Coaching From The Heart, Not The Head

September 12, 2021


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Recently I was asked, “how can I coach more from my heart, instead of my head? In sessions with clients, I’m stressing about what to do next and if the session will end well.  I’m sure my client can feel it”.

If you’ve ever overplanned or controlled your sessions, thought “what am I going to say next?!” or been exhausted before it began – this is the perfect podcast for you.

Once upon a time if a client or friend opened up to me about something vulnerable or messy I couldn’t wait to change the topic to safer ground. I avoid vulnerability and sidestepped every time.

These days, when vulnerability is missing from a conversation or coaching session, I’m left unsatisfied. Living in Holland a full 50% of the people I love are on the opposite side of the world (I’m also Australian) & time zones cut short many conversations… So I have to get a dose of rich intimacy and vulnerability, quick and fast. Stepping first into vulnerability to receive the connection it brings.

Vulnerability is the language of the heart. The unconditional, wise messenger of our bodies.

When we avoid vulnerability, we have to leave our body in favor of our head. Retreating into analysis, expectation, judgment, and separation.

In this podcast we discuss:

  • Why relying on your intuition can be exhausting & unpredictable
  • Finding a masculine structure you can rest into (without cramping your style)
  • Why “trying so hard” can de-center your client
  • My key personal practices of vulnerability & how they inform my client sessions
  • 4 suggestions for re-centering the wisdom of the heart in your sessions

Resources mentioned in this podcast:

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript

For a coach or practitioner who has ever had that mid-session freak out of, what am I going to say next? Or even for a woman who is supporting others as friends or as mother or in intimate relationships, who wants to lead more fully from their heart rather than their head, today’s podcast is for you. In this podcast we’re exploring some of the differences between leading from our heart and our head, factors that can impact this tendency, and five of the things that I prefer to do instead. It’s worked really well in my own coaching practice with my clients and with my life and family. So I hope you enjoy today’s podcast. And thank you for joining me for this conversation.

Welcome to the School of Embodied Arts podcast. I am your hostess, Jenna Ward, Feminine Embodiment Coach, here for our weekly explorations of living, leading, and coaching as emotionally empowered, sensually alive, and magnetic women.

Recently within our Feminine Embodiment Coaching certification, one of our participants, a wonderful evolving practitioner who I believe was based in central Europe, asked a great question, and it was this: “How can I feel like I’m coaching more from my heart and less from my head?” And this person, this participant shared that there were times where they felt they were going into overplanning, excess control, and feeling really exhausted from all of the analytics and overthinking that can come with really being in our head, whether that’s during a coaching session or in other scenarios in our life. And I’ve heard this so many times from different practitioners. Statements like, and worries, mid-session worries that are along the lines of, “What am I going to say next? How can I shift this experience to a more positive experience? Oh my gosh, I have no idea what I’m going to do. Does this person feel that I’m freaking out on the other end of this session?”

The other thing that I hear is, “I don’t enjoy the anticipation of my sessions. I feel anxious in the lead up to actually working with somebody.”

And these are all true of coaches and practitioners. I’ve certainly had these experiences myself as a practitioner. And they can also be true and we’re holding deep intimate space with those that we love. If a friend is bringing us a challenge that is something that’s difficult to hear or to sit with. I certainly know there’s been moments in time where I’ve again, had that internal freakout of what am I going to say next, with a lot of energy ascending into my head and into thinking. And I think it’s really important to speak about this idea of responding, whether as a friend or as a coach, responding from our hearts instead of from our heads.

And so in this podcast, I first wanted us to speak about the differences and the similarities between when we’re orientating from our head versus our heart, and some of the factors that can influence this tendency. It’s my intention with this podcast to speak to this dynamic, which is really common, so that whether we are a practitioner or a friend, we might find some more tools, resources, or insight to shift our own behaviors to a more heart-centered approach. I have found unequivocally across the board as coach, as leader, as mother, as a wife, as a partner, as a friend that this more heart-centered approach brings the deep intimacy that I actually really want to have with others. It gives me the opportunity to have that real connection, which I yearn for, and which is only satiated when I’m really coaching or speaking from the heart.

And yet, it’s important for us to not demonize or create a greater divide or disconnect between the heart and the head. When we’re speaking about the head, we’re speaking about the aspect of us that has an agenda. It has an idea of what’s right and what’s wrong. It has an expectation. And our head is part of our being that loves to categorize and understand all of the experiences that are going on around us as a way for us to ensure our survival. And in our culture, this agenda-orientated, judgment-orientated, categorizing-orientated head, it’s the dominant skill that we are taught.

So many of us, when we relate to our body, we really identify with meaning-making, our thoughts, the ideas that might run through our head as statements and our intellect. The volume on our head, on our mind, on our intellect, it’s turned up really high. Like on a scale of one to 10, most of us in our cultures are taught to turn the volume up to a 10 out of 10 because intellect and academic linear logical thinking is something that’s really celebrated in our cultures. And this can be much to the detriment of our heart.

Our heart is the unconditional space. Our heart is the part of us that accepts, loves and embraces all. Our heart is the part of us that is willing to be with the unknown, the uncomfortable, and the vulnerable. And I actually believe it is our heart that is the much wiser of these two poles.

When we’re thinking about speaking, sharing, connecting from the heart, to me that’s where the real opportunity for deep connection comes from. And yet our head and our heart are all part of our body and the language of our body is sensations. So I believe that while our head might speak through meaning-making or thoughts, ideas and intellect, our heart really speaks through the language of sensation, the fluidity of what we feel, and our emotions. And it can be really challenging in a culture such as ours, where we are taught to turn down the volume on these more feminine, fluid currents of feeling and sensation. Our culture invites us to turn that volume really down, really low.

And most of us, I know for myself historically, my volume level was like a two out of 10. I was living at 20% of my heart’s bandwidth because that’s how we are taught. We are taught to avoid the things that don’t feel good, instead of feeling the things that don’t feel good. And yet the parts that are undesirable or don’t feel good, they’re also an important aspect of living of life, of our human condition. And it is our heart that has the sensitivity, the unconditional acceptance and the willingness to be vulnerable that is required in these moments.

There are a lot of factors that I believe, particularly for practitioners, that impact our ability to either respond from our head or from our heart. I’m going to name a few of these different factors now, for us just to get an idea about why this might be happening.

The very first factor, and probably one of the most, I would say the most important is that for many of us, when we drop beyond the mind. So when we move below the level of our neck, when we move from the intellect into our body, which is where our heart lives, many of us don’t personally feel safe to be in our body. Our body might’ve been a place that was numb or armored. Our body might be a place that we feel has betrayed us or that needs to be controlled or fixed in some way. Our body might be the part of us that is too big or not the right color or size or shape or smoothness. And in not wanting or feeling safe to inhabit our body and ourselves fully, we draw our energy away from the body, back up into the mind, further increasing the volume of our intellect. And in doing so, we evict ourselves from the location of one of our most important resources of safety.

So this body that you have, that I have, that we all have, bodies of different sizes, shapes, colors, levels of ability. These bodies are one place where in an ideal scenario, in an ideal world, we should be able to come home and feel safe. And for many of us, because of trauma or experiences or circumstances or aspects of systematic oppression that exists in the world, our bodies might not feel safe. And safety is not a binary concept. We’re not either safe or unsafe. I feel like there’s many shades of gray around this idea of safety. And for me as a practitioner of the embodied arts, I’m always wanting to move towards greater safety. But as a space holder, whether that’s a friend or a coach, if we don’t feel safe to drop into our body and to find our internal resource of safety, then we’re not going to be a resource of safety that another person in the room or in the session with us can rest into. And this is a concept or a principle of resonance.

When there is one body in a room that’s really agitated, it is likely that that agitation, that discomfort, that heightened anxiety or that sense of fidgeting is going to ripple out. And the energy of that person is going to impact the rest of the room. That’s resonance. The same is true for safety. If there is a very deeply rooted, scented safe person in the room, somebody who has come home to the resource of safety that our bodies should be… And you’re not wrong if your body’s not safe. I don’t believe it’s your fault. I believe it’s our culture, but it should be your birthright to feel safe in your body. When there is a body with that level of safety in the session, in the space, in the conversation, in the room, I feel like that is one of the most important pieces in actually coming home to our hearts. Because our hearts live in our body, and our body needs to feel like a safe space if we’re to open up and to hear the language of our body, which is sensation.

So just even in this moment, as we’re dropping into our time together today, I would just invite you to take a moment as we’re coming together for this conversation, for this podcast, and just think, how could you place your hands on around, or have a close to your body in a way that made you feel increasingly safe? My arms want to come around my middle and just hold into kind of like my belly, pelvic bowl region. My body just wants to take a few deep breaths. My heart feels warmer. I noticed the full weight of my body on the chair beneath me. This is what I mean about dropping into the safety of our body. Finding more ways that we can move through the many shades of gray that are safety, so that we might be the safest person in the room.

An analogy that can also be useful to hold in your mind, and I’ve shared this for many years in our coaching certification program is imagine that there’s a beautiful big fig tree. At the property where I grew up, one of my ancestors, on two generations ago, planted this beautiful fig tree. We think it was actually two fig trees planted side by side, but they’ve grown so large now and the shade underneath them is beautiful and their roots go down so deep. Their base is so wide that you must need three or four people’s arms just to reach around it. I feel like being the safest person in the room and coming home to the safety of your body is like rooting down as if you are a big, mature, beautiful arch tree. Casting shade for those around you, deeply anchored into the earth, unwavering, present, here. Maybe that’s a visual that can support you too.

The second factor that can impact our tendency to either be in our mind, in our head, or in our heart in a critical conversation, is whether we are relying on our intuition to guide us, or whether we’re resting into an existing structure that can support us. So let me speak about this for a moment. This is particularly relevant to the coaching context.

A good coach is about asking powerful questions. That’s the definition of coaching; the ability to ask powerful questions that open new insights of awareness. And there are many different ways to coach. You might be an accountability coach or a mindset coach or a life coach. And the types of questions that you ask as a coach will be dependent on the type of coach that you are. I’m a feminine embodiment coach. So the types of questions that I prefer to ask, are questions that reveal more of the body-based feminine feelings, sensations, and fuels that are available to support us move towards our goals with more fluidity, ease, pleasure, and magnetism, like that’s my jam.

But as a practitioner, when I show up to do an embodiment coaching session with a client, I’m not showing up only being in my heart and only being in my feminine fluidity, that is only being in my intuition. If I was showing up every single session with no structure to rest into, with no reproducibility, with no predictability, that would be really exhausting for my system because it means that in every single session, I have to reinvent the wheel and I have to create that entire session and experience from scratch, not knowing if it’s going to work or where we’re going to get to in the end.

I believe one of the factors that actually helps us to coach and to be in and with our heart, is to not rely on reinventing the wheel and having a new intuition with every single session that we might have with a client, but instead, having a structure that allows us to rest into the reproducibility of knowing that it’s going to work. And this is a fine dance, because some structures can be really rigid and forced and constraining. I don’t enjoy those kinds of structures. And I don’t find that those kinds of structures help me to be in my body, in my unconditionality, in the wisdom of my heart. What I need is a structure that I can rest into in the background, but that I still have the freedom to dance and play and be fluid. And yes, draw on my intuition if I feel called to in a session, but also know that it’s not the only fuel driving the session. I’ll speak a little bit later about some of the frameworks that I use to help me not only rely on my intuition.

The third factor that I think can impact our tendency to be in our head or in our hearts, is that for many of us, when we show up for a conversation or a session, sincerely, we’re wanting it to go so well, we want to do a great job. And that means that we can really try really hard. And when we’re trying really hard, I find the tendency in trying really hard is that we begin to center ourselves in the session, how we’re showing up, how we’re performing, the impression of how we’re doing. And that’s actually not the right thing to center in a moment of vulnerability, in a moment that’s dedicated to a client or a friend. The person to actually center in that moment is not you.

And so that means instead of us trying to work really hard or center ourselves, instead what we can redefine our success as is our ability to be in active listening. Active listening is when you’re really receiving the words, feelings, impressions, sentences, and the impact of what’s being shared with you verbally and non-verbally. And we can’t be in active listening if we’re not centering the person that’s speaking. So I feel there’s a really beautiful permission to relax our trying hard and to redefine success in this space as our ability to actively listen.

The next thing I wanted to speak about was, well, what can we do instead if we are clear that we want to shift into more heart-centered ways of coaching or being present with our friends? And I get that this can sometimes be really challenging, particularly when somebody brings you something that’s big or deep or meaningful, hard to hear, or well outside your area of expertise or your lived experience.

Recently, I was having a conversation and it was with a friend, actually. This friend was sharing with me some really heavy stuff that had been happening. And within myself, all of these same thoughts that we’ve been thinking about, thoughts like, “What am I going to say next? How can I help this person? What do I need to do?” All of these thoughts were arising. I’ve had this absolutely happen recently in coaching scenarios as well.

I had a client who working in… we’re working with and on her business in the realm of embodied leadership. And this client was sharing with me some income goals and where they were at with their income. And I thought, “Oh, this is really interesting.” I have never been at that place with my income or with my income goals before. So here I am receiving and carting with a client who’s earning more than me. And that was a really interesting experience because I just noticed in the back of my mind, again, these kinds of thoughts like, “Do I have anything to contribute? How can I plan to make sure I’m going to be able to help this person?” And all of these really well intentioned head-based agendas, that have this idea that we have to be a certain type of expert or have a certain type of lived experience in order to have something valuable, I don’t find them to be useful and I don’t find them to be true.

What I do find useful, and what I do do instead, is come back to coaching from the heart. And here’s five ideas of what that can look like.

The first, which we’ve touched on is around frameworks. So when I coach with my clients, I adore having a masculine structure that I can rest into, a structure that is trauma-informed, a structure that reproducibly works, a structure that is tried and true, a structure that I know hundreds of other coaches have done hundreds of other sessions with and it consistently does the job. There’s something really relieving to my nervous system to be able to operate with that degree of predictability. But I also don’t want a structure that’s going to be too heavy. I need to be able to dance. I want to bring my flavor. I need to be me and I need to meet the moment in the way that feels true for me to meet the moment. And this can be a really fine line to find a masculine structure that we can rest into, while still having the freedom to bring our feminine flow into a container.

That structure that we use in the Feminine Embodiment Coaching certification is called the Core Coaching Framework. And every single time I use this framework, it works without a treat. I would suggest that if you are a coach or a practitioner, it is really important to understand the frameworks that you are resting into. To name them, to be conscious of them, so that you can develop more trust in recognizing that they’re holding, they’re co-holding the container with you when you’re coaching with your clients.

The second idea or tip about what I do instead, and this is a more of an esoteric one. I feel it’s critically important for us as individuals, also as practitioners and humans to decide, well, what is your philosophy of transformation? So in your view, what do you believe is the process, the sequence, the magic of how change happens for people? I believe, and this is not my entire philosophy, but this is one part of it that’s relevant for today’s podcast. I believe that it is not possible to create transformation unless we can get raw and vulnerable with ourselves. Vulnerability is about creating emotional risk. I feel that vulnerability happens every time we dare to tell the truth of what we’re really feeling, sensing, and knowing. Vulnerability can feel particularly challenging, especially when there’s shame or taboo wrapped up in it. But vulnerability is the medicine of coming home to our hearts. And I believe my philosophy of coaching is that no transformation, no growth or change or goal can or will happen unless vulnerability is involved. To me, vulnerability sits at really what the heart of feminine embodiment is about.

And this closely links to my third tip, which is if you feel like whatever your philosophy of transformation is, mine is vulnerability. So I’ll use that as the example. My third tip is that we must be in a personal practice of that philosophy. So if vulnerability is part of my philosophy of transformation, then I have to be in the personal practice of vulnerability, really all the time. Not only when I’m sitting in session with my clients, but really in every moment throughout my day. Vulnerability and finding safety in vulnerability has to become the way I orientate to my life so that I can really truly be that person, be that fig tree, that rooted depth in the room when I show up with a friend or with a client.

In our coaching certification, we dedicate an entire stream of personal mastery through these types of practices, because I feel you can’t be an effective coach unless you really have this dialed in and resourced within your own body.

Part of the practice of bringing vulnerability to the way that I do life so that I can bring my vulnerability to my coaching session, it includes things like not giving advice unless I’m asked for. Vulnerability does not require advice. Vulnerability requires active listening and brain present with it. It also involves stop seeing everything as a problem that needs to be fixed.

I have a very devoted, well-meaning partner, and he loves when I share a problem. First thing he does is jumps into fix it mode, which is great some of the time. But some of the time, vulnerability doesn’t want to be fixed. It just wants to be felt. It wants to be expressed. It wants the freedom to be embodied. And for that which has been frozen to move into greater flow. Fixing doesn’t help that process. And so part of my personal practice of vulnerability in life is about not seeing everything as something that needs to be fixed, but instead seeing an expression or an emotion, and this is particularly true of raising a child as something that just needs to be really tenderly held. And the holding is what we actually do to enable somebody to come to their own resolution, their own completion.

Another personal practice of vulnerability as part of this tip is about first leading with vulnerability. Firstly, being the first one in the conversation to share, “This is what’s tender in my heart.” Not necessarily relevant in a coaching space. I’m talking more about a friendship or partnership space here in my coaching sessions with my clients, and not about what’s tender in my heart. It’s about what’s tender in their heart. But out in the everyday world, when I’m practicing, leading first with my vulnerability, I’m building a resonance where it’s safe for others to do that. And that overflows into my coaching sessions.

Recently, just the other day, I saw as part of our certification community, one of the participants who was early on in the program, boldly, bravely and vulnerably shared, “I’m getting ready to do my first practice coaching. I’m a little tender. I would feel most comfortable practicing with somebody who was at a similar stage. And I don’t know how it’s going to go, because this is still quite new for me.” That was such an exquisitely vulnerable share. And that one share, that one person that lead with vulnerability, I just saw in that action, like that is the action. It was really beautiful that by the time I checked the post, there were eight other peers saying, “Yeah, let’s practice, let’s do it.” And lots of beautiful peer-partner practice was set up as a result of that. But the medicine is being in the personal practice of vulnerability, which means leading first, going first, being the brave one. And that helps the clients in our end because that becomes a default, a norm and almost an expectation within our own bodies.

The final aspect of like just in terms of a few ideas about how I do my personal practice of vulnerability. One of the things that I find also really helps is being in this personal practice of vulnerability supports me to cultivate the trust that the answers will arise. And I don’t have to force them. I don’t have to have a list of pros and cons or overwork my brain trying to figure something out. Because when I’m vulnerable with what I’m feeling, and I allow myself to turn the volume up on my body’s sensitivity, when I allow myself to hear the language of my body and what it wants to whisper to me, the answers always arrive.

There’s this typical spiritual idea that everything that you’re seeking is within you. And that’s a nice idea. And it’s like, and how do you actually do that? How do you get those answers that are within you? I believe and I’ve seen repeatedly in my own personal practice of vulnerability, my personal practice of embodiment, that when I allow myself the space and the vulnerability to let out all that needs to be expressed, all that’s true within me, the answers spontaneously arise because they’ve been living there underneath the whole time.

And the same is true for my clients. I can trust that we will get where we need to go by the end of the session, not because I’ve over-engineered a certain type of experience. I mean, certainly I know that the frameworks that I work or that use always get us there, but I can trust that my client’s going to get the answer that they need because I know from my lived experience that the answer is there already within me. And that’s an aspect of this personal practice of vulnerability, which is my philosophy of transformation that I find is just so incredibly important in the coaching process.

The final tip, I know I said that I had five, but actually I have four. The final tip I want to share is about practicing. Practicing particularly for practitioners. If we are just learning a new framework, if we are just new to this coaching business, if we are still building our confidence in it, it’s really like driving a car.

The first time you get in a car, you have some lessons, somebody comes driving with you. Somebody points out the dangers to make sure you’re safe. You get some lessons. And at first it’s real awkward to figure out, “Where do I break? How do I indicate. Oh my gosh, I have to put the windscreen wipers at the same time and look over my left shoulder without swerving on the steering wheel.” If you drive, you may remember that or you may not remember that. It’s a long time ago, but the idea being the first time we learned to drive, it was not automatic. It was not habituated. We had to do a lot of active concentration on learning those steps. Practice is required so that those steps can become automatic. And as those steps become more and more automatic, our ability to apply our concentration in other directions, like in the direction of active listening, for example, becomes more free.

So when we’re learning new frameworks or different ways of operating, it’s really normal and it’s okay that it can feel a bit clunky at first, but you haven’t been called to do this work, this coaching, this practitionership, this service because it’s wrong for you. I don’t think anyone just decides that this is… What I’m trying to say is the people that are called to this way of working, they’re called to it. It is a calling. Yes, it may be an aspect of your purpose, but it’s also, I feel, something that has chosen you.

And there are some skills like driving the car to get under your belt. But once you’ve got those skills, smooth, which doesn’t take that long. I see for a lot of our practitioners that within probably five to seven practice coaching sessions, which is really easy… There’s a lot of people who would love to receive your coaching within five to seven practice sessions of really getting the hang of the skills. And then the opportunity comes to pay less attention to the frameworks. Let them fade into the background so that you can be present as the fig tree, the most rooted person in the room to show up with your personal mastery of vulnerability, scented, trusting that your client is going to have the answers that they need and that all you need to do is actively listen. I feel like that is how we coach more from the heart and less from the head.

And it is a little bit messy and it is a little bit nonlinear. And it is the depth of, I think, the type of space that so many of us are searching for. I don’t feel like we need more mindset coaches, more accountability coaches, more scratch the surface coaches. I feel like what’s so many of us need and yearn for is this returning to the depths, to the realizing of our answers, not to be told how it should be, but to really realize the sovereignty for ourselves by discovering what our own truth within is. I’m hungry for that. The people I’m in relationship and the people I coach with the hungry for that. And I feel like that hunger is satiated when we are offering ourselves and coaching from the heart instead of the head.

I hope that you have enjoyed today’s conversation. And if you’re interested in finding out more about our coaching certification program, all of the details are at

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