Balancing Body & Mind To Succeed

Prague Leaders Magazine, March 2013

“Just as great athletes make huge gains with the help of their coaches, people at all levels of organizations are seeing phenomenal results through support from business coaches.”
Ken Blanchard, The One Minute Manager

When business coaching emerged some twenty years ago, only a handful of mostly senior executives enlisted the help of coaches to guide them to greater success in their professional and personal lives. Since then, the reputation of professional coaching has become so established that one can find coaches helping people at every level of the corporate world. Professional coaches have since helped hundreds of thousands of people maximize their potential, productivity and success in countries around the globe. While most people generally associate the term coaching with the world of sports, the guidance a business coach provides his or her corporate clients isn’t quite the same as that of a coach who helps a tennis player win the Grand Slam.

In sports, coaching is very much a hands-on activity that involves giving feedback, suggestions and direction on how to best leverage one’s talent through regular, on-going physical training. In business, coaching is more about listening and asking questions, providing a relevant sounding board and a safe environment in which to reflect, plan and commit to goals. The value a coach brings to this relationship is in providing a supportive environment for the coachee so that he or she can develop an action plan and prepare for future successful results.

Having noted this difference, it is also important to highlight some of the areas where sport and business overlap, and where business leaders, who use a professional coach to overcome the psychological hurdles of the workplace, could learn from the experience of top athletes in gaining a greater understanding and control of their physical bodies.

Athletes have long known the importance of positive mental attitude for achieving great physical accomplishments.However, business people, in my experience, are far less aware of the importance of balancing their spirit, mind and body. To illustrate this point I will use a former client as an example of someone who was able to benefit from a combination of intensive coaching and physical activity, namely yoga. Not long ago I worked with a young professional named Jana, whose impressive list of accomplishments had recently helped her land a promotion to a manager-level position, in charge of a team of ten people. She owed her promotion as much to her intelligence and analytical skills as her own personal ambition and hard work.

Moreover, having been identified as one of the company’s rising stars, Jana’s drive and determination was encouraged by her director. None-the-less, her boss was very aware of challenges that Jana would face on her path to success.

Based on what the manager told me about Jana, I was expecting to see a confident and poised young woman when we met for the first time. But the person who sat across me didn’t convey any of the qualities her boss and HR manager had described to me. Her shoulders were slouched, her breathing shallow and her eyes continually seemed to be avoiding mine. While Jana’s technical and analytical skills were acknowledged and praised throughout the company, her weak interpersonal skills and an uninspiring physical presence were undermining her role as a future leader.

It is well known that our body is our main vehicle for communication and that 55 percent of our communication is conveyed through the way we stand, move and behave. Yet it is amazing how few people pay attention to what their bodies are telling others. Jana, for example, would find it very difficult to inspire confidence in her team when her body language showed a clear reluctance to communicate and an even clearer lack of self-confidence.

As our dialogue continued, I asked Jana some questions to discover what was behind this chasm of what she was telling me verbally and what she was expressing physically. Her body seemed to be surprisingly oppressed when she described her current professional situation. When she talked about her past achievements, her body eased slightly and her breathing became more relaxed, but an underlying impression of anxiety was clearly palpable. When I eventually shared my impressions with her, she looked me in the eyes and with a surprised tone asked, “What do you mean my body communicates my stress and emotional turmoil?”

While Jana did not need much help in clarifying her goals and establishing an action plan to achieve them, she needed a lot of coaching to realize the great importance that one’s physical presence has in producing an impression of confidence and competence. Learning to manage our body posture and gestures to create a positive impression under times of stress and uncertainty is almost as important as mental control in such situations.

As with other clients, I recommended that Jana try to find balance both physically and mentally through sport and physical activity. Not only does sport provide an excellent physical outlet for stress, but it can often help people improve their mental focus, find more energy and become increasingly open and receptive.

As part of her coaching program, I strongly suggested that Jana attend a weekly yoga class. After a few short weeks, Jana and her coworkers noticed a remarkable difference in both the way she carried herself and in her more relaxed overall attitude. Jana’s posture quickly improved while she learned breathing techniques that kept her aligned physically and mentally.

Coaching and yoga share an emphasis on the process of fostering inner awareness. As a result, yoga is often an excellent complement to professional coaching. Both activities place great value on the path of self-discovery and share the belief that the inner journey begins by shifting our external focus to our inner focus. Like coaching, yoga encourages its students to pay more attention to external events and circumstance in life, while at the same time focusing on internal factors.

Concretely, here are some of the benefits that yoga can offer:

  • Various approaches/routines to manage stress and reduce fatigue
  • Movements/exercises to increase flexibility and strength
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques that allow one to find balance, both physically and mentally The mind and the body are closely interconnected.

Therefore, whatever you do for your mind is almost always reflected by your body. Learning to balance the body and the mind will help you be more aware and engaged in the present moment. Whether it is by consciously taking one breath at a time to reach maximum physical extension or by identifying the strategy to help you achieve your goal, the emphasis is on being open and receptive.

Like coaching, regular yoga practice encourages a person to look both inside and outside of his or her self to find happiness and fulfillment. As a result, I strongly believe that balancing our mind and body is the key to achieving professional success as well as physical and mental well-being.

Originally published in Prague Leaders Magazine.