Harnessing Body Wisdom in Leadership with Elena Armijo


In this episode of Evolve: A New Era of Leadership, I’m joined by Elena Armijo, a former opera singer turned executive coach. Elena shares her profound insights on performance, leadership, and the importance of somatic awareness in high-stakes environments.

Elena Armijo

Elena’s journey from traveling the world as an opera singer to becoming a leadership coach is inspiring. She discusses how her background in music has given her a unique foundation for her current work, emphasizing the discipline, rigor, and deep connection with the body that singing required. These skills have seamlessly transitioned into her coaching practice, where she helps high performers and leaders navigate their professional journeys with authenticity and awareness.

Elena is not only an accomplished singer but also a passionate advocate for bringing somatic awareness into leadership. Through her coaching, she guides leaders to reconnect with their bodies, fostering intuition and presence in high-pressure situations. Her work emphasizes the importance of preparation, not just for performances but for leadership roles as well.

Elena Armijo, Master Certified Coach (MCC), Founder and CEO of The C-Suite Collective, and Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator has a strong track record of supporting clients and organizations in creating impact, culture shifts and leadership development. Her unique ability to identify common patterns while generating new awareness and re-invention leaves clients with the ability to make stronger choices, clearer decisions and powerful steps toward their desired outcomes. Elena offers in-depth and customized executive programs for high performers who are at the top of their respective fields – from CEOs of leading businesses to professional athletes, policy-focused individuals, entertainers, and artists, and more. Partnering with Elena, these clients have created and achieved the professional and personal impact in the world they once perceived unattainable. As a former leader and trainer with Accomplishment Coaching© and CHIEF Core Guide Facilitator, Elena continues to expand her work with teams across the world.  Elena also hosts the podcast The Collective Corner.

She was inspired to become an Executive and Leadership Coach through her work as a professional opera singer. Drawn to work with ambitious top performers like herself, she realized she could bring unique insight to the coaching business after spending many years “on the other side of the table.” Elena’s ten-year career in opera spanned across the globe and included work with many prestigious opera companies as well as performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Elena holds a B.M. of Music Education from New Mexico State University and an M.M. in Vocal Performance from the University of Washington.


🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • The Role of Performance in Leadership: Elena explores the parallels between performing on stage and leading in the boardroom, highlighting the common traits of discipline, preparation, and presence. 🎭 
  • Somatic Awareness in Leadership: Elena delves into the concept of somatic awareness, explaining how being in tune with one’s body can enhance leadership effectiveness and decision-making. 🧠 
  • Navigating Fear: Insights into how Elena has made friends with fear, using it as an alert system rather than letting it drive her actions, both in her singing career and in her coaching practice. 🔥 
  • Building and Repairing Containers: The importance of creating and maintaining a safe, inclusive space for dialogue and growth, and having a process for repairing when agreements are broken. 🛠️ 
  • Belonging vs. Fitting In: Elena discusses the difference between these concepts and the impact of creating a culture of true belonging in organizations. 🌍 
  • Challenges of Modern Leadership: The conversation touches on the evolving nature of leadership and the heightened need for connection and community in today’s world. 📚

We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 03:11 Elena’s Musical Journey and Early Influences
  • 04:29 Transitioning from Opera to Coaching
  • 06:16 The Importance of Somatic Awareness in Leadership
  • 10:12 Challenges and Realizations in Elena’s Career
  • 14:48 Creating a Culture of Belonging
  • 18:45 The Coaching Process and Organizational Impact
  • 25:23 Building Effective Containers for Leadership
  • 27:32 Exploring the Repair Process
  • 28:49 Real-Life Examples of Repair
  • 32:40 Challenges in Repair Conversations
  • 36:12 Supporting Leaders Through Turbulent Times
  • 40:24 Embracing Fear in Performance
  • 42:16 Final Thoughts and Reflections 

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

This episode with Elena Armijo provides a thought-provoking exploration of the intersections between performance, leadership, and somatic awareness. Elena’s insights challenge conventional leadership practices and offer a fresh perspective on cultivating a leadership style that is both authentic and deeply connected to one’s body. Her journey from opera singer to executive coach is a testament to the transformative power of embracing one’s full potential.

We encourage listeners to reflect on their own leadership journeys, embrace vulnerability, and consider how somatic awareness can enhance their effectiveness and well-being.

#SomaticLeadership #AuthenticLeadership #Performance #Leadership #Belonging #Trust #Fear


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Carolyn: If you’ve listened to another episode of Evolve, which by the way, I hope you have, you’ll know that there are two big loves in my life that I just find great joy in. And that is my love of music and my love of sports. So I’ve had a few sports folks on who’ve competed and coached at a high level.

 Well, today I have the privilege of bringing onto the show, Elena Armijo.

Elena is someone I met through the Dare to Lead community, and she has an incredible background in music. She used to travel the world as an opera singer. And so I’m really excited to talk to her about Performing and performance, be it on stage, be it in an arena, be it in a boardroom, be it with a group of people in a community.

I really am keen to hear how her experience in music has given her an incredible foundation for the work that she does as an executive coach. So I don’t know if we’re going to hear her burst into song. Probably not. Because. You know, I wouldn’t ask somebody to like drop a three pointer in the middle of an interview, but I’m really looking forward to speaking with Elena.

So here we go.

Well, I am so excited for our guest today, Alayna Armijo, welcome to the Evolve podcast.

Elena: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Carolyn: Well, and you know, this is sort of a continuation because I was on your podcast not too recently and we just decided like we had to keep this conversation going.

Elena: Exactly. It was phenomenal. Please go check it out.

Carolyn: Yes. We’ll make sure we include the link if you listen to both sides.

So I have the pleasure now of being able to converse with you and really help share your message and sort of some of your perspective. I know when I was on your show, we focused a little bit more on, on some of my work, but one thing that we both share. And what we both love to do is working with really ambitious people who want to make a difference in the world.

And you come at this from a very different lens than I do. And so could you share with us where did your desire, your ambition and your love of high performance, where did it begin? hmm.

Elena: Man, it started pretty young for me. And it started with music. I’ll just start right there. When I was little, I can still remember my mom sharing stories about me singing with a hairbrush throughout the house or making sounds as much as possible, anything melodic I was there for. And through them they nurtured my love of music from a very young age.

And I was able to get piano lessons and eventually singing lessons. And that was a big deal at the time because we couldn’t really afford those things, but my parents were willing to make a sacrifice to get me. These into these rooms that I really wanted to be a part of. I think I remember asking my father for a piano for five years before he bought a little spin it.

Because yeah, cause as kids, you know, you always say you’re going to do something and then, you know, a month later you’re like, nevermind.

Carolyn: Yep. But it was like consistent with you every

Elena: exactly, he was like, I’m not buying a piano for you to say, nevermind. It’s not happening. So, luckily, you know, I stuck out with that one and just fell in love with music.

And so. Through high school, through college, there was always some sort of music that I was involved in and it evolved into a career. yeah, I ended up singing opera professionally all over the world in my twenties and my early thirties.

Carolyn: Wow. And so, I mean, I love how performance can show up in all of these different arenas, and I can’t say that I’ve had an opera singer on the show. So you’re our first one.

Elena: Oh, yay.

Carolyn: What is similar? Like your history in that profession, in that stage, being on that stage, how did that prepare you for the work that you do now as an executive and leadership coach?

Elena: I think there are some common traits between high performers and high achievers that are developed in any industry that you’re in. If you are. Striving for the top. So some of the things that I experienced in the opera world were discipline and rigor and deadlines and learning and expansion of your mindset pretty quickly.

I think at one point there was 15 languages that I was singing in at any given time. Yeah. you know, so, it was a quick study. You had to be a quick study and you had to develop all parts of yourself, not just the person on stage. Right stage was I always like to joke that the show itself was like 15 percent of my job and the rest of it Was all preparation and all strategy and all study.

You know, you had to study the character in depth. You had to study the language in depth. You had to get it in your body. Somatically there it would take many months to get a phrase to feel like it lived in your voice and in your body to be able to have freedom on stage. So what I love about that mindset is it was really experiencing preparation.

as key for the game, not the game being the ultimate goal. So there was a consistent relationship with being a high performer as opposed to everything riding on one event and then, building it out from there.

Carolyn: said something that I want to circle back to partially because it’s been a real new piece of my work and leadership over the past four years, which is this notion of your body and the somatic element of leadership. Can you share with all of us here, What did you mean by like getting into my body?

And how do you work with your clients to say, get into your body? Cause for a lot of folks in the corporate world, that sounds like a very foreign concept.

Elena: Yeah, and it is to be fair, building the bridge to that from, you know, boardroom to somatic work takes a couple steps and planks. But what I love about what I did when I say I was in my body, you know, singing is a lot like being an athlete, believe it or not, because you have to be aware of your muscles.

You have to be aware of. What your ribcage is doing, what your lungs are doing, and even some of these muscles that you don’t necessarily get to move on purpose. You have to be aware of you have to be aware of your tongue position. You have to be aware of how high your palate is. So these are pieces of your anatomy that most humans don’t study and don’t even know exist inside yourself.

Unless like, why would you write? Why would anybody ever talk about a soft palate? Unless something’s wrong? So.

Carolyn: I’m sitting there going, I mean, I have a bachelor in kinesiology. I’m like, what part is the palate? Where is the palate in my mouth? Yeah. 

Elena: you’re not expected to know, right? But as a singer, these were very specific things, like your mask, and whether or not you had allergies one day, or if your cords were swollen. It was all such a relationship. And the gift that afforded me was I was so in tune with my body because it was literally my instrument on stage.

That if I could feel a cold coming on before I got the cold, I could feel if something was happening in my body. I think at one point I had a kidney stone, and I could feel it happening in real time. I guess most people feel that, but I knew instantly something was wrong. Like I woke up in the day, I was like, Hey, and it wasn’t like 911 time.

It just felt different. And I remember my mom being like, Whoa, I cannot believe you knew. Right away at this level that this was and so I think that’s just you had to have that deep connection with your body because everything came from your body to produce sound and the way that this tracks into, you know, the boardroom into my clients is all of that becomes intuition because the body is telling you things every single day.

And whether or not you’re present to it is the amount of awareness that you’ve put into your space. For instance, if a client is not breathing during a very high powered meeting, You’re probably not going to actually have access to your intuition in a moment to pivot or to say something that needs to be said in the room or to even be open to hearing feedback in the moment, right?

If you’re not aware of your breath, even something that’s simple. So I think we’re starting to see, and I love the work you’re doing in the world because you focus on this directly, the connection between body and leadership and how. If we keep disconnecting it the way we have, we’re literally losing like half of our superpowers

Carolyn: Oh, half, like more, I’d say more. And you know, we’re coming at it from such different places because you’ve had this beautiful connection with your body and you share your gifts from that place of, I’ll say expertise. I don’t know if you would use that word, but from this place of being, and I’m going to say like maybe real grounded confidence.

Elena: Yeah, for sure.

Carolyn: And I’m coming at it from a, whoa, like, wake up sister, like, you know, Hey everybody, look what I found. I found some like really cool stuff that my eyes and my body were shut to for a good portion of my life. And I don’t want to be quiet about it. I don’t want to be silent about it.

And I really think it has the ability to change how we’re showing up in how we work and how we lead our lives.

Elena: Yeah, and kudos to you because even somebody who, like myself, trained from a very young age to be aware, There were times in the opera world, which part of the reason I pivoted and left where were some things like burnout and stress and old paradigm of leaderships, know, that, that had me pivot out of singing.

But what I will say is that even amidst all of those, there were times where I shut my body down to survive, right. Or to be in a conversation that I didn’t necessarily want to be in. But had to be in because money was on the line or a contract was on the line. So I completely empathize with you because there were pieces of myself that I found myself shutting down on purpose.

And that became a red flag because eventually I wasn’t able to hear myself as much as I used to like in college or in high school. And so it became almost a warning sign, which is when I hired a coach myself to pivot into coaching. 

Carolyn: I am just so taken, I’m so in awe that you could hear yourself or feel yourself not being in yourself the same way, ? Like how many years into your profession did that happen?

Elena: let’s see, I pivoted in 2015. So I want to say I was, pretty far into my profession at that point. I’d been singing for at least 15 years, but professionally I’d been singing for about five and I was singing at a high level and on the road, I like to say that there were four years there where I was on the road for 10 months out of the year.

Carolyn: Ooh, that’s

Elena: And I would come to New York to change my bag out and change my clothes and get back on the road. And so I started really noticing it when I didn’t have access to my instrument, the way that I used to. And, you know, as singers, you do, you go through a whole thing. You’re like, okay, do I have nodules that I damaged the vocal cords?

Am I not singing the right repertoire? am I tired? Have I not taken care of my body? And when you go through all those checks and balances of the instrument itself, and you start to realize it’s more energetic. That’s when I was like, okay, so there are places that I don’t feel comfortable bringing my voice to the table anymore.

And literally like, not just my singing voice, but my interpretation or my thoughts or my ideas. You know, or I felt unsafe to say what I saw. In a room because it meant you were going to be fired, right? So these are some of the parallels I see in the executive space that exist in the singing space as well.

It just was I wasn’t quite aware when they were happening, what I was doing to myself, somatically.

Carolyn: So it sounds like you were able to recognize when you were conforming or shifting to try and fit in.

Elena: Yeah. 100%. And luckily I had such a deep connection before that I knew I was unhappy and I didn’t know why, and I knew things weren’t working the way they were supposed to. And I didn’t know why. So it was time to get really curious.

Carolyn: do you sing anymore? Like, do you do any gigs or is that the right word to say for an

Elena: Yeah, gigs for sure. You know, occasionally I’ve only been doing about one a year for the past probably three or four years, but this year in particular, I’m very interested in getting back to it in terms of expression. I don’t think I’ll ever go on the road again, but I am very interested in a recording project this year that is all through the lens of things that I talk about and teach in the world with leadership or.

loss or grief or vital conversations. And there’s some really great music that’s been written the last 10 years that I’d love to record. So I think that’s going to be my fun project for the end of the year. It’s just to have a nice album out. 

Carolyn: speaking to somebody shortly who does grief work. She’s here in Canada but it reminded me of a concert that I was telling you about, that I’m going to see this week, and it’s Jack Antonoff at the Bleachers, and he talks about how the band started.

And when one of his recordings, and he said, there was a certain tone or melody that he played, and it just struck a chord that hit grief, but in a sort of uplifting way. And so he thinks everybody on this recording about coming to express grief together. And yet, when you go to a concert, like it’s so much fun, it’s upbeat.

And so it sort of brings me back to this notion of leadership and holding two things that can be both true at the same time.

Elena: Yeah, for sure.

Carolyn: So I’m curious when you, talked about you know, some of the things that you’re doing in the world around your work. Can you like expand a little bit more on that?

Maybe there’s some grief work in there or some deeper level of work that you’re doing with your clients

Elena: Yeah. Well, with my clients in particular the rock stars of the world, I call everybody who’s a high achiever and high performer, a rockstar anybody who’s been brave enough to play a high level and a game, that’s a pretty big game. Just so much courage that it takes for them to show up and do that.

And some of the work that I do around them is to create the game to be experienced, not just for the goal. it’s a lot of work around like, yes, we want to win the game or yes, we want to get the deal closed, or yes, we want the company to do X amount of business ROI at the end of the year. But really what is your experience of yourself as a leader while you’re doing it?

Because a lot of us have been taught one way, which is to give a lot or to leave ourselves behind or the ultimate focus that needs to happen to, to create winners in the world and. While I think that is a useful skill to know, and I don’t, I certainly don’t discredit it. There are other ways to create the same thing, or when the winning strategy stops working.

Right, because some leaders, they get to this level and all of a sudden their old tricks don’t work anymore. And It’s just time for reinvention at that point. So a lot of what I’m doing is expanding back into themselves, which is a form of belonging to yourself, getting back to who you are, looking at all the places that you’ve left yourself behind to achieve.

And then also creating from a place of service and purpose that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about your worth. So detaching who you are, which is a big ask for somebody that, you know, maybe their identity is wrapped up in their work. Like for me, My voice is inside my body, so detaching my worth from my work was a big task.

But I’m so much happier now creating art and putting things out in the world when it has nothing to do with who I am as a person. And so that’s a lot of the work that I’m doing with my rock stars, because sometimes when you’ve been playing a game a long time and you’ve been really successful at it, you just forget.

Carolyn: Oh, totally. I mean. Oh, there’s so much that you said there that I want to dig into. This belonging to self is, it’s hard.

Elena: It is.

Carolyn: It’s really hard. And you have to kind of know that you’re lost first. I I’ll speak for myself. I didn’t know for the many years that I was doing my thing, you know, climbing the corporate ladder, whatever, that I was playing somebody else’s game.

I didn’t even know that I had a choice to play a different game, so to speak. Have you found a difference in the past, like five or six years of people desiring to find this belonging to self in a different way? Or is it just always been there?

Elena: I think it’s been heightened. So it’s yes to both. It’s always been there, but the past five or six years, it’s, it is much louder. And I think that there’s a couple of reasons for that, right? Obviously the pandemic was very impactful for many people and taught us all what we weren’t looking at.

Whatever personally in your blind spot that you didn’t know you knew after COVID what that

Carolyn: it pretty fast. Yep.

Elena: A lot of grief, a lot of growing pains into the new life after COVID. I think with AI happening right now, there’s a lot of people that are getting very scared about that. I think the divisiveness in our country in particular in the U S Is, has also heightened loneliness and disconnection and then when we expand out to the world, right?

Like what the world is dealing with in terms of wars and economy, This all heightens a conversation around community and belonging. And so I, I think that the last five to six years has been tough for a lot of people. And the starting point has been, Hey, let’s get back to you and what you need, as opposed to all the armor or the defensiveness or the walls that have been created for protection in the fear.

Cause there has been a whole lot of fear in the world. Especially the last, you know, five to six years.

Carolyn: Is there sort of a predictable path that your clients sort of take with you? I know everybody’s going to be unique, but I’m guessing that there’s maybe some similar elements to their journey.

Elena: Yeah. I think when I’m working with somebody individually one to one. It’s really like a wave. I think of the ocean because sometimes when a client comes to me I try to describe what the process might be like. Of course, it’s different for everybody, but in the beginning, the first couple of months, there’s a lot of new awareness, right?

It’s like you’re being exposed to a bunch of tools and concepts and. new ideas. So it feels like you’re in a candy shop, like literally for three or four months. You’re like, Whoa, this is incredible work. And I’m so excited. And then. the survival mechanism or the self defense in you will come up and try one more time to say, wait a minute, this is all good, but I want the old way.

Right? Probably a month, 4, 5, 6, 7, you’re back in the mud and it doesn’t feel good. You know, you’re resisting it. You’re going back to your old ways. You’re not sure why you signed up for coaching to begin with. And then this magical thing happens around month 8. Eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, where you start to see some results of everything you’ve been practicing and trying in a new way.

And it’s like the perfect timing of the universe to say, Hey, what you were doing is actually going to work. Watch, here’s some results. And I don’t know, there’s something about that flow that tends to happen with almost every single client. And it’s not always right on time. But it seems to be the waves that each client rolls through.

So that’s for the private clients. And for our organizational clients You know, I work a lot with organizations who are looking to shift cultures or talk about belonging outside of a politicized version of DEIB. or to get back to community and legacy and business results with people being valued, but creating more again from a different place from a people first and business second, but really creating a lot of business ROI because you’re putting your people first.

 we’re seeing a lot of amazing results with that. And I would say their flow is similar. There’s a lot of trust building that happens in the very beginning. A lot of like tending soil, recreating a foundation of just seeing what is there on the table and in, in the soil itself, that whole process might take six months to a year where we’re really getting real about what’s actually so in the culture and what people actually want and what the business wants from an elevated place.

And then by year two, we’re really in conversations of belonging again to people back to themselves. Because they’re getting really clear on their values. They’re getting clear on what seats they want to be on. They’re getting clear about their superpowers and where they can be more effective in the business versus maybe this business isn’t for me and I need to actually remove myself so that I can go find what is for me, but also this business can then actually have someone in that seat that does want to be there.


Carolyn: Right.

Elena: So that’s typically the second phase. And then the third phase is we see a culture of belonging emerge. So it’s not it’s not something that, that we go in and we say, this is the way it should be. We don’t have any sheds in our space. It’s really, what have you created from tending to that soil?

So specifically in the beginning, and that’s where we start to find a lot of community conversations and belonging emerge naturally as opposed to a shed.

Carolyn: So, can you share for the, for those listeners who maybe don’t really know the difference fully between belonging and fitting in, what does a culture of belonging sort of look like, or what’s the experience that people have in that?

Elena: This is a great question because we just had a retreat for my company and some of my coaches which is sad. And these are well practiced coaches, right? These are coaches that have been coaching for 20 years, that have incredible careers. I’m thinking of one in particular that was like, very high up in the military and has, you know, done some incredible things in the world.

And for the first time said to me, I think I finally understand what it feels like to belong. In a community after this retreat, and so the way that I would describe it is that everybody in the room gets to bring all of them. They get to bring their opinions, even the divisive ones. So that there is truly diversity of thought at the table, and there’s a set of agreements or in a way of being in a community that you’ve agreed upon.

That has everybody be able to stay in their beliefs. And not have to change their mind, but actually be together without tapping out or making each other wrong or leaving the conversation and saying, well, my way is the right way so that the community is actually creating a way forward based on the diversity in the group, as opposed to, well, this is wrong and this is right.

And again, that binary thinking, right? We really try to get away from that. And I got to say, I think that what, when the trust is solid and built. You know, we had 23 coaches in a room that were doing this together, and they’re all from different walks of life, different belief systems, different ways of thinking.

And there was so much space for all of them because the container was built so specifically around trust and respect, and all were welcome. And even if you were uncomfortable with all meaning all, everybody was there. So I think that’s the start, you know, I, that’s the hope I have for the world is if we can at least start there, that we’re in a different conversation than we’ve been in.


Carolyn: to call them. Cause I think too many people, myself included, have had to put masks on. I mean, you shared a little bit of your story and I just want to acknowledge that it’s difficult for everybody, wherever you are in this shift, it’s difficult across the board.

And so this notion of creating a container it, To me is a skill set that leaders could really amp up their skills on. And so, I mean, and I know, you know, we both have some similar foundations of work that, that we like to pull from. But I can say like my ability to guide container building has shifted tremendously over the past year as I have become more in tune with my body. So here’s my question. what suggestions could you offer to the listeners about building a container? Maybe what is a container, and then how do we build it and include somatic elements to it?

Elena: Yeah, well, the way that I define a container is it’s just a set of agreements that you’ve all agreed to that is going to guide you forward in either a conversation or a project or a year. You can even build a container for a year as a company and it’s agreements. It’s important that all voices are heard.

So I think there’s some tools there that you can use to make sure that all voices are heard. But the other important part that I think we’re not talking about when it comes to somatic and the somatic response is going to be in both of these, but repair is just as important as the container.

So, you can set the container, you can set agreements and specifically, if I was looking through a somatic response, I would be asking myself in real time. Is there anything I didn’t say? Is there something in my body that is tightening, or is there a pit in my stomach, or is, you know, am I shaking, or am I sweating, or, you know, what are the somatic responses when you’re building this container that might indicate there’s something else to say to add to the container?

I think that’s a beautiful checks and balance system for your body. And then repair conversations. Cause here’s the deal. We can build all the containers we want in the world, which I did at my retreat. And if we don’t have a repair process the container will likely get weaponized or used

Carolyn: mean? So what do you mean, repair? Say more

Elena: Yeah. So there is going to be somebody in the community that doesn’t adhere to the container. We’re humans. It’s going to happen. So I think sometimes when people build containers, they think, Oh this is it. This will keep us safe. Like, here we go. The guiding light. No, it’s remember a container is malleable.

It’s meant to move. It’s meant to breathe. Sometimes it breaks.

Containers actually break. So when something happens, like you have a set of agreements as a team and someone has broken one of the agreements, what is your repair process?

Lot of the way we have treated communities is, oh, you break the agreement, you’re out.

Carolyn: See yeah, 

Elena: Right, but then that would be perfection and that would be everybody has to get the container beautifully all the time. And so what I love is also pairing with this. What is your repair process? And then you get to decide is there. A series of questions you want to ask each other? Is there a space you need?

Do you need a facilitator and mediator to help you through the repair process? What do you really need to say to be complete? Are you actually going to forgive the person? Cause if you’re not going to forgive the person, which is also a choice, are you going to be clear about that? Are you going to be upfront about that?

And then what does the repair process look like from there? So there’s just so much, there’s so much juice in holding the possibility of repair to see what’s next for you or your value system or your body.

Carolyn: It’s so, you know, I just want to back up for a second. When I look at, you know, 20 years ago when I was a leader, okay. And 10 years ago, I’m not that old, but 

Elena: not.

Carolyn: notion of agreements

Elena: Mm Was a little bit like, all right, well, like, don’t we have things to do? Why do we have to create agreements?

Carolyn: And. And I love the term container because it implies the boundaries.

Elena: Yeah, exactly.

Carolyn: And now we’ve got this next piece, which is what happens when, not if, what happens when we fall outside of these agreements what could be an example, Elena of what, what might need repair? Can you give us like a real example?

I mean, there might be the obvious, like. Political divisiveness, like, you know, you align with one party over another, you know, where I saw this come up a lot as a Canadian, right? We have we have healthcare for all. I saw this come up a lot before 45 came into power. But just the whole Obamacare and I was really, shocked, I’ll say it at sort of the lack of compassion with some people like, whoa, wait a sec. We’re teaching some pretty compassionate things. Why does it go missing here? So, I think some of those might be more obvious sort of differences where we might fall out of the container.

Would you agree? That’s my first question. The second one, what, like, what might be some other, maybe less easily identifiable repairs that we need to watch out for? Right.

Elena: they could fall inside the container or outside of the container, depending on the company and what their stance is on the willingness to talk about it at work. Right? So, with my company in particular, everything is allowed to be on the table.

So we do have some of those agreements around like, how will we speak to each other? What will we need? Do we need to ask permission before we engage in conversations that might be divisive or political? I think the smaller ones that you’re alluding to, I’m trying to think of a couple examples. 1 is just feedback, like, a repair conversation could be.

If you feel shut down in a meeting, because someone either stepped on you or. literally shut you down, said that’s enough. We don’t need to hear any more from you. Or a classic one is, you know, you say something and nobody listens. And then five minutes later, somebody else does the exact same thing. And they’re like, well, that’s a great idea, right?

Those are all opportunities for repair. And there’s gotta be agreements ahead of time that number one, it’s okay to say something. Number two, the people are willing to listen and engage in what’s actually happening. And a repair process could start something really simply like, Hey, X, Y, Z person, you know, can I have a conversation with you about what just happened in that meeting?

I feel really uncomfortable. and I want to just make sure that we’re on the same page moving forward. Here’s what I observed. Here’s what happened to me. What happened to you? Did you notice this? And this is again, where some of those skills take some work or a mediator could come in, but that’s probably a low level one where you don’t need a mediator.

Where you can just say, are you willing to see this differently? Are you willing to see my side of the street? And if the person is still a no, or I didn’t do that, or no, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Then there’s opportunities to say, well, I just appreciate you letting me tell you how I feel.

And I’m going to be watching out for it again. And I would love to support you in it because it’s likely happening in a lot of different places. And there’s big impact when that happens in a room. So it could just be something like that actually. Happens that’s like, if you’re met with resistance, you know, the repair process, if you’re not would look something like, you know, Oh my gosh, thank you for telling me.

I didn’t realize I did that. And I trust you and I value you and I value your opinion. And I want to know when I step on you or when I shut you down. So thank you. Right. Which is the real repair is when you feel seen and heard and validated for your experience. Yeah,

Carolyn: Oh, you know, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to have more of those repair conversations?

Elena: we are lacking in them for sure.

Carolyn: What gets in the way, what do you find gets in the way with those?

Elena: I think at a baseline, people get scared. you know, and I’ll speak for myself cause I definitely have moments where I’m defensive or I can’t hear feedback or I’m thinking of even my partnership with Aaron, you know, there’s times where my automatic reaction is going to be to fight or to tell, you know, or to not listen.

And all that is well, it’s a couple things. Number one, it’s my anxiety. It’s my fear of not being good enough or not having the answers or, you know, again, proving my worth to the world that I’m valuable if I know what I’m talking about. And I think there’s also another piece in there that that I didn’t know until recently when I think about it from a somatic response.

Sometimes I need time to be able to hear people and lower my defenses, and this is only something recently, like in the past two years, that I’ve been owning in real time in conversations, like, I think you’re trying to tell me something important, and I notice my body is having a reaction, and I just need a minute to, like, remind it that it’s safe and you’re not attacking me and to do my work over here.

Can you give me five minutes and we’ll come back to this conversation. But I didn’t even know that’s what my body needed for a long time. I assumed that I had to have the answer that I needed to know right away because that’s how I was trained in my high performance environment, right?

Carolyn: Yep.

Elena: So, I think this goes back to the awareness piece, which is, can you actually know what you need to be able to hear people and feedback conversations or repair conversations?

To really honor the person that’s trying to bring that to you, which takes a lot of courage.

Carolyn: It does. It takes a whole lot of courage to, to give it, to receive it and to not feel activated and really sort of flooded with it. That whole perfection, perfectionism thing. You know, I, just recently had an experience, like you said, I felt, although I couldn’t have articulated it as beautifully as you just did, but I find now if something is feeling just off with a conversation with somebody who it’s usually pretty in line with, I will pause and just say, Hey, like something’s feeling a little bit different.

I feel like I’m not understanding where you’re coming from, or there’s just something that feels different. And I did this today and the other person just took a breath. They’re like, Yeah. And that alone was powerful because it shifted my sort of angst. It shifted. I think they’re, they were digging in on something.

I still don’t know if we got the full story, but I felt like it just let a little bit of air into the room.

So, you know, these are important elements, right? Like this is all about being in the container and allowing the messiness of this, which really goes against right. Or desire to have it all planned out and perfect.

Elena: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve really embraced that word the last ten years. It’s being in the mess and having the mess be okay. And even that is transforming. And, because I feel like sometimes in my world mess gets co opted now. Which is probably what happens to a lot of language. In general, but challenging, right?

And challenging seems to bring me back towards purpose and values and, Oh, right. This isn’t supposed to be easy. This isn’t supposed to be a skill that I ace or perfect. It’s just going to be challenging. And can you practice the things, you know, you’re committed to?

Carolyn: Right. Right. Now I’m guessing like your work is Really needed right now in your country. And, you know, how are you in your, you know, your organization helping support leaders through some pretty wild times down there with an election coming up?

Elena: Yeah. I think the first and foremost thing that we’re. we are saying to people is that intrinsically it’s, I really do believe that all people are good 


Elena: they, you know, I really believe that all people want community, that they want to belong, that they want to feel seen and heard, that they wanna feel relevant.

So it, it really is getting people back to the table to have some beautiful conversations that are challenging but held. That you’re held in the conversations. And that’s where we come in, right? We come in and we’re the outside people that can come in and be the non biased parties that can actually hold the space and have everybody seen so processing can happen.

You know, I often think about how the rest of the world is viewing the US right now. And I really believe that 80 percent of the US lies in the middle of the messy middle conversation. Okay. And that the loudest ones are on the two sides of the extreme sides. And that seems to be what the world hears the most.

And so part of our work is reminding everybody that those loud voices don’t necessarily represent everyone. Certainly not everyone in the U S and definitely not everyone in the world. So I think there’s just some normalization

And some grounding in what’s possible. Some modeling we model in real time, what it looks like to have people at the table that.

Maybe six differing opinions at the table around not only politics, but sides of the war or all different wars really right now and then what does that look like to actually have conversations again with people where people are heard and seen and respected, even if you don’t agree, and you likely won’t.

We’re not looking for agreement or everybody moving to one side. Instead, we’re looking for, can this diversity of thought really exist and still move things forward for the good of all?

Carolyn: And are you finding that point of commonality, like you said, not agreement, but like sharing some sort of commonality of something, are you finding that there’s more that people are able to find it?

Elena: Yeah. They’re able to find it in their values, right. And when their personal values, the values are the easiest place, I think, for people to find it in themselves. And then people that share values. But again, not everybody’s going to share your values at a company. So I think from a company lens, when everybody’s really clear about the mission and the vision and what the company is looking to create in the world, and if it truly aligns with your value system, that seems to be a starting place for the soil to be tended.

And really just a great spot to come home to for everybody when things cut. Scary. And that’s the other thing supporting our people through this time has really also looked like normalizing fear. Cause at every turn, there’s some, something fearful to be afraid of, whether it’s the economy or inflation or the elections or watching what’s happening with the protests.

Right. And instead of choosing fear, it’s choosing community and love and still having differing opinions at the table to create something. So that’s how we’ve been helping. And I think most of the, well, I’ll say all of the companies that have worked with us are happy and satisfied with that. And we don’t pretend to know that we have the answer.

This is just the starting point, right? This we’re really hoping that by starting this work, we will see from experimentation, what emerges and belief that it will be something good.

Carolyn: If I bring this conversation background, because as much as I’d love to talk to you for hours and days and lead into a meal I want to come back to this notion of fear and performance. And as a performer,

Elena: Yeah.

Carolyn: a musical performer, how did you move through the fear? 

Elena: I don’t ever think I was not afraid. And I think that’s the thing that I like to tell all my rock stars of the world is don’t wait to not be afraid. You gotta make friends with it. You gotta invite it in the car. You gotta go. Like when I’m flying or soaring over an orchestra, fear is right there beside me.

And I really made friends with fear a long time ago as again, an alert system, a part of me that’s trying to keep me safe. So there’s a lot of respect and reverence for fear in my life. And it never gets to drive or lead. It’s always with me. It just doesn’t get to drive. So I think it’s I think it’s a disservice to wait to not feel afraid.

Cause that’s elusive and you can’t really measure that. So I would say get to know it, work with it, invite it in. And there would be times when I was singing where I would feel it start to want to take over in the driver’s seat and breath. would help and grounding my feet into the stage would help and reminding myself, Oh yes, I know you’re afraid, but here we go.

Remember this is always where you get afraid and it never, it’s never worth getting afraid of,

Carolyn: Right.

Elena: Some version of that would happen in my mind as I was singing. And and occasionally, you know, those passages that I was afraid of wouldn’t go well. And guess what? Like nobody in the audience really ever noticed.

I was the only one that noticed. You know, so it’s also an illusion of how big it is, you know, like, watch out. There’s a big road sign here that you need to pay attention to when really it was like, you know, rolling down the window.

Carolyn: Right. Well, and your connection with your body to recognize those early signals, I’m sure really helped you walk with it so that it didn’t drive the car. I think that’s a, really beautiful way to end our conversation. Because, you know, If we are as people, as leaders, as singers, as any type of performer, really having that awareness mentally and emotionally and somatically is what is going to get us through The messiness of everything.

I really do have hope, you know, hearing about people like you who are doing this work with such depth and passion and reverence and control. Like when, when I say control, I mean like control over yourself and belonging to yourself. I really do have a lot of hope. So I just want to thank you for all you are doing and putting into the world.

And I wish we met 35 years ago, but we didn’t.

Elena: Same. Same. Thank you.

Carolyn: and Elena, where can people find you? They want to hear more about you.

Elena: Oh, you can find me at all kinds of places, but the easiest place is probably my website, ElenaRmijo. com. You can also find me online with Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, all those places, but the website’s the easiest.

Carolyn: All right. Well, I hope that our listeners go and check that out. And if there’s any music in the future,

Elena: Oh, yes. I’ll be sure to share.

Carolyn: yes, we’ll be sure to follow that. Now, before we sign off I ask all of our guests here, three Evolve questions. Are you good for that?

Elena: Love it. I’m good for it. Let’s do

Carolyn: All right, so the first one has to do, we talked a lot about this this notion of self awareness, but any anecdote or insight you could share with the listeners about a time or a situation that took your level of self awareness from here to here?

Elena: you know, I think it was really recent. I’m going to share a recent one because like, it’s easy to share about the ones like in the beginning of my coaching days. But one of the things I’ve been really curious about is the overswings of things just in general, like the overswings of politics or the overswing of DEIB or the overswing of feminism.

And what I’ve been really curious about with my partner, Erin has been the dynamics between. Heterosexual relationships and just basically the dynamics of listening to each other.

And what took my awareness from zero to 10 instantly was when he pointed out how many times men in relationships in particular ask for things, but are told no, I didn’t really believe him at first.

I was like, that’s not true. And, you know, I don’t. Okay, I could give you 100 examples for where we ask for things and you don’t, you know, we’re not listening to. But I started listening for it in the world and I gotta say, I was shocked by how much we have overswung into a place where because there’s been so much fighting for, you know, our rights and for being heard and all the work that we’re doing in the world that still is relevant.

That there, there’s a whole subsect of what we call like good men or good people that are fighting the fight with us that have been left behind. And I’m really curious about that next in my work because I think there’s just so much pain and so much resignation happening in relationships that doesn’t necessarily need to be if the awareness was there on our end around.

What happens when you are in a relationship that you trust and you’re safe with? Then what? Then what are you gonna unlearn? Right? So I would say that was my biggest aha moment in the last year was how much of that I was still perpetuating and what could be possible if I wasn’t.

Carolyn: You know, when you think like we said earlier, like these structures and institutions are breaking and they need to, cause they’re not serving anybody in the long run. And so how do we exist in this container together? through all of it. Oh, wow. That’s pretty powerful. Second question. What is a practice, a cue of safety, something that you do that helps you get comfortable in your body and let’s, I know you, you did a lot when you were singing, but like, what’s something you do now in your day to day as, as a, as an executive coach.


Elena: those that don’t know it. Insight timer. It’s a free app. You can invest in it if you want to give, you know, from service to the providers that are on there. But insight timer is a beautiful meditation app. And I am not a big meditation girl. I got to be honest. Like I try to sit down and do like 40 minutes or 30, you know, and even with music, I love music dearly.

And sometimes I just can’t do it, but I will say the breathing exercises on that app for breath work, just even five or 10 minutes of breath work a day completely shifts my body for the day.

It will clear out my head. It will have me grounded. It will have my body awake. And I typically do a walk every morning with my pups as well in nature, because I really like to just be outside before I start my day.

But even that is not as grounding as the breathwork. So that would be my pick. Yeah.

Carolyn: Beautiful. Thank you. Now, last but not least is a question around music and co regulation. What is a song or a genre of music that makes you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?

Elena: That’s so tough. Because I have so many. Yeah, okay. I would say I’m going to give you a couple because I just can’t

Carolyn: That’s fair.


Elena: Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy is always something in the classical world that just has me sit and commune with spirit. So anytime that song comes on, anytime it was in a movie, anytime it was played by orchestra, it was it’s just really has your whole body calm down.

So that would be my pick in the classical realm. In the I’m trying to think there is it’s a new season, a new day by Martha Munizzi. I think that’s how you say her last name is a gospel song that Aaron shared with me. And it’s like the harmony in there is just spirit straight up. So anything that has harmonies for me is going to be direct access to something outside of myself.

So there, or even the new artist Ray, I don’t know if anybody’s checking her out, but she’s like a crossover jazz. R& B artists and phenomenal. So

Carolyn: Wow. 

Elena: those are all good co regulating ones.

Carolyn: They, and I’m going to go get them on my playlist

Elena: Yeah, please do.

Carolyn: we get off uh, Lena, thank you so much. This time flew by and I’m just, yeah, so grateful you came on that we had our conversation here and on your podcast as well.

Elena: Thank you. Thank you very much. It was so fun.

Carolyn: Well, I have three new songs to put on my playlist that’s for sure, but wow, what a conversation with Elena. I’m really just continue to be so inspired by people like her who have a connection with their body and, you know, learning from Elena at how she’s been able to use her body as an instrument, how she’s able to trust it.

And how it has given her the opportunity to use her voice and. Really bring some amazing work into our world. I’m ending this call with hope. And with excitement, even in a world that seems like it is falling apart at the seams when it’s really hard to see when there’s a lot of good, it’s conversations like this that really give me a lot of hope and I hope it did for you too.

We’ve included all of Elena’s details in our show notes. So feel free to reach out to her and follow some of her great work. And. Really would love it if you could rate and review this podcast, share it with some leaders, some friends, some family. It is pretty incredible. The amazing people that I get to talk to on this show.

And with your support, we can get more ears and eyes onto this topic of body wisdom and really. treating our bodies more as instruments and not ornaments. You can find me at carolynswara. com and thanks so much for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.

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