has matured some schools have reintegrated the body to some extent and there are several embodied specialists such as Strozzi Institute, Leadership Embodiment and my own Embodied Facilitator Course. Coaching can include “the body” as in health and wellbeing, but an “embodied” approach to coaching is interested in the subjective lived experience of the body, not it’s size and shape, but how we are in the short and long term. Embodied coaching concerns posture, movement, breathing, intention and awareness – these are the core tools of an embodied coach. It views the body as critical to a coachee’s perception (we see “through” our bodies”, cognition (we think with our whole bodies), emotions (which have “geography” in the body), identity (we stand and move who we are), learning (perhaps the essence of coaching – if information were enough Wikipedia would have solved the world’s problems), values spirituality (not mere theory), action in the world, creativity, communication and relationships. The body is much more than just a “brain taxi” as my colleague Francis Briers is fond of saying!

A Framework

The image below shows a framework that can be used for embodied coaching based on Daniel Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence (a subset of embodied intelligence). It is important for an embodied coach to have skills in all these areas.

Embodied-Self-Awareness includes body awareness. Awareness of posture and movement, emotional awareness and intuition.

Embodied Social Awareness includes awareness of other people’s embodiments, being able to “read” bodies, empathy and emotional connection, and awareness of group moods.

Embodied Self-Management includes postural and attentional adjustment, breath control (e.g. diaphragmatic breathing), mood management – e.g. confidence building and relaxing or enlivening oneself

Embodied Social Management includes leadership, influence, impact (charisma, presence, gravitas), nonverbal mimicking and rapport building, Interruption of unconscious mirroring (e.g. during vicious conflict cycles) and trust building

Embodied tips for coaches

Working with the body is best not approached as something that can be tagged onto what coaches already know. It takes some years of a regular embodied practice (e.g. yoga or martial arts) to get back into ones own body from the typical disembodied state and specialist training is often required. That being said there are some things any coach can do to bring the body back into their work at least to some degree immediately.

■            Notice your own body while coaching or training – just doing this will add a new dimension to your work

■            Pay attention to participants/clients physicality – how they stand, sit and hold themselves. Be curious, don’t jump to conclusions

■            Get a body awareness practice yourself – yoga, tai chi and martial arts are fantastic, though any physical activity done with attention is fine

■            Learn to manage yourself under pressure by practicing the ABC “centring” process – can also be done with coachees at the start of sessions:

– Become Aware of your body especially your breathing

Balance your posture and attention

– Relax your “Core-line” (eyes, mouth and stomach muscles)

■            Learn to access and trust your gut instinct by paying attention to it

■            Get feedback on what overall mood your body conveys in coaching (we are all blind to this so you may be surprised!)

Principles for working with clients with the body

Often coaches I trained are scared to bring the body into their work as it can be counter-cultural especially with many corporate clients. I have found however it is not a problems with any client, and I have deliberately sought the “hardest” ones, if some guidelines are followed:

  • Have confidence – don’t apologise
  • Use appropriate language and metaphors for your audience
  • Make it relevant. WIIFM?
  • Get people to test things for themselves and refer to evidence base
  • Always give choice and get informed consent.
  • Be aware of trauma responses – hyper or hypo, and gender/ cultural sensitivities people may have around the body and touch.
  • Use calibration and steady increase (for centring)
  • Most importantly – Embody what you are teaching yourself. Long-term practice is needed for integrity

Uses for embodiment as a coach

There are many ways to work with the body as coach, here is an outline:

1. Developing your own embodiment. This includes:

–   long term through practices

–   short term through state management

We coach from who we are. We are always “at the scene of the crime”.

2. Tools you can use with a client. These include

–   Demonstrating a range of embodiments for insight. E.g. leading them through yin and yang, or the four elements so they can see their preferences and gain empathy for the other types

–   Setting up embodied “simulators” for insight. E.g. leader-follower exercises

–   Designing practices with them to build a capacity. E.g. a postural change to help the become more confident or suggesting they take up karate or yoga.

–   Techniques for self-regulation. E.g. teaching them a kind of centring

–   Techniques for expression and release. E.g. Five Rhythms free dance

Having a range of skills from the four quadrants of embodied intelligence (awareness, self-management, social awareness and social influence) is useful.

About the author

Embodiment trainingMark Walsh has dedicated his life to embodied learning. He leads embodied specialists Integration Training and has taught embodiment in twenty countries. He founded The Embodied Facilitator Course and made embodiment available online through aYoutube channel with over 6 million hits. His qualifications include an honours degree in psychology, an aikido black-belt, residential training with various bodymind masters, training in body-psychotherapy, improvisation, meditation, dance and ten martial arts. His clients include Unilever, Virgin Atlantic, AXA, Shell, Newfield coach training, Liberty Global, Sussex University and The House of Lords.  He has also worked with embodied peace projects in Israel, Afghanistan, the slums of Brazil and with the Sierra Leonian Army.


Please feel free to contact me:markatintegrationtrainingdotcodotuk

Online resource:

Video – search “Integration Training” on Youtube (1000+ videos)

Any book by Richard Strozzi Heckler, Wendy Palmer, Stuart Heller or e-books by Paul Linden