I’ve started reading a new book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, self-help exercises by Stanely Rosenberg. Rosenberg has training in mind/body modalities such as craniosacral therapy and Rolfing and has worked in the field since 1983. He has an interesting approach to dis-eases that we normally think of as purely psychological.
In the 30 some odd years I have lived with some sort of chronic pain, having been on multiple medications over the past 20 years to combat a specific aspect of my pain, I can tell you that any medication that you are put on from a cardiac medication to an antidepressant affect you on more levels than just what you are being treated for. What do I mean?
Without going into the science and pharmacology behind it, cardiac meds can affect your stress level and outlook. Psych meds like what are given for depression or bipolar affect you physically — either lowering or raising your blood pressure, causing constipation, dry mouth, headache, weight loss or gain, etc. Medications can alter your perception, mood, and reality and after being on a med or two or dozen you come to realize that there is no such split as mind-body and you are the totality of your experiences in this life.
So I found it interesting that Rosenberg wrote this book. What I like about his approach is that he looks at “psychological problems” from the stance of the central nervous system instead of brain chemistry which has been the norm for quite some time. In his book, he looks at migraines, anxiety and panic attacks, phobias, domestic violence, PTSD, depression, etc by looking at dysfunction with nerves of the central nervous system. And he uses the Polyvagal Theory by Porges as discussed in my blog post. I was happy to find the book because although I knew about flight, fight, or freeze, I did not know about the whole theory or the wider implications of the Polyvagal Theory, the biggest implication is that there is not just one vagus nerve but multiple that all have different functions. If you are old like I am, when you were in high school health class or biology or you were in Psychology 101, you learned about the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems that
The reason why I am writing a blog post on the book is because although I think the book is great, I found it to be really dense. It didn’t seem like it was for practitioners when I bought it but having a background in mind-body medicine and psychology helped me to get through it. (And admittedly, there were sections that were very physiological based that I skimmed over because they were certainly above my pay grade and my interest level). So I thought I’d write a post about it because I think the information in it is important and the general public could really benefit from understanding the Polyvagal Theory given how many people in our country (and world) are plagued by what we continue to think of as mental health issues or worse character defects (which continues to be an unfair prejudice from mental health and physical health care practitioners and frustrated loved ones).
SO what did I learn?
Rosenberg describes a state of “social engagement” is the term that Porges’ uses to describe a state that we used to describe as the parasympathetic nervous system. Under the new theory, there is proper tone in the Ventral Vagal Nerve and it brings about the following: a decrease in defensiveness and responses to triggers and
an increase in:
- Intestinal Motility
- Resistance to Infection
- Immune Response
- Rest and Recouperation
- Circulation to non-vital organs (skin, hands, legs, feet, arms)
- Oxytocin (a neurotransmitter involved in social bonds like between a newborn and mother or other nurturing relationships)
- Ability to relate and connect with others
With proper tone in the Ventral Vagal Nerve, a person is thought to be in “social engagement”. They experience joy, groundedness, compassion, mindfulness, are open and curious, and are situated in the present moment. This reminds me of the higher stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where a person has their basic needs met and can focus on more than safety, food, shelter, and sex but focus on health, relationships, self-esteem, respect, intimacy, confidence, achievement, creativity, problem solving, etc. That sounds like what we all long to achieve or are blessed to be experiencing already.
So what happens when there is dysfunction of the Spinal Sympathetic or Dorsal Vagal Systems? Check back in the next few days when I will write about both.
Instead of questions to end this post, I will end it with a wish for everyone 2018:
May 2018 bring about great change in the world towards peace, equanimity, and growth. May the root of our problems be observable and be readily and easily changed. May we be open to the support, love, and compassion of those around us. May we understand that we suffer from trauma, grief, physical, psychological, and spiritual dis-ease and that the most compassionate thing we can do in the year to come is to take several deep breaths. May we breathe deeply to change our nervous system and calm ourselves down. May we breathe deeply and pause before we use hateful or hurtful speech. May we breathe deeply and patiently and remember that we are all interconnected on this planet.
Wishing you gentle care, compassion, ease, and good health in the year to come.