Understanding the Role of the Nervous System in your Healing Process

The Nervous System is the Foundation of our Lived Experience


The nervous system is the foundation of our lived experience. It has evolved over hundreds of millions of years and is responsible for keeping us safe and connected. Our lived experience of any given moment is influenced by the state of our nervous system. It is what fuels our thoughts, behaviours, and our ability to connect with and relate to others.


It is important to understand that at any given moment, our nervous system is constantly reading and interpreting our environment, assessing it for cues of safety and danger. Not only is our nervous system scanning our external environment (people and objects) but it is also scanning our internal environment (organs and gut) and sending information to the brain which in turn sends signals to our muscles and organs.


Understanding your nervous system and how it is responding to your internal and external environment can go a long way in reducing shame we may have about how we are responding to the world.


The 3 Main States of our Nervous System

There are 3 main states of our nervous system as identified by Dr. Stephen Porges. This theory has been instrumental in furthering our understanding of our autonomic nervous system and how it is shaping our emotional and physical responses. 


Let us take a look at the three main states:
Dorsal Vagal: This is our most ancient system which causes the organism (us!) to immobilize, shutdown and disconnect. Think of a possum who plays dead. Once the threat is over the body comes out of Dorsal Vagal to reconnect with the world.


Sympathetic: This is a mobilizing response to perceived threat. This is often referred to as our fight/flight response where we have physiological changes to our bodies that enable us to mobilise against the perceived threat through either fighting or fleeing.


Ventral Vagal: This is our most recent system which allows us to connect with ourselves and those around us. When we are in this state we feel safe and able to move through the world confidently and with ease.


The Polyvagal Theory identifies that there is a predictable order in which the vagus nerve responds. As human beings, we will first try to use our Ventral Vagal state to resolve a potential conflict or threat: we will try to connect with the individual and use our understanding of our social contract to resolve the conflict. If this approach does not work, the next level is the sympathetic nervous system: we may feel a rush of adrenalin, anger or even anxiety as we feel compelled to either fight back or to flee the situation. If this doesn’t resolve it, we drop into Dorsal Vagal: we may withdraw, disconnect, feel numb or even dip into depression or lethargy.


When we are aware that this autonomic process occurs on a biologically level it can help remove shame and blame. Knowing that our response is not a conscious choice, but is rather an autonomic response, we can move forward from a place of curiosity and compassion.  From here, we are able to regulate our nervous system and consciously help it move back into a Ventral Vagal state.  When our Ventral Vagal response is strong and online, we are able to feel connected with ourselves as well as others. When in this state we may feel a sense of wellbeing, nourishment and peace.


Enhancing our Ventral Vagus Nerve can Transform our Lives

Incorporating Vagus Nerve exercises and techniques into your daily routine can help strengthen the Ventral Vagal response making it easier to tap into this resource when faced with stressful events.


If you want to learn more about your nervous system response you may want to consider joining our online group sessions where we explore the Polyvagal Theory in more depth as well as some techniques to bring our ventral vagal system online. During sessions we will explore various mindfulness and breathing techniques as well as doing a full Tension & Trauma Release Session.


 If you would like to learn more about The Polyvagal Theory I recommend reading Dr. Stephen Porges’ book: The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory.