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What is Poly Vagal Theory?

Polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, is a theoretical framework that explains how our autonomic nervous system (ANS) responds to social and environmental cues. The ANS is the part of the nervous system that controls unconscious bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, and breathing.

According to polyvagal theory, the ANS has three distinct branches: the ventral vagal, sympathetic, and dorsal vagal. Each branch is associated with a different state of being and serves a different function.

The ventral vagal branch is the newest evolutionary development in the ANS and is associated with social engagement and connection. When we are in a ventral vagal state, our ANS is calm, and we feel safe and connected to others. This is the optimal state for learning, growth, and creativity.

The sympathetic branch is the fight or flight response that we experience in response to perceived threats. When we are in a sympathetic state, our ANS prepares us for action, and we experience physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension.

The dorsal vagal branch is associated with immobilization and dissociation. When we are in a dorsal vagal state, our ANS slows down, and we may feel numb, disconnected, or overwhelmed. This state is often associated with trauma or extreme stress.

In coaching, understanding polyvagal theory can be beneficial for both coaches and clients. During my coaching I use this framework to help my clients understand their own physiological responses to different situations and learn how to regulate their ANS to optimize their responses and performance.

For example, if a client is feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I can can help them recognize that they are in a sympathetic state and teach them strategies to regulate their ANS, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, hypnotherapy or visualization exercises.

Similarly, if a client is feeling disconnected or shut down, I can can help them recognize that they are in a dorsal vagal state and support them in finding ways to reconnect with themselves and others, such as mindfulness practices, self-care routines, vagus nerve exercises, or social activities.

Finally, during coaching with me I educate and encourage my clients to cultivate a ventral vagal state by creating a safe and supportive coaching environment where my clients feel seen, heard and understood.

If you are curious and would like to learn more about Polyvagal Theory and coaching with me, please reach out!

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