Friday, April 26, 2019

As I write this blog entry I am sipping on some tea, and occasionally looking out the window as Spring rain begins to gently fall.  It is a ritual I do most every day.  I spend at least a half an hour to an hour each a.m. and just watch nature unfold as I drink my tea.  Everything can wait.  Emails.  Bank statements.  This.  That.  The other thing.  I try and sooth myself.  Remind myself that everything this day will be ok.  I allow my body to feel safe.  That I am secure and cared for.

When I am successful in the endeavor, I feel more relaxed and at ease.  I am able to tend to those responsibilities of the day not from a place of fear and subtle panic, but from a place that is more grounded and assured.

Feeling safe in life is important.

Feeling safe in the work that you and I do together is essential.

Let us explore this further . . .


From the moment you walk through the door to the moment you leave, I want you to feel as safe as humanly possible.

Why is this so important?  The work we do is inherently vulnerable.  You are trusting me with your body and psyche.  This is an honor and a responsibility I do not take lightly.  In every way I can, and on many different levels, I want you to know that you are secure.

We all have our respective histories.  Our relationship with our bodies are complex, multi-layered and deep.  Depending on our childhood, and the various challenges of life, there are perhaps layers and epochs in our body that were never tended to with the care that was needed.

We need to feel safe in order to fully allow ourselves access to these forgotten spaces.  To allow our bodies to open up to new possibilities.  To feel lighter.  Less pain.  Freer.  Peaceful.

First I would like to explore the science and anatomy of what it means to feel safe.  Then, let us explore how this translates during a session.

The Science of Safety.

Our need to feel and be safe is a primal and ancient need.

There is a theory, developed by Stephen Porges PhD, called the Polyvagal Theory.  This theory describes how our autonomic nervous system is constantly attuned to ascertain and asses possible threats. It distinguishes if we are safe or in danger.  It is also hard wired for more pleasurable, and biologically needed, pursuits such as trust, safety and intimacy.

This later autonomic quest is called the social engagement system.  When we feel safe, this system is running the show.  When we feel as if we are in danger, it is immediately turned off.

When we feel safe, this subsystem allows us to engage in life not from a place of survival, but from a place of intimacy and trust.  It enables us to be more creative and innovative as well as connect with others on a deeper level.

This neurological feat is accomplished by a phenomenon called neuroception.  It is happening systematically and constantly beyond our conscious thought.

So, when feel safe our social engagement system comes online.  When we feel or perceive danger, the social engagement system shuts down, and all of our attention and resources goes to how best to defend ourselves.  The social engagement system asks the question, "Is it safe to engage the world and connect with others?"

The Anatomy of Safety.

Ok, so what exactly is the "vagal" in Polyvagal Theory?  The "vagal" refers to the Vagus Nerve.  A fascinating, long and complex nerve that originates from the medulla oblongata of the brain.  It also considered the Tenth Cranial Nerve.  It is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system and has parasympathetic reign over the heart, lungs, digestive tract and various visceral organs.  In other words, it's a big deal!

What about the "Poly" in Polyvagal?  There are many branches of the vagus nerve.  From the base of your cranium to the base of your viscera, it touches and innervates with a sleuth of organs.  There are, however, two distinct branches of the vagus nerve that either encourages us to seek warmth and intimacy, or repel and remain vigilant.

The Dorsal Vagal Complex, or DVC is considered the older more archaic branch.  It is unmyelinated and exists in most vertebrates.  It is much more primal and rudimentary.  It is associated with more ancient survival strategies.

The Ventral Vagal Complex, or VVC, is a bit newer in the evolutionary scheme of things.  It evolved over time to contend with more complex environments.  This branch is myelinated to provide more speed and control.  Here is the main distinction, it is considered the "smart vagus" for it regulates the more sympathetic responses (fight or flight) in order to make room for more socially engaging behaviors.  i.e.  The Social Engagement System.  Intimacy, communication, self soothing and trust are all made possible by this branch.

Safety and Healing

When the Social Engagement System is engaged, we are more at peace and feel safe.  I will add here an assumption.  When we feel safe, deeper healing can take place.  Deeper aches and pains seem to reveal themselves to be tended to with care.

When we do not feel safe, and are guarded, our attention become split.  The Social Engagement System breaks down.  Our focus does not revolve around self care and curiosity, but towards survival.

Again, with each session, it is my hope for you to feel safe.  In geek speak, I hope to illicit this Social Engagement System and awaken the Ventral Vagal Complex.  :)

How can we do this?

When we talk at the beginning of a session to touch base on how you are and what progress we are making, I want to make sure that you are heard.  Your concerns and questions are valid and real.  When we are heard and seen we feel safer and more at ease.  If at any point you think I missed something, please let me know.

Also, during a session, there are a sleuth of non-verbal ways in which we ascertain if we are safe or not.  They all happen on a mostly unconscious level.   We are communicating this through perhaps a handshake, eye contact, a smile, a gesture, how we hold our bodies, how we breathe, how we are speaking etc.  These are cues and information I am tracking as often as I can to better assess where you are at.  You may or not be aware of these many nuanced expressions, but your unconscious mind certainly is, with one particular question in mind:  "Am I safe?"

When we begin to work, this task becomes even more rich.  As you may know I am not only talking with you from time to time, but I am dialoguing with your body as well.

On the other hand, your body is tracking sensations both consciously and unconsciously to make sure all is well.  During a session it is essential that you let me know what your needs are.  If the pressure is too much, please let me know.  If you feel as if you are uncomfortable on any level, please speak up.  If you feel unique and new sensations begin to arise, please inform me.  This way the Social Engagement System remains very much on board.

We need to have our needs and boundaries respected in order to feel safe.  I am usually very fine tuned to where my clients are in their process, yet I still will miss various clues.  Never feel as if "you are gumming up the work" when you make your boundaries known.  This is part of the work you and I do together.  When our boundaries are honored, we know we are cared for and secure.