Yoga, Commitment and Coaching

Posted on April 2, 2018

Not so long ago I have switched yoga schools, and the style of yoga that I practice now is called kundalini yoga. This style is a bit different from what I was used to, focussing more on raising energy, training will power and building determination. The teachers and some of the more ardent practitioners wear turbans, in the Sikh tradition of this yoga lineage. Kundalini yoga practice has a certain martial quality to it that I like. So, out of curiosity I recently enrolled in an in-depth kundalini yoga program, with Jasper Kok, one of the teachers at my new yoga school.

Interestingly, the program was called Kundalini Yoga Coaching. We did not only practice yoga, but also explored how practicing yoga can help to lead a successful life. Instead of talk about how to transcend worldly pleasures, there was talk here about how to find out what you really want in your life, how to achieve it, and how to enjoy it. Quite a change. In my farewell lecture on retiring from my academic job, I mentioned that I had no aspiration to become a coach in my post-academic life, because it looked to me that there were already more coaches around than people in need of coaching.

This perspective is starting to shift now, as I am getting more clarity about the nature of commitment and the nature of coaching. Commitment is something that has to be built, and the process of building commitment consists of a number of steps. More importantly, this process can be learnt. Coaching is helping a client to get clarity about goals, helping a client to build commitment to these goals, helping a client to identify and overcome blocks on the way towards goal achievement. Coaching is different from therapy, so a coach need not be skilled in healing trauma, for this is not the goal. Coaching is also different from counseling, so a coach does not need to be an expert in any field of experience. Coaching is about reaching clarity and getting the client in touch with the source of inspiration. The client is always the expert.

I happen to have quite a good track record as an academic supervisor, with fairly consistent success in coaching my students through Master theses and PhD projects. But my endeavors at coaching outside academia have been far less successful. Several people have approached me through the years for guidance, mostly about becoming more successful as writers, and although in some cases I have been able to be of some use, the results were never really great. All in all, I have been much less successful as a coach at large than as a coach in a university context. That’s interesting. Why was that? During my training with Jasper I have managed to get some useful answers.

A key factor in successful coaching is the ability to set a proper context. In academia, where the requirements for a good Master thesis or PhD thesis are common knowledge, this context setting was more or less done for me by the academic tradition. As a coach at large, one has to do this all by oneself, and one of the things I recently discovered is that I had never quite mastered this art. I am learning that right now, replacing the academic tradition that helped me before by a yoga tradition that, I hope, is going to help me henceforth.

For me, meditation and yoga have been very helpful in gaining clarity and purpose in my stages on life’s way, and have been a key factor in achieving success. But I have always considered this a private matter. One might say that in this I have followed the established tradition of Dutch tolerance, where freedom of conscience is combined with constraint on talk about ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ stuff. For instance, I hardly ever mentioned the benefits – for me – of meditation to my students, also because I feared that such talk would seem odd to them, too much at variance with the university customs.

What kind of person are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your greatest passion? What is your greatest talent, and what are your other talents? How are you using those talents? What is the most important thing in your world, for you, right now? Where do you want to go from where you are now? What do you want to accomplish, say in the next half year? Is there something that you have a strong wish to achieve, something that would make you truly feel great, if you could get around to take the necessary steps to accomplish it?

If you have clear answers to all of these questions then it is my guess that you are already leading a rich, meaningful and fulfilled life. You may still want occasional guidance, as you have probably found out from experience that others can be of help in gaining and maintaining the clarity that is one of the keys to your succcess.

If these questions make you feel a bit uncomfortable, it may be that you want to do something about that. If you are willing to take yourself seriously, you may be willing to admit to a wish for some clearer answers. How can you achieve more clarity? How can you build character and determination to carry out your plans? Once you have convinced yourself that you are the one in command of your own life and that there are steps you can take to improve your situation, you may be willing to take your bearing, to find your proper direction and to start taking steps in that direction, while accepting guidance from a coach.

These may seem mundane questions, but an ultimate self-improvement practice such as yoga should be able to help with questions like these, or otherwise it is worthless. As I understand it now, yoga can be viewed as a systematic way to develop commitment, with success in achieving one’s goals as a result. Right now I am training myself to offer guidance in this process, so that I can teach you how to use yoga to develop commitment, and through commitment to achieve success.