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    So, what is Polyvagal Theory?

    An Introduction to Polyvagal theory and how it can be applicable to each of us

    Polyvagal theory was originally founded by Dr. Stephen Porges, and neuroscientist and psychologist, in 1994. Within these findings, he conceptualized a way of understanding how the nervous system ( the autonomic nervous systems, ANS) responds to stress and other general life situations. The Polyvagal Institute shares, “In simple terms, Polyvagal Theory helps us understand how our body and brain work together to respond to stressors that are a part of everyday life as well as experiences that are more significant, such as trauma.”

    Our nervous system has three main response states, or “branches” according to the theory. The states act as an continuum that we move through on an daily basis:

    1. Mobilization, otherwise known as “fight or flight.” This is a sympathetic response where the body is preparing for action.
    2. Immobilization, otherwise known as collapse or withdraw. This is a dorsal- vagal response where the body begins to shut down. This response is often associated with the presentation of withdraw, overwhelm, and/ or disconnection from surroundings.
    3. Social Engagement. This ventral- vagal state is associated with the ability to, as described, feel connected and present with others including the world around us. This state is also associated often with having and felt sense of safety within the mind- body.

    Although each of these states is associated with a different part of the overarching autonomic nervous system, each of these states are managed by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve extends from the base of the brain to the gut, circulating through varying areas of the body between. It plays an important role in regulating our emotional states, breathing, digestion, heart rate, and more.

    To note, individuals who experience trauma and/or other adverse life experiences are more likely to become “stuck” in a state, often immobilization, as well as have disruptions in the sensitivity of the vagus nerve. An overactive vagus nerve can lead to symptoms often associated with poor digestion, chronic stress, fatigue, and other.

    So, what does all of this mean?

    The goal is to gain a broadened understanding of the fluctuations that occur between each state in order to holistically manage our overall health and wellbeing. This can also assist us in better understanding others as well. Through Polyvagal Theory, we can begin to humanize fluctuations in mood, presentation, etc. while also learning how to engage in techniques that encourage increased fluidity between the varying states.

    Therapeutic techniques such as somatic experiencing, breathwork, mindfulness, and other are often utilized to deepen this understanding an provide nourishment to the nervous system.

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