How to be with others with awareness of polyvagal theory

I’m summarizing polyvagal theory, originated by Dr. Stephen Porges, from a 10:48-minute video interview of him. I’m doing this for my own understanding, and I want to share because it’s a new way of thinking about traumatic responses. It has major implications for my work, and I’ve added my own comments in brackets. I am sure I will continue to refine my understanding.

Dr. Porges says that polyvagal theory is the understanding of how our body reacts to various challenges. The autonomic nervous system [involuntary, like heart beat] has evolved in vertebrates, changing and adding new circuits that function in a hierarchy. The newer circuits can inhibit older circuits. The older circuits were circuits of defense.

[The image below is my attempt to describe the branches of the ANS and how we automatically behave when we feel safe and when we feel threatened. Remember, newer circuits can inhibit older circuits, so what do you do if your friend suddenly looks threatened — and there’s no actual threat in the present moment? You make eye contact and speak reassuringly — helping to move them from threatened sympathetic to safe social. If they freeze, you do the above and also engage them playfully, perhaps by squeezing their hand and inviting them to squeeze back — helping to move them from threatened parasympathetic to safe sympathetic to safe social. Thanks to Stephen Derkacz for the inspiration.]

polyvagal chart

hierarchical branches of the autonomic nervous system in safety and in threat, according to polyvagal theory

Most diseases, including chronic diseases of physical health, are really diseases of the autonomic nervous system, which changes with mental health as well. (See my 2011 post about the percentage of illness that’s related to stress.)

The newest circuit [that Dr. Porges’ research discovered in the vagus nerve] is a circuit for social interaction, only seen in mammals, who have a nerve running from the brainstem to the heart that’s also linked to the muscles of the face and head and is involved in vocalization, listening, facial expressivity, and gesturing.

This [social nervous] system enables our bodies to be in states that support health, growth, and restoration. It’s interactive. [We are very social creatures, and we automatically respond to seeing others’ facial expressions and gauging our relative safety.]

When the [social nervous] system doesn’t work, we start seeing the behaviors and symptoms associated with mental health issues: mobilized behavior, rage, tantrums, anxiety [sympathetic dominance, fight or flight].

Polyvagal theory got its name for an earlier study of the evolution of the ANS where Dr. Porges and associates identified another response: shutting down or passing out, which are considered dissociative states in mental health. Previously to this discovery, physiological immobilization associated with fear was not acknowledged in psychology and psychiatry, and it wasn’t included in studies of trauma. [When fight or flight fails because the person is unable to escape, they freeze.]

People who freeze in fear have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s in the autonomic nervous system, a reaction beyond their control. Understanding this shifts one’s identity from victim to survivor. Behavior isn’t always voluntary, having intention, being learned. There are a lot of responses that are implicit in the body.

Sometimes people who experience freezing blame themselves afterward. “Why didn’t I fight?” [We’ve heard this a lot recently about women who were raped or felt threatened with rape, like Dr. Ford and others in #metoo. Actually, they involuntarily froze.] It wasn’t a voluntary choice. Their body made this decision beyond their conscious awareness. If we had to make a conscious decision about whether to fight, flee, or freeze, we’d probably be dead. It’s adaptive for the species for our bodies to have this built in.

Our own personal history influences this. Learning through association is out of the realm of awareness. For example, when Dr. Porges was talking to a female colleague with a history of trauma and his voice deepened, she had a fear reaction, because that voice tone was associated in her memory with her father’s voice.

The body responds, and we don’t always know what we’re reacting to. In therapy, the person can come to appreciate the defensive, adaptive behavior of their body. We are always aware of our bodily responses that are triggered by memories associated with feeling unsafe, [even if we don’t immediately recall the memory].

When we recontextualize, we respect our bodies and appreciate these responses. Part of traumatization is disrespect for the body, feeling the nervous system failed us and feeling angry at ourselves. Be appreciative and love what the body did. [You survived.]

The organs below the diaphragm are part of this immobilization response. When people have had shutdown experiences, they experience irritable bowel and digestive problems.  Fight or flight responses are above the diaphragm.

Treating TMJ issues: a series of posts

I’ve been writing about TMJ pain and dysfunction on my Facebook business page and on my Austin, Texas, USA, private-practice website’s blog. Now I’m sharing an index of these posts here on my “big blog”.

If you have TMJ disorder and want to read any of those posts, here are the links.

I view TMJ issues as not just biomechanics, although it plays a role. This issue has social, emotional, historical, biological, cognitive, and spiritual aspects. I am very aware that some people, especially in the mainstream medical and dental fields, may believe it’s unnecessary or even laughable to provide information on so-called “woo-woo” or “fluffy” topics like essential oils, yoga, and the throat chakra for people who are suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction.

So let me share how I came to write this series of posts. Instead of just going to experts (and I have done that), I also asked women who suffer from this problem what helps, and they told me. And I believe them!

Since nine times more women than men experience severe, chronic TMJ issues, this is super valuable information to share.

I want the world to know that TMJ treatment is available beyond night guards, pain meds, and surgery, and there are so many options for self-care: massage, exercises, training yourself in new habits, reducing stress, improving posture, acupressure, nutrition, stretching, journaling, meditating, and more. I’m working on designing programs to evaluate and treat specific TMJ-related issues. More later!

If you bump into this limited and limiting attitude, please share this post, and please share in the comments your experiences and any other resources you have found helpful.

Wellness news and private appointments

Featured

I’m writing 30 posts in 30 days on my Facebook business page on TMJ disorder (jaw pain and dysfunction), which is something I treat. Please follow and like if this topic interests you, or you know someone who would be interested.

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Would you like to subscribe to my quarterly newsletter? It includes inspiration, invitations, self-care practices, embodiment exercises, and wellness news you can use.

If so, please send an email to wellbodymindspirit@gmail.com with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line, and I will add you to my email list. You will only get this quarterly newsletter, from which you can easily unsubscribe if you wish.

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I have an advanced integrative bodywork practice in Austin, Texas. I focus on bodywork, where people typically stay clothed and experience themselves in a new way.

Some descriptors my clients have used after a session with me include:

  • being more organized, more coherent
  • being lighter on my feet, more grounded, more solid, in my body
  • moving with effortless ease
  • having better posture, aligned
  • feeling expanded, less stuck, more freedom
  • feeling more confident

My most transformative work has roots in both Chinese medicine and osteopathy.

One of the treatments I’m most known for is TMJ Relief. I offer a free 30-minute consultation for those who are curious about what a well-trained and experienced massage therapist can do to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction.

I integrate multiple techniques into sessions as needed.

For more info or to book an appointment online, please check out my website.

No more ads!

As of November 2, 2016, you will not see any advertising on this blog! WordPress used to charge $100 to run an ad-free blog, which I thought was too expensive, given that I’m already paying them to run this blog.

The price came down, as I learned when I helped a friend set up a WordPress website. It now costs $2.99 a month, payable annually, to remove all advertising. I can afford that.

Thank you, WordPress.

It’s not that I’m totally opposed to advertising. A lot of what we do in our human interactions is marketing goods and services, when we praise or disdain restaurants, books, movies, massage therapists, cars, candidates, jobs, insurance companies, and so on. I like word-of-mouth best, but sometimes I seek online help finding a good place to spend my money.

Advertising is so prevalent in our 21st century American culture: on signs, billboards, the sides of trucks, bumper stickers, television, and rampantly on the internet. It feels distracting, like I’m being yelled at or grabbed without my consent. It’s insidious and annoying. And no, I don’t equate invasive capitalism with democracy. I want a choice.

I thought I could I ignore the ads, but when I began to use AdBlock, I must say it feels so much more satisfying to view websites without ads. I can appreciate the design, and it feels like a more peaceful, relaxing experience I can savor.

I know that some good websites rely on the income from ads. My response is, give me the option to subscribe without ads. If I like it, I might pay a few bucks to keep it ad-free.

I had no choice about which ads appeared on my WordPress blog. Wanting to be in integrity with my mission as a wellness blogger, when I saw a McDonald’s ad on my blog, I stopped allowing WordPress to freely run ads. (Not that I had enough views to earn even one cent from it.)

The single ad WordPress insisted on making me pay to remove is now gone.

May you enjoy your ad-free experience here.

Come get a Zero Balancing session. It’s on me.

September 2016 newsletter sent to my Austin area mailing list. To subscribe, send your email address to mareynolds27 at gmail dot com.

Free Zero Balancing? Discounted craniosacral therapy? Read on! From MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB. Thanks from my heart for making my work possible.

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The view out the window in my new office.

Free Zero Balancing!

Everyone (well, almost) likes free bodywork, right? I’m just back from Zero Balancing II training in San Antonio, where I deepened my knowledge, got lots of supervised practice and feedback, and refined my technique.

Now I’m bringing it back to you. Continue reading

My work in May 2016: a massage therapist recounts what she actually does

I started offering my massage and bodywork clients custom sessions at the beginning of 2016. Clients choose the length of session they want, and when they arrive, we discuss their issues. I figure out how I’d like to proceed (that is, which modalities to use, in which order), run it by the client, get their input and consent, and the work begins. The client and I both know that if we need to change direction in the middle of a session, we can — and sometimes that happens.

Before 2016, clients signed up by length of session and modality (for example, 90 minutes of craniosacral therapy). Once I felt confident about mixing modalities, it made more sense to offer custom sessions, tailoring my work to the client’s needs. But without modality descriptors, I imagine that some people wonder what I actually do in a custom session — and how I work and follow up with clients, how people find me, how my practice grows. That’s the reason for this blog post. Plus, I’ve never really tried to summarize a month of work before. It seems worthwhile.

Continue reading

A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too. Continue reading

TMJ massage relieves jaw issues and renews the spirit

A client came to me a couple of weeks ago for 90 minutes of “Whatever Works”. During the session, she learned that I offer TMJ* care sessions and asked a lot of questions about it. She had not known previously that a trained, skilled bodyworker could relieve the symptoms of TMJ disorder – jaw pain and tightness, clenching, grinding, popping, clicking, locking, etc.

I explained to her a bit about the anatomy of the jaw, my TMJ Care package, and the outcomes of my TMJ clients. Since others are likely unaware that trained massage therapists can offer TMJ relief, I’ll share that info here. Continue reading

Board certification achieved!

I just learned that I have successfully jumped through all the hoops on my way to becoming board certified in therapeutic massage and bodywork.

Board certification is a voluntary credential that means:

  • I took an exam and became nationally certified in therapeutic massage and bodywork.
  • I have received over 750 hours of approved massage and bodywork training.
  • I have over 250 hours of work experience in massage and bodywork.
  • I passed a national background check.
  • I maintain CPR certification.
  • I agree to uphold standards of practice and a code of ethics.
  • I oppose human trafficking.

Continue reading

Massage clients wanted!

monkeymassage

Need to dump your stress, chill, release tension, move better, relieve pain, recover from an injury, treat a condition?

I can help.

I’ve been doing massage for four years now, and for the first time, a contract has fallen through. It’s nobody’s fault: my employer (a small unit in huge company) was internally audited. The audit caught some irregularities in my paperwork, and I can’t work there until it’s straightened out. Since it’s a huge bureaucracy known for its slowly turning administrative wheels, I have no idea how long that will take but I’m not holding my breath. Continue reading