By Lindsey Rux, AAS, LMT
What is Polyvagal Theory and how does it apply to massage?
Polyvagal Theory is focused on the vagus nerve as it plays an important part in regulating emotions, responses to fear, and social connection. This theory was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges after experiments of the vagus nerve and studied by Deb Dana, LCSW and Peter A. Levine, PhD. As Dr. Porges developed this, he proposed that there is a third nervous system, the ventral vagus complex, which he named the “social nervous system.” The literal translation of “vagus” is “wanderer” as it is a web, connecting all of our organs and serves the Parasympathetic nervous system.
This theory allows us to better understand our autonomic nervous systems and how we interact with our response patterns. These patterns manifest in ways that we might not be aware of in our physical body and that is because parasympathetic (PNS) and sympathetic (SNS) nervous systems are always “talking” and taking in our surroundings. This is important because at a basic level our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are our survival responses; the parasympathetic nervous system controls our rest-or-freeze responses and our sympathetic nervous system moderates our flight-or-fight responses.
Our nervous system(s) can be in overdrive due to trauma, chronic pain, or stress. When our nervous systems are on high alert for an extended period of time, it can result in a presentation of being withdrawn, dissociated, anxious, or irritable. The social nervous system is the bridge between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and by tapping into it we can come out of survival mode and return back into an embodied experience. A trauma-informed massage therapist may use actions and words to assist clients in coming out of a withdrawn or anxious state and back into the present moment.
With gentle cueing and guidance, you can re-connect with your body and in time, calm the nervous system. It is our duty and honor to gently guide you back into your body and allow space to feel, breathe, and just be.
This blog is co-authored by Synergy's team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, Licensed Massage Therapists, and Diabetes Educators practicing in Bend, Oregon. As providers following Health at Every Size® (HAES) and Body Trust® philosophies, they strive to help EVERY BODY thrive.