Leadership & Coaching

What is Somatic Coaching?

As I gear up to take on practicum clients in pursuit of a Somatic Coaching Certification with Strozzi Institute and an Associate Coaching Certification with the ICF, I want to address some common questions like “what is somatic coaching?” and “how is this different from a life coach, leadership coach, or business coach?” and while we’re at it, “how is coaching different than therapy?” Please excuse some over simplifications—I can’t wait to get more personal in future posts…and the time to write them.

Coaching vs Therapy

While therapy is focused on our past, coaching is focused on our present and presence—and possible futures. Since our past provides the context for what shapes us, limits us, and drives us, coaching and therapy often go hand-in-hand. Coaching may lead to therapy (which is how somatic coaching saved my life almost 20 years ago, a story for another post), and therapy may open one up to coaching.

An analogy: someone may want to see a personal trainer to get into shape or train for a specific event. While the personal trainer (“coach”) will want to be aware of any prior or current physical concerns so they can tailor their training, they will not directly diagnose or treat—that will be done by the doctors and occupational/physical (“therapists”). Since coaching doesn’t require licensure, it’s especially critical for the client and coach to respect the limits and boundaries of coaching.

Somatic Coaching

First, let’s look at the etymology of Somatics—and two words the Greek had for body:

  • Soma—from sōmatikos, the “alive” body
  • Nekros—from nekros, the “dead” body

I like this breakdown because it illustrates an awareness that our body exists with life and without—and the body with life is our soma, the root of Somatics. (Fodder for another post is the observation that cultures all over the world and throughout time have awareness of and words for this “life energy.”) The somatic body, or “soma”, consists of our mind, body, and spirit—our anatomy, emotions, feelings, sensations, breath, energy, matter, and consciousness. Thus, somatics is an integrated, holistic “field” of practices informed by what we know of physiology, cognition, the nervous system, neuroscience, psychologies, metaphysics, and cross-cultural spiritual practices (as they pertain to energies).

OK. That’s a lot.

So, how does this impact coaching?

As the sayings go:

  • the body never lies
  • you know you best
  • you can’t outperform your environment

The crux of somatic coaching is (a) leveraging the knowledge contained in your body to guide you in making well-informed and authentic decisions, (b) entering into physical practices that will change your “somatic shape” to allow for (c) openings where you can take new actions towards new possibilities—a regenerative process allowing for sustained transformation.

“Power Posing” lends itself as a quick example of a physical practice: entering into a power pose (a physical shape) almost instantly impacts key hormone levels (including cortisol & testosterone) that lower stress and increase risk tolerance, providing space for love to drive vs fear and for options and choice vs entrapment.

What to Look for when Hiring a Coach—for life, business, love and everything in between

As someone who’s worked with a variety of coaches, I start with “trust your gut.” As science has been revealing: we have more of our nervous system in our guts than in our brains. Another good checklist is this one from Inc. Magazine on what to look for when hiring an executive coach.

As for the domain (life/business/love/leadership/etc.) and “credentials”—keep in mind that a coach will be limited by their own personal experiences and growth. Ideally, your coach will always be a step or two ahead of you. No one will ever have it all figured out, and you’ll want to be wary of anyone who thinks they do. I used to, I’m embarrassed and proud to admit…and was humbled to realize that healing, learning, growth, and life is not linear. We must forever be in curiosity, training, and conditioning.

Interested in Somatic Coaching?

Nov 2022: I’m looking for practice clients. Click here if you might be interested in working with me, either now or in the future. If we don’t find a fit, I’ll do my best to refer you to someone I think may be better suited.

ps. Having worked with Ontological Coaching for several years, I feel a connection and overlap between the two modalities. So, if you’re familiar with an ontological approach, I suspect you’d find somatic coaching appealing—even if simply out of curiosity. As an oversimplification, I see the root of ontology as an acceptance of being as the root of transformation, similar to how emotions work. (The act of wanting to stop, curb, or block an emotion will only make it stronger and stuck vs allowing it to be, in which case it will run its course and dissipate or shift.) While somatics will incorporate story/language and emotions along with the felt senses in the body similar to ontology, somatics uses story as context and grounds emotions to the felt senses vs the intellectual/cognitive realm. In sum, I find them to be slightly different approaches to reaching an integrated mind/body/spirit presence and practice for enacting the change we want to see in ourselves and the world.

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