Clean coaching and Taoism

This is an essay I wrote in Nov 08 as part of coaching accreditation with Performance Coaching Training.

A ‘clean’ approach in coaching demands a certain type of discipline: an awareness of our inner needs and motives and an ability to set them aside during the course of a coaching session so that they do not unduly influence the choices we make in lines of questioning, the focus we bring to particular topics or the reactions we have to what is happening in the session.

I have studied an approach to yoga that is from a taoist perspective. It strikes me that there are similarities in approach.

For example, in Dao yoga we learn the practice of Mu Shim, a Korean term meaning an empty mind. This is a process with 4 stages:

  1. Awareness of the thoughts and emotions that arise as we practise yoga that are ‘busy mind’ distractions from our focus on the 4 core principles of Parivartana yoga: breath, smooth movement, mind body focus, and point of stretch
  2. Acceptance of these thoughts and emotions (‘busy mind’ is not a bad thing to get rid of, it is part of being human)
  3. Detaching importance from them
  4. Re-focusing on the 4 principles and shifting the importance previously given to the ‘busy mind’ thoughts to these principles

Acceptance in Mu Shim is like the principle of ‘non-judgement’ in coaching if it were applied to our attitude towards ourselves. The important thing is to have awareness of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours so that we can work with them. If this awareness only arrives after the session, then rather than being self-critical that we did not become aware whilst it was happening, we could recognise and celebrate the positive of having had awareness at all. Mu Shim isn’t about achieving the stages but about engaging with working on it.

The Dao yoga approach also includes oriental medicine training. The ideal health state is a dynamic balance of yin and yang energies as defined by 5 Element and Internal Organ theories. When we are out of balance we are in ‘disharmony’ and energy channels becomes depleted or blocked, and this can manifest on an emotional or physical level.

We learn that our ‘disharmonies’ influence the way we approach our yoga practice. They are the lens through which we see and interpret the world. Our ‘busy mind’ thoughts and feelings are shaped by our disharmonies, and without awareness and detachment from them they remain hidden and control how we behave and the choices we make.

This clearly relates to Henry Murray’s theory on needs and motives as “an internal directional force that determines how people seek out and respond to objects and and situations in the environment”.

Wanting to fix the coachee’s problem, to heal them and so on, can be described in oriental medicine terms. Not letting go of what is not needed in the coaching relationship can be thought of as a disharmony in the element Metal as it is associated with the concept of letting go. Wanting to analyse and figure the problem or someone out could be from an Earth disharmony, and striving to be a ‘good’ coach and achieve results could be a Wood disharmony, and so on. With this initial diagnosis this we can delve deeper into oriental medicine theory to understand where these disharmonies are coming from, determine whether they are the root problem or branch symptoms of a deeper more hidden root, and gain a better understanding of how we can deal with them when they manifest.

Thinking about coaching in these terms may bring added insight and greater clarity of vision so that we become better equipped to work with the ‘busy mind’ distractions and bring a cleaner approach to our coaching practice.

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