In 1994, American neuroscientist Dr Stephen Porges proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behaviour and emphasizes the importance of the physiological state in the expression of behavioural problems and psychiatric disorders. According to our trauma expert, Dr Lennie Soo, all chronic health disorders including addiction, anxiety, depression and pain are linked to some past traumas.
The Polyvagal Theory focuses on our ability to be socially engaged. In order to use our social capacity, we need to be in the right physical state. When we are in a flight/fight, or more immobilised state, our physical ability to use our social system – eyes, ears, voice, connection to heart – becomes reduced as our body has turned its attention to safety. The theory bases itself on the functions of the vagus nerve and the two tracks it runs on; the ventral vagus, which is our newest evolutionary function which allows us to use our social software; and the dorsal vagus, our ancient system that controls rest and digest, flight fight, immobilise and our capacity to be deeply connected to our inner world. The Polyvagal Theory, now over twenty years old, is used by a variety of therapeutic professions to model how we go offline when we are in a stressed state.
The trauma foundation produced the short video below to explain the connection between trauma and the nervous system. Do take the time to go through the presentation.
If you have any of the chronic issues that are described in the video, what can you do for yourself? Well, in the next video, Justin Caffrey demonstrates some exercises that you can do to release the tension from your vagus nerves.