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72 / What Is The Polyvagal Theory & How Can It Help You Move Forward w/ Dr. Stephen Porges

Muscle Medicine Podcast 072 / What Is The Polyvagal Theory & How Can It Help You Move Forward w/ Dr. Stephen Porges

Highly stressful situations can lead to an inability to act and respond. These feelings have long-lasting impacts that affect people well afterward. However, as you’ll hear, this is not the result of some inadequacy, but an ancient neurological response.

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Stephen Porges, Ph.D. is a distinguished university scientist at Indiana University, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. With more than 300 peer-reviewed papers, Dr. Porges pioneered the Polyvagal Theory which links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of the physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. 

Dr. Porges explains what Polyvagal Theory is and how it relates to all of us on a physiological level. According to this approach, stress has little if anything to do with our physical state, and everything to do with our emotional and psychological wellbeing. We talk about how Polyvagal Theory helps explain a state in between stress and unstress in which we actually disassociate from our surroundings as a result of trauma.

We then talk about how to handle the effects of this neurological response. It may lead to an inability to fully engage with people and feelings of shame and inadequacy. However, proper narrative framing, self-compassion, and even intentional breathing can help to make shifts towards recovery.

How might an understanding of Polyvagal Theory change the way you interact with other people? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

In this episode

  • How trauma can trigger a reflex that leads to an inability to act
  • The ways that stress and trauma impact future relationships
  • How to cope with the lasting effects of trauma
  • The power of breath for helping to regulate parts of the nervous system
  • Ways to make others feel safe simply by using your voice
  • The link between feelings of safety and creativity
  • Technological innovations that may reduce inflammation of the vagal nerve


“I would say that the nervous system is much more rational in its decision-making properties and we have to be very careful about imposing a simplistic worldview on it and trying to make everything fit that simplicity.” [1:43]

“This whole act of going into immobilization or inability to recruit fight-flight is a powerful reaction that many people have experienced. But once they experience it, they don’t know how to make sense of it.” [9:47]

“Breath is really a wonderful gift because when we manipulate our breathing we can change the tone of our autonomic nervous system. And if we change that tone, even for short periods of time, we can experience the world differently for those moments.” [16:52]

“What we really want is to enable people to be better witnesses of their own body and to become more self-aware and compassionate to respect those bodily feelings.” [48:38]


Find Stephen Porges Ph.D. online

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