Jonathan Ward

A member of Aromatherapy Associates’ well-being panel, somatic coach Jonathan Ward guides students to lead with their hearts to make fulfilling life choices.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

A member of Aromatherapy Associates’ well-being panel, somatic coach Jonathan Ward guides students to lead with their hearts to make fulfilling life choices.

“We allow the possibility of  choosing how to respond differently”

Jonathan Ward offers an approach to personal coaching that is rooted in painful personal experience.

A virus picked up travelling that led to chronic fatigue syndrome, coupled with mercury poisoning after the removal of fillings, left Ward in a very dark place. As if physical pain was not sufficient, he was constantly plagued by self-doubt, and a feeling that he was just “not good enough”. Through mindfully listening to his body, the former restaurant manager overcame these challenges to arrive at the practise of somatic mindfulness.

“There was a gradual realisation that maybe my experience could help others to reconnect to their bodies and create the space to listen,” says Ward. That idea neatly encapsulates somatic mindfulness: an approach to wellness that goes beyond conventional mindfulness – paying deliberate attention to the present without judgement. “What are we paying attention to? Thoughts, feelings and what arises in the body,” he explains.

The result for clients is that they should be able to find a way forward when feeling stuck in life. Ward says, “The body becomes a place of information, transformation, safety and refuge. Mindfulness is not just being aware of our mind and thoughts. Whatever situation we are faced with, our emotions are the first to respond, and these show up in our body.”

Ward uses a ‘powerful tool’ called Voice Dialogue, which he describes as a process that allows users to become aware of the different selves that influence the course of their lives. Some of these are familiar while others remain in the shadows. “Inevitably the ‘not good enough’ self appears and building resilience to this shame story is integral to my work,” says Ward.

The therapist’s childhood dream was to be a lawyer, a goal he pursued through to university, but a crisis of self-confidence took him in a different direction. By his late 30s, Ward found himself in the position of manager at one of Manchester’s busiest restaurants, a post he found highly stressful and which led to a further confidence crisis. He channelled his energy into bodybuilding and that resulted in burnout.

Life had further upsets in store for Ward. “When I was 36, after travelling in South America following the death of my mother through liver cancer, I went back to study law with the intention of actually practising. Unfortunately I picked up a severe parasitic infection that went undetected by GPs for over a year. By the end of my degree my body was so depleted I could only walk for five minutes a day.”

At this time chronic fatigue syndrome was known as ME, and was often seen as a form of hypochondria, so it took some time for Ward to be diagnosed and receive treatment, and years to recover from the physical symptoms. The process led him to some conclusions about paying attention to the body. “When we learn how to stop, drop our awareness into our heart and body and pay attention to what is happening, we allow the possibility of choosing how to respond differently rather than from a default habitual pattern,” he says.

“I now use a lot more mindful self compassion in my sessions. When we go out into the world with more courage and more vulnerability we have to know how to take care of ourselves in the process. Discovering that we are able to do this is a deep and self-loving resource.”