“When I met Dr. Niki, I was a devoted helping professional – facilitating powerful transformation for others but getting more exhausted and ill with every client I supported. As the physical inflammation worsened, I barely had any energy left for my husband and family and didn’t know how long I could keep it up.
Between the private sessions and the skills and tools I learned through the trainings in this community, I have completely reclaimed my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. The newest tool – The Vagus Nerve Reset – is one of the most incredible gifts to this planet. I have more energy than I did in my youth, and the balance, serenity, happiness, and ease is so remarkable that loved ones and friends are asking what I’m doing differently.” -- Amanda Johnson, Entrepreneur & Coach
Embodied Equity: A Polyvagal Informed Approach for Educators and Helping Professionals
By Niki Elliott, PhD
Director, Center for Neurodiversity, Learning and Wellness
LaFetra College of Education, University of La Verne
Research clearly demonstrates the devastating impact of bias and discrimination in all areas of the helping professions: education, health care, law enforcement, and social services. Now more than ever, we need effective approaches to unpacking and disrupting implicit bias if we are to achieve the elimination of health and education disparities in our country.
Beyond pressing issues of racial inequity, people also experience daily bias and microaggressions due to their gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, family income, and/or disability. While bias and discrimination clearly impact learning, health, and legal outcomes, it has been difficult for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings for educators and others in the helping professions to turn the tide on these statistics.
Many DEI trainings continue to fail or receive significant backlash from the dominant culture for a few reasons: (1) most people lack the intrapersonal awareness to recognize and diffuse their emotions and unconscious, body-based triggers that cause them to react in survival mode when their identity or privilege has been challenged or threatened; (2) most people do not spend time in community interacting with people they have been trained to fear or perceive as an “other.” A level of sustained social engagement is required to disconfirm existing stereotypes and allow mindful space for the development of social empathy, compassion, and right action; and (3) following DEI trainings, people need guidance to observe and track their behaviors, giving them an objective measurement of their transformation. They need to be taught how to proactively establish felt-safety and positive social engagement with those they serve, especially those who have historically been subjected to marginalization and identity-threat in public spaces.
In this 20-hour certificate, participants will gain a deeper understanding of how bias lives in the bodies of students who are subjected to discrimination, as well as in the education or helping professionals who are triggered to act on bias towards them. A polyvagal informed approach to this critical topic offers a unique lens through which participants will understand how bias impacts them and the students they serve. Upon completion of this certificate, participants will:
Understand how experiences of implicit bias, microaggressions, overt racism, and social marginalization impact the brain and nervous system and can be registered in the body as a form of trauma for people of all ages
Explore the zones of regulation and how the brain’s capacity to learn, heal, and self-regulate is connected to the ventral vagal state of safety and social engagement. Discuss the implications for academic success and behavior regulation for students who are exposed to identity-threat consistently
Complete reflective exercises to explore where unconscious bias lives in one’s own body and how it shows up as nervous system triggers (fight, flight, freeze, appease)
Practice mind-body regulation strategies that help educators and helping professionals establish and maintain a ventral vagal state of social engagement, felt-safety, and co-regulation with students, especially when triggered by them
Demonstrate an understanding of how to proactively create healing environments that cultivate a sense of felt-safety and belonging for optimized social engagement, behavior regulation, healing and/or academic achievement for all
Session 1: Understanding Identity-Threat as a Source of Trauma in Schools and Society
Introduce PVT and key terms: Neuroception, Hierarchy, and Dissolution
Explore the neuroscience of how the nervous system responds to real or perceived threat and how this impacts the process of teaching and learning
Explore the expanded ACEs study to understand racial bias and discrimination as a form of trauma
Session 2: Regulating Autonomic State for Resilience and Connection
Offer an understanding of how breathwork, and somatic mind-body practices create body awareness and open doors for empathy, compassion and embodied social justice
Teach a set of exercises and practices that can be used to increase vagal tone and enhance access to the ventral vagal state to disrupt implicit bias in words and actions
Understand the importance of the psoas muscle for creating a grounded, embodied presence
Session 3: Exploring the Body’s Response to Racial Trauma and Stress
Review the 3 core processes of Polyvagal Theory
Introduce appeasement as a defense mechanism and how racial trauma impacts the nervous system
Practice somatic techniques that help reduce the impact of racial stress on the body
Session 4: A.D.D.R.E.S.S.I.N.G. Bias in the Body
Introduce intersectionality and explore how it compounds the impact of identity threat on the nervous system
Identify somatic experiences related to implicit bias and the embodiment of social justice
Learn the healing power of authentic storytelling and personal narratives to build empathy and compassion between individuals and reduce bias
Session 5: Establishing Environmental and Cultural Cues of Felt-Safety
Understand how culturally relevant elements of environmental design, sensory stimulation, group rituals, and connections create physical and psychological safety for marginalized students
Explore how leaders can become more mindful and aware of systemic trauma within communities of color caused by environmental injustice
Discuss why we need cultural connection to familiar places, colors, sounds, nature, etc. and how it impacts learning and healing
Session 6: Signaling Cues of Felt Safety and Belonging
Reflect on Porges’ teachings that it is not enough to avoid causing danger or harm. We must actively promote and cultivate a neuroception of felt-safety
Discuss how to enhance vocal prosody, non-verbal cues, signals of safety and social engagement to settle nervous systems
Discuss how to create disconfirming experiences and finding common ground help engage neuroplasticity and re-wire the stereotype threat that exists between helping professionals and those who have extensive lived experience of bias and discrimination
Session 7: Living the Principles of Embodied Equity with Dr. Stephen Porges
Invite Dr. Porges to reflect on what he views as the way forward with applying Polyvagal Theory to advancing the liberation of all bodies in education and in society
Reflect on the course content in light of Porges’ original intent for Polyvagal Theory
Create a personal action research plan for self-observation and ongoing tracking of how bias lives in the body.
Establish a commitment to use embodiment practices regularly to notice and interrupt automatic bias and build courage for compassionate right action
Outline and Format
CE's and/or Certificate Available Upon Completion
Niki Elliott, PhD
Niki Elliott, Ph.D. serves as director of the Center for Neurodiversity, Learning and Wellness at the University of La Verne. Dr. Niki has taught students from elementary school through university over the past 30 years. Presently, she teaches graduate-level courses and seminars in educational neuroscience, mindfulness, and social emotional learning for educators. A sought-after speaker, curriculum developer and trainer, she is a staunch advocate for children whose lived experiences include learning disabilities, foster care placement, and/or racialized marginalization.
Dr. Niki founded the Mindful Leaders Project, a program designed to help child-serving professionals increase personal well-being while utilizing holistic mind-body practices to support diversity and equity initiatives. The Mindful Leaders Project is currently in district-wide implementation in San Bernardino City Unified School District, Pasadena Unified School District, and Berryessa Union School District. This polyvagal-informed program focuses on helping administrators, educators, and counselors establish heart-centered connections with children and families to advance embodied social justice in education.
Dr. Niki earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, a master’s degree and teaching credential at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a PhD in Education from UCLA. She has also earned certifications to teach yoga, clinical breath work, and secular mindfulness practices.
Niki Elliott can be reached at email@example.com.
Niki Elliott, PhD
Stephen W. Porges, PhD
Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium in the Kinsey Institute. He is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He is the originator of the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral, mental, and health problems related to traumatic experiences. He is also the creator of a music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol ™, which is used by therapists to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement.