The Tao of Coaching

Coaching Articles - Essays for coaches

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This week Kerstin Pierce Long works through her mental barriers by accepting the disequilibrium and the restlessness that come with a challenge. Read to find out the ways that coaching and yoga are connected and to find some inspiration for tackling some of your personal dilemmas.

The Tao of Coaching

by Kerstin Pierce Long

The Tao of Coaching
Tao Te Ching,
translated by Stephen Mitchell

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who has power over others
can't empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-from theTao Te Ching,
translated by Stephen Mitchell


I hit a wall that refused to budge.

I needed to spend a day writing things that had deadlines. I cleared my calendar, found a quiet place to work, and looked forward to finishing my writing so I could relax during my last few days of summer vacation. Sitting down with anticipation, I stared at the blank Word document and poised my fingers above the keyboard.

Nothing showed up.

The cursor blinked at me with increasing impertinence and I blinked back. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. It was a tennis match with neither of us missing a shot. Ten minutes of blinking passed and I stood up, turned on CNN, and began to pace. I stared at my computer again. I raided the fridge, and stared some more. Ten minutes turned into ten hours.

Evening rolled around. I gave up and decided to pack my yoga gear and get away from my computer and that tiny vertical opponent. As I drove, I let my mind wander and thought about coaching.

Not so long ago, I received an email from a teacher who pleaded for some advice. She was experiencing stress from a series of miscommunications with her colleagues, she wrote. She felt wronged and misunderstood, and was at a loss for how to ease the tension and re-establish goodwill. Later that day, we met in a quiet place and talked about what had happened. "The worst thing about this whole situation is that I can't function like this. I'm a wreck," she said. "And the problem feels like it's getting worse."

"May I tell you a story?" I asked. She tearfully nodded and I put my hand out to her.

"Yoga is a great love of mine," I replied, "And at the end of each class, the teacher always asks us to get into a most awful posture. It is awful because at first it is fairly comfortable and seems like no big deal. We settle on our mats. We are not allowed to move or change position and soon the posture becomes uncomfortable, and then more so, and there comes a point when we are sure we cannot stand another moment of it. Our teacher continues to make us stay in that impossible place, and she begins to read a meditation.

In order to learn the lesson in the mediation, each of us must move our attention beyond discomfort and focus on listening. As strange as it sounds, that place, with my face mashed into the floor and my legs crying for relief, is where I find wisdom. Breathing through the ache, letting go and forgetting everything that's going on is how I find understanding." I smiled. "What would happen if you allowed yourself to be uncomfortable in your situation and opened yourself up the lesson your can learn from it? Would you know what to do then?"

And she did. And so did I.

Much of what I know about coaching I learn as I go into and out of yoga postures. From moment to moment I allow the sensations from my body to come into my awareness without doing anything but noticing they are there. Judgment falls away. I simply am. Understanding comes to me without work or struggle in a way that seems paradoxical. Yet, when I reflect, I see that it could come no other way than through its opposite.

The only way to move my wall was to go through it. An hour and a half and a bucket of sweat later, I found my inspiration. Actually, it found me. I went home knowing my story was already written.