Embodied Awareness, Embodied Practice: A Powerful Path to Practical Wisdom

The early twenty-first century zeitgeist has been characterized by a cultural and corporate fascination with leveraging mind-body practices such as meditation and yoga as tools for professional performance. At the same time, executive coaches trained in body-mind approaches to coaching make strong but as-yet unsubstantiated claims about the transformative power of body-based behavioral learning. Practitioner literature suggests that developing embodied self-awareness (ESA) enhances well-being, resilience, and relationships while building the emotional and social intelligence (ESI) that sets outstanding leaders apart from ordinary ones. These claims are consistent with theoretical relationships between brain, body, and behavior, but they have yet to be put to the empirical test. This mixed methods research project seeks to challenge, clarify, and validate these claims by examining the antecedents and outcomes of embodied self-awareness through both a theoretical and an empirical lens. Starting with a qualitative study based on critical incident interviews and thematic analysis, the research proceeds to gather survey-based data from over 550 professional coaches about their experience of embodied self-awareness, its potential outcomes, and the activities likely to produce it. Using factor analysis and structural equation modeling, results show that ESA has strong and significant effects on all dependent variables tested and that ESA can be cultivated through multiple avenues, including body-oriented coach training, yoga, meditation, and hands-on bodywork. Ultimately, by triangulating across methods and studies three convergent conclusions emerge: (1) Body-oriented coach training appears to have stronger effects on ESA than more commonly practiced pursuits such as yoga, mindfulness, and bodywork; (2) Developing ESA strengthens one’s capacity for resilience, adaptability, and flourishing; and (3) ESA builds interpersonal competencies including empathy, connectedness, and conflict management. These results confirm that developing ESA has a positive effect on ESI – a result that has implications for virtually anyone whose work requires strong emotional and relational capacity. Those in people-oriented helping professions such as coaches, clergy, therapists, educators, mind-body practitioners, leaders, and managers should take note of the value of embodied self-awareness as a powerful lever for cultivating the life and leadership skills that foster excellence and deepen satisfaction.