I came across this research paper by Stephen Porges, et al, titled “Effects of Soft Tissue Mobilization (Rolfing Pelvic Lift) on Parasympathetic Tone in Two Age Groups,” published in the journal Physical Therapy in 1988. The significant finding of this research was that physical therapy was enhanced when a patient’s ventral vagal nerve was activated first. And as Stanley Rosenberg, author of Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, puts it, this has implications reaching far beyond just the myofascial techniques used in that research.
What does this mean for coaches and healers?
The significance of this finding is something I have not encountered much at all in my many visits to physical therapists. Likely only one has ever deployed this strategy and she may have known what she was doing although never explained it to me in Polyvagal Theory terms. This physical therapist was probably the best chiropractor I’ve ever been to. It was only recently that I began to understand why her manipulations were so easy and longer lasting than others I have been to.
She would do some gentle soft tissue work on me first, to relax the muscles around my spine. Then sensing when the moment of looseness was right, she would go for the manipulation and my segments would shift with such ease.
Now I understood how she did that, but I also have started to seeing the larger implications of a calm, relaxed client prior to therapeutic action.
In my work as a coach, I have always wondered how to maximize my coaching’s effects on helping a client towards their desired states. At one level we would call it determining readiness and willingness for change. Others would call it coachability. I think it is much more than that.
And while it is more than that in many ways, it is also simply stated as having the client attain a state of calm and safety before therapeutic actions are taken.
If they are in a sympathetic state where they are constantly in fight or flight mode, it will be very hard for them to make positive movements no matter how much they desire. Being in a parasympathetic state is much better, although with polyvagal theory they must not be in the freeze state of dorsal vagal nerve activation. If they cannot mobilize into any action due to feeling unsafe or besieged by their negative stimuli, then they still will find it very hard to make positive movements.
Instead, they must work towards parasympathetic state of ventral vagal nerve activation, where they do feel safe and are in a mode of social engagement.
Over the many sessions I’ve had, I’ve observed many clients who came in wanting some change but could not. It was after this discovery of the need for calm that I realized that some clients will *never* make positive movements unless they are taken out of their fight or flight states first. This could mean things like changing jobs to get away from too much stress, or leaving a toxic relationship, or taking time away from their current life like vacation or leave of absence to gain space to heal. It is hard to calm down when the sabertooth tiger is pawing at the window every day!
This will at a minimum be for the session itself. Many times this happens through the state of the coach’s nervous system, whose energy can meld with the energy of the client to calm them down. In coaching, it is also the skill of building rapport with language, demeanor, non-verbal language, etc. In energy healing sessions, it can be the first activity which is often a meditation, intention setting, declaring safety, as well as setting energetic shields.
Through Stanley Rosenberg’s book, there are also exercises that can be done to activate the ventral vagal nerve. The Basic Exercise which can be done in only 1-2 minutes is easy. If the session is more physical, his other exercises can help facilitate activation.
Certainly in a coaching session, we would invite the client to see if they are willing to perform an activity or two to calm themselves first. If they refuse or cannot reach a state of calm, it is possible that we must gently tell the client that they must clear mind, spirit, and environment somewhat first or else they will not make positive movements at all. This could be frustrating for both coach and client if it doesn’t happen. It may mean we will need to stop coaching until change happens.
If a client does engage and is ready and willing, then we could help them not only with coaching and other healing sessions but also guide them in ways to calm themselves down outside of sessions. Keeping a calm, ventral vagal state as consistent and constant as possible will enhance their moves towards their desired states, and make coaching sessions that much more magical and effective.
Taking stock of where you are is important for movement towards your desired state of being. Being realistic about your situation can benefit you greatly on your path towards healing.
If your life is too full of stressful, negative stimuli, it may be too difficult or impossible for you to taking any steps towards your desired state. It could likely mean that coaching is not right for you at this time. There would be significant benefit for you to examine where you are in life, and what your environment is like before you begin your journey, and take steps to address that before you begin any coaching.
As mentioned previously, it is possible that while your desired state is the end goal, coaching *can* help you potentially achieve a better environment for positive movements. That would mean that you were ready, willing, and have the capacity for coaching to help you move away from stressful, negative stimuli like finding a new job, being able to break away from your current life mentally and emotionally, or addressing your relationships, among other things. In that sense, you would need to able to put your true final goals on hold while we work on your present life conditions to prepare you for other shifts. Note that this preparation phase could take a lot of effort and time to complete, but yet is so crucial for you or else your desired states will be very difficult to reach.
If we engage, we can discuss where you are during our chemistry session and see where you are, at that time and determine if coaching can begin, or would preparatory steps need to be taken. If it is the latter, then coaching could be part of that process, or may mean that the individual would have some work to accomplish first.