One of the best things about yoga is the way it creates community. There are the obvious ways it does this, like how we become friends with the people we see in our favorite class week after week. But then there are the more subtle ways – for instance, striking up a friendship with people in other cities as a result of our common love of the practice.
I “met” Allison Richard (though we’ve still never seen one another IRL, as the kids say) in her capacity as editor of The Guest Blog and Must Read Book Club for YogaCity NYC. She was kind enough to repost one of my musings and we struck up an ongoing conversation.
Allison is a true renaissance woman. In addition to being a talented writer, she is also a yoga teacher and life coach. One of her areas of focus is blending yoga into her coaching efforts. So, of course I was intrigued and wanted to ask her all about it. Here’s what she had to say:
Let’s start with the basics: the definition of coaching. I feel like it’s a bit of a buzzword these days. What does coaching mean to you? How is it different than therapy?
Typically, people will go into therapy because there is something specific on which they want to work; for instance, their relationship or work. And traditional therapy tends to be solely talk-focused; processing things that have happened to you and how you got the place in which you currently find yourself. That’s extremely beneficial, don’t get me wrong. But processing only gets you so far.
Coaching, on the other hand, helps you understand your behavior and patterns: the mindset at which you look at and engage in your life. In so doing, you can see how those patterns are serving you or not serving you. From there, you can determine how to proactively change where you are presently starting from and set actionable goals to do, so creating the future you envision.
There’s also an important nuance in the relationship a person might have with a therapist as opposed to the one they might have with a coach. A therapist is generally seen as coming from a place of authority, in a way. In coaching, it is more of a partnership; there is no sense of hierarchy.
Why did you decide to become a coach?
After about seven years of teaching yoga, I had developed very strong relationships with my clients. Over that time, we built up a really great level of trust. They began asking me questions and for advice on dealing with the challenges they were experiencing. Some of them were really struggling with their professional life; others were unhappy in their relationships. There were a multitude of issues people were facing.
They all had one thing in common: they were unhappy but didn’t know why. They felt stuck and without options. But yoga was bringing them some measure of joy. Their experience with yoga was leading them to think that there had to be more; that perhaps the practice along with other tools might help them address their discontent.
Although I was happy to offer my own perspective, I didn’t feel entirely equipped to help them navigate their challenges. My clients were offering me their complete trust and I take that very seriously. So I looked for a training program that would provide me with the skills I needed to be able to appropriately respond to my students’ needs.
Coaches come from many different backgrounds (yoga, massage, nutrition, etc.) and therefore have many different approaches and philosophies. How would you define yours?
I chose the coaching program – Duke Integrative Health – specifically because I didn’t want something that was entirely focused on one aspect of a person’s life. In my opinion, that’s like trying to create a picture of an entire tree by focusing on only at one leaf.
That more holistic view of a person is what drew me to yoga in the first place. It’s a comprehensive lifestyle that encompasses spirituality, movement, diet, etc. I encourage people to look at the whole spectrum of health and wellness, not just one specific topic or the one thing they want to change. It’s all inter-related.
Does your coaching incorporate yoga?
It might, depending on the individual. It could include yoga, meditation, energy work, journaling, exercise or other things. Every individual requires a unique prescription. It’s never cookie cutter.
Can you talk a little bit about what the process might look like?
There is a pretty consistent “intake” process. I am first very clear on what coaching is and what they can expect. And then we talk about specific goals and map out a path to help them achieve those goals. From there, my role becomes very much about ensuring they stay aligned with that path and point out when they are perhaps going off track.
But I want to be clear that I am not the “coaching police.” It’s not about authority or judgement; it’s simply about pointing out where particular choices were made that aren’t necessarily in service of reaching their goals. There are no “shoulds” or “judgments”– I always want to be my clients’ biggest cheerleader!
In the beginning of any coaching relationship, I try to assess what style will work best with that particular client. Do they need or want directness or perhaps a more subtle approach? Would nurturing serve them or do they need more of a task master? Each person is very unique and I want my interaction with them to reflect that uniqueness.
You mentioned that you manage expectations at the outset. So what can people expect from the process?
That depends quite a bit on the reasons people come to me and on what they would like to focus. Some people’s goals may change week to week while others are looking to address something very specific.
In a way, I guess you could say I am in the business of putting myself out of business. I want to guide people to having revelations for themselves. I want to help them gain the confidence they need to make their own decisions. Most importantly, I want to provide people with the tools they need to thrive. Once you have those tools, you can pull them out whenever you need them, whether you’re working with a coach or not.
What are some of the reasons people should think about incorporating coaching into their lives?
In a world where we all have limited time and money, coaching seems like a luxury. Sometimes we think we don’t deserve it. Sometime we look to our partner or our BFFs to fill that role. But that puts a lot of pressure not only on those individuals but on our relationships with them. Sometimes, we become stoic and attempt to endure life’s challenges on our own. All of that is unnecessary.
I want to move people from a sense of being overwhelmed to a place of feeling empowered and on top of things. But I also want people to see coaching as something you do before reaching crisis mode. I want you to already have the tools you need so that no challenge ever seems insurmountable.
Now you might understand why Allison has become one of my favorite pen pals. Maybe one of these days we’ll actually be able to meet in person. In the meantime, we can all find Allison online at www.AllisonRichard.com.