Beyond Traditional Leadership: The Power of Polyvagal Theory and Felt Sense with Jan Winhall


In this episode of Evolve, we dive deep into the unconventional yet profoundly impactful realm of polyvagal theory and felt sense with renowned psychotherapist Jan Winhall. Leaders might wonder what insights a seasoned trauma and addiction therapist could offer to the leadership arena, but Jan bridges the gap between mental health and effective leadership. By exploring how our physiological states influence decision-making and interpersonal relationships, Jan provides leaders with innovative tools to foster a more resilient, empathetic, and productive work environment. Tune in to discover how understanding and applying the principles of polyvagal theory and felt sense can revolutionize your leadership approach and elevate your team’s performance.

Jan Winhall

Jan Winhall, based in Toronto, is an educational partner and course developer with the Polyvagal Institute and an adjunct lecturer at the University of Toronto. She offers a training program based on her book, “Treating Trauma and Addiction with the Felt Sense Polyvagal Model.” Jan’s work integrates polyvagal theory and felt sense, providing a practical approach to understanding and enhancing our physiological and psychological safety.


🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • Polyvagal Theory Explained: Jan provides insight about polyvagal theory, describing it as the science of safety, and explains how understanding this can help leaders create safer, more supportive environments. 🌱
  • Felt Sense Model: Jan introduces the felt sense model, a way to access and understand the information our bodies provide, which is crucial for effective decision-making and leadership. 🌟
  • Leadership and Safety: The conversation highlights the importance of physiological safety in leadership, emphasizing that true safety encompasses both psychological and physiological aspects. 🛡️
  • Practical Applications: Jan shares practical steps for leaders to incorporate these concepts into their daily practices, enhancing both their well-being and the well-being of their teams. 🧘‍♂️

We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 02:07 Meet Jan Winhall: Author and Psychotherapist
  • 03:09 Understanding Felt Sense and Leadership
  • 06:38 The Role of the Vagus Nerve
  • 14:21 Polyvagal Theory in the Workplace
  • 20:33 Creating Safe and Supportive Environments
  • 28:00 Focusing Techniques for Leaders
  • 29:28 Identifying and Addressing Internal Issues
  • 30:06 Exploring Physical Sensations and Emotions
  • 30:40 The Power of Co-Regulation
  • 31:16 Resonating with Felt Sense
  • 40:13 Understanding the Intervening Variable
  • 41:22 Practical Applications and Final Thoughts
  • 44:37 Closing Remarks and Reflections

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

This episode with Jan Winhall offers an exploration of polyvagal theory and felt sense, providing valuable insights for leaders seeking to create safer and more effective work environments. Jan’s expertise and practical advice encourages leaders to embrace the wisdom of their bodies and foster a culture of safety and support within their organizations.

#PolyvagalTheory #FeltSense #Leadership #PhysiologicalSafety #TraumaInformedLeadership #EvolveLeadership

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[00:00:00] Carolyn: In January, I started a program through the Polyvagal Institute to get a certificate in polyvagal theory. Now, why do I want to be trained in polyvagal theory? I’m working with leadership and culture. Well, here’s why. Polyvagal theory is what we call the science of safety. And my guest today on the show was one of the teachers in this certificate program.

Now, I was so excited to hear that she’s from Toronto, just down the street from me. And also I was so taken by her work and how she has integrated research and theories from other people before her and turn it into something very tangible and practical that we. In whatever role we have in life as a leader, as a parent, as a community leader or community contributor, this ability to feel and sense what is inside of us.

Is truly untapped gold for all of us. So I am so excited to have this conversation with Jan. You’ll hear us talk about her felt sense polyvagal model some of the inspiration through her teachers, and I’m just so excited to bring this conversation to you all. Jan is an author. A teacher and a seasoned trauma and addiction psychotherapist.

She’s an educational partner and course developer developer with the Polyvagal Institute, which is where I learned of her work. And it is through the Polyvagal Institute, where she offers a training program based on her book, treated trauma and addiction with the felt sense Polyvagal model. This is, I think, going to be a fabulous, fabulous conversation.

Oh, and one more thing. She’s also an adjunct lecturer at the University of Toronto and a certifying coordinator with the International Focusing Institute. So excited to have this conversation and can’t wait to hear what you all think of it.

Great. Jan, I also do a separate intro and outro, so I’m not going to go through your bio on this piece. And is it Winhall? Do I just pronounce it Winhall? Perfect. All right. All right. Welcome evolve listeners. We are in for a really special treat today. I am so excited to welcome my guest today, Jan Winhall.

Jan, thank you for coming on the show. 

[00:02:44] Jan: Oh, you’re very welcome. It’s always great to do share the news and the, the exciting things that are happening in the 

[00:02:51] Carolyn: polyvagal world. Yeah. Well, I, I shared in the intro how I came across your work and completely enthralled. I’ve got my workbook here with all the notes I took during the course that I took that I took with you.

And what really struck me during your lesson was how felt sense. Is. Transcribed by https: otter. ai Easy for us to access and how it has so much information that’s available to us. And when it comes to the world of leadership and what the people listening to this podcast are struggling with is, you know, these very chaotic environments, you’re trying to find important data to make the best decisions.

And I’d love to have a conversation with you about. Unknown or hidden data that perhaps these leaders don’t know about and so could you just start off by telling us a little bit about your body of work, you know, the felt sense polyvagal model and and how it can apply to leadership. 

[00:03:56] Jan: Yeah. 

[00:03:57] Carolyn: So 

[00:03:59] Jan: how far back do you want me to go?

[00:04:01] Carolyn: I, whatever feels good for you. I know you’re a teacher and I trust that you will take this where it needs to go. 

[00:04:07] Jan: All right. Okay. So, you know, where I think it all started. Apart from starting way back when I was a little kid, it has to do with my first job. And I talk about this in my book. I start my book this way that I landed this job postgraduate school working with a group of women who were incest survivors.

[00:04:30] Carolyn: And 

[00:04:33] Jan: so I was right in the thick of it and very young. Yeah. But. I had in my experience what I’m really the heart of the model is that I’m going to share with you. So I had my own experience of being in psychotherapy. I was really curious about life and how to figure things out with this kind of chaos that was going on around me and I found an amazing therapist who was quite embodied and so it helped me to realize that so much information about how we’re living our lives.

Happens in our bodies and we don’t pay attention to it. Yes, we live up here in this top down world where you know everything is about cognitive behavioral therapy, which is fine, except when you don’t bring the body the bottom up into it, you miss the most important piece I think. Yeah, and I think we’re, we’re learning that more and more and more now that we live in our bodies and our bodies seek safety.

And right now in the world, there isn’t much safety more than ever. I think. Because of so many things, including, like, climate change, we’ve never been in this way in this place in the world before like this in terms of climate change. So, so we need to really slow down and pay attention to how we can create not just psychological safety, which people are talking about now in leadership roles, but also physiological safety and that’s where Wally Vagel theory comes in, right?

Because we 

[00:06:16] Carolyn: live in our bodies. Oh, Jan, I, it’s so beautiful to hear somebody else say that because I’ve been integrating that into my work endlessly like, Hey, psychological safety is great. We need to partner it with that physiological safety. 

[00:06:33] Jan: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. 

[00:06:35] Carolyn: You gave us a quote or you said something, I wrote it down is This nerve called the vagus nerve.

So the listeners don’t necessarily know all about polyvagal theory yet, but Hey, if y’all want to subscribe to Jan’s newsletter, my newsletter you can find out more about it, but in essence, you shared with us that this vagus nerve delivers I think it was 80 percent of the information that it gathers goes from our organs up into our brainstem.

When we don’t have this connection with our body. We lose essentially 80 percent of data available to us to make choices and decisions and to move through the world. Did I interpret that correctly? 

[00:07:17] Jan: Yeah, and the vagus nerve, right, is this longest cranial nerve in the body that goes right down into your belly and then back up right into the brainstem.

And it’s, it’s beautiful because it, it’s job in the vagus nerve is to monitor how safe we feel in the world, physiologically and psychologically. 

[00:07:41] Carolyn: And so for those of, of all of you listening out there, imagine if you were at work and you said to the people you work with, we’re just going to ignore 80 percent of the data available to us.

And we’re just going to go with this 20 percent because that’s what we’re used to. I love it. So that’s sort of the shout out to everybody about why Jan’s work can really help you all as leaders out there. And it’s helping me, Jan, I want to tell you too, I’ve, I printed out the sheets that you gave us and, and my talk about it with my kids.

We talk about it at dinnertime. Yeah. So, Why don’t we head into where would you like to take the conversation now? Should we talk a little bit more about polyvagal theory or should we get into felt sense? What do you think? Right? Yeah, 

[00:08:32] Jan: together. So how I came to bringing these things together was that first I had my own experience of felt sense.

Through sitting with this therapist who connected with the body, right? And I realized that I’ve always felt better when I laughed. 

[00:08:51] Carolyn: And I 

[00:08:52] Jan: began to realize why was because he created safety. And he allowed me to connect with what I already knew inside myself that I was too stressed out to be able to hear.

And that’s really the job of a leader. It is, isn’t it? In essence, you allow people, you create the conditions of safety so that people can pause and feel into this awareness in the body, which Jean Jendlin, my teacher of focusing, describes as a felt sense. So a felt sense is not just physical sensation.

It is physical sensation. It is noticing different senses around you, but it’s also about how your body feels about issues in your life. And 

[00:09:53] Carolyn: bodies feel a lot, but we don’t need to, we don’t. And I mean, Jen, I’ve spent like I’m 52, I spent 50, maybe 49 years thinking that it just carried my head. Yeah.

Yeah. And you know, there is a, a quote too, that I think it’s on Jean’s website felt sense is a bodily awareness made of many interwoven strands, but felt as one. 

[00:10:19] Jan: Yes. 

[00:10:20] Carolyn: He 

[00:10:20] Jan: loved the word strands. Yeah. So when I teach felt sense, I talk about it’s like the whole experience of something in your life. And so for example, right now here with you, if I pause, And you pause and we go into, how is my body carrying this experience right now?

So for me, I feel a kind of fullness in my upper chest. 

[00:10:50] Carolyn: It’s 

[00:10:50] Jan: like, if I go in there, it’s sort of cloudy, like, but clouds like light white clouds, blue sky, like the day is today that you and I probably know because we live close to each other. And it’s, it’s just a, a fluffy light, but with a kind of density underneath it.

Look at all that information data in here. And so I look for the physical sensations in the body, then also the feelings. So these are kind of strands or avenues into my whole experience of this moment. So the feelings are joy because I mean, it’s joyous for me to share this information 

[00:11:37] Carolyn: really is 

[00:11:38] Jan: my life’s work.

And I studied with Jenlin for over 30 years, so it’s in my body. It’s just body like it was his, and then their thoughts because thoughts are great. We’re not, we’re not, it’s a top down, bottom up model. We’re not saying we don’t like thinking. I mean, I write books, I think about concepts, but lots of thoughts going on right now as I’m sharing with you what the concepts are and how to teach them.

And then there’s the, there’s memories, right? Our bodies carry in this moment, all the memories of these other moments. And they’re as if they’re happening right now, right? Time is different in the body. Yeah. Not linear in the body. The body holds a lot of, you know, the right hemisphere, right? Is activated a lot through the body and the felt sense.

And this is where, you know, we really are able to think in the big whole picture of things. 

[00:12:38] Carolyn: Now, yeah, I like to joke that there’s no timestamp when it comes to memories in the body and hearing, hearing you speak one on one with me now, I’m taken back to just my memory from, you know, just a few months ago, hearing your voice in in class.

And so I go back to an excitement. I’m honing my ability to feel that, like, have that felt sense. And there’s excitement for me. There’s excitement about being connected with you. There’s excitement about learning more about your work and just a hopefulness that comes along with this moment for me as well.

[00:13:18] Jan: Yeah, it’s beautiful. And you know, bodies are like that, right? Bodies, gentlemen would say bodies know the right next step. If you give them what they need. We’re, we’re like plants. Plants know how to seek the sunlight. Even when they’re in the shade, you see a little plant, the way it will reach out and curl around to find a little bit of sunlight.

Well, that’s what human beings are like. 

[00:13:44] Carolyn: If 

[00:13:45] Jan: we as leaders pause and invite people to connect more deeply into themselves. And that means we have to be able to do that within our own selves, right? 

[00:13:58] Carolyn: Yes. Absolutely. Pick somebody 

[00:13:59] Jan: where you’re afraid to go. 

[00:14:02] Carolyn: Now, I, there’s, I want to ask a question about because this, this came up for me too, when, when you were teaching us about felt sense, it’s like, well, oh wait, what am I feeling?

And again, I got all into my head. So can you share with us that we might not at first be able to. Feel all these pieces. There might be pieces that are just not available to us yet. 

[00:14:26] Jan: No, that’s a very important point. And particularly if we get into talking about trauma and addiction feeling into the body is scary, right?

Yeah, well, this is starts to connect with polyvagal theory and what Steve Porges discovered in the Vegas nerve. Right. So should we go there? Yeah, let’s go there. Okay. 

[00:14:52] Carolyn: So 

[00:14:52] Jan: the, the thing about polyvagal theory is that it really redefined how we understand our autonomic nervous system, which is this beautiful system in the body that monitors our safety and Steve gave it the name neuroception.

Yes. You know, it’s a beautiful, he made up a word because we don’t have a word for it because we don’t value bodies. 

[00:15:17] Carolyn: Right. Right. And 

[00:15:18] Jan: when they get in trouble and then we have to fix them. 

[00:15:22] Carolyn: And that neuroception or that checking for safety, that is real or perceived. It’s emotional. It’s mental. It’s physical, right?

Like it’s not just, Oh, there is a tiger in front of me type thing. 

[00:15:36] Jan: It’s unconscious. Yes. And, and so we don’t think about, it’s the same as with, with, we say we’re sick and our body has this system with our temperature, right? The temperature is when we’re ill, but we don’t say to ourselves, gee, I think I’m getting the flu.

I better rise my temperature. Right. Right. Right. That’s part of body wisdom. Our bodies know all kinds of things to do. But we don’t, we don’t respect it. We don’t respect all the things bodies know how to do to help us to heal and to move forward. 

[00:16:11] Carolyn: So 

[00:16:11] Jan: what Steve discovered when he learned about the nervous system, it didn’t have this trauma informed dorsal branch of the vagus nerve.

Right. It just had the vagus nerve, which was this wonderful state of health and growth and restoration. And then the sympathetic branch, which everybody knows is fight flight. We all know that place, right? Yep. Yeah. Ooh, jerking. And we don’t think when we jump and when we hear a loud noise, that’s the nervous system.

That’s our way of keeping us safe. So, he discovered that actually there was another branch of the vagus nerve that he called the dorsal branch, which was connected to a shutdown place in the system when we don’t feel safe. So, when we don’t feel safe, the vagus nerve is struggling and we shift up into sympathetic to either get out of there to flight or to fight back, but, but if we can’t do either of those things.

Then the body is designed to take us to a place of 

[00:17:19] Carolyn: dissociation 

[00:17:20] Jan: and shutting down. And that’s what those young women in my incest group were doing, right? They were shifting back and forth from flight fight to shutting down and shutting down looks like often like this. And isolating, avoiding eye contact, numbing, and sometimes even dissociating to the extent that you don’t, you lose time.

You don’t remember where you are even. Trance kind of states. 

[00:17:50] Carolyn: Yeah. Now, can we pause there for a second? Because I think the situation, the reality that I’m seeing in a lot of workplaces right now is people are. Either being pushed or they’re pushing themselves to the point of this shutdown. 

[00:18:11] Jan: Yeah. 

[00:18:12] Carolyn: Is that, am I over, like, am I overemphasizing this or exaggerating that point?

I don’t think so because, 

[00:18:21] Jan: you know, what’s happening in the workplace is also. Representative of what’s happening in the world, right? 

[00:18:28] Carolyn: Yeah. 

[00:18:29] Jan: Carry all of our experience into the workplace. And there’s so many things that are going on that are really activating kind of global trauma. We’ve got wars, illnesses, floods, fires.

I mean, yeah, our time and even here in Canada, people are struggling to find a decent place to live. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, people in younger generations, like we had it easy compared to that. It’s Toronto’s expanding. You can’t buy a house unless your parents help you all of these things. People are living on the streets after COVID.

So this is all in us. It’s all in us. And we’re really struggling. So of course, we’re going to go to into anxiety and you see lots of this happening. Yeah. And then if you can’t resolve it, you can’t figure your way out of it, which is tough. Then people are shutting 

[00:19:34] Carolyn: down. And we’re seeing this in our workplaces because we’re, you know, our brain doesn’t know if we’re at work at home, wherever.

So as leaders, I want to circle back to something that you said, we’re not responsible for others. Thanks. We’re not responsible to be therapists, but we are responsible for our own self. And so what, what this conversation is about, just to restate it for everybody is to help you as a leader, individually, look after yourself and welcome your body and the wisdom that it has to share with you with more openness and some of the tools that you have that And that will help your nervous system.

And in essence, the people you work with will be surrounded or they’ll, they’ll have support from a more regulated nervous system and boom, the power of regulation can help bring a little bit more, I’ll say regulation or calmness. It’s not going to make the hard stuff go away at work, but it is going to help equip us to approach it with more data, more wisdom.

More regulation, 

[00:20:50] Jan: yeah, more safety, more support, more social engagement, more, that’s what’s going to get us through this, right? Yeah. Yeah. Wherever we end up navigating what is the, we’re designed to co regulate with each other. We flock together when we are celebrating something, and when we’re grieving a loss of something, we come together.

We’re mammals. We need each other. And so as leaders, I think it’s really imperative to understand more about this and what we can do to create these environments that feel safer for people by learning some basic things, even like, you know, How to nurture a kind of safety looking at, you know, what makes people feel unsafe is a big one, right?

Criticism makes people’s nervous systems really unsafe feeling belittled microaggressions make people feel unsafe. So what can we do to create these conditions of safety? Where people can start to settle a little bit more and be more creative because we know that when we feel safe and that ventral branch of the nervous system is, is activated, we can really get creative and be playful and have fun.

Absolutely. Yeah. But that shuts down when we feel criticized, judged, overworked, is a big one. Addicted to our phones is a huge one. So we see addictions rising like crazy because from a polyvinyl lens, addictions are really good strategies to shift us from the flight, fight, place, running down or going the other way.

[00:22:39] Carolyn: Right. And, and Jen, would you say that we’re addicted to work? We’re addicted to being busy. 

[00:22:46] Jan: I think a lot of people are addicted to work. I don’t think everybody is right, but I think a lot of people are addicted to work because it, it gives us something that oftentimes we can see as a reward 

[00:23:00] Carolyn: work 

[00:23:00] Jan: towards.

And you know, when we’re so sort of. goal. I mean, goals are wonderful, but when we’re so goal oriented and we’ve lost this capacity to just pause. and enjoy. Let’s consider it a kind of waste of time in a top down world, right? Right. We’ve really got that wrong. 

[00:23:25] Carolyn: Yeah, we really 

[00:23:26] Jan: have. We really have. So, but things are moving in that way in a kind of hopeful direction.

People are talking more about, you know, Mindfulness and presence, right? Showing up with a kind of presence that helps people around you to feel safe. So you can give, for example, cues of safety especially as a leader, but to just smile. Like when we first met each other now, we smiled at each other, right?

It’s like, Oh, Okay. This is good. Yep. The nervous system goes, Oh, this is fine. You know, we’re connecting and things will be fine. I feel safe. I’m not going to be hacked. 

[00:24:03] Carolyn: Right. Well, and you know, I, I shared this in a workshop the other day that I said, you know, we’re partnering with our nervous system.

It’s so busy looking for threats. How can we proactively look for cues of safety? Yeah. And so smiles, like you said you know, starting off a meeting, just checking in what’s one word, how we all coming into our meeting today, what are some other things, Jen, that leaders could do to be more mindful about their own cues of safety and providing cues of safety for the folks they work with.

[00:24:40] Jan: Well, I think a couple of things. One of them is the surroundings that you’re in. So if you can do things to make the space that you’re in more friendly, more calming. So colors, shapes plants are great because they’re alive. They, they help us to feel more connected to the natural world. Images are beautiful to have in a room, some kind of an image.

That lights up your ventral 

[00:25:10] Carolyn: vagus, 

[00:25:11] Jan: probably light up somebody else’s, but that’s really important. And things like having snacks and coffee and tea available to people, bodies get hungry. Yep. What’s the time of day? Even as a therapist, you know, it would always be frowned, it’s like, Oh, you don’t, you would never give your food client your food or something.

But even in my book, I gave that example of one client I had who would come at four o’clock after school. She was a teenager. She’d be hungry. How are we going to do anything when she’s sitting there and her body’s hungry? Yes. So a polyvagal informed therapist would say, would you like a cup of tea? And do you want a banana?

Which we did. And then. Every week she would come, and we’d pull out the Bannabelle Spice Tea, and she’d ask me if I had a banana. Mmm. And that became a nurturing moment. a really nurturing moment for her of being fed something, something easy to do. And then the other thing is to be a good listener.

[00:26:11] Carolyn: Yeah. 

[00:26:12] Jan: When a leader knows how to listen to another person. So you prepare yourself before the meeting. To settle in yourself to find a grounded place inside you where you can be available to your staff, you know, and that means you put your own stuff aside for that period of time. Right. So, like I had said to you before we started that I was, you know, right in the thick of final edits for a new book.

And I took some time before we started. I took half an hour and I went and lay down with my cat. It’s another great way to co regulate. It is. Yeah. It’s pets because they’re mammals too, and they love to co regulate. And I was quiet. And I do this thing that I do, which is to remind myself of all these amazing things that are happening in my life.

And it doesn’t dismiss the stress. The books still edit, still have to get it done before I get on the plane to go to potstep to the polyvagal conference. But just for now, it’s actually step one in focusing. We call it clearing a space and you take each of the things that’s bugging you, you know, like there’s that about that.

And then I got to do this thing. I have to remember that. And I’ve got to fit it and dah, dah, dah. And you put them beside you. It’s a meditation step in focus. And that is incredibly helpful. And when you do that as a leader before a meeting with your staff. Then you’re there for them. Yes. Eye contact. You have a smile, a genuine smile.

Right. You, you do something where people are feeling nurtured. You create, you have tea and coffee available or you bring in something from home or, and you check in as you were saying, you know, how is everybody doing as we start to get together? Is everybody okay? How are you doing? And it doesn’t go on and on, but it’s a check in.

Okay. Yep. And if somebody says, I’m not okay, I don’t feel well, you say, well, oh, okay, well, do you need to go home? Do you need to take care of yourself? And these things don’t happen anymore. It’s terrible. It is. So going back to that, right? Going back to, we care about you. Right. And we know that if you are in a more ventral grounded state where you feel safe, you’re first of all, you’re not, you’re going to get less sick because the immune system is going to function.

Well, right. When you have ventral state. It doesn’t function well in that flight fight state, nor in the dorsal shutting down state, people get sick. So you don’t get as much productivity out of. Yes. 

[00:29:08] Carolyn: Yeah, well, Jan, I wanted to go into that focusing those 6 steps of focusing. Again, that is something that.

Really struck me in, in your in your lesson to us and leaders, we can put this into our days. We can make it happen. It’s not, it’s not to me. It wasn’t a therapeutic approach. Right. We’re not, we’re not sitting there with a therapist. So can you take us through those six steps of focusing? I know you talked a little bit about the first one, but maybe if we can highlight them all.

[00:29:45] Jan: Sure. So the first step is clearing a space and that’s where, you know, that is a mindfulness step and focusing is not mindfulness, but that step is a mindfulness step. And Jenlin actually asked he, he added it after. But the, the steps come out of research that he did that was validated research at the University of Chicago, where he was looking at people who were able to make a lot of change in their lives and that we’re doing well, basically what they were doing was connecting to their bodies and using that information.

So and these were thousands of hours of recordings of therapy sessions where therapists and clients both reported positive outcomes. And there were big pauses in the recordings. And he, so he interviewed people. He’s like, what are you doing there? Well, what they were doing was what he then called focusing.

So that they were able to put aside other stuff. And then step two, they were able to find a felt sense. So as we pause there before, and we started to notice what’s going on in there. And then if I decided I was going to work on one of those issues. That I’d put outside in clearing space so the one would be definitely the one about getting those final edits in before I get on that plane.

And I know exactly where it sits in my body because I’ve been aware of it over the last two days. It’s right here. 

[00:31:16] Carolyn: Oh, wow. 

[00:31:17] Jan: Yeah. And, you know, it’s attention because I’m going like this. Yep. It’s more than that. It’s also my body’s telling me something in there, right? So in focusing, we would bring attention in there and then get really curious about what’s in there.

What does it feel like physically? What are the thoughts? What are the emotions that are in there? 

And memories. You know, what else am I connected to that’s in there where I’ve been in a situation like this before, or it could be a trigger if people are traumatized by stuff, right? And then we focus often in partnerships.

Because here’s where we’re bringing in polyvagal theory, we’re co regulating with each other. And Gemlin knew that he didn’t talk about it in terms of the nervous system, but he knew it. And we know, we know that as human beings, when you connect with another person and that person can welcome your felt sense, listen and ask you more about it.

You start to feel better because it just opens it as a space to go. Well, you feel seen and heard. It’s like, yes, you’re with me. Yeah, you’re with me and you’re helping me to just pause and be with myself. Yeah. Right? And so then step three is where you resonate, or your step three, sorry, is the handle. Okay.

Stay in there with the felt sense. There’s like, a word or maybe an image could be an image, could be a color. It could be a couple of words that don’t make logical sense, but they make sense from the right hemisphere, the dream world, the poetic world, right? With imagery. And so that that can kind of come to you as.

It’s a way of really capturing the essence of that experience in here. What word would you have then right now for you? Tangled is what just came. Just popped up there. I didn’t think about it. It just came. So tangled is, is in here.

Yeah. And that, when you say, if you say that back to me, can you say that word back to me? 

[00:33:41] Carolyn: Tangled. So I heard you say tangled. You touched her. Tangled. 

[00:33:44] Jan: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s step four where you’re resonating the handle for me, 

[00:33:49] Carolyn: and 

[00:33:50] Jan: then I might say to you, well, it’s tangled, but it’s, there’s something more in there.

It’s tangled and scary, scary, scary. So tangled and scary, scary in there too. Yeah. And there’s also something that’s really excited, like tangled, scary, excited. 

[00:34:13] Carolyn: Yeah, it’s all in there. You can hold all of those because I was going to say, you know, tangled, scary. And yet your tone did not have a sense to that.

[00:34:25] Jan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, scary is there and there’s this, scary. Sometimes we have this phrase in my family with my kids where we call something scary wonderful. 

[00:34:37] Carolyn: Hmm. 

[00:34:38] Jan: Great. You know, it’s something scary, wonderful, like it’s pretty scary, wonderful to be having a book come out into the world again. Yeah.

Yeah. So that’s all in there. It’s all in there as I sit with it and it feels really lovely to share it. It starts to relax a little bit and open. And this is really the focusing process, right? So then that’s step four and in you resonating with me and five is asking. So five is a wonderful step where we ask into the felt sense.

So it might be something like, well, in a way you kind of did, you were like, Oh, I saw scary, but was there something else in there? You’re asking. Yeah. Wonderful. Yeah. Asking is really important when we’re working in a, in a kind of trauma way. Okay. You wouldn’t necessarily do this too much as a leader in an organization, but you could know about it.

So it’s. It’s a sense, but you might do it as a mom or dad, right? It’s a sense of saying, you know, is it all right to be with all of this scary, wonderful in? Yeah. 

[00:35:52] Carolyn: Yep. And the other thing that I was wondering too, is is the scary, wonderful also maybe connected to your trip? 

[00:36:01] Jan: Ah, so now you’re asking me to kind of, you know, flesh it out more, right?

Yeah. Yeah. In some ways, yeah, because I’ll have quite a role at the conference in the embodiment room. We’re having and so exciting. We’re having a whole embodiment room at this time and it will run the whole 2 days of the conference. Yeah, we’ll have speakers in the one room and embodiment room at the same time going on where we have, where I’ll be teaching felt sense and other people are doing other, Michael Allison is doing some breath practices and other people are doing walks in the woods and so, and having spaces for people to co regulate if they start to get kind of churned up or activated by, well, it’s an intense time to be.

in Europe and talking about intergenerational trauma. Right. And there’ll be lattes coming. So there’ll be a lot of intensity. And of course, we’ll all be excited to see Steve Porges. 

[00:37:02] Carolyn: And 

[00:37:04] Jan: so all of that is in here. Yeah. So there’s the asking there. And then sometimes it is too scary. 

[00:37:12] Carolyn: And 

[00:37:13] Jan: so that you can use things like, well, you can say, well, you know, let’s just back up.

Like if your kid has a scary dream, Yep, or you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re, you know, employee starts to cry and say, look, I’m, I’m having a terrible time. I’m getting divorced and you can say, you know, okay, is it okay to stay here and talk to me? Because sometimes we overshare right? And then we feel shame, but these are things that we can learn to do as, as employers and leaders that their skills and they’re serious.

You can learn how to do them and help someone to gather themselves up a little bit and overshare if they not to shut them up, but to help them to maintain dignity. Yes. Because, you know, what do you share in the workplace? Don’t you share? Because sometimes leaders can also get into the thing of like, they’re, you’re accepting too much oversharing.

Yeah. And then you’re like a counselor and that’s not your job. 

[00:38:07] Carolyn: And I, I am hearing that about not. A lot, like there’s just a few little sort of noises about it, but I think it’s going to continue of like, Oh my gosh, like I’m done talking about feelings with my employees because I just don’t need to know all that.

It’s just sort of 

[00:38:24] Jan: overwhelming me. It’s too much information. And I understand that because if you don’t know what to do with it or how to help the person continue it, then you are going to feel that. So we can teach people how to do that, how to help people contain it. Right. You know, you can say, let’s just pause.

Let’s just pause here and, you know, I hear that you’re really struggling. So let’s pause and you could, you know, you could say, let me get you a glass of water. So you help the person pull themselves back together again in a caring way because it’s not your job to be a counselor or a therapist, but lots of people are kind hearted people.

who want to, to be decent people, but then we need to know how to make those boundaries, right? Exactly. Asking is very important. And then the last step is welcoming. And this isn’t a very important step because in focusing in, in honoring the body, I have learned how vital it is. to really welcome uncomfortable places and 

[00:39:35] Carolyn: feelings 

[00:39:37] Jan: and not to see my body as an enemy because it has this tight pain there, but to say, Oh, thank you for reminding me of all that’s going on in my life that I need to pay attention to.

Thank you for showing up. And, really letting me know that, you know, it’s a real mixed bag in there. Yeah. And and that I need to slow down and pause and pay attention to it. And that’s a way of really being loving with your body. Rather than what we’re taught in this top down world, which is, Oh, I got this pain here and it won’t go away.

What the heck’s going on with me? I got to go to the 

[00:40:22] Carolyn: doctor. 

[00:40:23] Jan: I can’t take time off work. The kids, 

[00:40:26] Carolyn: you know? Yep. Yep. And that just sends a signal back to our body that we’re not welcoming it in. So I love that, you know, step one and step, step six to me are like the bookends. We don’t just want the meat in between or like whatever you put in the middle of your sandwich.

You need to have it encapsulated with these 2 pieces. 

[00:40:47] Jan: Yeah, with the boundaries. And then Jen talked about having a step 7, which I like to add, which is an action step. 

[00:40:56] Carolyn: Hmm. 

[00:40:56] Jan: What’s that? So, so an action step is like asking, what does this, it’s an asking sometimes, what does this place need? And as I kind of said to you, what it needs is for me to pay more attention to it.

Like I’m doing now. I’m enjoying this. Yep. Yay. So often that’s the, that’s the action step often, so often because we don’t pause and do that. Yeah. Yeah. But that’s really sometimes all it needs. Yeah. It’s a bit like just, you’ve got a problem, you phone up your girlfriend, you go for coffee, she listens to you, she doesn’t judge you, she asks you a few questions, she follows you deeply, you have a cry, you feel better.

Not that the problem has changed, but you’ve changed the way you experience it. Yes. This is pure. Now, this is gentleman, but it’s also polyvagal theory because. Do we have time? Yes. I was going to say, I wanted to go there. This intervening variable is crucial. This is where Steve, at first I thought, what is he talking about?

But then I got it and it was like, okay, I’ve got this model. Yeah. It’s a combination of the felt sense, which is introspection, my lived experience of my life and Polyvagal theory, which is neuroception. And this is how my body’s carrying it. Right, right. So the intervening variable is. In the traditional psychological model that we all learn in Western, the Western world, there’s a stimulus and a response, right?

Something stimulates us. And then we have this response. And what both Gendlin and Steve say is what, the way Steve Porges would put it is the intervening variable is the body, right? Forgotten that we live in our bodies. And of course, Gendlin said that too. He would say, you bring the body into anything.

It makes it better. 

[00:42:56] Carolyn: Right. So let’s, I, and it’s funny, I had this written down, so I’m glad you brought us there because I wanted to, to go there before we wrapped up. So let’s make this really practical. I’m walking down the street, so stimulus, walking down the street, somebody hits me. The intervening variable is going to be the state that I’m in.

And depending on that is going to be my response. Yeah. So my response might be what an a hole, what a jerk I might like give the side eye and just feel like really taking advantage of or angry. Yeah. You’re in fight. Right, so that is one response, the exact same situation can happen. And I might turn around and say, Oh, are you okay?

Sorry about that. So take us back then Jan. So that intervening variable, what caused the difference in my, or what, what do we need to know about why my response was different? It depends on 

[00:44:07] Jan: what nervous system state that you’re in. There we go. Oh, if you are in an anxious, sympathetic fight response, for example, you’re mad and you’re walking down the street and you’re just mad and somebody bumps into you, you’re going to be mad, right?

Because that’s how your body will do. It will read it as a threat. Right. Right. And then that colors your response. Right. If you’re in a good mood, you know, you feel pretty calm and life’s pretty good and you’re walking down the street, you’re in a ventral state of safety. Somebody bumps into you, you might go, oh, and then the way that you would respond to that and and experience that is, as you said, oh, are you okay?

Or, oh, you know, don’t worry about it. It happens. It’s no big deal. Right? Carry on because. If you’re feeling safe in your body, the way you’re going to experience your life is very different than if you’re feeling afraid in flight all the time, somebody comes into you, you could be terrified. Right. And those are triggered states, right?

That’s what happens. Exactly. Post traumatic stress, 

[00:45:21] Carolyn: and 

[00:45:21] Jan: then 

[00:45:22] Carolyn: the world is an unsafe place. Exactly. And this is why I am so passionate like you. I just don’t have the years behind me yet around why physiological safety is such a critical element, element for leaders to know in our workplaces. 

[00:45:40] Jan: It’s the most important thing.

[00:45:42] Carolyn: I totally agree. 

[00:45:43] Jan: Because, you know, I love this little phrase Deb, Dana uses that story follows state. 

[00:45:49] Carolyn: That’s 

[00:45:49] Jan: a really clever little phrase, right? She’s so good at those. She really is. So the story you tell yourself about what happened when the guy bumped into you is determined by the state you’re in, right?

Another way of talking about that, that I like to talk about is that the context tells the story, right? 

[00:46:11] Carolyn: And a lot of us are walking into our workplaces or sitting down to at our desks and the state that we are in. Is not helping us achieve the results that we want to get, there’s a disconnect there. And I hope through our conversation that we’ve been able to shed some new insight for our listeners about how they can close that gap Jan as much as I would love to talk to you for hours upon hours.

I know you have to get back to your book edits. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the listeners before we close off with the three evolved questions? 

[00:46:51] Jan: I think really letting yourself ponder this kind of conversation, it may, might not, it might be very new to people. It might seem a little.

Confusing or odd, or, but really we’re talking about a paradigm shift. In how we understand the world really from a top down, very linear, logical way, which is great, but to welcome also this bottom up embodied way that just functions very differently, the right hemisphere to be curious. To be open and curious about what is it that you and I are talking about?

What is the safety thing? And and I think that’s really what it, what it takes in the beginning is to be open and to be curious. And that’s what makes life fun, right? Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:47:45] Carolyn: Oh, Jan, where could our listeners find out more about you? 

[00:47:50] Jan: 

[00:47:52] Carolyn: All right. 

[00:47:52] Jan: Is the easiest way. And then I’m one of the teachers and I have a training program at the Polyvagal Institute, which, you know, ’cause you I do did the course.

Yeah. Gonna 

[00:48:01] Carolyn: be signing up for your course. Yeah, I am. And I am a joining the the not the retreat, but where you’re going to Potsdam in Potsdam. Oh yeah. The conference. I’m joining it virtually not in person, unfortunately. Yeah. So, yeah, so we’ll make sure that we have those links Jan, before I close off, I usually ask the guests three questions from my evolve book.

Are you game for me asking those three for you right now? Sure. All right. So the first question is, around self awareness. And I was always find helpful when people can share a moment of enlightenment, a moment of, ah, something you’re comfortable sharing that really just took your level of self awareness from here to here.

[00:48:46] Jan: Well, I think I did refer to it. Actually, I thought about it when I read the three questions. I think early on being in that relationship in psychotherapy really changed or deepened. I mean, something in me went to that. I was like 17. Wow. Something in me went to that and I was very lucky to find the therapist I found.

And I, I remember feeling that sense of physically shifting in my body and feeling this release in my body. And I felt better when I would go and have an experience where I could open and talk about what I was feeling. Right. I knew I began to realize this is in my body. And it would happen way back then.

And that’s really what I followed through to. This is a felt shift. We call it right in Jenlin’s work. And then in my work, I created this model of connecting that. With the shift in the nervous system, right? So I was shifting often from a sympathetic flight fight into a ventral place. 

[00:49:57] Carolyn: Yeah. You know, Jan, it’s such a great reminder that self awareness isn’t just a cognitive thing.

No, it 

[00:50:06] Jan: was, I, when I thought back, I thought, Oh, that’s what that was. And it felt so good, you know, Jenlin would have emphasized that it’s a physical release in the body. 

[00:50:15] Carolyn: Yeah. Oh, beautiful. Yeah. Second question is a practice, a ritual, something that you do that helps your nervous system stay in the state that you would like it to in a regulated state.

[00:50:29] Jan: Although I would, I want it to, to, to move up into flight fight if I need it to. Right. Yeah. Well, you know, I have a felt sense polyvagal grounding practice, which is available on my website. Okay. Download. It’s going to be in my, my new book, 20 embodied practices. And I use that practice a lot. And it’s basically connecting first in with where you are in your nervous system.

And I do it through muscles. How your muscles feel in your body. So in, in flight fight, they’re constricted in a dorsal shutdown. They’re loose and heavy. And in a ventral place, they feel just right, right? There’s a weight to them, but it’s not too much and it’s not constricted. And then, so we learned to work with what state we’re in and then to move into a grounding place in the body through the felt sense.

So we can use these grounding felt sense places to resource. So I could, if you go to like, you know, a place where you feel calm and good about life, and then you, you can really like, imagine the felt sense of that in your body and you can get a handle for it. And then we also use body cards. My work is very graphic.

People. Yes. Yes. Lots of imagery of how to work with the with the body and use body cards to record those resources. So when you feel like you can’t find it anymore, you can look at the image that you drew with color and shape on a body and you can find it again in your body. If you practice, it’s right.

These things are a practice. They’re like, you have to keep at it so that you’re building new neural pathways as you go. 

[00:52:15] Carolyn: Hmm. All right. Now, the last question, thank you for that. The last question has to do with music. I think it’s a great way to co regulate. Love being at concerts. I’m going to one next week.

Oh, nice. What is a song or a genre of music that just really helps you feel connected to something bigger than yourself? 

[00:52:39] Jan: Well, when we look, talk, talked about this before, I love that song We the World. We are the world. We are the world. Yeah. Just a wonderful song that, and the visual, you know, that you can see online, but the other one that I really love, and I don’t remember who sings it, but do you know this song I’m Coming Out?

Yes, I think, 

[00:52:58] Carolyn: yeah, that’s Diana Ross and the Supremes, I think, yeah, yeah, I love that song. And I just like, feel your body, like, just going right in with it, yeah, yeah. 

[00:53:09] Jan: And coming out is like what bodies want to do, is what we’re doing. Wow. I play songs like that at the beginning of every class. And then we get that felt sense in the body and then you really hold onto it through the handles.

Like the handles, like a way of finding it again, you know, 

[00:53:31] Carolyn: is music is music. Music’s like, Where was I going to, I was going to ask specifically something just came to me about about music and how it really can be absorbed into our system. 

[00:53:42] Jan: Yeah, and that, you know, that’s a lot of that’s connected to Steve Porges safe and sound protocol where he use it.

The the sound. That activates the ventral vagus and then the ear hole, and then you’re connecting in with safety and grounding in the body. It’s, it’s like when mothers would sing lullabies. 

[00:54:01] Carolyn: Right. I am doing SSP right now. Oh, fantastic. Yeah. Yeah. So, well, Jan I please accept my tremendous amount of gratitude for you coming on the show when you replied back and said, yes, I will.

I just, it, I was just so delighted and just so honored that you came on. I really enjoyed talking with you. Yeah. Wishing you the best of luck with your edits. Count me as one of your pre, your early readers if you’d like and have a safe, a safe trip. Thank you so much for having me. Okay.

Oh, well, I am still buzzing from that conversation with Jan being able to speak with a global leader in the space of polyvagal theory and felt sense is really just an honor. And it’s really exciting to be bringing this work to all of you listening and to all of you future listeners as well. I’d love to hear what you thought about that episode.

What resonated for you, as Jan said. You know, there’s some new things in here that you might not have heard of before. That might seem a little bit distant and hard to grasp. And the invitation that I will extend to you as well is to get curious to maybe look up a few things with it. Maybe you want to reach out to Jan.

Maybe you want to reach out to me. I’m finding in my workshops and in my work with leading organizations. This approach, this desire to understand the wisdom in our body is really starting to surface more than it ever has before. Thank you so much for listening. Like I said, please let me know what you think, leave a comment on whatever platform you are listening to leave a rating as well, and please feel free to share it with.

Somebody who you love and you want to see excel and shine in life. If you want to reach out to me, you can find me at carolynswara. com. And if you’re interested in my book, that’s also available as well. At any virtual location, you buy your books and even in some local bookstores and large chains in Ontario, Canada.

Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.

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