Coaching in motion – an introduction to walking coaching

Posted by Kim Furnish, Thursday 14th September, 2017

Walking relaxes and re-energises the body by giving the muscles a workout and increases blood circulation throughout the body. It exercises the mind, helping oxygen and glucose to reach the brain and releases the body’s natural happy drugs, endorphins. This helps to calm the mind, enhance mental clarity and sharpen thinking. Walking outdoors heightens the awareness of our environment and involves the use of all our senses. It enables us to slow our pace and ground ourselves. It also has a calming effect and can improve our mood. Often, when we are attempting to find solutions to our problems we can get stuck in our heads, in habits of intellectualising and over-thinking.

Walking Coaching engages the body in physical exercise, leaving the mind free to focus on the here and now. The physical act of walking has been shown to help people talk more, be more creative and put together solutions that previously did not occur to them. Moving forward physically inspires action and movement psychologically. Walking Coaching creates strong presence; ‘doing’ nothing but walking takes us closer to the sensation of ‘being’ present. The rhythmic action of walking alters the brain waves from beta wave, task orientated, to the slower alpha waves of deep relaxation.

Participating in conventional life coaching closes the gap between what we are thinking about, what we want to achieve, and taking the action needed to achieve it. Physical movement, such as going for a walk, has health benefits relating to psychological, mental, emotional and physical well-being. Walking Coaching combines the advantages of these four elements to offer a holistic approach, involving the body and the mind. Walking as a tool to support thinking is evidenced in history. The 4th century philosopher St. Augustine wrote: ‘It is solved by walking’ and more recently in his biography of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Walter Isaacson wrote: ‘…taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation.’

If you are considering having coaching sessions, you may be interested to know what a Walking Coaching session would look like. As the name suggests a coach and client engage in coaching conversations whilst walking together in an outdoor location. It is physically active, less formal, more sensory and doesn’t require any special equipment or a special place to walk. Therefore, it is an effective, informal, relaxed way to experience life coaching. Going for a walk is familiar, it may be an everyday occurrence for you, and this informal style may appeal if you feel pressured in the usual coaching setting. Walking Coaching may not appeal to you if you find physical activity difficult or unattractive or if you simply prefer to sit at a table with pen and paper. If you already see a coach, it may be worth asking if you can try an outdoor session so that you can evaluate the benefits. Alternatively, you could go out for a walk yourself armed with some burning questions to see if you are inspired by your surroundings to find answers.

If you are a coach considering offering Walking Coaching one of the benefits is being present with your client in a relaxed, informal way. It has the potential to enhance rapport as both coach and client relax by being outdoors. This relaxed approach promotes honesty and trust. The side by side body positioning will enable you to match your client’s walking stride, pace of walking, tone of voice and breathing patterns. The eye contact between you and your client has the potential to be natural rather than forced, as you will both be looking forward most of the time. Less eye contact however, may mean that facial cues will be less obvious to both you and your client although, without this visual distraction, there is more opportunity to focus on listening to what is being said, how it is being said and what is not being said. There may be increased periods of silence between you which is generally not as uncomfortable as when sitting face to face. This more comfortable silence will promote reflection and regulate the pace of your coaching conversation.

Taking coaching outdoors is a natural inspiration of the process of growth and change; it is a visual reminder that there is a season for everything. The yearly cycle of transition, mirrored in our own life transitions, can be our teacher in many ways. Spring and winter are the beginning and end of the seasonal cycle, and align with the ‘letting go’ of one thing giving ‘birth’ to another. Summer represents the ‘growth’ period while Autumn signifies that completion is near and it is time to ‘take stock’. The weather associated with these seasons can provide visual cues for a coaching conversation, enhancing the coaching process in a creative and authentic way.

Metaphors can be used to great effect in Walking Coaching; the seasons, views, and objects in nature provide a multitude of living symbols for a coaching conversation. These metaphors can inspire both coach and client, leading to greater understanding and insight. By taking coaching sessions outdoors you have the opportunity to provide a physical manifestation of a metaphor:

  • New paths to explore
  • Bridges to cross
  • Covering new ground
  • Expanding horizons

As a coach you can guarantee to coach a client to the best of your ability but you cannot guarantee the weather which may be seen as a bonus or a barrier requiring a little resourcefulness. On a practical level, for example, note taking may be difficult during a session in the rain but could be overcome by taking shelter for a short break to write down important points or utilising modern technology by recording on a mobile phone.

In essence, Walking Coaching allows us to engage with all our senses in a natural environment without detracting from the building of rapport. This style provides immense benefits and, given the opportunity, we are likely to have a more holistic experience: engaging both mind and body to unlock our potential and move towards our goal.

Further reading

Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking by M. Oppezzo & D.L. Schwartz (2014)

Metaphors in mind: Transformation Through Symbolic Modelling by J.D. Lawley & P.Tompkins (2000)

The Life Coaching Handbook by  C. Martin (2001)

The influence of physical activity on mental well-being by K. Fox (1999)

Walking in this world by J. Cameron (2002)

© 2017 Kim Furnish


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Kim Furnish

Life Coach, Author, Workshop Facilitator, Laughter Practitioner

Kim is passionate about self-awareness and personal growth. Kim will give you the time and space to focus on you; to be clear about your path, and to identify the steps that will move you towards your goals.

Director of Instar Coaching C.I.C - Positive Psychology Interventions

Author of the book ‘Parenting a Violent Child’.

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