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REAL GENIUS: Creating Polyvagal Words & Products

I love Deb Dana and I hope she makes a lot of money with her Polyvagal Theory. However, the author tends to make the material a little more complex and drawn out in order to create her complete line of Polyvagal Products. The reason I bought the book is because it hit me on an intuitive-visceral level and put me back inside my body. This post is my attempt to clarify and simplify her sometimes confusing terms that she has created.

Let me put you back into your body with polyvagal yoga

This post is a summary of Chapters One through Three of Anchored by Deb Dana. Yesterday I summarized the Introduction. Since I am republishing all of this without the authors permission, please click through and purchase the book on Amazon like I did so that Ms. Dana may be properly compensated for my unauthorized use of her intellectual property.

anchor in autonomic safety

Polyvagal Definitions

I created this table of definitions so that I can better understand Anchored.

parasympathetic branch 1: ventral
HUMAN
Definition of ventral: of, on, or relating to the underside of an animal or plant; abdominal.
“a ventral nerve cord”
sympathetic
MAMMAL
Definition of sympathetic: The sympathetic nervous system directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. A flash flood of hormones boosts the body’s alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles. 
parasympathetic branch 2: dorsal
REPTILE
Definition of dorsal: of, on, or relating to the upper side or back of an animal, plant, or organ.
“a dorsal fin of a shark”

This is a screen shot that I took from Anchored when I only had it as an e-copy checked out from the Los Angeles Public Library. I added the red titles:

The Three Autonomic Pathways

It took me a while to figure out that in Polyvagal Theory the parasympathetic nervous system has two branches, dorsal vagal and ventral vagal. I learned about the three part lizard-mammal-prefrontal cortex brain years ago and now Polyvagal Theory helps me understand why I revert to my asocial reptile brain. The three pathways are stacked on top of each other, oldest to newest:

ONE: The dorsal vagal is the most ancient part of our system and connects us to our reptilian ancestors.

Formed around 500 million years ago when we were still prehistoric turtles moving slowly through the primeval forest. When scared, the turtle immobilizes, disappears into its shell. The frightened asocial reptile waits until it feels safe enough to peek out at the world again. Immobilization and disappearing are the survival strategies of the parasympathetic nervous system. This lizard brain structure still exists underneath the newer mammalian brain structure

TWO: The mammalian sympathetic nervous system is not associated with a specific vagal category in polyvagal theory.

Anger is now expressed by the monkey and movement is added as a survival strategy. Fight or Flight are now possible. A shark attacks and a school of fish darts to escape. The herd mentality is born: Don’t stand out in appearance or the predator will be able to identify you and cull you from the herd.

THREE: 200 million years ago the uniquely human ventral vagal branch of the parasympathetic nervous system came into being and allowed us to feel safe, communicate, and connect.

Also known as the prefrontal cortex, the seat of higher consciousness. Self-awareness is now possible. Rituals are created and civilization is born.

As each new system emerged, it joined the older system rather than replacing it, and the architecture of the autonomic nervous system became more complex. The human brain never escapes its reptile heritage.

The Body is the Mind

The information carried along these three vagal pathways travels in two directions, with 80 percent of the information going from the body to the brain and 20 percent from the brain to the body. By putting this information into practice I am now able to listen to my body. I breathe my meditation into the darkness behind my eyelids down into my body. The healing goal of the trauma survivor is to feel safe within the body.

By Dean McAdams

Born a poor peckerwood in a Tujunga holler, Dean practiced secrets of the ancient & modern masters to end up liberated in the coastal paradise of West L.A.