The polyvagal theory, proposed by Dr. Stephen Porges, is a revolutionary way of understanding how our nervous system functions and how it affects our emotional and physical well-being.
The theory suggests that our nervous system has three main branches: the sympathetic nervous system, which activates our “fight or flight” response and prepares us to respond to danger, the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “rest and digest” response and helps us feel calm and safe, and the “social engagement” system, which is associated with the vagus nerve and is activated when we feel safe and connected to others.
According to the polyvagal theory, when we experience a traumatic event, our nervous system can become “stuck” in the sympathetic mode, which is associated with the fight or flight response. This can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, and it can also affect our ability to connect with others. This can be seen in conditions such as PTSD, anxiety and depression. The theory suggests that one way to regulate the nervous system and improve emotional well-being is to activate the social engagement system, which is associated with the vagus nerve.
The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that runs from the brainstem to the abdomen and plays a key role in regulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating the social engagement system can be done through various techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, and social interaction. These techniques can help activate the vagus nerve and promote feelings of safety and connection.
Deep breathing exercises are one of the simplest and most effective ways to activate the vagus nerve. Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is a technique that involves breathing deeply into the diaphragm and allowing the belly to expand. This type of breathing activates the vagus nerve and promotes feelings of calm and relaxation.
Another breathing exercise that can support the vagal nerve is “Alternate Nostril Breathing”. This exercise involves breathing in and out through one nostril at a time, alternating between the left and right nostrils. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your eyes closed.
- Use your right hand to gently close off your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril.
- Once you have taken a deep breath, use your right hand to close off your left nostril with your ring finger and little finger, and release. your thumb to open your right nostril.
- Exhale through your right nostril, then inhale through your right nostril.
- Close off your right nostril with your thumb and release your ring finger and little finger to open your left nostril. Exhale through your left nostril.
- Repeat this process for several minutes, focusing on your breath and trying to keep your breath smooth and steady.
Yoga is another great way to activate the vagus nerve. Yoga poses such as forward bends, downward-facing dog, and child’s pose can all help to activate the vagus nerve and promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, mindful breathing, and mindful movement can also help to activate the vagus nerve and promote feelings of calm and relaxation.
Social interaction is also an important aspect of the polyvagal theory. The theory suggests that social interaction is essential for activating the social engagement system and promoting feelings of safety and connection. This can be done through activities such as playing with friends, joining a social club, or volunteering.
In conclusion, the polyvagal theory is a new and exciting way of understanding how the nervous system functions, and how it affects our emotional and physical well-being. The theory suggests that by understanding our nervous system and learning how to regulate it, we can improve our emotional and physical well-being, as well as our ability to connect with others.
Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, and social interaction can help activate the vagus nerve and promote feelings of safety and connection. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes in your lifestyle. To get more information about polyvagal theory, contact a functional medicine practitioner or a chronic fatigue specialist in Adelaide now!