Even though I coach and train senior leaders from the emerging to the C-suite to speak with their authentic voice today, there was a time I had lost mine. No, really. Nothing. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Gone. No sound. No voice. I felt defeated.
I found it was not because of any structural damage. It was from abuse as a child; to grow up female in an era where I was expected to be “seen, not heard”; to emerge from a horrible marriage where I kept silent; and in business I learned, at times, it best to hold my tongue to let others take the limelight.
To recover my lost voice and self, I sought out and trained with Master teachers in movement, improvisation, voice and acting technique — as well as mindfulness and meditation. Over two decades of training, these somatic, physical practices restored me to my full voice and presence.
It’s not realistic for you to spend two decades to learn methods to find your strength, voice, presence and command. You can borrow my process and take these tools to get you to where you want to be.
Women tell me they want to be happy and harmonious — to find peace, well-being and balance to their lives and purpose. It is from here we inspire others to do the same. As self-confident and effective leaders, we make profound contributions in all areas of our lives.
When women lead with grace, we put our well-being and the well-being of others front and center. We find an inner strength that radiates out to anyone we come in contact with. We create balance in an unbalanced workplace.
It takes a revolution of the heart.
There is a tidal wave of change toward a fully gender diverse workforce. It requires a change of heart — within ourselves. It takes courage to walk fearlessly into this new territory. This is our time now.
The trick is to be fully centered. It is from this center we bring forth the full scope of our confidence and gifts. When we project this confidence — even in the face of chaos — we create a certainty in anyone within our range. It is up to us fully in our hands to offer this sense of stability to ourselves and to those with whom we work and manage.
It’s an “inside job”. We cannot think our way into presence and grace. It’s not an intellectual exercise, it’s a physical one.
In these recent times, we hear and read about the slights women take day in and day out in our society. We know it. We feel it. When it’s in the headlines, it hurts.
To know we are powerful beyond measure we must hold to our center and to our strength and passion aligned with our core values. This is how we stand for ourselves — fully embodied.
There are physical practices that set us up for success. Here let’s embody two practices that will restore us to balance, courage and those positive emotions that lead to the confidence to get you to the next level. They are breath and being centered.
The first practice is Breath. There is nothing of greater advantage to you or that links you to your power than that of your breathing. It’s the path to your presence –to being in the moment.
1. Take a big sniff (as if to smell a fragrant flower) to activate your diaphragm. Take a long exhale through the nose. Do this 3 times. Breathe in and out from your low belly. How does this feel?
2. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This quiets the front part of the brain that’s overactive. Now breathe slowly, deeply through your nose.
Exhale from the mouth like you are blowing out a birthday candle with the tongue on the roof of your mouth. Completely empty your lungs.
Now inhale with the tongue on the roof of your mouth sipping air deep into your rib cage. Let breath go deeply into the core of your body.
Exhale blowing out completely, emptying your lungs like you’re blowing out a birthday candle. (With the tongue on the roof of your mouth)
Repeat this up to 5 times. We tend to hold our anxiety in the solar plexus and the belly area and this breathing releases it. Inhale. Exhale. Holding tension can create a barrier to connection with another person.
3. Breathing — Using the Exhale.
Our breath changes with our emotions. If we are feeling stressed, anxious, angry — our breath will be shorter. It will be faster. If we are feeling relaxed and happier, we’ll breathe more deeply.
On the inhale, our heart rate accelerates and on the exhale, our heart rate decelerates. We want to lengthen our exhales.
You want to take in long deep breaths and lengthen the exhale. Like this: Take a long deep breath in on the count of four 1–2–3–4. Hold it for a second. Now you exhale for a count of 8. 1–2–3–4–5–6–7–8. Repeat this five times. How do you feel?
By lengthening and deepening your exhales, this will help to calm your nervous system down. Scientists have determined that people in a relaxed state and in a good mood are far more likely to develop positive and creative thoughts.
You can breathe this way and the nice thing is that you can do it in the boardroom, at your desk, or even while you commute.
Now, let’s get centered.
Center is the inner and outer strength we seek to be stable and strong for ourselves and for others. It is the basic bodily presence where all else is built. As a process of self-organization it increases our openness and willingness to see what is happening.
Centering practice begins with the alignment of the physical body though it is not associated with a particular type of posture; you can find center lying down, sitting, carrying a package, and driving the car.
With center there is a coming together of effective action, emotional balance, mental alertness, and intuition where harmony and balance can be achieved. All athletes, martial artists, performers and embodied leaders practice to move from center.
This felt sense of center opens the doorway to our intuition, perception and expression.
The dimensions of center are: length, width, and depth. We have these three proportions of top to bottom, left to right, and front to back. Feel them.
Stand with legs hip width apart, release your knees. (Locked knees keep you from getting to breath. Lock your knees and shake someone’s hand and introduce yourself. No breath, no voice, no connection. Unlock your knees, shake someone’s hand and introduce yourself. Feel the difference?)
Align yourself in your center of gravity found approximately two inches below your navel. Try to find your balance at that center. To know length, lengthen up through the crown of your head. Lengthen down through your tailbone. Shift side-to-side and front-to-back to know width and depth.
When you are centered you experience yourself as being present — a “here-ness”. When we achieve balance, others are in balance around us.
With breath and center brings stress-reduction, self-care and inspires powerful choices. Take these practices as preparation for your next high stakes meeting. Notice the difference in the way you respond to others and they respond to you. Being in a stable state allows others to find their stability.
We women get to our grace in the mastery of our physical energy. We use it to support and nurture ourselves and others to greatness.
Call to Action
Please recommend this to others and share. Men can use these somatic practices too for great success.
Next up — get grounded and vocal virtuosity.
“Research findings consistently confirm that those organizations with the most women as senior leaders enjoy rates of return that are greater — often by double-digits — than those with far fewer or no women in their leadership ranks.”
- Sharon Allen, former Chairman of the Board, Deloitte LLP
- The Story of the Geese — Imagine this! A goose, because it flies in formation gets 71% more uplift than if it flew alone. And that when the leader out front of the formation tires, it moves into a different place in the formation and a more rested bird takes over. And when a goose is sick or injured, when it drops out and falls to the ground — two geese of the flock also leave the formation and go with it and cover it and keep it warm and safe until it is well enough to re-join or find another flock.