Our bodies are truly amazing and hold a wellspring of wisdom that, when tapped into, can provide tremendous benefits.
Somatic coaching acknowledges the intricate connection between our bodies and minds. Somatic coaching is an integrative approach to personal development that leverages bodily sensations, movements, and postures as vital channels for fostering self-awareness, emotional processing, and personal growth.
In this article, we will provide a brief overview on how it is performed, somatic exercises, and a look at books and training in somatic coaching. Let’s dive in.
Coaching approaches that include embodied awareness and forms of somatic learning are becoming ever more popular (Silsbee, 2008; Strozzi-Heckler, 2014; Goldman Schuyler, 2010; Attan et al., 2018).
Attan et al. (2018, p. 17) report that several studies have shown that coaching is most effective when it engages the whole person, “that is, including physical, affective, cognitive, behavioral, social and spiritual dimensions” (see also Stober, 2006). We also know much more about the importance of the body when it comes to processing emotions, aiding cognition, our social interaction, and our learning patterns (Claxton, 2015).
Somatic coaching draws on insights from diverse fields, including somatic psychology, neuroscience, embodiment practices, and, sometimes, ancient wisdom. It emphasizes the fundamental interconnectedness of our physical and emotional experiences.
It encourages clients to connect with ways of knowing that are stored within their own bodies, thereby enabling them to address emotional challenges, overcome obstacles, and promote self-awareness.
Sometimes, your client may be stuck in their mind. They may be trapped in cognitive loops, old narratives, and feel unable to break out of their unhelpful thinking patterns. Somatic coaches can help clients to get out of their headspace and connect instead with what they feel and with various physical ways of knowing.
Intuition, too, plays a big part in somatic coaching. Coaches who use embodiment may use mindfulness practices, various physical exercises, and deep reflection practices. They seek to cultivate in their clients the ability to experience a deeper connection with their bodies and with different types of intelligence — including their heart and gut intelligences.
Somatic leadership coaching is a form of coaching that focuses on developing leadership skills and effectiveness through an integrative approach that draws on the wisdom of both the body and the mind. This coaching method recognizes that effective leadership is not solely a matter of cognitive knowledge and skills. Great leadership also depends on the ability to embody leadership qualities and to enact them in a holistic and authentic manner (Amo et al., 2023).
In addition, somatic leadership coaching involves practices that seek to enhance self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and nonverbal communication. Coaches help leaders develop a deeper understanding of how their bodily sensations, movements, and postures influence their leadership style and presence. You might, for example, remember Amy Cuddy’s research on power poses (Cuddy et al., 2017).
How to Perform Somatic Coaching
The aim of somatic coaching is to foster awareness of the mind–body connection so that bodily insights, too, can help us overcome our challenges.
Coaches perform somatic coaching by guiding their clients through various processes that emphasize a deeper, more physical kind of self-awareness, that draw attention to bodily sensations, and that also hone our ability to understand and feel our emotions.
Somatic coaching involves encouraging clients to cultivate mindful awareness of their bodily sensations, movements, and postures. Coaches guide clients in paying close attention to their physical experiences in the present moment.
They might use guided meditation scripts, for example, or just ask tailored questions that direct clients’ attention to specific parts of their bodies. Clients can be guided to put their hands on specific body parts, such as their abdomen or their hearts. And clients can be asked to note or change their posture or to perform specific movements.
Generally, the aim is to help clients identify patterns and connections between bodily sensations and emotional responses. By understanding these connections, clients can gain new insights into their behavior, emotions, and thought patterns. You may find the following video helpful, as it shows somatic coaching practices and exercises that your clients can use at home and that you can use in your sessions.
Somatic practice for trauma and stress release
9 Best Exercises for Your Sessions
Somatic coaching exercises are designed to help clients explore and experience their bodily sensations in order to gain greater self-awareness and promote personal growth. Here are a few somatic coaching exercises that coaches can incorporate into their sessions.
The coach guides the client through a body scan exercise in which the client focuses their attention on different parts of their body. The client is invited to notice any tension, discomfort, or other sensations such as heat or cold. This guided meditation exercise encourages clients to become more aware of bodily sensations and to relax any tension they may hold.
Here is a great guide to performing a body scan:
Somatic full practice #1: body scan
Breathing exercises are very popular in somatic coaching. The coach helps the client to become more aware of their breath: its depth, length, and rhythm. Breath awareness can help clients manage stress and gain insight into their emotional states. Breathing exercises can also help clients strengthen their heart coherence. See research and technical aids from the HeartMath Institute for examples.
The coach encourages the client to explore their sensory experiences, such as the sensation of touch, pressure, warmth, or cold, or their hearing or visual sense. Clients may be invited to touch various objects or to engage in activities that involve sensory feedback to heighten awareness.
Movement and posture
The coach works with the client on exploring their body’s movements and postures. This may involve gentle movement exercises, yoga, or guided stretching to help clients release tension and develop a more conscious relationship with their bodies. It can also involve naming and calling out changes in posture, and experiencing straightening the back and shifting posture in other ways.
Grounding exercises aim to connect the client with their present moment awareness and to make them feel more centered. The coach may guide the client in activities like standing, shifting their weight from one foot to the other, or walking barefoot on different surfaces.
The coach assists the client in locating specific emotions in the body. Where in the body does the client feel anger, sadness, aliveness, for example? This helps clients recognize not just the physiological manifestations but also the physiological location of emotions, which can lead to better emotional regulation.
In this exercise, the client is encouraged to tell stories about their body and physical experiences. This narrative exploration helps clients understand how their past experiences have shaped their conception of their mind–body connection.
Many somatic coaches also lead their clients through guided visualizations to help them create positive and generative mental imagery that connects with their somatic experiences. This can enhance clients’ relaxation and increase their self-awareness.
Using biofeedback devices, clients can receive real-time data about their physiological responses, such as heart rate or skin conductivity. Coaches can use this information to help their clients understand the relationship between their cognitive and bodily responses and their emotional states.
It is important to emphasize that these somatic coaching exercises should always be tailored to the individual needs and preferences of clients. Ensure that clients are comfortable and respect their boundaries at all times when conducting these exercises.
In addition to the exercises described above, somatic coaching can also simply take the form of asking powerful coaching questions that encourage clients to connect with their bodies and become more aware of their bodily sensations and emotions.
Below, you will find great questions coaches can ask during sessions to facilitate this process.
As we start, take a moment to check in with your body. What physical sensations are you aware of right now?
Where in your body can you feel x [anger, sadness, tension, irritation …]?
What is your body telling you about how you feel in this moment?
What is present for you right now?
What are you noticing in your body as we discuss this topic?
Pay attention to your breath. How is it right now? Is it shallow, deep, fast, or slow? Has it changed while we were talking?
When you think about [a specific issue or emotion], what physical changes or sensations do you experience?
What do you notice happening in your body when you talk about your goals or aspirations?
Imagine you are revisiting a past experience. What physical memories or sensations surface in your body?
When you encounter challenges or obstacles, how does your body respond? Are there specific areas where you feel tension or discomfort?
How do you stand or sit when you’re feeling confident or powerful? Please get into that posture. And how do you stand when you lack confidence? Can you feel and describe the difference?
Try to connect to the sensations in your gut. How do your “gut feelings” or intuitions manifest physically?
Are there parts of your body where you tend to store stress or tension? What might be contributing to this pattern?
If your body had a voice, what would it tell you about your current emotions or state of mind?
Imagine that to your left is a sunny, warm, comfortable space, a space in which you can completely relax. Step into this space now. What do you notice? Now imagine that to your right is a less safe space, in which you have to be vigilant and alert. Step into it. What changes do you observe? What happens to your shoulders, your breath, your back, your neck? Now step back into the safe space again. Really connect deeply to this feeling of relaxation and note how it manifests in your body.
Take a moment to ground yourself. How does it feel to have your feet firmly on the ground, connecting with the Earth?
How can you use the wisdom of your body to better manage stress and make decisions that align with your values?
As we work together, I encourage you to check in with your body regularly. How can you use your physical sensations as a source of guidance and insight?
These questions are all designed to educate clients to pay attention to how their emotions and mental states manifest in their bodies. They can help clients better understand their somatic responses and develop a deeper connection with their bodies as a valuable source of information and self-understanding.
Training in Somatic Coaching: Certificates & Online Courses
If you are interested in training as a somatic coach, there are many options available.
Somatic techniques are also a great addition to your toolbox if you are already a certified coach. They can beautifully expand your repertoire so that you can adjust your offering even better according to the needs of your client.
1. Co-Active Training Institute
Co-Active Training Institute is a widely respected holistic coaching program that makes use of checking in with the body and paying close attention to clients’ posture, energy levels, tone of voice, facial expressions, and physical gestures.
Co-Active coaches name and mirror, calling out what they see in their clients. They also use many of the exercises and techniques described above, keen on integrating the wisdom of the body into the coaching experience.
Training is globally accessible through a network of partners for the in-person courses, and they also provide online training.
The duration of individual modules are only a few days, but the entire program including certification might take at least 1.5 years.
2. Strozzi Institute – Somatic Coaching Program
The Strozzi Institute offers a comprehensive program in somatic coaching. It is known for its focus on embodied leadership. Their programs are highly regarded and emphasize the integration of somatic practices with coaching and leadership development.
In-person courses are only accessible in California and some European countries. Their online offerings are self-paced, and there is a great selection of free recordings from previous workshops available. The duration of the immersive certification program is eight months.
3. The Somatic School
The Somatic School offers a body-and-mind-as-one approach to coaching, often referred to as the bodymind.
This accredited coaching training helps you become a more confident, well-rounded coach by giving you a powerful body-oriented framework. By working in this way, you’ll be able to help your clients become wholly themselves and feel fully alive.
There are two online options available: one suited to the European time zone and one suited to the Americas. Each of the six modules is presented over two days.
It teaches advanced coaching assessment tools, allowing you to detect the most subtle cues in your client as if reading their mind.
It also teaches you a methodology that clears the core problems and taps into your clients most authentic potential. It encompasses the greatest teachings in both Western and Eastern philosophy.
Best Books on Somatic Coaching
The following books are valued classics in the field and provide valuable insights into somatic coaching and related concepts.
1. Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformative Conversations at Work and in Life – Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth
The Co-Active Coaching framework was established over 25 years ago. It can apply to leadership, human development, and teams. It is a holistic approach that is based on the assumption that people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.
Embodiment techniques are a firm feature of this coaching model. Clients are encouraged to connect with the wisdom of their body, to feel and locate emotions in their bodies, and to go deeper into these emotions.
Coaches are trained in reading and reflecting back on various physical signs they can observe in their clients. These physical signs constitute portals into information held in the body that may not yet be fully conscious.
2. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk
While not a somatic coaching book per se, this hugely important and influential work explores the profound impact of trauma on the body as well as the role of somatic practices in trauma healing. It is extremely relevant for those working with trauma survivors in somatic coaching contexts.
Bessel van der Kolk shows how trauma reshapes our bodies and brains, and how it may compromise our capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. The author also shows us various different paths to recovery and how to reclaim our lives.
3. The Anatomy of Change: A Way to Move Through Life’s Transitions – Richard Strozzi-Heckler
This book by the founder of the Strozzi Institute explores somatic coaching and how it can help you navigate life’s transitions and challenges. It offers a comprehensive introduction to somatic work and has become a classic in the field.
Richard Strozzi-Heckler shows us how our body’s innate capacity for feeling, intuition, and compassion can empower us to heal our wounds — be they physical or emotional. The author introduces us to aikido and lomi bodywork to show how we can bring new practices and awareness into our lives.
4. The Art of Somatic Coaching: Embodying Skillful Action, Wisdom, and Compassion – Richard Strozzi-Heckler
Another essential work by Strozzi-Heckler, this book delves deeper into somatic coaching, providing helpful practical coaching techniques and numerous ideas for exercises for coaches and individuals interested in enhancing their somatic awareness.
The Art of Somatic Coaching introduces coaching practices that include body awareness, bodywork, and mindfulness. The author shows us that in order to change habits, behaviors, and interpretations sustainably, we need to involve our bodies.
Transformation will occur at the level of the musculature, our organs, and our nervous systems. Strozzi-Heckler challenges the idea of a separation of mind and body, and draws attention to the emotional and physical costs of being out of tune with our bodies.
5. The Mind Body Way: The Embodied Leader’s Path to Resilience, Connection, and Purpose – Courtney Amo, Julie Beaulac, and Casey Berglund
This book focuses on the intersection of somatic coaching and leadership development. It offers practical exercises and strategies for becoming a more attuned and effective leader.
It is a significant starting point for those hoping to develop their leadership skills by tapping into more holistic and embodied approaches.
The authors outline a step-by-step approach and introduce a six-pillar model of embodiment. They convey valuable lessons on resilience, connection, and becoming purpose-driven leaders and show us how we can draw on the wisdom of our bodies in the process.
You are warmly invited to explore free tools and articles to deepen your practice and expand your understanding of somatic coaching-related topics and techniques further.
1. The Five Senses Worksheet
You can use the Five Senses exercise as a simple, versatile way to evoke a mindful state with your client. This exercise can also be used throughout the day whenever formal mindfulness practices such as meditation or a body scan might not be practical. It is simply a guide to help your client become attuned to the five senses and therefore anchored in their body.
2. Breath Awareness Exercise
The Breath Awareness Exercise is a great start to somatic coaching sessions, allowing clients to connect with their breath and their body, and be present in the moment. Throughout your session, you can use this exercise to guide your client back to their body and breath.
You may also enjoy the following related articles to supplement your understanding of somatic coaching.
When we look at our challenges using our head intelligence only, we can easily get stuck. We are, after all, embodied creatures. Many of our problems cannot be solved by purely cognitive means.
Somatic coaching introduces our bodily wisdom and physical sensations as active ingredients into the insight and behavior-change journey. Connecting with our body and feeling into specific sensations and emotions that are located in our bodies can be very powerful tools for transformation.
A somatic coach would, for example, ask a client to focus their attention on a specific body part, locate a particular feeling in their bodies, pay close attention to sensations and their breath, or use posture and movement to change feeling states in the session.
What does a somatic coach do?
A somatic coach brings the wisdom of the body into the coaching session. They work with the mind–body connection, try to get their clients out of their heads, and connect them with what they feel and where they feel it in their bodies instead.
What are somatic exercises?
Somatic exercises include directing attention to certain sensations and body parts and using breath, movement, and posture to change feeling states or to connect more deeply with what is there for clients right now.
Amo, C., Beaulac, J., & Berglund, C. (2023). The mind–body way: The embodied leader’s path to resilience, connection, and purpose. Page Two Press.
Attan, A., Whitelaw, G., & Ferguson, E. (2018). A practical model for embodied coaching, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 11(1), 16–29.
Claxton, G. (2015). Intelligence in the flesh. Yale University Press.
Cuddy, A. J. C., Schultz, S. J., & Fosse, N. E. (2017). “P-curving a more comprehensive body of research on postural feedback reveals clear evidential value for power-posing effects: Reply to Simmons and Simonsohn. Psychological Science, 29(4), 656–666.
Goldman Schuyler, K. (2010). Increasing leadership integrity through mind training and embodied learning. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62(1), 21–38.
Silsbee, D. (2008). Presence-based coaching. Jossey-Bass.
Stober, D. R. (2006). Coaching from the humanistic perspective. In D. R. Stober & A. M. Grant (Eds.), Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practice to work for your clients (pp. 17–50). Wiley.
Strozzi-Heckler, R. (2014). The art of somatic coaching. North Atlantic Books.
About the author
Dr. Anna K. Schaffner is a coach, writer and Professor of Cultural History at the University of Kent. Her latest non-fiction book explores the long history of the idea of self-improvement. It traces formulas for self-improvement in philosophical, religious, psychological and self-help texts from ancient China to the present day. She is also a qualified coach and has a deep interest in positive psychology and the art of self-improvement.