Vagal System Support
animals too. However, animals know, instinctively, how to unfreeze once the danger is past. Most humans don’t know, or seem to have forgotten how. So we end up carrying all that stress around in our bodies.
Behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges (pronounced pour-jess), originator of the polyvagal theory, discovered recently that there are “two functionally distinct branches of the vagus…nerve. The branches of the vagal nerve serve different evolutionary stress responses in mammals: the more primitive branch elicits immobilization ['freezing'] behaviors (e.g., feigning death), whereas the more evolved branch is linked to social communication and self-soothing behaviors” (Wikipedia).
Vagal system support offers individuals the opportunity to unfreeze without re-traumatizing and to learn, through supportive touch and by example, how to renew those self-soothing neural pathways. In other words, how to discover within ourselves “the health that is never lost.”
Porgess’s own work can be very dense and technical. If you would like more extensive—and user-friendly—information about polyvagal theory and practice you can order the short book, Polyvagal Theory: What Is It & Why Should We Care? by Lori A. Parker.
Please note: Vagal system support is very different from electrical vagus nerve stimulation.
The vagal nerve is an amazing part of the nervous system, with multiple branches running from the brain through the neck to the face, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, GI tract and other organs.
In the head, face and neck area it connects with many of the sensory and muscle systems that play a role in infant-caregiver attachment—and in relationships throughout our lives. Collectively, these branches of the vagal nerve are known as “the social nervous system.”
Vagal system support utilizes light touch to help reorient the body from the fight-flight-freeze-appease responses to stress and trauma to a place of calm and ease, helping to formulate a good base for healthy relationships, both internal and external.
When someone—adult, child or infant—is in a stressful or dangerous situation and can't fight or flee, the body, led by the vagal nerve, will try to protect itself, often by freezing—shutting down, or partially shutting down, many systems. This happens to