I believe that introductions are in order.
I’m a mind-body coach based in Austin, Texas. Translation: I’m a trained life coach who uses mindfulness and body awareness techniques to help people heal from stress and discomfort.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about how I got here and why I became a coach. I’ve worked with some amazing teachers. Here are the primary influences on my coaching methods.
I was officially trained by Abigail Steidley. She’s a master certified Martha Beck coach, and she works with people who have pain syndromes. Abigail is an enlightened being. Her six month intensive coach training program was an unforgettable education. Many of the practices that I use with my coaching clients were pioneered by Abigail.
Abigail suffered from multiple pain syndromes in her twenties, including interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, pelvic floor dysfunction, vulvar vestibulitis and vulvar dysesthesia. After years of frustrating doctors visits, she healed herself using the work of Dr. John Sarno and breath-work. She learned that relentless self-pressure was creating tension in her body. And that self-kindness is the key to healing.
Once healed, Abigail discovered the work of Peter Levine, Ph.D., a visionary somatic therapist who studies the effects of trauma on the nervous system. She created a coaching methodology based on Sarno’s work, Levine’s work as well as others who helped her to heal from pain, including Pema Chodron, the well-known Buddhist nun. Abigail has helped many clients heal from chronic pain and other symptoms, like food intolerances, that are not understood by Western medicine.
Abigail’s approach to healing is based on somatic awareness. The body is the key to feeling and releasing suppressed emotion. The body is also the place where intuition speaks.
Irene Lyon is a nervous-system specialist who trains extensively with Peter Levine. I am an ongoing student in her “Smart Body Smart Mind” program which is about rewiring a traumatized nervous system.
Irene is a licensed Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioner. SE is Peter Levine’s somatic therapy program. She assists Dr. Levine at the master class level. Irene comes from a Feldenkrais background, which is another body-based therapy that ties mindfulness to movement.
Irene’s approach to healing is also based on body awareness. She works with people who are stuck in the “freeze” response. Fight/flight/freeze is the response of the nervous system to danger. When humans go through trauma or chronic stress, they can get stuck in this revved up state for years, which floods the body with adrenaline and cortisol, eventually causing physical symptoms. The “freeze” response happens when an animal decides that fighting or fleeing the threat is impossible.
We have a tendency to think of trauma with a capital “T” – for example sexual assault, surgery, car accidents, the death of a family member, divorce, etc. But trauma is anything that creates overwhelm and distress in the body-mind-spirit. The perception of being abandoned or ignored, for example, can be a highly stressful experience for a child, whose survival depends on adults. The earlier we experience trauma, the more of an impact it has on our physical and emotional health.
Most of us have some combination of traumas. Why is it then that some people are resilient and go on to live healthy, joyful lives, while others develop chronic physical and emotional symptoms? Irene talks a lot about this in her work. The answer has to do with the vagus nerve.
Dr. Stephen Porges’ research on the vagus nerve has completely shifted the way we see the nervous system in recent years. As it turns out, part of our vagus nerve develops AFTER birth, and patterns itself on our caregivers vagus nerve. If our primary caregiver does not have a healthy, regulated nervous system, then a developing baby will be primed for a biological stress response from the beginning.
Regardless, trauma is not a life sentence. Irene’s work is all about releasing trauma from the system and helping people heal.
If any of this resonates with you, I highly recommend signing up for Irene’s signature program. It is the best training program I know of to heal from trauma.
MY SPIRITUAL PATH
In eleventh grade, we read “Nine Stories” by J.D. Salinger, which is a book of Zen parables. Salinger was a Zen Buddhist, and my English teacher taught us about Buddhism as we discussed the book.
Something about it sparked my interest and I read “Buddhist Reflections” by Lama Anagarika Govinda.
Thus a meditator was born.
I was 15 years old, and ecstatic to find this philosophy (I had a hard time labeling Buddhism a religion) that resonated so deeply with my own beliefs about the nature of the world. At the same time, I was reading about quantum mechanics. I was delighted that modern physics and ancient spirituality agreed on this idea: that the world as our human eyes perceive it is nothing more than a trick of the light. That everything is energy, and that there is no objective, external reality.
Over the years, my meditation practice evolved. My relationship with spirituality grew stronger as major challenges surfaced.
In my twenties I developed chronic physical symptoms – viral symptoms including cold intolerance and fatigue – that mystified the armies of doctors that examined me. They labeled it chronic fatigue syndrome and Epstein Barr Virus. No one understood it.
It wasn’t until Abigail Steidley started coaching me, and I began reading the work of Peter Levine, that I understood the classic trauma “freeze” response unfolding in my body.
Around this time I went looking for a spiritual community. It was no longer enough for me to be isolated in my quest for the divine. I wanted to find my tribe.
Since my focus had always been on Buddhism, that’s where I went first.
I loved the temples, the chanting, the group meditations, but I didn’t find what I was looking for. It wasn’t until I tagged along with a yoga teacher friend of mine to Unity of the Palms Beaches in Florida, where I lived at the time, that I felt: this is it.
I am home.
This community of like-minded folks was hanging out in a church, of all places. I was deeply nourished and endlessly inspired there.
Unity is part of the New Thought movement, which teaches that divine consciousness lies within each person, as opposed to an external source. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Unity also teaches that your thoughts create your life, and that meditation is a path to oneness with God.
When I trained to become a Unity prayer chaplain earlier this year, I learned how to listen. I’m sure I’ll be learning how to listen for the rest of my life. But it was through chaplain training that I cultivated the ability to hear someone else’s words without needing them to be anything different. Talk about a heart opening experience!
Listening this way reminds me of Dr. Seuss: “the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.”
Who would you be without your story?
This question is at the heart of “The Work” – a genius method created by the visionary Byron Katie for questioning thoughts and beliefs. I use The Work all the time in my own life and in my coaching practice.
Katie says, “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”
We have well-worn narratives about who we are, what we like, what we do, what we’d never do. Who would you be without your story? I ask myself this question all the time. Can I walk down the street without my story? Can I listen to this person without my story? Can I hear this person’s voice without my story?
Our stories are old programming. They keep us stuck in the past. In fact, they color our vision such that when we look at the world, we are actually looking at the past.
A Course in Miracles says, “Do you see a cup, or are you merely reviewing your past experiences of picking up a cup, being thirsty, drinking from a cup and so on? What do you know about this cup except what you learned in the past? Do you then, really see it?”
I believe that thoughts create the world around us. Methods like The Work give us simple ways to change our thoughts and change our lives. I’m planning to
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We are pioneers.
I love the revolutionary nature of mind-body principles. I love that this coaching method combines the latest neuroscience research with ancient spiritual practices like mindfulness. Old and new, interwoven.
At the heart of this work lies the question: what does it mean to be human?
Before coaching, I was a photographer. My first love was creativity. And this blog is my latest creative venture. Please come back and visit me. I have SO MUCH cool stuff to share with you.
Leave a message in the comments and let me know how you found me and where you live in this world. It’s lovely to meet you.