Women’s empowerment is a hot topic. As a group, we’ve come a long way, but we're still struggling to define what it means for each one of us. And that’s where Inbal Sansani, self-ascribed Women's INpowerment Coach, comes in. Because with each of our own unique strengths and skills, needs and wants, empowerment is different for each one of us. Like me and many of you reading this post, Inbal had once subscribed to what society had laid out for her. She had a thriving career that looked great on paper but felt out of line at the core. Constantly striving, she’d earned multiple degrees, helped thousands of women in other countries, but when burn-out struck, she wondered how she could truly support other women in their empowerment if she didn’t feel that way herself. Her journey started within, as she took time to re-evaluate the meaning of success for herself, and the tools needed to get there. I asked Inbal about her personal journey and her beautiful practice:
You were once a humanitarian aid worker, helping female refugees, specifically those who had been subjected to gender-based violence, internationally. What inspired you to come back and help women here at home?
What was interesting to me is when I worked in refugee camps, I noticed an inner strength in the women I worked with. Women and children make up 80% of the global refugee population, and they often didn’t have male family members to provide “social” protection, I saw a deep inner resolve in these women. A huge part of helping them was supporting them to meet their own basic needs and helping them feel empowered to help themselves. And there’s a need for this back at home too. In our society, we often disconnect from our power or don’t even realize how much we have available to us, so we don’t utilize it. There’s also so much fear around our power. We see power in such negative ways. But once we can access, trust and honor our power, it supports us to live openly and authentically and make conscious choices about what works for us in our lives. And from that space, we’re also better able to help and heal others. So many of the women I work with want to be in service in some way, and get so disempowered in the process, which impacts our capacity to serve in the ways we truly want.
So does this speak to you personally?
Yes. As the oldest child and first-generation immigrant, I spent a lot of time looking for external affirmation. I did well in school, earned 3 degrees, became a lawyer because I wanted to do something practical to help pursue justice. But I’m someone who’s naturally empathetic and compassionate, sees all sides of an argument, and I ultimately figured out that legal work wasn’t a good fit for my nervous system. A few years later, after working in five countries over seven years, I eventually I got to a point where I almost didn’t recognize myself, the woman who was so energetic and passionate when I first started. With the support of an amazing life coach, I gradually but finally came back to a place where I was more aligned with my true nature and values; it’s a process! And I am very inspired to share this work with fellow women. We can empower each other.
What are some of the ways that you work with your clients?
I’m a life coach. I work with women in the Bay Area and all over the world, so I work over the phone, online, and in person. I work mainly one-on-one but I also hold teleconferences, such as a series I just did on women’s INpowerment, classes and workshops on self-compassion, women’s circles and ceremonies because in a sacred space and container, powerful healing can take place. For us to be and feel truly empowered, we first need to feel safe. So whether I’m working one-on-one or with a group, establishing a safe and sacred space is foundational. I try to make these events accessible to everyone, so some of them are offered online and even online we’re able to hold a grounded comfortable space among us. I just held a women’s INpowerment workshop, where we looked at the ways in which we disempower ourselves and figured out, in community, with coaching and experiential components, how to create greater empowerment in each of our lives, internally and externally. In my practice, I work on the mind, body, emotional, spiritual, and soulful levels.
So what does a session look like?
With my one on one clients, I first offer a complimentary INpowerment Activation Call where I hold space for women to get really clear on what’s not working in their lives and what they’d love to create for themselves, to get a sense of one’s openness to the coaching process and whether we’re a good fit for each other. Once someone has committed to the process, we start the coaching program based on a questionnaire about goals and intentions so that we’re on the same page and she’s supported optimally. And from there we flow, grounded in the goals, and also responsive to whatever arises throughout the program because it’s all interrelated. I provide unlimited e-mail support to clients and we normally engage every couple of weeks to give clients time to integrate between sessions. At the end of each session, there are always practical opportunities offered for integration and practice, and also something that’s more emotional, spiritual and intellect based to work with, whether it’s creating awareness in a specific area, practicing healthy boundaries or new approaches to communication or time management, or exploring herself and new possibilities and opportunities through journaling, breathing and mantra.
What’s a common theme you see in your work?
I’ve noticed that people management can be challenging for some women, who often want to be liked, be a helpful part of the team and also come off as ‘professional’ – and as leaders and directors – with colleagues in a way that feels aligned and natural. What’s interesting is that we’re the common denominator in our lives so I’ve noticed that if someone has an issue or challenge in one area of her life, it’s going to show up in other areas too. Together, we look at how to be vulnerable, trust our instincts, and be open with discernment. That’s something that’s applicable in intimate relationships and in our connection to ourselves. How we choose to communicate and exercise our power is important. It’s about being intentional. So many of us struggle with boundaries and communication and when we do, it’s almost as if our power comes out sideways. I also work a lot with self-compassion. The more compassionate we can be with ourselves, the more compassionate we can be towards each other.
So what’s a good self-compassion practice we can each do right now?
Compassion is seeing someone’s suffering and feeling motivated to do something about it, whether or not you actually do that thing. So once we recognize our own suffering as valid, that will motivate us to want to take action to help ourselves. And the motivation to ease our own suffering is what eases us through, it’s so much more powerful than judging ourselves and trying to force ourselves to ‘buck up and push through.' Berating ourselves for feeling badly or for being upset is NOT going to help ease our suffering OR support us to we move forward. When we’re able to recognize and own a moment of discomfort, we’re better able to see ourselves as human and connect to the common humanity among us, rather than feel alone. So often, we feel really alone in our experiences, especially if we’ve made a mistake or are feeling badly somehow. Self compassion has been one of the most powerful practices I practice and teach. In some ways, it’s a pathway to giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re really feeling, rather than trying to block it or ignore it or make it go away.
What are some of the main concerns people come to you with?
Women often come to me when they know a change needs to be made or are in some sort of transition. Often they’re scared or don’t see any more options. Or they know there’s something missing they can’t wrap their heart or minds around. They know it can be better and they don’t want to feel the way they’re feeling anymore. For some women, certain aspects are going well, but there are a couple of life areas that just aren’t where they want them to be. The same thing happened to me when I was working in the humanitarian world. I noticed that I had gotten cynical and broken down, I didn’t recognize myself at all. I took a look at myself and said, ‘hey, this is not how I want to lead.’ Everyone around me questioned my leaving that career, but you’re never too young or too old to do something that feels aligned. My decision to leave was based on owning my own value beyond how much I was able to produce or how much money I could bring in.
So what’s some great advice you’d like to leave our readers with?
We already have everything we need. It’s true! Once we start cultivating trust in ourselves and the universe, things really start to flow. The journey of living is about returning to our true original nature because that’s where the power is. The second thing is: life’s a practice. Not about “practice makes perfect," more in a sense that practice is a way of being in the world . . . It can be really hard to envision what we want in our lives because we get stuck on the ‘how’ instead of the ‘what.' So creating a space for what we really want and valuing ourselves enough to pursue it, despite what it looks like on the outside, despite what we may have been told our lives should look like. We get so much messaging about what we should be like, for instance as women of a certain age, or as mothers. But for me, feminism is about the choice and freedom to live our lives in ways that are aligned with what feels right for each of us as individuals. If we do this, we will also benefit the greater good! Our community is made up of individuals. And empowered women empower women. So we, as empowered women, can create so much healing in the world.
To find out more about her work and upcoming events, check out InbalSansani.com
Photo: Courtesy of Inbal Sansani
Post written for SFYogaMag.com