Top Menu

The Heart of our Work

‘Who you are is how you coach’….yes, I know that you have heard this before!  I know that because I keep bleating on about it.  This sentence popped out of my mouth many years ago in conversation with my good friend and colleague, Aboodi Shabi.  We were on our fourth cup of coffee and were excitedly sharing our experiences of this new thing called ‘coaching’.  Tools, models and techniques were springing up each new morning – they still do. This level of creativity in coaching has not stopped; we are fortunate to be in a profession that promotes new thinking and allows for some stunning synthesising.

Coaching has absorbed thinking and practices from many fields that shed light on how coaches’ personal development, energy and intentions influence their work. Currently, for example, our profession is harnessing the new work in neurosciences to support our understanding of how to promote changes in thinking, experiencing and behaviour and the ‘who we are’ piece is illuminated from this perspective.

Neuro-cardiologists get very excited about how much the heart and the brain work together. For example, the National Institute of Health tells us that,

 “Somewhere between 60 and 65 % of all the cells in you heart are actually neurons exactly like those in your brain.  There exist intensive, unmediated neural connections between the emotional limbic region of the brain and the heart such that “ tremendous interaction occurs between the heart and the emotional brain”. 

Gary Schwarz and his colleagues at the University of Arizona conduct research into how the heart influences empathy and learning. They have discovered that,

“the heart is a sensory organ and acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions that do not involve the cerebral cortex.  Additionally, numerous experiments have demonstrated that patterns of cardiac afferent neurological input to the brain not only affect autonomic regulatory centers, but also influence higher brain centers involved in perception and emotional processing”.

HearthMath researchers put it this way:

“The neural cells in the heart communicate with each other through the same neural transmitters, the same type of dendrites and axons as they do in the brain’.  The heart is beginning to be perceived as the ‘fifth brain’. (See

 John Selby says:

“Leading with the heart in out present moment encounters is the only wise way to approach life, because the heart as a present-moment sensing organ is our very best system for knowing the truth about a situation.”  See John Selby  ‘Quiet the Mind’  (very readable)

These quotations are little tasters.  What is interesting is to consider what they signify for us as coaches, mentors and supervisors:

  • How we might use this information to refine the main instrument of our work – ourselves?
  •  Ask yourself how you use the perceptions of the heart to understand yourself and your clients better.
  •  How might you develop more empathy and insight by ‘thinking with the heart’?
  •  Have you ever simply placed you hand on your heart centre as you reflected on your work with a client?


Edna Murdoch 2011