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Polyvagal Theory

About Polyvagal Theory

  • Polyvagal Theory is an approach that was designed to help understand trauma. The theory stems from understanding the body’s vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve in the human body! This nerve is the main link to the body’s autonomic nervous system. Essentially, this theory emphasizes the brain-body connection and how impactful it can be to our mental, physical and emotional states.
  • Polyvagal Theory identifies three different states that the human body rotates between, depending on how the vagus nerve is activated:
    • Ventral Vagal: The state of feeling safe, calm, and receptive to the world around us.

    • Dorsal Vagal: The state of feeling completely shutdown, overwhelmed, numbed or dissociated from the world around us.

    • Sympathetic: The state or system in charge of the body’s “fight-or-flight” response.

  • Polyvagal Theory emphasizes how the vagus nerve is essentially the body’s safety system, and it is our body’s natural way to respond to either a real or imagined threat. The vagus nerve is designed to keep us safe, and it can be activated before we have had the chance to even think about the way we are responding to a threat.
  • While we can’t think our way out of an autonomic nervous system response, we can make use of this theory by harnessing control of understanding how the vagus nerve works and how we can incorporate techniques to improve the vagus nerve’s response. One’s vagal response, or vagal tone, can be improved with techniques such as:
    • Mindfulness

    • Exercise

    • Singing 

    • Laughing

    • Cold exposure

    • Connecting with loved ones

    • Many other techniques that can be learned in therapy