polyvagal & dorsal vagal tone

Polyvagal theory helps us describe stress responses as ‘fight’, ‘flight’, ‘freeze’ and ‘flop’ and describe a number of nervous systems. The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems, and the Autonomic Nervous System which may be’regulated’ or dysregulated’ with observable symptom patterns (hypoarousal and hyperarousal).

A low tone dorsal parasympathetic nervous system is associated with wellbeing. This is the ‘rest and digest’ mode which promotes healthy sleep. It is described as a gentle brake on the nervous system, a calming/relaxed and alert state.

A high tone dorsal parasympathetic nervous system is associated with shutdown, the ‘freeze’ response, and a range of maladaptive states including chronic and treatment resistant illnesses and disassociative symptoms. It is described as slamming on the brake and accelerator pedal at the same time.

We want to encourage more of the low tone of the dorsal vagus nerve which helps provide more repair and immune enhancing function.

The ventral vagal nervous system engages the face, throat and heart. This is associated with social engagement, recognising and expressing social engagement cues and detecting interpersonal signals that may indicate safety or danger.


  • Stephen W. Porges. “‘The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation” (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) 1st Edition’


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