Merle McKinley, MCC, MSC


Merle has been coaching since 1996. In addition to seeing private clients, she is on the teaching team for Strozzi Institute’s Somatic Coaching Program

Merle received her ontological and coach training with Fernando Flores, Ph.D., where she worked for 22 years. In addition to being an executive coach with Dr. Flores’ consulting firm Business Design Associates, she participated on many business process redesign and performance improvement teams.

She is a Certified Master Somatic Coach through Strozzi Institute. Somatic coaching leads clients to discover their default and habitual behaviors and thoughts, freeing them up to achieve their ambitions and work skillfully with others.

In her private coaching practice, Merle focuses on assisting clients to discover a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction in their lives. Through her coaching, she focuses on the integration of body, thoughts and emotions. When we full know these parts of ourself and can "trust" when and what our body is informing us about, we can experience the same world differently and when under the same pressures, can take new actions consistent with our values and ethics.

Among her personal achievements, Merle holds the rank of Nidan (2nd degree Black Belt) in the martial art Aikido. She lives in Sonoma County, California with her dog and cat.

She is also credentialed through the European Mentoring and Coaching Council as a Coach Supervisor - ESIA.


Merle McKinley Master Certified Coach

My Journey

In the beginning...

I grew up in Stockton, California, which is right in the middle of the state. I did normal childhood activities — Girl Scouts, fought with my sister, mowed lawns for money, swam, and played in the high-school band.

I’ve always had a love for education. I received my BA in dietetics and practiced as a dietitian for 10 years. While I worked predominantly in management, I also developed large-scale nutrition education programs for client companies, including Boeing and Rockwell International, as well as for my employer — ARA Food Services. At the time, these were innovative programs and I regularly spoke at nutritional and educational conferences.

Way back then, I could never have envisioned the opportunities and career that life has brought. Even now, I look back and say to myself, “In my wildest dreams I could never have thought this up.”

Now I am able to look back on my life with acceptance and enthusiasm. Honestly, it has not always been like that. I have had my struggles.

Merle's journey

Powerful discoveries

Being regularly promoted, I found myself struggling to manage the large food-service operation at the B-1/Space Shuttle division of Rockwell International. I took a management course offered by Dr. Fernando Flores and discovered that management was a linguistic function, not a personality function.

It wasn’t about my lack of “qualities” or my poor “personality.” Effective management, and a satisfying life for that matter, could be achieved by learning new skills, not fixing myself.

I began to listen to people, not just hear their words or myself when they were talking. I heard what mattered to people, what they were committed to, or not to. I understood people at a deeper level. Working with people for a shared purpose or goal became easier, not an ongoing conflict of cross purpose and differing opinions.

It was as if cotton had been removed from my ears and an entire new world was opened for me.

It was as if cotton had been removed from my ears and an entire new world was opened for me.

Just this one little thing…

After several years in sales, I was promoted to the consulting group within Dr. Flores’ company. I traveled consistently and enjoyed the adventure of new projects, new people and new challenges. I was fortunate to live and work in Europe for five years.

During this time, I began to realize that I was uneasy with myself. This uneasiness was affecting my development, as well as my identity.

I was told that I lacked confidence even though I was very knowledgeable. And that I could be even more effective and work with higher levels of management, if I could just take care of this one little thing!

I was so clueless. I had no idea how to learn what I was being asked to learn. I knew what I wanted — not be frightened of making mistakes. I just wanted to be comfortable in my own skin.

I saw the potential that Dr. Flores' work had for others and wanted to be able to bring that opportunity to others. I left the profession of dietetics and went to work for Dr. Flores’ educational company.

What stories did I have that were creating this lack of confidence?

Experiencing somatic coaching

While working with Business Design Associates, Dr. Flores engaged Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Ph.D. (of the Strozzi Institute) to work with some of his elite clients. On occasion, Richard would work with the staff.

One day I participated in one of the staff sessions. Following Dr. Heckler’s instructions, I noticed that when I paid attention to having my feet on the ground and feeling the rug beneath my shoes, I felt more relaxed. When I relaxed other parts of my body, I felt increased confidence. How was this possible — a few changes and I was different. I found this amazing.

Richard pointed out areas where my body’s “shape” heavily influenced the way I saw myself and the world around me.

My shoulders were rounded and forward; I was hunched over. My head was forward and not aligned over my spine.

When I stood up straight or aligned myself with the natural pull of gravity, I relaxed into my skeleton. I discovered that I didn’t need my muscles to tightly hold me up, which supported the fear I had of being “found out” or afraid of making mistakes.

With this new shaping, I felt confident in my body, relaxed with people, and able to access and use my acquired skills when working with clients. My being relaxed had others relax, open and engage, work, and create together.

These powerful demonstrations of somatic work encouraged me to learn more, and I became a Certified Somatic Coach.

Richard pointed out areas where my body’s “shape” heavily influenced the way I saw myself and the world around me.

Fast forward to today...

I am now 65 years of age, hold a black belt in Aikido and have, through learned practices and diligence, become a different woman.

Oh, I still get triggered or upset — I am human after all. I have learned how to recover much quicker. The majority of the time I can stop myself from saying or acting in a manner I know I will regret. (Good to know how to apologize.) I move through daily life with my body, not in conflict with my body.

Life has become simpler, richer and more joyful. I am doing what matters to me, not what I previously found myself compelled to do even when it didn't feel right.

I’m grateful to be able to offer this unique blend, this confluence of your body and your thoughts — somatic and ontological coaching — to you.

"Love After Love"
by Derek Walcott

I love this poem, for it speaks to our deep desire for self-acceptance and love. A place where we do not judge or criticize ourselves; we welcome and love ourselves.

During our development as children and adolescents and growing into adults, we are “told” by many — families, communities, schools, religions — who to be, what and how to think, and how to act. We comply without realizing it. We accept, merge and become to keep ourselves safe, to belong and to maintain a sense of dignity. Our shape protected us as children. But now as adults, that early shaping may no longer be useful and can keep us from living our desired life.

During our work together, we examine those shapes, asking if they are still useful. Through new practices, the body learns and reshapes itself. Long-held beliefs associated with those shapes, that impinge on our desires, can be released so we can welcome and love again, that stranger whom we desperately want to love.

Here is the poem.


The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Come... Your Life Awaits You

If you’re curious about how we might work together, I invite you to contact me for a free consultation to explore options.