The Benefit of Polyvagal Informed Coaching

The autonomic nervous system is at the core of our experience in life.  As the polyvagal informed paradigm is based upon an understanding of our autonomic nervous system, it provides substantial benefit.  

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Coaching has been widely applied across many professional domains, as well as in general life pursuits.  The concept underlying coaching practices includes application of various frameworks designed to optimize the individual’s ability to pursue his or her goals and objectives.  Typically, this incorporates development and application of various skills and strategies.  As it pertains specifically to healthcare professionals, these principles and practices are not typically a component of medical education and training.

While there are several different frameworks used by various coaches, there are distinct advantages and benefits which can be realized through the implementation of a polyvagal informed paradigm.  Past articles have detailed the incremental benefits which can be obtained through embodiment of a polyvagal informed paradigm across all areas of life.  This is on account of the additional insights, understandings, and practices which are inherent within this framework.  Many of these have been detailed in past articles.  

In essence, these advantages result from a more comprehensive understanding and unification of mind-based and body-based skills and practices.  The premise upon which this is based is the enhanced recognition of biological state which is afforded by the polyvagal informed paradigm and the related capability to shift biological states as needed.  This includes development of various skills, such as awareness of our biological state and mind-based and body-based strategies to shift our state as needed.  The ability to enhance our self-regulatory and co-regulatory capacities emerge from embodiment of these principles.  These capabilities result in increased ventral vagal stabilization across our life experiences, thereby promoting health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.

At its core, the polyvagal informed perspective provides these substantial advantages because it is based upon an understanding of the function and processes of our autonomic nervous system in conjunction with application of specific skills and strategies which allow us the ability to leverage our biology, through the autonomic nervous system, to align our physiology and psychology.  This then allows for optimization of our health, wellbeing, and ability to perform to our capacity in a sustainable fashion.  Why is the autonomic nervous system so crucial in this pursuit?

Our autonomic nervous system is the basis for our experience in life.  This is because It works instantaneously and beneath subconscious awareness to determine our experience in response to the internal, external, and relational stimuli we encounter.  Taken together, these stimuli comprise our experience in life.  The autonomic nervous system accomplishes this because our biological state is determined by the process of neurcoeption and the state we are in also becomes a significant influencer in how we neurocept subsequent experiences.  In essence, how we experience events and stimuli is largely governed by our autonomic nervous system and that process subsequently influences our experience of future cues and stimuli.  Because of these functions, the manner in which we experience our life is largely determined and influenced by our autonomic nervous system.

Since the autonomic nervous system is the foundation of our experience in life, it only follows that the preferred paradigm utilized to optimize all aspects of our life not only is considerate of the autonomic nervous system but is based on an understanding of its function. This is precisely why the polyvagal informed paradigm is so empowering. While other paradigms are useful, at most they consider the autonomic nervous system but are not based on it.  

In addition, the polyvagal informed paradigm allows for the recognition of our biological state, as well as that of those around us and the circumstances in our environment, without judgement.  As discussed in a previous article, this is well described by Michael Allison in the concept of identifying our state and, effectively, meeting our state where it is with compassion.  This principle can be readily extended to those around us, the situations which we encounter, and our general environment.  The importance of this capability cannot be overemphasized as it simultaneously permits recognition of biological state and circumstances, as well as acknowledgement that, as humans, we will not always respond how we would like, accomplish what we set out to, or be present for ourselves or others in alignment with our desires.  This provides space to avoid blame and judgment which is crucial, particularly in the pursuit of high performance in which, by definition, we are pushing our limits.

The paradigm is particularly important amongst professionals within high demand domains, such as healthcare.  Due to the inherent nature of these high consequence environments, the ability to promote health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance is crucial not only for the professional but all those around him or her.  This applies not only to colleagues and partners but the individuals for whom their health and wellbeing is directly impacted by the professionals’ decision making and performance of skills.  In addition, the embodiment of the polyvagal informed paradigm amongst professionals within these high demand domains provides an increased understanding of these processes amongst partners and colleagues as these principles are shared across all humans.  This provides the opportunity to better co-regulate others, thereby promoting their ability to pursue health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.  Within a team setting, this results in improved teamwork and dynamics.  This perspective can also be of critical importance in understanding and addressing the important issue of burnout, which will be the specific focus of an upcoming article.

The implementation of a polyvagal informed coaching paradigm has many crucial benefits for professionals within high demand domains.  Ultimately this is the result of building the framework off an understanding of Polyvagal Theory which provides the understanding of the function of our autonomic nervous system, the main influencer of our experience.  With this paradigm in place, we are able to develop the ability to leverage our biology in order to align our physiology and psychology, allowing us to optimize all aspects of life.  

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Allison, M.  The Play Zone:  A Neurophysiological Approach to our Highest Performance.

Porges SW, Porges S.  Our Polyvagal World: How Safety and Trauma Change Us.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 2023.

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