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What Happens in Vagus Stays in Vagus

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

I don’t want to project, but I think most of our nervous systems are pretty shot these days. Therapists have wait lists for their wait lists. Many of us are living in a constant state of fight or flight. When when it all becomes too much, we might disassociate (i.e. Binge watch Bridgerton on Netflix) or yell at our kids or our dog or our neighbor kids’ dog… you get the picture.

Before I offer a simple, totally doable, suggestion to help co-regulate the nervous system. Let’s have a quick simplified synopsis of how it all works. The traditional view is that we have two branches, sympathetic (fight or flight, energy and enthusiasm) and parasympathetic (rest and digest, depression and inaction). We need both working together, to feel calm yet energized. Movement that uses breath and mindfulness, like Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Feldenkrais etc…, can all be vehicles that move you towards co-regulation of these systems.

But there is something missing. In 1994 Dr. Stephen Porges proposed the Poly-Vagal theory (see video below where he explains in his own words). In a nutshell, humans have another branch of the nervous system, the Vagus nerve, that is deeply tied to socialization. Yes, the exact thing that so many of us are lacking right now. To be truly restored, we NEED cues and signals from other people’s faces and voices, we need to feel empathy towards, and from, others.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was able to sit in on a talk with Dr. Porges. Ten months ago he spoke about how our nervous system is now faced with “mixed messages”. We know we need to isolate to keep our loved ones safe, but on the most visceral level we need connections with others to feel safe. He also said our nervous systems REALLY like predictability, and the unknowns during this time are too real.

Dr. Porges suggests that we text less, Zoom or FaceTime more. We need to ‘see’ other faces and hear voices react to our own. This is true in relationships with friends and loved ones, but also (and this is where your beloved movement instructors come in) in our movement practices. He says, “We need to access a sense of safety within ourselves. We need tools in regulation: vocalization, movement, breath etc… our bodies are evolved to move with other people!!”

The Poly-Vagal theory offers a neuro-biological explanation for what we intuitively know, we need one another to navigate the world with ease.

Try it out

Find a LIVE online class. I try to approach all of my classes and private sessions through the lens of nervous system co-regulation, and Poly-Vagal theory. I want us both to feel, through the screen (for now!), a sense of energy, calm and connection, of general well-being that comes from being seen and heard.

Pilates is the vehicle I offer, but you might want to Salsa dance or do a restorative yoga class, take a masked walk with a friend, or do socially distanced outside Zumba class. Honestly, whatever feeds you. As long as it’s live (online or safely in person) and you can see other people moving along with you, you're actively taking a step to nurture your nervous system. Mindful movement on it’s own is medicine, movement with other people can be life saving!

To schedule a LIVE class Click Here!


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