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For People Who Want to Understand Stephen Porges's Polyvagal Theory

A currated site of the best of the web in Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory with original works by Anthony Twig Wheeler, Cultural Animator and Trauma Specialist.

The Polyvagal Theory offers a revised understanding of the mammalian autonomic nervous system – this can help us better understand human biology and experience.

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Higher Level Overview

Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory and the resulting insights into human biology are influencing the fields of trauma recovery, psychiatry, medicine, nursing, bodywork, disaster relief, education, parenting, acting and performance, skill acquisition and self-help amongst many others.

The theory fundamentally helps professionals and lay people understand why we behave differently when we feel threatened compared to safe and how it is that our nervous system limits or allows for spontaneous behavior and well-being depending on our dominant autonomic nervous system state or “portal”.

In short, how the nervous system limits our “behavior” based on how safe or how dangerous we feel.

With this awareness, therapists to coaches, doctors to nurses, teachers to parents, can better understand how to work with our human biology and expectations of our nervous system rather than against them.

The Polyvagal theory is a rigorous highly parsimonious scientific theory that elegantly explains a wide variety of phenomena, such as:


Why Social Engagement is a birthright to Mammals

The Polyvagal Theory helps us understand the physiology behind the experience of well-being and names social engagement as a critical factor of our capacity for self-regulation.

Role of Sympathetic Activity for Fight and Flight Behavior

The SNS in mammals better explained when sandwiched in a hierarchical relationship with multiple branches of the parasympathetic system rather than the historical counter balancing theory as is better applied to reptiles.


How Our "Neuroception" Works to Detect Relative Safety or Threat Around Us

And how this then influences our behavior toward either engagement or defensive responses like fight, flight or freeze behaviors.


How the Cultivation of the Social Engagement System Can Improve Health and Well-Being

By showing how the nervous system works under threat we can also appreciate what is necessary for the threat responses to let down and natural well-being to return.

Simpler Overview

This site is concerned with making the heavy and heady details of the Polyvagal Theory accessible to you. And thus we’ll say it this way.

Because of Stephen Porges and the people he works with, we can now understand how our bodies work in an improved way than we had before. The difference is in understanding how mammals, and thus humans, have 3 unique branches to the part of our nervous system that controls our bodies involuntary functions like heart beat and breathing.

These 3 branches, call them subsystems of the ANS, each have their own thing that they do and way that they do it. Each one controls specific parts of our bodies and each turns on more or less depending on if we’re feeling safe or in danger.

Knowing just a little bit about where these subsystems are in the body, how they interact and their unique responsibilities gives us an opportunity to relate to our bodies and other people in ways that will benefit our health and well-being in new and creative ways.

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