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Overcoming blockades and entering a growth mindset with Leadership Embodiment

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Do you ever feel frozen when faced with an uncertain choice? Or do you feel an urge to argue when faced with criticism that you think is unfair? Situations like these are common blockades that leaders regularly encounter.

Many leaders devote years to self-improvement and mindfulness, only to find they still struggle to keep calm the minute a stressful situation arises. This is why Wendy Palmer developed Leadership Embodiment (LE), a life philosophy and form of coaching that combines ancient traditional wisdom with evolutionary biology and modern neuroscience.

In Wendy's own words, LE helps leaders to "cultivate connection, use their body to shift their state of being, and communicate positive non-verbal messages to increase their capacity for influence, inspiration and clarity." Instead of judging your body's instinctive stress responses, LE teaches that these are simply your body doing what it has evolved over millions of years to do best: keep you alive.

Through mindfulness and conscious control of your breathing, posture and non-verbal communication, you can regain control, maximise your effectiveness and lead with strategic thinking and a growth mindset. Here's how LE can help.

Understanding the natural stress response

Wendy Palmer’s teaching reminds us that our bodies have a 2-million-year evolutionary head-start over our brains. During early human history, the body ruled our ancestors' entire experience. Gradually, the brain began to evolve and play a more prominent role in how we interact with the world around us. Yet our bodies are still hard wired to react instinctively to stimuli in ways that our brain cannot control. When you experience stress, your brain may try to restore calm through rational thought. But your body is already having its natural "fight, flight or freeze" (FFF) response.

In stressful situations, your flexor muscles release the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. Cortisol is also known as "the anxiety hormone." In Wendy Palmer’s words, this "shuts down the part of our brain that governs big-picture thinking, creativity, innovation and risk-taking."

In other words, stress results in a narrowing of perception, causing us quite literally to have a "small mind." This often makes people retreat inward and feel separated from those around them. We can all think of moments where we've experienced this feeling. It's one of the main reasons why leaders often experience a "blockade" that prevents them from reaching their full potential.

Overcoming the mental blockade

LE teaches us to embrace our body's natural ability to restore its own balance. It starts with consciously assuming the right posture. When we physically relax our muscles, the body releases testosterone and oxytocin. These hormones make us naturally feel connected with our surroundings and aware of the "big picture."

To achieve this state of relaxation, try this quick exercise from Wendy Palmer’s teaching:

  1. Sit up in an upright and relaxed posture.
  2. Gently inhale and feel your shoulders and body rise, as if your spine is becoming longer and your head is being lifted towards the sky.
  3. Slowly exhale and feel your shoulders and upper body relax.

Once you feel yourself becoming calmer, you’re in an open state for getting in touch with your surroundings and especially with the people around you.

  1. Imagine that the personal space around your body is like a cloud of warmth or an energy field emanating from you.
  2. Now imagine that this field has a colour, so you can visualise it.
  3. Allow that space to gently expand from your body in all directions until it includes other people near you.

Body intelligence is the new emotional intelligence

Simple LE practices like these enable you to feel connected with those around you in a relaxed, open state. Why is this important? Because you can only overcome blockades, think strategically and enter a growth mindset as a leader when you're able to respond effectively to stress.

Wendy Palmer often reminded her audiences that 70% of communication takes place on the non-verbal level. This means that your body language has a huge influence on how others perceive you as a leader. Through consciously practicing LE, you can achieve what she calls 'body intelligence', a competency that enables you to lead with greater inclusiveness, openness and authenticity.

We will never be able to stop our bodies from entering FFF mode when faced with stress. But LE teaches us that that's not the point. What matters is that you face stress with integrity and grace, and find sources of inspiration that are powerful enough to counteract the visceral reaction your body is having to stress. That's the sign of body intelligence – and powerful leadership.

Read more about Leadership Embodiment

In memoriam

Wendy Palmer, the founder of Leadership Embodiment, died on Friday, 2 December 2022. She devoted her life to practising the techniques she developed. Through her teaching, she touched and inspired many people in her lifetime, making the principles of Aikido, neuroscience and mindfulness available and applicable. She developed simple and profound practices to help us shift into a more resourceful state when under pressure, so we can respond with grace to challenging situations and make a positive contribution. Wendy’s humour and humanity will be missed. Her practical wisdom will live on in Leadership Embodiment.

16 December 2022
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