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Feeling anti-social? May just need to modulate your viscera.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

The vagal brake is an embodied system of regulation.

Without the vagal brake, we lose our anchor in safety, centering, and connection. When the vagal brake is centered, we feel centered in our physiology. We feel centered emotionally. We feel prepared for connection. After more than 2 years (hello, worldwide pandemic) of unprecedented disconnection – we could all benefit from regulating resources like a strong vagal brake.


If we have never learned state-shifting, the body will prepare to stay (halt, lock, tense, tremble) in sympathetic mobilization, or into the deep dive of dorsal vagal collapse. Brrrrr, is it chilly in here, or is that just the freeze state taking over? Is it all in our minds or are our bodies responsible to carry some of the burden? This set of tools I've untraditionally compiled on the topic of regulation, and connection teeters on the margin of making certain not to minimize your individual lived experience, and providing actionable tools to normalize accessible psychotherapy for any human scenario.


Myelination: the process of becoming stronger/ building pathways.

Personal communication, Dr. Christina Devereaux, 2017.


There is an untapped biological resiliency many of us did not learn in kindergarten resulting in the translation of emotional, and environmental relationships of resiliency, or neurophysiological myelination. Practicing with everyday moments, albeit mishaps or joys to prepare for minor shifts of mind and heart, is an easy way to exercise the vagal brake to increase capacity when tools were not available. This is where the interwebs, Netflix, and social media can be beautiful, but there is a balance in this absorption I often wrestle with. How does our nervous system regulate the age of infinite content?


This balance practice is ongoing and lifelong, and I owe it to two of my teachers Dr. Christina Devereaux, and Dr. Amber Gray, alongside Dr. Stephen Porges, and through continuous education from Deb Dana, Dr. Phil Stutz, and Dr. Gabor Mate.


Burn your hand on the stove? A job promotion didn't go the way you anticipated? Maybe you were gaslit or promised something that never actualized? Maybe you got ghosted after a few dates with a love prospect you were hopeful about? Looking around at our environment, the people in our world, the places we inhabit, and where we place our efforts is the first step: conscious awareness is a guide post within the nourishing relationship for exploring in connection and on our own. Conscious awareness lives and plans in ways that are not plain language, neither in future, present, or past. This can leave us lost even when society is telling us we're found. We are not alone on these journeys of being honest with our selves to then willfully change without the attachment to one result or the other.

We have the nerves found in the image below if we're reading this post.

What if we lovingly entrusted our focus at least once or twice a day, everyday?

.....perhaps leaving us.....


Sense of humor is undoubtedly a defense mechanism of mine, and not even when I'm just feeling uncomfortable in a social situation. The vagus nerve when toned and lean, supports us in social engagement.


The higher the vagal tone, the more challenges the vagus nerve can take on while allowing us to stay present and recover quickly from stress. In other words, the higher the vagal tone, the larger the window of tolerance.

Dan Siegel's brain model describes this nervous system threshold as our Window of Tolerance (1999). The wider your window, the greater tolerance you have for stressful events and demanding situations. The narrower your window, the lower tolerance you have for stressful situations, unpredictability and hardship.





Which brings me to the practices which resonate with me in my routines towards resiliency, maintaining softness & tenderness, when responding to a seemingly threatening response? If you're reading this, I see you, and I love you. This writing is a form of free-flow, my momentum, helping me move forward in the inevitable moments of waiting, wanting, yearning, and grasping onto patience, grace and humility. Accepting all parts of Self (more on a later blog post about IFS) is hard, sticky and super awe-inspiring.

As we begin to get to know our nervous system, we begin to get to understand that one of those is what I call our home away from home, right? It’s where we go more often when we feel under some kind of threat and we end up either in that mobilize fight/flight or that shut down/disconnect. So your home away from home maybe in that mobilization. My home away from home is in the disappear/disconnect. So, there we are.

Deb Dana


Deb Dana has an audio program called Befriending Your Nervous System: Looking Through the Lens of Polyvagal Theory. Deb is gifted at being a translator. I keep the Audible version of her book Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection on my phone, and therefore my person at all times for immediate access to exercises such as: Resiliency Routines, Re-Story, "If-Then" Statements, Rules of Reciprocity, With Gratitude, and more. This is to highlight not all of us have the same HOME, and it's not a one-size fits all, or Stepford Wives/robotic approach by any means.


Empathic reflection: the therapist reflects an individual’s body rhythms, movement patterns, and/or vocalizations to begin the process of relationship formation.

You ever get that feeling when you feel tense at the end of a workday and you just want to collapse? Maybe when you hear an abrupt noise you shudder? Your feel shook after hearing difficult information from a friend. The information may be threatening or not to you in the survival sense, but your body doesn't know it at the time if your body-mind connection is frayed in the ways that all body-mind connections are, just by simply living life! But perhaps you do have a tool or skill ready at the go. You hug your dog, hug your partner, or you take a favorite yoga or HIIT class. You are able to restore your movement patterns in a felt-sense experience which feels genuine, safe, and healing for you. With ritual, and pattern, you are reminded that you are your own healer.


Sensory-derived information impacts us all differently and can form what psychotherapists name as 'tools' or 'skills.' The design of the tools are born from the very second of trauma, capital T or lowercase t, both valid trauma responses. From my POV, when I hear clients or folks on social media say 'capital T' or 'lowercase t' trauma instances, I wish the word 'event' would become more mainstreamed. The event evokes relationship, where as lowercase or uppercase/capital T evokes level of importance and comparison- yet another crude indication of the society we grow, develop, and function within.


Psychic numbing may become a way of life, a debilitating character flaw…The absent eyes, the blunted response to another response, these vacancies frighten anyone who recognizes what they really mean. Who lives behind the empty eyes? Sometimes— too many times— an ordinary child once lived there.

Gray & Porges, p. 102, 2017

Failure, weakness, and vulnerability is like a connector... it connects you to the rest of the world because what you're doing is giving out a signal to the world that says I need you because I can't do this by myself.

Dr. Phil Stutz


Why is it important for me to include failure, weakness, and vulnerability on the topic of the nervous system and trauma? Is it gratitude for all we are given? I believe abundance mindset has an appropriate place in this hierarchy of tools. This is because a connection to your "life force" or "spiritual side" or "higher self" AKA: the consciousness of you that knows there is something more, can sensorially lift you and help you rise above the current problem. It's because I acknowledge there is no such thing as perfection, there is forgiveness and truth in each step. A string of pearls metaphor is how Dr. Phil Stutz's deconstructs useful therapy concepts, among these transformative concepts are his top 5 tools: Active Love, The Grateful Flow, Inner Authority, The Reversal of Desire, and Jeopardy.


Stutz's String of Pearls tool. What’s important in the string of pearls is that every pearl is the same size, meaning that everything you do has the same value; whether it’s as small as calling to schedule an appointment when feeling anxious, or big ones like making the decision to move overseas. All that matters is you keep moving forward and adding pearls to the string. The black dots represent 'turds' in each pearl, meaning they'll never be perfect! This for some is the definition of inner peace and freedom.

In drawing out a hierarchy of needs architecture, Stutz bravely confronts his Parkinson's effected handwriting. His Parkinson's diagnosis is a real-time limiting human condition he can't sugarcoat on TV, with his clients, or in his own private journey. The essence of his confrontation of his disorder keeps him connected to his body and emotions, despite the difficulty of Parkinson's which he has publicly stated, he regularly experiences a symptom called “freezing of gait,” which makes him feel as if his feet are “literally stuck to the floor.” “Sometimes,” writes therapeutic coach Jamie Rose (whom Phil Stutz trained in the practices of The Tools), “to move forward, he has to drop to his knees and crawl.” This is a pivotal moment in observing Stutz's inner workings that stood out to me, and I'll expand on it from a dance/movement psychotherapy lens.


Crawling on the floor, from a dance/movement therapist and trauma-sensitive perspective equates to early childhood development. Stutz has willingly entered an earlier stage of movement development, almost beating his body to the punch of total regression, or letting the Parkinson's "win"; therefore, rewiring his mind into a state of vulnerability as strength, removal of shame, and I'd imagine exercising his tools of: Inner Authority, Active Love, and The Grateful Flow. He knows himself, and his body. It's worth mentioning in the movie he created with famous celebrity client Jonah Hill Stutz, Phil Stutz takes frequent workout breaks, even engaging in a "site-specific" push-up workout performing on a metal piece of equipment for all of the movie set to see, and they film him. His body-mind connection is clearly in loving, total personal investment.


Trauma that occurs in relationship must heal in relationship.

Zaleski, Johnson, & Klein, p. 391, 2016.


The essence of trauma is disconnection from ourselves. Trauma is not terrible things that happen from the other side—those are traumatic. But the trauma is that very separation from the body and emotions.
The essence of capitalism is to separate the mind from the body. And, basically, people are all considered material goods. People matter only insofar as they produce, consume, or own matter. If you don’t produce, consume, or own matter, then you don’t matter in this society.

Dr. Gabor Maté


Here we've landed, for now. My own automatic thought in writing a concluding statement, certainly after dumping some of my favorite psychotherapists' greatest pieces of polyvagal soothing wisdom in one blog post goes something like, "I'm so bad at ending my writing. I can never sum it up without sounding like a cheeseball." But, this time I'll just leave you with this: With gratitude, grace, and compassion, there is something greater than my our collective self-sabotage and neurosis. Our efforts are clear, ringing with truth and love. I'll take the time to soothe my nervous system, exercise the vagal brake, and simply thank you for taking your precious time just now. Such vastness.


Such viscera.


The only way out, as you may already know, is through.



References

Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. Guilford Publications.

Gray, A. & Porges, S. (2017) Polyvagal- Informed Dance/Movement Therapy with Children

Who Shut Down. (p.102-135).





Zaleski, K. L., Johnson, D. K., & Klein, J. T. (2016). Grounding Judith Herman’s trauma theory within interpersonal neuroscience and evidence-based practice modalities for trauma treatment. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 86(4), 377-393.

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