wellness spotlight

Incorporating Mindfulness into a Wellness Coaching Practice

Dana Bender
Dana Bender
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In recent years the wellness coaching field has evolved. In fact, you can now become certified in wellness with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. The professional appetite for self-care is increasingly available for all fitness professionals. 

This credential highlights the high standard coaches follow which includes following a code of ethics, remaining in line with the scope of practice, and utilizing coaching best practices and techniques. Having this vigorous standard allows coaches to practice according to these guidelines ensuring that coaches are aligned on the main principles of coaching.

Even with these guidelines, all coaches have their unique niche, focus, and approach while working with their respective clients which helps individualize the client experience. Similarly, coaches vary in the types of techniques and modalities they choose to integrate or not integrate into their coaching practice. One of these modalities is mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined as being present in the current moment which allows an individual to pay attention and remain aware of their thoughts, feelings, and/ or external environment. It is often used to help individuals manage stress and anxiety, be more present now, and enhance their self-awareness. The core mindfulness principles include concepts such as: letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, nonjudgement, acceptance, trust, and non-striving.

Mindfulness can be used in various ways in a coaching practice. Coaches can use mindfulness as a governing approach and philosophy while coaching clients. Additionally, coaches can weave mindfulness techniques into a coaching session as tactics and tools that accentuate the session. In either situation, mindfulness can enhance the client experience and help clients in a variety of ways.

Putting Mindfulness to Work

In the first example where coaches use mindfulness as their governing philosophy, they incorporate mindfulness into their core belief of what constitutes coaching. For instance, mindful coaches believe that people are naturally whole and resourceful and that clients are their own best guide as they work to change behaviors. This approach lends nicely to core elements of coaching such as coaching being collaborative, client-driven, and that the coach is merely the guide to help a client tap into their inner resources and resilience.

Coaches who utilize mindfulness in their coaching philosophy keep mindfulness principles top of mind before, during, and after a coaching session. For example, they will practice nonjudgement, keep a beginner’s mind while working with their clients, let go of their agenda or ideas during the session itself, and remain present and now. Keeping mindfulness as part of the coaching approach can accentuate and positively impact the client experience.

The second way that mindfulness can be used in a coaching practice is through tools and activities that a coach weaves into the coaching session itself. Instead of just being an overarching philosophy, mindfulness becomes the tactics and tools used to make a bigger impact.

For example, a coach can incorporate breathing techniques, meditation, body scans, visualizations, and more to help a client tap into their self-awareness. Incorporating these types of mindfulness techniques can have an array of benefits. These include grounding a client into the present moment, increasing awareness of their thoughts and feelings, and reducing stress and anxiety.

Case-by-Case

Mindfulness techniques can vary and the right ones to use will strongly depend on the situation and the client. If using mindfulness in this way, coaches must ask permission from the client whether they are open to trying a technique so that the session remains client driven.

As these examples show above, wellness coaching and mindfulness are not mutually exclusive. Both can occur simultaneously and work well together. Coaches can choose to embrace both ways to include mindfulness or pick and choose what makes the most sense based on their coaching style.

It is important to mention that as you start to incorporate mindfulness techniques into your coaching practice, clients might start to use the terms wellness and mindfulness interchangeably.

Although mindfulness is a concept discussed in the wellness field, they are different from each other. The World Health Organization defines wellness as the “optimal state of health of individuals and groups”. It can also be described as a “conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential” according to the National Wellness Institute. Overall, wellness encompasses various dimensions of one’s health including physical, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual, environmental, and financial.

On the other hand, mindfulness is an approach that often helps improve various dimensions of wellness. For example, mindfulness can help an individual improve their emotional state and reduce stress which aids the emotional wellness dimension. Furthermore, practicing mindfulness techniques might be a critical component of an individual’s spiritual practice which helps the social dimensions. Although mindfulness can help improve wellbeing, it is more of a tactic and approach that helps strengthen and build dimensions of wellness rather than being the same concept as wellness.

5 Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Wellness Coaching Practice

If you are interested in starting to incorporate mindfulness into your wellness coaching practice, here are some ways to start and the types of mindfulness strategies to try. Feel free to utilize all or some of these strategies as they fit into your coaching style:

1. Take a Moment for Mindfulness - It is helpful to incorporate a brief body scan, meditation, or visualization to help become more present before starting any coaching sessions. This will allow you as the coach to become more present to the moment and be more prepared to coach effectively. This will also give you a chance to separate from your day to help guide your clients.

2. Begin the Session with a Mindful Check-In - A helpful way to incorporate mindfulness at the beginning of a session is to mindfully check in with the client on anything they might need before starting the session. This often helps give the client a chance to center themselves before the session starts.

3. Use Mindfulness to Remain Present - Remain mindful and aware of your thoughts and biases as you work with a client. Additionally, remain mindful to avoid asking questions that lead the client to what you want or expect to hear. Remain present to what the client is sharing verbally as well as their non-verbal behaviors as well. If a coach is more present with the client, open-ended questions, reflections, and paraphrasing improve.

4. Incorporate Mindfulness Techniques During the Session - Consider adding mindfulness techniques that help the client learn how to self-regulate their emotional arousal and increase their self-awareness. These techniques can include deep breathing, meditation, body scan, visualization, and more. As a coach, you can utilize these techniques anytime in the session. For example, they can be used at the start, during, or even at the end of the session as a closure tool. They can even be an action step or homework item that the client utilizes on their in-between sessions.

5. Keep Mindfulness Principles Top of Mind - Utilize the mindfulness principles of non-judgment, non-striving, and keeping a beginner’s mind while working with clients. Remember that the client leads the agenda, and the role of a coach is to be the guide that helps facilitate their learning and insights. Don’t judge what thoughts are coming up for the client during the session, and do not strive to set your agenda or ideas onto the client. Keeping a beginner’s mind will allow you to not assume or simply based on what you are hearing.

If you are considering using these strategies, remember that it will take practice to infuse them regularly into your coaching practice. As you begin trying these mindfulness techniques or strategies, consider checking in with your clients on what the experience was like for them. This will provide essential feedback that can help continue to fine-tune the art of using mindfulness in a coaching setting.

The Author

Dana Bender

Dana Bender

Dana Bender, MS, NBC-HWC, ACSM, E-RYT. Dana Bender works as a Wellness Strategy Manager with Vitality and has 15+ years experience in onsite fitness and wellness management. Dana is also a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, an Adjunct Professor with Rowan University, an E-RYT 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher, AFAA Group Exercise Instructor, ACSM Exercise Physiologist, and ACE Personal Trainer. Learn more about Dana at www.danabenderwellness.com.