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Whole Body Approach

Vagus nerve anatomy

Polyvagal Theory

Polyvagal theory describes how the body reacts and relates to challenges we face in our lives. Traditionally, we have understood the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to consist of two primary responses: one of activating signals (up-regulation) and one of calming signals (down-regulation). These nervous system reactions help us manage and survive life-threatening situations. Most know these system responses as “fight-flight” and “freeze-faint,” respectively. Polyvagal theory identifies a third type of ANS response called the social engagement system, a subtle combination of activation and calming that helps us navigate relationships and other interpersonal interactions. In the context of a perceived safe environment, the social engagement system tells the body to act or behave in a way that enhances or contributes to that sense of safety. So, we can have intense emotional or somatic experiences and move through the full experience because the presence of a perceived threat is removed. As Wagner (2016) aptly summarizes, “When we experience our environment as safe, we operate from our social engagement system.”

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