Embodied Leadership: Guiding from Within

Silhouette of a female businesswoman double exposure against an urban city background.

Navigating the world of leadership in these uncertain times can be a taxing experience. Right now, at this moment, I feel tired. I’m combating an overwhelming wave of sadness.

Sadness from all of these shootings. From everything happening in the world. I feel assaulted by violence and things that scare me.

My first instinct is to check out — that’s what Western society has normalized. A disconnect from our intuition. To “push through” and to keep on keeping on.

It doesn’t matter how much exercise I get, no matter how much investment I put in my body. It’s the negativity from the outside world that is draining my energy.

Fatigue, low energy, and anxiety-like symptoms can all be indicators that something is off.

Yes, these are all symptoms of medical conditions, but what I’m talking about is the communication and the wisdom we source from our bodies. And when we don’t check in with our body and spirit, we stop trusting them as much.

When we live life from the neck up, we stop leading from the wisdom of the body.

Could embodied leadership be the answer? 🌱

Just as our bodies can communicate when something is out of balance, they can also be a source of hope and wisdom and upliftment and inspiration.

So how can we get back into our bodies if we’re used to living from the neck up?

Take your shoes off and feel the earth beneath your feet. Sit next to a river. Use your five senses.

Clear your thoughts by injecting yourself with high-sensory experiences. Take in things that are thriving. Inhale the scent of pine. Find a sapling pushing itself up through the ground.

We need to stop and unplug on a consistent basis.

Ideas for Sinking Into Your Body

As you unplug, ask yourself, what do I need to do to feel completely connected to the earth around me?

How can I honor the land I’m on?

Can I bring openness to the land that’s underneath me every day?

Meditate on these questions and introduce simple yet energizing ways that allow you to really sink in. Here’s how.

Physically Connect With Nature

Physically connecting with nature not only brings us back into our own bodies, but did you know the act of communing with the natural world can help us connect with other people?

Everything we do in nature is easier to do with other people.

Living our lives with physical connectedness to the earth makes reaching out to other people easier, too.

If you’re not a “nature” person, you can start small with a hike or nature walk. Or, just enjoy the natural surroundings of your backyard or your houseplants. 🌳

But if you want to get closer to nature, some ideas for physically touching the natural world might include forest bathing or barefoot walking.

If any of this sounds too new to you, you might want to start with a grounding technique like taking off your shoes and walking across your lawn or the grass in your local park.

And while forest bathing might sound daunting (despite its simplicity), there are groups on Meetup that do this. Lying on the forest floor is a little less physically awkward when you’re doing it with others — and you get the added bonus of human connection with your connection to nature.

Growing Big

Use your energy to grow big in your body.

You can do this literally by standing tall, strengthening your core, and correcting your posture.

Exercises like Pilates can lengthen your body and make you stand and sit taller in your frame.

What does it feel like in your body to play big or to feel big? 🤸‍♀️

When we make bold moves without hesitating, when we feel confident, we can feel ourselves straightening and getting bigger. But when we feel small and insignificant? We shrink into ourselves, slumping over or making ourselves physically smaller.

Where do you feel energy physically? What does it feel like?

Power Poses

If the idea of “growing big” feels awkward, try power poses.

The term was coined by social psychologist Amy Cuddy (you can check out her insanely popular TED Talk on the subject here). Power poses are poses that wake your body out of patterns and make you feel… well, powerful!

A few poses include:

  • Superhero (fists on hips, like Wonder Woman)
  • Salutation (similar to sun salutations in yoga)
  • Victory (stretching your arms over your head in the shape of a V)
  • Smiling (this one is self-explanatory!)

Our minds and bodies are so intrinsically linked that we can make ourselves feel something different just by physically enacting that which we want to feel.

Other ways to wake up your body from patterns include tying your shoes the other way and opening cabinets with your non-dominant hand.

It’s the small steps that lead you to significant change. ⚡

Intuition & Embodied Leadership

Your gut is like a whole other brain, one with a different type of wisdom. Like when you get a “gut” feeling.

In a very literal way, the brain affects the gut by sending messages through the vagus nerve to start digestion, even before you begin eating. And gut microbiota can influence the brain through the same nervous system.

So when you get that gut feeling, don’t ignore it. Connect to your body and listen to its messages. There is so much information that we can glean if we only listen to what our physical bodies are telling us.

Get Into Your Body at Work

As you’re working, how do you bring your body along the journey?

We so often just “go with the flow” when we’re working (and getting into a flow at work isn’t always a bad thing!). But it’s also important to notice what’s happening in your body as you work.

When you’re in the groove and feeling inspired (or conversely, after an hour of responding to emails or completing tasks that aren’t necessarily your favorite), what’s going on physically?

Most of this physicality happens subconsciously. This is why we might find ourselves tied into knots in our chairs or hunched over at our desks. Yet, we get to choose — and change — how we feel, and one way to do that is through the body.

When things are tight and you’re in a hard conversation, trust yourself, bring your breath in, and don’t fill all the space with talking.

There is resilience in our bodies that we can draw upon so we can handle the tough stuff.

I can put my hand on my heart and say I trust and love, and I hope my heart can manufacture some good energy. 💛

How you feel is just as important as what you do.

 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou

Embodied Visualization

The brain has a hard time distinguishing between imagining a goal and reaching a goal.

Alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn would famously play out a ski run and move her body as though she was running the entire course — all while sitting on the bench, waiting for her turn. And she’s won four World Cup overall championships.

When we picture that desired state in our minds, we’re more likely to get there physically, too.

Similarly, we can do as Michael Phelps does and picture ourselves overcoming future challenges. It’s how he managed to make history at the Beijing Olympics, despite his goggles falling off mid-swim.

He would go through the motions of swimming in his mind and picture potential pitfalls, working through how he might continue to persevere. Yes, during those sessions, he would imagine what he would do if his goggles fell off during a race.

Troubleshooting such obstacles is why he has performed at such a high level.

Recognizing the Power of Your Body

Our bodies simply don’t get enough credit.

When we embrace the wisdom of our bodies and recognize that we women are all in different stages of life, we can use self-compassion to allow the body to take us along on its journey.

We need to be in partnership with our bodies — not at war.

I can’t wait for when there’s no “normal” body type anymore and when all bodies are celebrated equally. When no “normal” is the normal.

When we celebrate joy and inclusivity in our bodies and the bodies of other women, we stop seeing them as something to be “fixed” or changed or overcome.

When we’re not fighting against our bodies, we can finally start to listen to the lessons they have to offer.

Give Yourself a Self-Compassion Break

I want to invite you to take a Self-Compassion Break. It’s a free gift – a guided audio meditation and accompanying PDF – that I created along with Dr. Kirsten Kneff, one of the foremost experts on self-compassion.

You can take the self-compassion break slowly as a mini-meditation, or use it in the heat of difficult moments. Either way, it will help you stop being motivated by your inner critic and connect back to your body and yourself.

You deserve it. 🫶

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