coaching and the relaxation response
15 janvier 2010

coaching and the relaxation responsepar Valerie Legge

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.

“What you think, you become.   What you feel, you attract.        What you imagine, you create.”
Valerie Legge Coach