There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and the culmination of wisdom and awakening.
And what is that one thing?
It is mindfulness centered on the body.
– Buddha (quoted by Blake)
What are the big take-aways?
Somatic intelligence (the wisdom of the body) is – in my opinion – critically underemphasized in leadership development and coaching, although that has been changing in recent years, certainly in my own practice. Unlocking access to our physical resources adds power to our lives in ways needed now more than ever as we reach the two-year mark in the globe’s grappling with Covid-19, and Your Body Is Your Brain was published before the pandemic!
Why do I like it?
I like this book because it makes a compelling evidence-based case for “embodied leadership” that relies on research from several scientific disciplines, including neurobiology. Leadership is, indeed, embodied whether we consciously approach it that way or not (even on Zoom!). And when we do embrace the body-based aspects of who we are, how we show up, whom we influence – and in what purposeful direction – we are not only more effective but generally healthier in the process. Blake demonstrates throughout Your Body Is Your Brain that it’s also through our physical, i.e. behavioral, manifestation that we do the critical leadership work of continuous learning (p. 42):
Part of the process of learning new behavioral skills – adopting new perspectives, seeing new possibilities, taking new actions – means changing the lens of perception and instrument of action that is your body. Fortunately, that change is far more possible than we tend to realize…[Your Body Is Your Brain is about how] we can come to embody the best in ourselves, in ways that are gentle, fierce, loving and strong…and deeply rooted in our natural embodied intelligence.
Two other things I like about the book are its focus on social and emotional intelligence (purpose, resilience, empathy; inspiring others through the whole self and not just “from the neck up”), and also its very skillful use of more relatable and engaging real-life examples from Blake’s vast coaching experience than those one typically finds in books like this.
In what situations would it be useful?
Your Body Is Your Brain is an excellent choice for leaders and leadership coaches who are looking for an accessible, introductory resource for exploring somatic intelligence. I just recently found out that this book is now required reading in my coach training program (which I attended 13 years ago!) at Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.
There are larger life situations in which cultivating somatic awareness is vital to human and planetary flourishing. As Zen teacher and leadership trainer Ginny Whitelaw points out in this Forbes article:
As we work with the body, we get access to a laboratory, a mini universe, where we can enact systemic transformation. For when we embody an insight, a goal or a relationship, it means we resonate with it enough that we let it change our neural maps and pathways, connective tissue and tension patterns – our habit-formed infrastructure – thus enabling creativity and adaptive behaviors. Tackling the systemic roots of racism in oneself, for example, fuels the creative wisdom needed to unwind the systemic roots of racism in society.
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
For more on the somatic aspects of race and racism, I recommend the work of Resmaa Menakem, the author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, whose work I first learned about in this beautiful On Being interview. For more on the neuroscience of leadership and transformation, I recommend the work of Rick Hanson and Dan Siegel. To access more of Amanda Blake’s wisdom and experience, especially for coaches, check out her interviews on the Coaches Rising podcast.