Speaker: Wendy Palmer

Leadership as Embodied Spiritual Practice: Aikido and Mindfulness

Wendy Palmer is a teacher and leadership coach who shares the wisdom she has gained from her many years of experience in studying both mindfulness and the non-violent Japanese martial art of Aikido. She teaches with compassion and humor about body intelligence and how to become more connected with one’s strength, dignity, and warmth in order to be more “noble, awesome and shiny.” She is the founder of Leadership Embodiment, a process that uses the principles from Aikido and mindfulness to offer simple tools and practices to increase leadership capacity and to respond to stress and pressure with greater confidence and integrity. Wendy holds a sixth-degree black belt in Aikido and has practiced mindfulness for more than 45 years.

Wendy arrived in California in 1968. She was involved with the music scene at the time and was working in a health food restaurant when she accompanied other young people attending an Aikido class. Aikido is a non-violent Japanese martial art, the practice of which incorporates the philosophy of "extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others." When she first saw the movements of Aikido, Wendy “felt a sense of coming home – a returning – like waking up and remembering the part of myself that hungers for essential contact with the universe.”

Wendy had grown up around horses and Aikido has a similar way of working with intensity and power, grace and beauty, that she remembered from being around horses.  She realized that Aikido provided a way that she could study with her body what she had been studying with her mind, as she had been interested in Buddhism and had been on a spiritual quest from childhood. Aikido helped her to train her body to be more relaxed and open, more inclusive in stressful situations. In 1976 Wendy co-founded the Dojo Aikido of Tamalpais in Sausalito, California, where she is chief instructor.

Leadership Embodiment is the culmination of Wendy Palmer’s efforts to bring the principles of the two traditions so important to her, Aikido and mindfulness, into everyday life in a way that everyone who is interested can access them. It evolved out of what she was experiencing in Aikido practice and on her meditation cushion as a way of taking these tools "off the mat and into the world of everyday physical, emotional and psychological stresses.”

The three competencies of Leadership Embodiment focus on developing greater capacity to work with intensity and on being relaxed, open, and able to see possibilities. These competencies are inclusiveness (we are in this together), listening for the whole (how to be relaxed under stress), and speaking up clearly, without aggression. The techniques that Wendy teaches help the people with whom she works to use more of their potential as they develop confidence, compassion, expansiveness and wisdom. One such technique consists of calling on one’s Posse, those people who provide inspiration in areas where we may feel lacking, and inviting them to come through oneself to provide whatever is needed in that moment. 

Wendy has worked with executive teams and individuals for Twitter, Genentech, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, The Gap, NASA, Gates Foundation, Salesforce, McKinsey and Company, Oracle, Google, Unilever, the BBC, Accenture, Blackrock, George Washington University, Eileen Fisher, The Daimler Chrysler Group, Pfizer and the U.S. Forest Service.  She has advised on general strategies of leadership embodiment and presence, and including issues of women and power.   She is the author of three books, The Intuitive Body: Discovering the Wisdom of Conscious Embodiment and  Aikido (2008),  Leadership Embodiment: How the Way We Sit and Stand Can Change the Way We Think and Speak (2013, with Janet Crawford), and The Practice of Freedom: Aikido Principles as a Spiritual Guide (2016), with a supporting CD and DVD.  

Wendy serves as an Advisor on the Council on Sport and the Embodied Spiritual Practice of the Fetzer Institute, which sponsors projects to integrate mind, body and spirit through sport and embodied spiritual practice in the United States, Jamaica and Africa, raising the awareness of the power of love and forgiveness to educate, inform and inspire people to live to their greatest potential.

In the words of one of her former Aikido students, “Wendy brings personal depth, deep compassion, and a tremendous body of knowledge to her work. Wendy is a living treasure.”

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