Cultivating Presence with Elaine Sano

Elaine Sano: Cultivating Presence

In this episode, Elaine and I talk about three key leadership challenges: decision making, building trust and being innovative, especially as we continue in uncharted territory with COVID-19.

In this episode you’ll learn more about:

  • Using brainpower to build resilience
  • Learning about your brain’s two binary systems, and how to get them to play nice together
  • How accessing the lower brain can be a strong pathway to being more present
  • How to stay out of the drama, and the stress that causes
  • The 1% rule
  • How to practice “presencing”
  • So that you can feel more confident in your decisions, built trust within yourself and others, and tap into your creativity so you can be more innovative.

Listen to the Podcast Now

Guest bio:

Elaine’s consulting and coaching experience harnesses over 20 years practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor. She implements a unique creative process that intersects science, relationship and contemplative wisdom.

Elaine’s design is a synthesis. Quantum Science, Systems Theory, and Eastern Philosophies become her lens to the emergent field. It is an inquiry-action approach that opens the possibility for alchemical change. Individuals reorient their mind & body flow of energies to the sate of presence. The value becomes foundational for confident choices, innovation and clarity of purpose.

Clients include executives & teams from Deloitte, Gillette, PWC, EY and professionals of the Artistic, Scientific, Financial, Legal, Global Not For Profit Sectors.

Elaine’s speaking titles include: Resilience, Mindful Leader, The Zen of Power, The Currency of the Heart and The Art of Listening . Her academics include an Honours Degree in Psychology, and Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine; her research has been published in the Journal of General Psychology. Her continuing studies include Organizational Relationships & Systems Coaching (ICF Certification) and Mindfulness. She recently completed a 6 year apprenticeship in Shamanic & Contemplative Sciences of both East and West.

Elaine sits on the Board of Camphill Communities, ON: an Anthroposophical lineage of communities for individuals living with diverse disability



Break (00:00):

Welcome to Seniors' Care Matters, part of the Qod Pod Network. Each week, 'Seniors' Care Matters provides inspiring interviews and insights to help you lead, connect and engage with your teams and your residents' families. We focus on ways to enhance your leadership approach and presence with practical tips to build a relational culture and create breakthrough results. And now here's your host for Seniors Care Matters, Deborah Bakti.

Deb (00:30):

I remember growing up and my dad had two favorite sayings. One was, well, you get freedom with responsibility, which I think was his way of saying no to things. And the other was - just be in the moment. And that was usually when I was complaining about something not going my way or worried about some upcoming event, not going my way. And that was when life was much more simple than it feels now. I think we could all do with a little bit more presencing. This is a term I hadn't heard of before, until my conversation with today's guest. I do believe that much of our power lies in our presence. Our ability to really be in the moment and notice what's going on for us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and be able to push aside the uncertainties worries, distractions and anything else that pulls us away from being present.

Deb (01:29):

Elaine shares, what she's hearing from leaders that she works with as to what the three areas of challenge are that they're looking for support. And all three can be supported with cultivating presence. Elaine brings her naturopathic knowledge and Eastern philosophies to this conversation in oh, such an elegant way while also being practical. What she shares as a means to ground yourself so that you can be a more effective leader, partner and human being are simple yet profound. Here's a bit about today's guest. Elaine Sano's consulting and coaching experience harnesses over 20 years practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor. She implements a unique creative process that intersects science relationship and contemplative wisdom. Elaine's clients include executives and teams from organizations such as Deloitte, Gillette, PWC, and EY. Her academics include an honors degree in psychology and Doctor of Naturopathic medicine. Her research has been published in the journal of general psychology and her continuing studies include organizational relationship and systems coaching and mindfulness. I hope you enjoy this conversation

Break (02:54):

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Deb (03:09):

Elaine, welcome to Seniors' Care Matters. I'm so looking forward to this conversation.

Elaine (03:13):

Me too, Deb. Thanks for having me.

Deb (03:16):

Yeah. So you work with leaders on a daily basis at various levels of leadership. And I'm curious to hear what are the challenges or the concerns that they're bringing to you, that you're able to support them with. What are some of those emerging trends that you're seeing?

Elaine (03:34):

I would say there are a few emerging trends that I'm seeing Deb and the first one being the leader's capacity to make a decision with confidence, with some of the pieces of data and markers that would normally anchor them in making a decision dissolving or collapsing or being disrupted or changing so quickly, then it becomes a case of the leader sort of in a constant state of pivot. You know, what do I use to help center me to make a good decision with confidence? I think there are a couple of other things that I'm really noticing and, and they probably bridge in with some of your work around relational versus transactional. And that is, that this sense of trust within the leader and the leader in the organization. And and that, that is so important when things are moving around constantly and changing and shifting that the engagement with everybody in the organization needs that sense of trust so that it can kind of lean in and and feel a sense of security. I think the third thing that I'm seeing over and over is how to make a new solution, so innovate and come up with a new solution to a problem that is completely brand new. And moving that with that as seamlessly as possible. Those would be sort of the top three that I'm seeing.

Deb (05:28):

Well, that makes so much sense. I think when it comes to decision making and I've, I'm hearing that with my clients as well, is that the stakes have been raised exponentially when it comes to making the right or the best decision with not having all of the facts. And like you say, the data points are not always as clear as perhaps they would have been perceived to be in the past and seems to be more under that analysis under the microscope.

Elaine (05:58):

Yes, I agree.

Deb (06:01):

And so when you're working with leaders and they're feeling challenged with the decision making, the second thing you talked about was that trust. So are you speaking to the leaders are lacking the trust? Are they feeling that their team are not trusting them? What, tell me more about what that trust element is.

Elaine (06:26):

I would say that bridging along with that concept of decision making, there is the capacity for a leader to really trust themselves. So trust themselves in this new environment, and then with that, for the employee to then trust or the staff or the organization to feel a sense of trust with their leader. And I see that as critical to the security, just like we might want in an uncertain situation at home with a parent or a caregiver growing up here, we are adults and we're looking for a feeling of security when we don't really know what's happening. And I think trust becomes a really foundational piece for that relational engagement.

Deb (07:27):

And then the third that you talked about this problem solving and coming up with creative solutions. Tell me more about what you mean by that.

Elaine (07:41):

Because business and right down to, how do we communicate with people across the planet when we're doing this social distancing to how do we resolve, a completely different marketplace and economic situation, is begging us to come up with some innovative ways to resolve that. And I see that as another ongoing trend that I'm seeing leaders grappling with, how do we come up with something that will meet this current new need, in the new environment.

Deb (08:20):

And I wonder as well, because we can't see around that corner and anticipate whether it be fall winter next year, what that looks like is how do you know to what degree that you need to innovate that's going to meet the need at whatever timeframe. I've had probably three or four conversations this week, where back in March, April, we were talking months and now I'm hearing years, before having that sense of, and clearly depends on the type of industry and environment that you're in. So in Seniors' Care, there's this, not a matter of if there's a second wave it's when, and how hard is it going to hit? So what do we need to be putting in place for that? And going back to that decision making perspective, policies and protocols and practices were changing literally on a daily basis and that constant need to pivot, which is probably going to be the most overused word in 2020, but it describes it so well, you could be facing this way. And the next thing, you know, things have completely changed.

Elaine (09:30):


Deb (09:32):

And so looking at all three of those around the ability to have confidence in the decision making, the trusting of your organization, infrastructure, team yourself, and then this additional pressure of having to come up with innovative solutions, it's like this, I call it Lead Fatigue. Yeah. And what I'm hearing and seeing with people in leadership positions, it's almost like they just want to put their hand up and say, can somebody just take over for a little bit? Cause I don't know which way is up.

Elaine (10:05):

Absolutely. And sometimes that opportunity doesn't come because so much is changing. And who do we turn to? It really makes me think because I come with that holistic hat, it really makes me think about the brain and the way we've been kind of designed from a very primate level. And then now in the kind of 2020 environment that we live in and what the, as you were saying, risks and costs of all of that. I really think that the basis of being able to be more resilient and in all of those three scenarios that we just discussed is to be functioning with much more of all of our brains. So just like my holistic background with the whole of our brain and where it's moving in a lot more synchronization or harmony, and that would really call on us to learn some really good solid tools to stay present.

Break (11:23):

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Break (12:09):

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Deb (12:39):

So I would love to hear you describe when you talk about, we have really need to understand all the parts of the brain and that holistic approach. Can you give us that overview? That would really help us to better understand?

Elaine (12:52):

Sure. I'll kind of take a very complex scenario and try and simplify it as much as I can with the risk of oversimplifying, but I think we could maybe think of it as two binary systems. So we have the sort of lower brain or the limbic system, which is like that reptilian brain that we often think about around surviving. And we could divide it into two branches of automatic responses to get us through an emergency situation. And that would be the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic nervous system The sympathetic nervous system, when we're in that leadership mode where we're constantly going from one thing to the next it's easy to get very overactivated. And when it's overactivated, that system can feel very anxiety provoking. We constrict, and it can be that fight or flight reaction. The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand is designed to help us sort of rest afterwards. And it can also get into overdrive and the overdrive can look like I'm just flat out exhausted, almost depressed, and it can put us into a state of freeze. When we're in overdrive, we just freeze up. We almost can't, we can't do a thing. It's almost like a shutdown. So that would be the lower system of the brain.

Elaine (14:43):

Then if we go to the higher functioning part of our brain, which is sort of the executive neocortex functioning aspect of a more evolved brain, so to speak, we have two hemispheres. We have the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. And those two hemispheres also work in tandem. And one tends to be more of a rational, linear, logical way of thinking. And the, the right brain tends to be more of the emotive, the body sensory part, and thinks a little bit broader strokes than this linear A to B to C to D. When we are in the scenario of many of our leaders today, where they're almost in a place of, I don't know what to do anymore. I'm just like, I want to put my hands in the air. Oftentimes what's happening is all of these two binary systems are completely out of sync. So one or the other's more dominant. They're not coordinating well. We're getting more linear when maybe we need to think a little bit more sensory and emotive, or maybe we're going into fight or flight or absolute freeze shut down. And the interesting thing is that the one route in can be through that lower brain.

Elaine (16:19):

So the lower brain often has activation on the musculature. So our heart, our lungs, and our gut. And so when a leader is able to access being present or paying attention, starting with themselves, that means that the minute we're in a scenario and we feel ourselves constricting, so whether it's our gut constricting our breathing is getting tight. It's a cue to pay attention. And that may be the, exactly the time where you have - the literature now says it's about one to ten seconds to make a different choice. So maybe it is just pause, get yourself back into a different state and then reenter and engage the situation or engage whoever it is that you're working with with a more relational kind of a presence.

Deb (17:26):

And that takes practice. The number of times that we can have seen ourselves go reactive and get triggered by something or someone. And then after be able to say, Oh, I didn't really handle it that well. And it's that ability within that one to ten seconds, to be able to notice, create the level of awareness, to be able to pull back and not be pulled into the drama and the reactivity that our primal brain is pulling us toward. Is that how you see it?

Elaine (18:05):

Absolutely bang on the mark. Absolutely.

Deb (18:08):

So you need just to provide the magic pill here for all of us. How do we leverage that one to ten seconds and stay out of trouble?

Elaine (18:19):

Yes. Well, I kind of sort of lightly hold it as take a chill. So in that chill moment, there are maybe three things that we could really do that would support us. And the first thing is to breathe. So when we feel that tightness, you can imagine that the muscles and everything will just sort of loosen up if you take a breath. Some air in just gives it a little more room. And taking a breath, there are so many different versions and ways of practicing breath. But one that I think can be a fast sort of moment to insert in this one to ten seconds is a breath that takes a nice, easy inspiration, but an expiration that's a little bit longer so you're really let it out. And sometimes it helps to make a sound. So I'll sometimes suggest to people that you take a breath in, hold it a little bit, and then as you expire, like make any kind of sound, whatever it is.

Elaine (19:43):

The second thing that I think can be really useful is to keep your mouth shut from saying anything in that one to 10 seconds, which can be hard. We all get into that instant react mode and we want to just blurt. And generally when we're in that state, the blurt might not come out from our best place. So keeping the mouth shut can help us to prevent a high cost conversation. Having said that I'm a big believer that there's an opportunity for repair in any relational kind of engagement. And the third thing I think is, we now know that the brain will help to integrate and coordinate when we use our hands. So the hands could be just simply ringing them, rubbing them together. Or as some of the sort of wisdom tradition suggest it's putting your hands together. Like so.

Deb (21:01):

As in together, like almost in prayer.

Elaine (21:04):

Almost in prayer. So when we see people a little more often in this sort of social distancing or physical distancing, putting our hands together, sort of as a greeting, when we've got a mask on, it is a way that the wisdom traditions would bring the energy back home to pay attention to ourselves. And then we can be with more reverence as we engage moving forward. So I actually think it's kind of remarkable and almost metaphorical that in our pandemic where it starts as a virus, but the virus is almost metaphorical to economic systems, social systems all our kinds of structures that are in place dissolving that what has this virus encouraged us to do, but to breathe, this is a virus that has hit the tissues, the very fine tissues of our lungs. And so the breath of life becomes more critical than ever. So remember to breathe. And the second is to put a mask over our face and that it is part of us maybe helping us to stay within, but also considerate of othering and that the eyes are the part that's exposed. And I know in your book, Deb Recipe for Empathy, you have experienced some profound things with groups and leaders around the eyes and what the eyes can do to make a place of recognition with another. And that washing our hands has become important and social distancing. And so what if we use the hands to help us pay attention and get present, and put them together with a sense of reverence for other, but also, the social distancing gifts space. And space is really important when we think about the strong medicine we need in this kind of pandemic.

Deb (23:23):

Well, it's a lovely way to be able to reframe our reality of our current situation. And what you're describing is just t taking the things that are the positives. And I love the symbolism that you've outlined. And sometimes I feel like when I'm teaching about that being present and the importance of taking a few breaths, it's like, well, everybody knows that, but we don't really always take the opportunity to get the power out of our breath. And even recently with some new exercising that I've been doing, the instructor talks about taking a breath and actually breathing into your back. And I've just found that really incredible because you tend to think about the breathing in the belly and nobody wants to be expanding their belly out typically, but when we're breathing into our back and the ways that you described it, these are all things that can be done without having to really take any extra time as people have these super busy days, you can be doing that while you're walking down the hall. You've used a term that I'd like you to expand upon and you call it presencing. Can you talk about that?

Elaine (24:44):

Sure, sure. I think of being present as we said, that capacity to pay attention and really pay attention to what is going on inside us so that we can then interface with the what's happening in the external Presencing I think it's more of a practice, just like you said Deb. Presencing is a practicing of really honing this ability to regulate and integrate the brain so that we are standing in a place of more possibility when we need to make a decision when we need to cultivate more trust in our engagements. And when we're trying to innovate a new solution. And presencing for me, really calls on a different kind of listening. So listening to what's going on in the mind, in our emotional place, and also what's what is listening and the deep listening into the plane that is invisible. Reality of the material world that we exist in and is in very important part of our lives, but there's also a different part of our experience of being alive that is invisible. And that part when integrated in with the the material world or the visible world opens up a plane of possibility to make a new reality, that is far different than if we were just focusing only on the material. And breath is a great bridge in such a simple, simple technique. And it's a bridge that opens up to all of that.

Deb (27:07):

Are you talking about intuition? Absolutely. Okay. So that when we get those gut feels or those senses, it's like, you're thinking about somebody and then they just sent you an email or have called you that kind of thing. But that grounding breathing calming allows you to be able to be more sensitive and open because we're all intuitive beings right?

Elaine (27:35):

You're absolutely right, Deb. I agree. That's a lovely way to put it.

Deb (27:39):

What I'm hearing the opportunity, the opportunity for leaders to be able to practice their presence. And I refer to my book, I tend to think of it as that our power is in our presence and being able to harness our presence to then be able to improve our ability to, and our confidence level of making decisions and building that trust and being able to be more innovative.

Elaine (28:07):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I actually think Deb, there was almost something prophetic about your Recipe for Empathy as I was going through the pages. Yeah, I really think that that P in RECIPE is a very key part, this being present.

Deb (28:28):

Well, it's given us a lot to think about and the opportunity to practice with some really practical steps has been super helpful. If people are looking to connect with you, Elaine, where can they find you on the internet?

Elaine (28:41):

Sure. I have a website And my phone number is there .Reach out any time. I'd be so pleased to have a conversation. And if there's a way that I can support anybody, during all of that we're going through, I'd be most privileged.

Deb (29:00):

I will make sure your contact info is in the show notes. Thank you so much, Elaine.

Elaine (29:05):

Thank you, Deb.

Close (29:11):

Thanks so much for listening to Seniors' Care Matters, part of the Qod Pod Network. For more information on today's episode, please check out our show notes and visit Join us next week for another great episode of Seniors' Care Matters.

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