Polyvagal theory is complex, It proposes that vagus nerve function impacts our ability to stay calm and read people in a non-threatening way. It was developed by Steven Porges who has a number of videos about it on-line.
Practically speaking, when I use techniques that focus on improving vagus nerve function people are 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 theneck. It produces similar results. It consistently leaves people better regulated. Calmer 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 trigger point activity in the neck that contributes to irritability and fatigue. It also does a better job of releasing the sternocleidomastoid muscle that extends along the sheath that contains 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 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 and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.
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