When a client first sits down in the coaching space, they may express their reason for being there in many ways; it could be a question about their life or work, how to achieve some goal, address an issue or gain some insight into an existential question. The form and content of the question can reflect the client’s stage of ego development see:(Rooke and Torbert, 2005; Bachkirova, 2011) and this gives the coach valuable information as starting point. The model here, may offer client and coach some further possibilities for insight into the origin of the coaching question, whether it is part of a deeper set of issues for the client and where the client might need to direct his or her attention to achieve some resolution. Considering this interplay between four elements of the client’s being and any distortions, which may arise between them can provide the basis for a fruitful enquiry. Taking the four elements in turn:

The thinking/feeling element represents our cognitive and emotional selves, the part of us that makes sense of the world we are in. This element relates to the individual’s personal epistemology (Ferrier, 1850; Hofer, 2000). We categorize and evaluate our experiences, predict the outcomes of our own and others’ actions, build frameworks of values and beliefs, develop and learn; to help us exist as organisms in a potentially hostile world.

These ways of understanding the world are linked to the roles we occupy and this forms the second element in the model. Roles such as parent, student, sibling, friend, colleague; enable us to be part of the world of people and things. These roles are ways in which we relate and engage with the world, thereby influencing the types of experience we have. These experiences are interpreted and evaluated by our thinking and feeling, creating a strong linkage across to the first element. If there is dissonance between requirements implicit in the role and our thinking and feeling, this may produce tensions or distortions in the link between these two parts.

The third part is our physical body or presence in the world. This is the visible person, with his or her particular attributes, energy and impact. In much Indian philosophy, the body is described as being made up of the five senses of perception (ears, eyes, nose, tongue and skin) and five organs of action (arms, legs, mouth, generative and excretory organs) (Iyengar, 2004), emphasizing the importance of this element to sensing and doing. This part of us may be misaligned with our roles (fatigued, experiencing too much or too little physical activity, etc), or with our thinking/feeling, through beliefs about aging, disability or body image, for example.

The fourth element is described variously as the Self (Jung, 2012), Purusa (Iyengar, 2004), or witness consciousness (Rao, 2005; Bechsgaard, 2013). This element is a transcendent principle, separate from the impermanent elements of the other three, representing the unchanging part of us. Misalignment along one of these three axes can bring a sense of sadness or lack of fulfillment, even when the outward signs of success are present (Gomez and Fisher, 2003). This can be described as a loss of connection with spirit, where our physical selves, the ways we are engaging with the world through our roles and even our beliefs and values are in misalignment with some more fundamental life force. The growing awareness of misalignments along these axes may relate to shifts in worldview and the route to ego-transcendence described by Cook-Greuter (Cook-Greuter, 2000).

The coach is presented with a client, offering an articulation of their reason for being present at the session. In relation to this model, the client’s articulation is usually an expression of awareness that two or more elements are misaligned. So for example, they are finding in their role at work, they are feeling overwhelmed by a particular project (role in conflict with thinking/feeling), or the physical nature of their work, or travel obligations are causing illness and injury (role in conflict with physical body). There may be an expression of an issue on more than one axis; for example, they feel the success they have achieved in their life is worth nothing and they need to change direction (role, thinking and feeling and Self). In working with clients, I have observed that the question originally expressed may appear to be on one axis (role – thinking/feeling, for example), but as the coaching progresses the focus shifts to, or includes another (thinking/feeling – Self, perhaps) as the client begins to examine their beliefs more deeply and see some incongruity in their existing system. It is possible that a distortion in any part of the system will create tensions in all axes, but the client’s awareness is naturally drawn to one axis first. One might define the role of coaching in this context as helping the client become more aware of misalignments in their system and help them come to a resolution.

The working assumption is that questions/issues presented in coaching represent a perceived misalignment somewhere in the client’s being and exploring the two nodal points at either end of that axis may bring greater clarity as to where and what the required exploration, learning, or shift may be. The dynamic nature of life means that it is likely that there will always be some distortions in the system. Once a distortion has been addressed, bringing greater alignment, something else changes. We re-evaluate our beliefs, or our roles and our bodies change as life moves on. A static system, with no distortions may not be something to aspire to!

Bachkirova, T. (2011) Developmental coaching: Working with the self. Open University Press.

Bechsgaard, G. (2013) The Gift of Consciousness. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Cook-Greuter, S. R. (2000) 'Mature Ego Development: A Gateway to Ego Transcendence?', Journal of Adult Development, 7(4), pp. 227-240. doi: 10.1023/A:1009511411421.

Ferrier, F. (1850) 'The Epistemology, or Theory of Knowing', Institutes of the Metaphysic: The Theory of Knowing and Being.

Gomez, R. and Fisher, J. W. (2003) 'Domains of spiritual well-being and development and validation of the Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire', Personality and individual differences, 35(8), pp. 1975-1991.

Hofer, B. K. (2000) 'Dimensionality and disciplinary differences in personal epistemology', Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(4), pp. 378-405. doi: 10.1006/ceps.1999.1026.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2004) Light on the yoga sutras of Patanjali. South Asia Books.

Jung, S. S. (2012) 'Common and Different Ideas of the Self in Indian Philosophy: Based on the Monism of Vedanta and the Dualism of Saṃkhya', The Journal of Indian Philosophy, 36, pp. 5-48.

Rao, K. R. (2005) 'Perception, cognition and consciousness in classical Hindu psychology', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12(3), pp. 3-30.

Rooke, D. and Torbert, W., R (2005) 'Seven Transformations of Leadership', Harv Bus Rev.

the contribution of yoga darsana

Yoga is one of the six Darsana or viewpoints (Bowker, 2000). Darsana is thorough enquiry, investigation and reasoning, it implies an experiential knowledge, leading to transformation. In this way darsana is not exactly philosophy, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as being from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love, study or pursuit of wisdom”(Stevenson and Waite, 2011), implying a more intellectual study. Yoga darsana is closer to an action enquiry. The Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as ‘skill in action’.(Mascaró, 1962). A more common definition is ‘yoga as union’ – Iyengar explains this as gaining proper understanding between the five sheaths (Anatomical, Physiological, Mental or Emotional, Intellectual or Discriminative and Pure bliss). He goes on to explain that deeper understanding comes through connecting body and nerves, nerves and mind, mind and intelligence, intelligence and will, will and consciousness, consciousness and conscience, conscience and ego, ego and Self.

Stevenson, A. and Waite, M. (2011) Concise Oxford English Dictionary: Book & CD-ROM Set. Oxford University Press.

Bowker, J. (2000) The concise Oxford dictionary of world religions. Oxford University Press Oxford, UK.

Mascaró, J. (1962) The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin.