Sarah Howard Shares Thoughts on Mindfulness Building, Heart Rate Variability Tracking, and Building Healthier Habits
July 24, 2021 4 min read
Tell me about yourself
I’m deeply passionate about self discovery and healing through a whole-human approach. I am an ICF Certified Integral Coach with a background in psychology, leadership development, and workplace culture. I also have a certificate in biofeedback training, which helped me understand the physiological components of the stress response cycle, and how biofeedback can help to rewire the nervous system and cope with stress and anxiety.
I’m fascinated by the intersection of the mind, body, and cultural norms and how these weave together to shape our behavior, influence our health, and the effects this has on our environment. Within the healing journey, I believe that we are all whole as we are today and that rather than fixing or changing certain parts, we just need to integrate the hurt parts of us that are yearning to be seen, heard and feel safe.
What led you to becoming a Lief coach?
After years of studying psychology, working in the transformation space, and walking my own healing journey, I found that while I might cognitively understand the “why” behind my behavior, this was not enough to change my way of being. I realized that what I really needed was a way to integrate (a.k.a turn my knowledge into embodied wisdom) these insights.
So, I enrolled in somatic therapy to learn how to turn towards my emotional body and leverage mindfulness tools. I also started my training as an integral coach around the same time, which required that I meditate 20 minutes per day. It took me about a year to get past the resistance I had towards the practice and be able to cultivate awareness and presence in my everyday life. I believe in the power that presence of mind can bring for my coaching clients, but many have trouble committing to the daily ritual. It’s understandable. When we’re suffering, we want change now, not a year from now while we sit with it.
When I was introduced to Lief, I knew right away this was the tool that had the power to cultivate awareness and presence and essentially expedite the healing process with much more ease. Lief broadens the gap between the stimulus and the response. It interrupts the pattern of fight or flight. I view Lief as an amazing tool for integration, allowing you to awaken into the present moment when you need it most.
What is your approach to Lief coaching?
I think of myself as a ‘self-compassion coach’. My philosophy is centered on helping clients build relationships with their hurt parts so they can better access their true self. Rather than fixing or changing, we are integrating.
The inner critic is one example here. Everyone has an inner critic, it’s how we learned to be socialized as a child, and often the critic takes on the tone and scripts that our caregivers used. It’s overall goal is to protect and warn us, but it comes across as an attack and leads to suffering. Most people go their whole lives without de-identifying from this inner critic, and think this is just who they are. Their strategies around navigating these negative thoughts often engage the critic even more, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
I believe practicing self compassion is the best strategy for navigating the inner critic. Recent studies show a correlation between increased cortisol levels (stress hormone) when one is self critical versus increased oxytocin levels (feel good, cuddle hormone) when one is self compassionate. I work with my clients to build awareness around when parts like this are ‘online’- often when the Lief device’s autodose is administered. Then we work to build new strategies of how to engage with this internal voice that is more sustainable and healing.
What are the challenges that new Lief clients typically face?
Most people who sign up for the Lief program are super motivated and excited about the potential of this device, and want to wear it as much as possible. The biggest challenge is usually the inner critic swooping in and hacking the habit. I relate because I also had a hard time not judging the data as good/ bad in the beginning. It was very tempting to validate the “I’m broken” mindset that my inner critic loves so much by viewing my low HRV data as “bad”. It’s a natural inclination to want to quit something that stirs up these feelings of ‘failure’.
The clients that see the best results are those that strap on their Lief device and do their Downtime practices without looking at the app all day. One Lief client even said, “Why would I want an app telling me how my day was? I know how it was!” My advice is to trust the process and try your best to observe this information as neutral so you’re not engaging with the inner critic.
Why is HRV biofeedback and mindfulness building important for stress management?
The key to stress management is learning how to complete the stress response cycle and signal to the body that it’s safe. There is stress and there are stressors- just because the stressor may have been removed and we cognitively know that we are safe, does not mean the chemical cocktail of stress hormones are no longer pulsing through our body. We need tools to signal to our body and nervous system that we are safe. Leveraging the diaphragm and breath is one way to do this.
Biofeedback allows us to know the opportune time to send this safety signal to our autonomic nervous system. The Lief device creates a custom breathing pattern based on your heart rate to help you create an optimal breath rate. It’s this synchronization of bio-oscillators (inhale/ exhale and heart expanding and contracting) that signals safety to your nervous system, also called coherence or resonant frequency. Overtime, you will become more mindful of your somatic experience, and your body will self regulate through the breath when stressors arise, creating a resilient, adaptive nervous system.
Any last words of advice for people who are looking to improve their mental and physical health using the Lief program?
I hear a lot of people saying they aren’t “stressed” because many people have this idea that stress is solely correlated with work, school, and family demands which they have none. Stress can also be a result of unproductive, negative, internal dialogues. You experience stress when your nervous system dips into fight or flight and secretes stress hormones.
This is when you experience anxiety, feel overwhelmed, feel insecure, have catastrophic thoughts, fixate on something, etc. This is a natural human response and experience that no one is immune to. Plus, the ‘worst’ stress and/or trauma is your own. Humility around your stress not being ‘that bad comparatively speaking’ is a resistance to healing. It’s okay that you’re not okay and the Lief is here to help.