Ongoing research in neuroscience continues to reveal fascinating information of great relevance for all professional coaches.
Recently, a conference in Clinical Training in Mind/Body Medicine was offered by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (Harvard Medical School) to present the latest science and clinical applications of mind/body interactions. The take-away learning was vast and bears sharing, particularly in the areas of developing resilience and strategies for successful lifestyle behaviour change.
Overall, the conference showed how mind/body interactions work synergistically within the intricate medium of the stress system to both improve and sustain health. Between 60 and 90% of visits to healthcare providers are related to stress-induced conditions (“dis-ease”). Could we not say the same thing for our coaching clients? A basic understanding of the brain’s mediation of the stress response system is therefore essential to assist our clients in working towards equilibrium and improved well-being.
The stress response originating in the limbic brain focuses on threat and typically activates the same emotions whatever the situation, causing cognitive distortions and physiological symptoms.
The key to transforming this automatic “Oh no!!” reaction into a deliberate “Oh well …” is the Relaxation Response. Coined by Dr. Herbert Benson in 1975 in his book of the same title, the Relaxation Response is simply focused awareness with a receptive attitude. The two essential elements for eliciting this relaxation technique are a mental focus (repetition of a word, image, and/or sensation e.g.: your breath) and a non-judgmental awareness (keeping a passive mental attitude toward thoughts, feelings and sensations). Focus on the breath, meditation, mindfulness, imagery and visualization are all techniques used to elicit this inner stillness; their importance is mentioned in all the great wisdom traditions.
Coaches would do well to introduce simple Relaxation Response techniques into their practices. Clinical studies have proven definitively that once the Relaxation Response is elicited, cognitive restructuring is far more effective. New methods and behaviours are readily generated through increased access to the cerebral cortex (particularly the frontal lobes) and new neural connections are forged. This capacity for brain plasticity confirms the interactivity of the mind and the building blocks of the body. In brief, the meditative mind gives a broader access to the unconscious mind; moving out of black and white thinking, it shifts towards appreciation and is able to visit the future with positive expectations. Whereas the stress response focuses on what one doesn’t want, the Relaxation Response aids in focusing on what one truly desires and possible solutions with which to achieve it.
In order to continue developing our coaching skills, we need to draw upon both the art and the science of coaching. Regardless of the perspective, the goal remains the same: to offer maximum value to our clients and assist them in creating lives which reflect their deepest aspirations.