theories

The polyvagal theory (dorsal vagal tone), Window of Tolerance and thoracic muscle bracing models seem to be consistent explanations of both reported health benefits and reported adverse effects of some breathwork, meditation and mindfulness techniques. (See Irene Lyon Nervous System and free YouTube videos also Kathy L. Kain‘s resources of how to work within Window of Tolerance).

Traditional Ayurveda has striking parallels with polyvagal theory, also explaining both the reported health benefits and adverse effects of advanced pranayam breathwork. Dr Vasant Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute holds the same view as Dr Gerbarg and Dr Brown, that individualised breathwork techniques and Nadi Shodan, alternate nostril pranayam may be recommended for trauma symptoms (to balance vata).

This is my understanding of how the nervous systems operates to manage optimum levels of activity (arousal). When responding to a stimulus / threat then the autonomic system makes small course corrections to move away from baseline in either direction. Hyperarousal is the ‘gas’ pedal mobilising our attention, energy and focus to resolve the threat via the Sympathetic Nervous system. Hypoarousal is the ‘brake’ pedal conserving our energy and expression and this is via the Parasympathic Nervous System. A regulated system makes small course corrections and returns to baseline once the stimulus / threat has resolved. A dysegulated system makes large course corrections so hypoarousal and hyperarousal responses become extreme and may be experienced as mental and physical ill-heath symptoms.

In Ayurvedic tradition, ‘Pingala’ is the name of the branch of the nervous system that is associated with the sun, the masculine, heating (fire/air: pitta). This may correspond to the Sympathetic Nervous System. ‘Ida’ is the name of the branch of the nervous system described as moon, the feminine, cooling (earth/water: kapha). This may correspond to the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Staying within our Window of Tolerance may be described as coordinated ‘gas’ and ‘brake’ pedals maintaining optimal arousal. Or in Ayurvedic terms, the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ in the body are in rhythm. Internal and external sensations are processed efficiently and perceived as a relaxed, alert, integrated, flow state. In Ayurvedic tradition, this might be described as a balanced vata dosha (within Majja Dhatu).

Being outside our Window of Tolerance may be described as erratic and uncoordinated operation of ‘gas’ and ‘brake’ pedals resulting in ‘riccocheting’ between extremes, a rapid cycling between agitated (hyperaroused ‘fight/flight response) and inert states (the hypoaroused ‘freeze/flop’). In Ayurvedic terms, we are internally burning hot or paralysed by cold. Vata is the internal thermostat that when unsteady affects all other systems. Chronic and unconscious muscle tension, ‘armouring’ may develop to protect the internal organs in neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis from perceived ongoing danger. This may be associated with extreme hypoarousal symptoms, the ‘freeze response’. The dorsal vagal parasympathetic system moves from low tone to high tone, with increased general ill-health as energy is expended and immune system compromised. This may be associated with the ‘flop response’. In Ayurvedic tradition, this might be described as vitiated vata dosha (within Majja Dhatu). Therefore vata balancing remedies are implemented.

Resources

Healing Goes Bad: Live Lecture with Irene Lyon 18 Mar 2021.

  • 24:49 – Calming breath
  • 35:24 – What can you do if you have done these experiences, they have been too much?
  • 37:19 – Functional Freeze & Adrenaline
  • 51:21 – Interoception
  • 51:55 – Being told to ‘slow your breathing’
  • 56:01 – Buzzing energy when beginning this work (aggression/annihilation energy) 
  • 59:45 – How do we know when healing is ‘too much?’
  • 1:03:46 – Titration
  • 1:06:21 – Non-epileptic seizures
  • 1:14:27 – Learning to meditate
  • 1:22:36 – Can’t sit and be calm (get migraines)
  • 1:24:36 – Breathworkers
  • 1:32:23 – Holding your breath
  • 1:33:31 – Meditation/Mindfulness

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