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efl in the board room

Lets talk about the horse in the (board) room

It’s not only the elephants.

How often do we let the important questions go unasked? Or awkwardly or politely talk around the real-issues? How often do we feel unable to challenge behaviour, performance or opinions?

It is difficult enough amongst peers, but what about in the leadership hierarchy or upwardly within the organisational structure of businesses?

Leaders need feedback too.

It is rare that we feel courageous enough to speak truth to authority or perceived superiority. So points that we might otherwise freely express remain unaddressed, but they do not go away.

Neuroscientists have proved through fMRI work that “what we resist, persists”. In fact they recognise that when we attempt to divert or suppress issues then we imbue them with greater strength. So avoided, or suppressed topics fester, often growing in strength.

We need to create safe space where truth or concerns can be aired. Without it, personal or organisation performance can be under-mined and individual well-being compromised.

What has this to do with horses?

Horses are spared the over-rationalising or contemplation that so often ties up the human brain. They are more honest and connected with what we would define as the intuitive. As such, they can show us how we are.

In so doing they can speak truth to power; title, experience and relative position are superfluous. A horse will not fail to indicate when there is an elephant in the room.

The Equine Facilitated Learning process represents the ultimate experiential 360° appraisal, reflecting without judgement who we are and how we are, in the moment; their sensitivity can give us a running commentary on our mindset, our demeanour and our behaviour. And when we decide to act or change the way we are coming across, their honest and immediate commentary continues.

The nature of the horse – a herd based, flight animal – carries an awareness and presence which is connected to the energies and intentions of the situation and those around it. Within the immediate honesty of their behaviour lies an invitation to change.

“That’s just how he is at work”

Peter (not his real name) is CEO of a large international property firm. When invited to carry out a task with a horse, he grabbed the rope and marched off – the horse eventually, with some reluctance followed, largely as he was now at the end of an ever-tightening rope. His options were limited.

Something was missing here.

I asked his colleagues what they saw – “oh that’s just how is with us in the board room”. We all laughed.

This short interaction facilitated a discussion around the need to develop connection and how performance can be changed in context. The situation offered a safe opportunity to shine a light on individual default behaviour; much more importantly, here was a chance for Peter to enact the change that was needed – to role model a change of behaviour.

Peter returned to the task, but this time established a connection before making any demands of the horse; pausing to develop relationship and engage his equine counterpart in the interaction. Thus revisited, the horse responded positively and accompanied Peter in his task without resistance.

And then we added colleagues – and then we added obstacles. Around the horse we brought the team back together. There they found time to recognise themselves and roles – they found space to work together and acknowledge their individual and often complementary skills. All the time the horse quietly worked with the team and remained comfortable staying within the group.

Beyond the constraint of language

Communication is not just language. Our actions and behaviours reflect our intentions as much as our words. And sometimes more so.

The Equine Facilitated Learning process provides a fast-track connection.

Human beings need congruency between word and deed, instruction and action. Matthew Lieberman in Social (OUP, 2015) talks about the growing research in social neuroscience which explores the connectivity between our brains, he outlines the potential negative impact of someone reacts presented with incongruence in another. We must be aligned in mind and body.

As much as we might talk around leadership and change, in practice they are much more than instruction or commitment. Change requires action. It is about being different and that is more than a cognitive exercise. We need to embody the change; “be the change that you wish to see”, to paraphrase Gandhi.

Beside the horses we connect with communication beyond the spoken word. We get to see safely and without judgement what in the “Johari Window” model we might call our “unseen self”.

As a team working with Peter, we observed more of the horse than the human. The horse’s response highlighted the clumsiness of the initial attempt to lead. In this open and neutral environment, the team were able to acknowledge and question behaviour in a way that might not have been so welcome in the boardroom. Here was an opportunity to change. The horse acknowledged this and immediately reflected that change.

Both CEO and team now have a simple anchor to reflect on, a gentle reminder of the need to build connection, as a foundation for clear communication and instruction.

So how does it work?

Equine Facilitated Learning is experiential. This means the learner is placed at the heart of the process, and as such it represents a personal commitment where the learner is empowered to drive the process based on their own requirements or aspirations.

The learning is somatic –involving the whole body. It draws our full consciousness into the process: cognitive, emotional and corporeal. It enables us to recognise the full physicality of our behaviours; and it offers us a safe space to model and embody any necessary shift.

It is an opportunity to consider both problem and solution, to review options and model change in real-time. Alongside the horses we create a clean physical space which is unencumbered by the baggage of existing relationships and or familiarity of location.

The horse most importantly offers honest and non-judgemental interaction. As we have seen, it does not concern itself with titles or hierarchies, it simply reflects how we are. It shows us the “horse” in the room. And in so doing it presents feedback; armed with that feedback we are invited to change.

This article was originally written for (and published in) The Executive Magazine (Dec. 2017) by Graeme Green of The Mindful Horse.

Click here to link to the original article.

The Art of BEING

Time for another guest blog, this time from Graeme Green of The Mindful Horse who explores the value of being present. Graeme teaches presence and embodiment, wellbeing and mindfulness across various personal and professional locations. He will be co-hosting our wellbeing event on 7th September.

THE ART OF BEING

Actors say that one should never work with small children and animals. Why so? Well there is congruence and honesty about them. There is no act or pretence. And this establishes a presence, which we all intuitively recognise, and subconsciously we gravitate to that.

As adults too often our presence is lost, as we are consumed in tasks, (relative) status and function.

Presence facilitates relationships, when someone is present with us we have their attention, we are connected, we feel acknowledged and valued. When someone with great presence enters our space they shift the energy, they light up the room. Our attention is naturally drawn to them.

But what does being present mean?

Our modern lives and work bombards us with distractions. Demands on our attention. Phones. Email. Social media. You name it. Submitting to the distractions draws us away from the present. Our attention ceases to be in the same place as our bodies. Mind dislocates from our bodies.

Throughout most of the human journeys we have been active – whether seeking shelter or food, or communal activities such music or dance. Now we are passive or at best sedentary. Our entertainment is external, often projected before us; our work facilitated by technology, be it scanning bar codes or constructing and completing complex spreadsheets. Our minds might be busy but our bodies most certainly are not. But we have not evolved to be like this.

Somatic learning acknowledges an equal contribution from minds and bodies. Like all mammals we are hardwired to move. Sustained immobility is a stressor.

These days though, we have to create special time for that, for the gym or for a morning run. We do not need the intensity, we just need to be active. 20 minutes walking for example is enough to strengthen our memory creating capacity.

And when we move we engage a more holistic consciousness. When we move we connect with space and place. We are present. Our mind might wander sometimes, but where we go is where we are, and so we need to invite it back.

To be present for others we must first be present for ourselves. We must be in our bodies. We must notice when we have been drawn away and find the means to bring ourselves back, to ground and centre ourselves within our being,

How do we establish presence?

The Art of BEING is about learning to recognise our distractions, or at least to effectively recognise when we have been distracted. To notice that our attention is no longer where we intended it to be.

It is not so much about fighting the distractions, but knowing they occur, recognising them and then returning our attention to where we intended it to be. Sometimes through our breath. Sometimes resting quietly back in my own physicality. Sometimes through a sensory moment, stopping to touch and really feel, or to focus on a sounds around us. Simple tools that facilitate a stillness within us. Simple tools that we carry with us at all times.

The Art of BEING shines a light on awareness of our own presence. It offers different ways and means of returning. In this work we create a safe and non-judgemental space to experiment and explore.

Life in the learning machine

Another guest blog from Graeme Green outlining the highly beneficial power of coaching from an embodied perspective, join Graeme at our forthcoming wellbeing retreat to find out more.

 

Every moment of every day we are practicing something, albeit often unconsciously. Getting a little better all the time. Not just our hobbies or professions, our emotions, our behaviour our reactions, to name  a few.

Like it or not we are learning all the time; not just when we pick up the text book or sit in the seminar room. Nobody tells our consciousness that “now” is the learning time. Nobody tells the neurons when to fire, the mind to instruct or the muscles to write to memory. They all save us the effort, they do it for us. Howard Gardner wrote about multiple intelligences in the 1990s, highlighting the different learning modalities with us all, including the more embodied ones beyond the linguistic and logical. These intelligences do not lie dormant until we instruct them, they are in their way gaining experience with each action.

Our intelligences are generally learning in parallel, or to think of it a different way, our learning is more like holistic. It is what we call somatic – a whole body experience – From the Greek soma. Our contemporary emphasis on cognitive learning has taught us generally to overlook this.

Somatic teachers talk about the active connectivity between mind and body. One greater consciousness, if you like. They acknowledge an implicit memory which is stored within our bodies, often an emotional memory which might reflect itself in an spontaneous physical response – for example, an often punished child flinching when a hand is raised, regardless of the raiser’s intention.

THE MACHINE AT WORK

We are learning machines that in essence permanently have a “write” function switched to “on”. The combination of mind, emotion and action constantly creating routines and habits. This helps us to ride bikes and to play tennis, or develop our professions.

The problems come when the habits obstruct us. We can engage all sorts of mental planning and reframing but when the obstruction is a somatic (embodied) memory we will never quite seem to deliver change that we seek. We need to look within. We need to face that physical memory or behaviour.

We need to develop an objective and non-judgemental somatic awareness. A real consciousness of the what out body is doing and what it is telling us. And what effect that pattern has upon us.

 A NEW PROGRAMME FOR THE MACHINE

We need to nurture an embodied awareness awareness. This awareness invites us to act.

To be curious. To face what-ever it is and explore it. To share kindness, not to battle with it. To accept and so release it. The act of accepting frees us to envision the shift that is needed and from there to grow. And as we grow into the new form or shape, or the new feeling, we learn a new behaviour. A new character which grows from the old.

With practice we become the change that we need. And we know it, once again we are.

The key through this is to work with the body. Let the body lead the mind. The body speaks to us and to others, we can see people’s impatience when they fiddle with pens as we talk, we can see their muscles tighten or their skin change colour as we offer difficult conversation.

Again the body is telling us when we need to look. When we need to pause and be curious. Asking ourselves where that action came from. And the process begins.

In developing the tools to sharpen awareness we can act on the clues and sign-posts that our bodies offer, and in so doing we might open and re-write the habitual.

We can be the change.

What is a cacao ceremony?

In our latest guest-blog Hannah Carr of The Nourished Body talks about the benefits of the Cacao ceremony. Hannah will be co-facilitating (and hosting a ceremony) at this summer’s Well-being Retreat.

 

The cacao bean is what chocolate is made from, but the product that most of us know and love has very small amounts of cacao, lots of milk and sugar, and is highly processed.  

You will be introduced here to ceremonial grade cacao, which is not like consuming dark chocolate, or even raw chocolate.  Our cacao is sourced from small farmer co-ooperatives in the Peruvian Andes, it’s very bitter (we add a little sweetness to balance it) but the depth of flavour is truly amazing. 

You will start to feel excited just by the smell, and it will be prepared for you with love and intention.

What I love about this as a nutritionist is that it’s naturally high in iron, magnesium, B-complex vitamins and anti-oxidants.

Cacao has been used in ceremonies for thousands of years and is used as a heart opening medicine.  It is used to help to heal the mental, physical and spiritual body.  Physically it increases blood flow to the brain by 30-40% when taken as ceremonial dose and also increases the oxygen levels in blood by around 20%.

It’s effects are subtle and profound people can safely experience awakening, revelation and inner healing.  Intentions are set and once consumed, euphoric states are unlocked, negative emotions are released and we are able to connect to ourselves and the loving energy in our body.

Come and experience the magic of the ceremony at the Athena summer well-being retreat. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is said that Summer is related to the organ of the heart, and bitter flavours support the heart, so this is perfect timing. 

Together we will be supporting the heart at the optimal time of the year, a time when consuming cacao delivers it’s most powerful effects. 

We will sit in a circle and set intentions, listen to heartfelt music and share as a group together. It is the most wonderful way to connect, release, uplift you and realign you with who you truly are.

 

To find out more about Hannah Carr and her work; click here to visit her website

To book your place on our retreat please click here.

Science and the benefits of drumming

This is a guest blog written by Graeme Green of The Mindful Horse, who is one of the facilitators at this August’s Wellbeing Retreat – click here for retreat info – or read on ….

 

Anyone that attends any of my workshops will know how strongly I feel about the power of drumming. Part of that passion lies in drumming as a connection with generations passed. If we look through the lens of Rupert Sheldrake’s principle of Morphic Resonance, it becomes a ritual connecting human communities through thousands of years, no different to Thanksgiving or Christmas.

This collective exploration of rhythm and movement excites and engages, whether it be the social gathering to drum and dance binding the community together, or the trance-inducing beat that drove the shaman to trance.
Rhythm surrounds us in life, from the moment of our conception when we are connected to the heartbeat of our mother. Yet today, as we rush around on engaged in busy-ness of perpetual distractions, those sounds simply pass us by. As in our meditations, the act of drumming grounds us once again in the moment, and when we are with others it weaves us into the communal. We re-connect with social roots of our humanity.

As someone who works with drum-healing I am very excited to see that scientific research is also beginning to recognise the therapeutic and healing value of drum work (as well as other sound/vibrational based interventions). The Royal College of Music (2016) has shown “making music can be a powerful tool for promoting mental health and contributes to a wider evidence base around music and wellbeing” to quote Aaron Williamon, professor of Performance Science at RCM.

The research found specifically that a 10-week programme of group drumming reduced depression by 38 per cent and anxiety by 20 per cent; further they found that the same programme can also improve social resilience by 23 per cent and mental wellbeing by 16 per cent.

The RCM research cites the linkage between mental health conditions, including depression, and inflammation in the immune system. The subtle vibrational of drumming has been shown to be an effective treatment because it helps to release and decrease such inflammation.

New York based psychotherapist Robert Lawrence Friedman was one of the first formal researchers into the Graeme Green and The Mindful Horse at Athenarelationship between wellness and drumming, establishing a link between drumming and the individuals T cell count. “When people drum, something happens to their brain that only happens when people are drumming together or when people are in deep meditation,” he explained. “The brain usually operates with either the left or right side independently. People generally cycle in 20 minutes per side. But when drumming, we experience something called hemispheric synchronization, where both sides work at the same time…. people feel two opposite emotions simultaneously: energized and relaxed.”

This finding was supported in 2001 publication by Dr. Barry B. Bittman. This study showed that there was a significant boost in the activity of “cellular immune components responsible for seeking out and destroying cancer cells and viruses were noted in normal subjects who drummed.”

In short, drumming can increase the presence of T-cells, the white blood cell that fights viruses.

The direct emotional impacts of drumming are also well documented, quite simply, it makes you happy. Drumming is known to release endorphins, which are associated with general feelings of well-being and euphoria, as well as the natural pain-relief effect of endorphins and endogenous opiates.

Drumming induces deep relaxation; in one US study, blood samples from participants who participated in an hour-long drumming session revealed a reversal in stress hormones; in my own experience those I have spent time with have often reported improved and less disturbed sleep patterns following drum work.

Drumming also produces a strong sense of community and connectedness, that bond boosts our Oxytocin levels. Drumming circles and group drumming classes provide an opportunity for “synchronicity” in that you connect with your own self at a deeper level while also connecting with other like-minded people.

Beyond my Reiki healing work, as a mindfulness practitioner I never question the drum as a means of grounding people in the present moment – even in the simplest engagement when its rhythm forms the meditation object. I regularly see its power to de-stress, to calm and to relax.

Personally, I never travel without a drum. It brings life, happiness and healing wherever it goes. To see that science is beginning to bring repeatable proof to the table is wonderful. Still, those of us that engage with rhythm have know if for ages (LOL).

Graeme Green
www.themindfulhorse.org
graeme@nullthemindfulhorse.org

Wellbeing Retreat

We are looking forward to hosting our Wellbeing retreat this August – with Graeme Green and Hannah Carr.

Join us for a relaxing and rustic weekend, near Paddock Wood in the West Kent countryside, where we will explore:

  • work with the 5 ways of wellbeing;
  • mindfulness;
  • yoga;
  • traditional drumming;
  • developing self-awareness and connection alongside our herd;
  • learning new healthy eating habits;
  • traditional Cacoa ceremony.

We are offering a stay on site package of GBP 275.00 which includes:

  • join us from Friday evening, when we will welcome you with a glass of Prosecco and nibbles;
  • continental breakfasts;
  • vegetarian lunches;
  • on site accommodation.

Alternatively you can arrange your own accommodation or travel to us each day for a reduced price of GBP 225.00.

To book your place please visit the event page.

 

 

Why not come and stay?

We are really pleased to announce that we can now offer onsite accommodation to support those visiting us for forthcoming events and retreats.

Stay in the Athena Tree House

It is a great opportunity to spend relaxing and refreshing time in the West Kent Countryside. It is a great opportunity to unwind and to watch the horses moving around and playing on our track system

We have the options of a beautiful tree house (pictured right) and three bell tents (see featured image).

Click here to visit our accommodation page or email us at info@nullathenaherd.org.uk for more information.