Polyvagal theory is complex, It proposes that vagus nerve function impacts our ability to stay calm and interact with people in a non-threatening way. It was developed by Steven Porges who has a number of videos about it online.
Practically speaking, when I use techniques that focus on improving vagus nerve function people become less anxious. They are better able to interact with others without shutting down, or going into fight or flight.
This 3-minute routine relaxes and releases tension in structures around the vagus nerve where it passes through the base of the head and descends through the neck. The results produced are similar and consistently leave people better regulated. Calms them when they are irritable. More alert when they are sleepy. More steady when they are disheveled. It is particularly good at making one less defensive and reactive when dealing with others.
I have used it when I’ve had to deal with difficult or annoying clients or students. It has also been useful when I’ve had a stressful time and need to be in a better place before dealing with others. It is really amazing that way.
It even helps when your kids are making you crazy.
This approach is particularly good for people with sensory integration dysfunction. It renders the nervous system more modulated so that it can take in more sensory information without being overwhelmed.
Here’s a video that points out the structures involved and runs through a simple routine for relaxing them.
I have used these trays for years at home and in my practice. Big square cubes are easier to manage than small, round or crescent-shaped cubes. These trays of 6 cubes are durable and a good size for not taking up too much room in the freezer. They are easy to find locally or you can get them here on Amazon.
There is a longer routine called The Box. It is even more effective for modulating the nervous system. It only takes about 6 minutes once you get it down. It relieves neck pain. It reduces the trigger point activity in the neck which contributes to irritability and fatigue. It also does a better job of releasing the sternocleidomastoid muscle that extends along the sheath containing the vagus nerve in the neck. If you’re looking for a more complete release, try this.
A few years ago I was fortunate to explore Polyvagal Theory and Biodynamic Craniosacral with Michael Shea. At first, it all sounded and seemed quite heady and subtle. Then, I noticed that it lowered my resting heart rate by more than ten percent. My sleeping heart rate dropped from 56 to 49 beats per minute and stayed there for weeks. I started using these techniques with clients and had great results. This Ice-and-Stretch routine was developed by combining those concepts with Active Isolated Stretching.
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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written materials and instructed classes since the mid-90s. This includes anatomy, trigger points, cranial, and neuromuscular.
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