Wading Through Mud - Polyvagal Theory in Practice

According to the Wheel of the Year each season is associated with an element of nature. Spring is air, Summer is fire, Autumn is water and Winter is Earth.

Right now as we move towards the winter solstice we are between water and earth. When you mix the two, what do you get? Mud! You might sense the feeling of wading through mud as difficult and old feelings start to surface.

I was disappointed and frustrated to find myself in a very anxious and nervous state over the last little while, which eventually led to a shut down where I felt sad, lost and lonely. Despite having made great progress with my mental health, this set back lead me to seek new information and ideas to support my mental well-being. Part of my concern was that my stress response was way over the top in relation to the stresses I’ve been experiencing.

I noticed over the past few weeks how it’s not been my mind, but my whole body that has felt “nervous” “nervy” “nerves”……”nervous system”….”The problem is my nervous system!”

I discovered that in fact, due to trauma or ongoing stress our nervous systems can fall into dysregulation which leads to stress, burn out and shut down.

I learnt from Deb Dana about Polyvagal theory. Here she explains:

“The autonomic nervous system is made up of two main branches, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, and responds to signals and sensations via three pathways, each with a characteristic pattern of response. Through each of these pathways, we react in service of survival.

The sympathetic branch is found in the middle part of the spinal cord and represents the pathway that prepares us for action. It responds to cues of danger and triggers the release of adrenaline, which fuels the fight-or-flight response.

In the parasympathetic branch, Polyvagal Theory focuses on two pathways traveling within a nerve called the vagus. Vagus, meaning “wanderer,” is aptly named. From the brain stem at the base of the skull, the vagus travels in two directions: downward through the lungs, heart, diaphragm, and stomach and upward to connect with nerves in the neck, throat, eyes, and ears. The vagus is divided into two parts: the ventral vagal pathway and the dorsal vagal pathway. The ventral vagal pathway responds to cues of safety and supports feelings of being safely engaged and socially connected. In contrast, the dorsal vagal pathway responds to cues of extreme danger. It takes us out of connection, out of awareness, and into a protective state of collapse. When we feel collapsed, numb, or not here, the dorsal vagus has taken control.”

This video is a simple and clear way to understand the science in a down to earth way : https://youtu.be/N_g2pyDEQkg
And a nice article here: https://themovementparadigm.com/how-to-map-your-own-nervous-sytem-the-polyvagal-theory/

You may have experienced a period of intense stress which at first made you feel wired and anxious and lead to you feeling exhausted and desperate. Scientifically, this is you moving from ventral vagal, to sympathetic to dorsal.

We need the sympathetic system to spring us into action, and to give us energy in the necessary moment. Unfortunately too many of us live lives where we don’t bounce back. Or perhaps you were raised by unstable parents who didn’t teach you how to self-regulate.

Either way there is hope! You may have heard the term “neuroplasticity” which means that we can train our brain to form new connections and our brain chemistry can change. Well, now I’ve heard the term “bioplasticity” meaning that we can alter the biology of our body, and rewire our nerves for happiness. Below are some resources. I’ve split them into “short term relief” which are tools to use if you find yourself in a state of stress. And “Long term change” which are tools to alter your biology long term.

May these resources help and inspire you.
May you find a state of regulation in your nervous system, so you are strong and resilient to the challenges of life.

Tools to Support a Healthy Nervous System

Short Term Relief
Breath to engage the Vagal Break : https://youtu.be/txI7mhdl3dg
Vagus Nerve Massage for Stress Relief : https://youtu.be/LnV3Q2xIb1U
Vagus Nerve Exercises for Anxiety : https://youtu.be/L1HCG3BGK8I
Breathwork for Vagal Toning : https://youtu.be/EzKZJwq8srk

Long Term Change
Book : Anchored by Deb Dana
Develop proprioception with NSDR (the ability to notice what’s going on inside so you can spot when you are going into a stress response) - recommended every day between 2-4pm for 15 days to start a noticeable change
14 min Guided NSDR : https://youtu.be/vjXX2c72fYY
24 min Guided NSDR : https://youtu.be/pL02HRFk2vo
Music for Wellness @ Berklee College - https://www.coursera.org/learn/music-for-wellness

Can you recommend any resources?

Laura and The Bobbys
Thanks for reading :-)
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