Interview with Deb Dana, LCSW
Tuning Into Your Nervous System and Trusting Its Goodness
Charlotte: Okay. Deb, I'm so happy to be interviewing you today. Deb Dana is a licensed clinical social worker. Let me introduce you a little. She brings the Polyvagal system into her work with clinicians, helping them understand their own needs especially around healing trauma.
Deb has co-authored a book with Stephen Porges called, Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory. Steven Porges is the gentleman whose decades of research brought new understandings about our nervous system specifically the Polyvagal system to us. That book as well as her own book, The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy will be coming out next year and I know we all be looking for that.
I've had the privilege of mentoring with Deb for some time now and I was introduced to Deb through Linda Graham, so a big shout out to Linda, marriage and family therapist, for connecting us.
So Deb, I want, first of all before I forget I also want to mention your website which tells a lot about you, your work and gives us a way to actually read some of your writing. It's really useful reference as well. That will be in the resources.
Deb: Thank you. It is a delight to be here with you.
Charlotte: Thank you. So I'm a little nervous but it's really such a privilege so --
Deb: Your nervous system's sending you a few messages already.
Charlotte: My nervous system has been sending me some messages. Absolutely. So I wanted to ask you just a couple of questions, Deb. One is, how did you get interested in the Polyvagal system?
Deb: So I have always been a neuroscience geek and think that as a clinician, as a social worker, as a therapist understanding what goes on inside the brain and body of my clients is important. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to actually go into histology lab and work with human brains which was fascinating. Then when Steve's book came out, his first book, The Polyvagal Theory, I read that and was hooked. It's just everything suddenly made sense to me in a new way.
So having read his book, I was associated with a group at the time, Island Institute for Trauma Recovery, and one of our missions was to bring trainings to Maine, I live in Maine. Bring trainings to Maine, so that we didn't always have to travel to Boston to learn and be with interesting new cutting-edge people and ways of working and so we invited Steve to come and do workshop for us. That was in 2013, and he and I just created a friendship.
I loved his work. It's really brilliant work, the Polyvagal theory and yet he's a very humble and kind and generous man. So he equally liked the way I was experimenting with bringing his theory into the clinical world. So it kind of started from there and has been a deepening friendship and collaboration ever since then so I'm now what I would call a passionate Polyvagalist.
Charlotte: Wow, and that's contributed so much to me, your passion.
Charlotte: So I feel like you've already really touched into how your own interest is an example for those of us that may not be familiar with the Polyvagal system. I just wanted to ask if there's anything you might add for those who aren't familiar with the Polyvagal theory or maybe they've read something about it and it seems heady.
Deb: Yes it’s often called that.
Charlotte: How making it experiential? What you've noticed about that in your work with other professionals or practitioners or people, just individuals that are on their own healing journeys?
Deb: Yes. So my belief is, that we all should understand our brain and body systems. We all need to know about our autonomic nervous system and Steve's original writing was very rich and dense and for many of my colleagues, not where they wanted to spend their time. His more recent writings and his Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory is much more friendly in tone.
So my work has been to translate Polyvagal theory into user-friendly language and to really help everybody, clinicians and clients, understand their nervous system so that they can be an active operator of their nervous system rather than having it simply run in the background directing their daily lives.
And when you bring it from theory into embodied practice, your life changes. So my hope is that -- for your listeners -- their life will change as they begin to understand their nervous system and as you take them through your webinar series it will help them get to know their nervous system in a deep way.
Charlotte: Boy, just listening to you I can feel my system shift.
I hope that too.
Deb: Yes that happens all the time that nervous system shift and we don't track it the way that we can learn to track and we can learn to tune into that, which is what you're bringing to your participants. A bunch of different ways to tune in and get the benefit of information that you nervous system is sending.
Charlotte: And personally for me I'll just share that this piece of understanding about my own system has really been very, very transformational in a way of just allowing me to be present for my experience so much more directly and bringing, just feeling confidence about how I can relate to my experience. Really a deepening of that so I really want to thank you for that, that deepening in my own experience.
Deb: Nice to hear that. Nice to hear that. I hear that from people in my training programs and from clients that it really does change your relationship to your nervous system which then changes your relationship to daily living, so thank you for sharing that.
Charlotte: Oh thanks, thank you. All right, well, as we begin, we're going to just dive right in. So Deb, can you help us understand our nervous system, talk about the states of our nervous system and how each state has something to offer?
Deb: Absolutely, let's do that. So Polyvagal theory describes three states of the autonomic nervous system that work in a specific order. We call it a hierarchy, so the autonomic hierarchy.
So if we start at the very beginning of the evolution of our nervous system, so the lowest part of the hierarchy, we're going to start with what we call the dorsal vagal system and that is part of your parasympathetic nervous system. And the dorsal vagal system when it is simply working in the way it's supposed to, helps with our digestion and it helps with all of the organs that are below the diaphragm. So from the diaphragm all the way down to your abdomen, all of your visceral organs, so it regulates those so that's when it’s in its non-reactive role.
And then when it comes into a survival response to help us, it takes us into that state of numbing, of collapse, of shutdown, of dissociation, so that’s dorsal vagal. And way back in the beginning that immobilization was the only thing creatures had to use to survive. They would become immobile and try to become invisible, right?
And so now we see in our human form, we see the ways that happens with our own systems or with our clients, that movement into freeze, immobilization, becoming invisible, getting small. You can feel it when you talk about it, right?
Deb: So then on top of that system the next system that evolved was the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system when it is just doing its thing that it does to keep us going, helps regulate or heart, helps pump our blood, has to do with breath, and so it does all of these wonderful things in the background. And then when it's recruited for a survival response, this is where fight and flight lives.
So we have that mobilized, energized, fight-flight response that is mediated by cortisol and adrenaline. You probably can remember a time when you felt that, in your system right now, right? And so, that's its protective role when we have a sense of danger.
And then the third, the most recent system that was built and it's a mammalian system so it's for mammals, is the ventral vagus, which is the other part of the parasympathetic system. Remember the dorsal vagus we started with? This is the ventral vagus and they are one a long conduit of fibers but they do very different things because the dorsal vagus as you remember takes you into numbing, shutdown, dissociation while the ventral vagus allows us to be social and in connection.
So the ventral vagus at the top of the hierarchy oversees our system, and when the ventral vagus is running the show so to speak, all is well. We have energy, we have balance, we have regulation, we reach out to connect with others, we feel comfortable by ourselves. All the qualities of daily living that really bring health, growth, and restoration. So those are three choices.
The autonomic nervous system has those three choices, okay? Our longing is to be in that ventral vagal, safe, social connected place. We are built to be there. If something comes into our world that triggers a sense of danger, the next stop as we go back to the hierarchy we go to fight-flight, right? And if fight flight doesn't resolve the danger we end up at the very bottom of the hierarchy in dorsal vagal collapse. And that's the pattern that all humans go through.
So then if you think about it in order to get back to ventral to the top of the hierarchy from dorsal vagal we have to make a trip through sympathetic mobilization to get to ventral vagal again. So we keep doing this, this up and down the hierarchy movement all the time. And for our clients, their movement along that hierarchy can feel extreme. They have intense responses to triggers and they get into an adaptive survival response quickly and have hard time getting out of it, right? So the work of therapy from a nervous system point of view is helping the nervous system be able to flexibly regulate back into ventral vagal. Does that makes sense?
Charlotte: It does make sense and I'm going to just pause for a moment because as you were describing even this little which is a wonderful choice of an image that we'll find on the article you've written about Polyvagal, this idea of going up and down the ladder, to understand that that's actually how we're designed.
Charlotte: Our system is actually designed to be able to move in that way, up and down between these states.
Deb: Right. Right. Yes, yes and once you understand the hierarchy, and yes I put it on a ladder so ventral vagal at the top of the ladder where that place where we can see far and everything is there for us to take in. And then we move down the ladder to sympathetic where we feel that need for fight or flight and things get a little more narrowly focused. And then of the very bottom of the ladder work in that collapsed heap at the bottom looking up to the top feels very far away, hard to get there, yes.
Charlotte: And so very compassionate, your description because the felt sense of what you described from just how I move through my day, whether I have a bigger perspective, or I feel a little contracted or I feel really more alone, in my experience.
Deb: And so the question becomes -- for ourselves first and then in our work with others -- the question is where are you on your ladder right now? Because that's telling you where is your nervous system right now? Because unless I'm in that ventral vagal state of openness and social engagement I can't connect with other people. I'm in a survival response which takes me out of connection. So we want to live in a world where people are in a ventral vagal state of openness.
Charlotte: Yes and I appreciate that going into our group experience because definitely as we're treading this territory together, to honor that that's actually an aim to come in to relationship in a more conscious way.
Deb: Right and to bring compassion to those moments when we can't. When I know my system has been triggered by something, it's flooded in some way, or it has numbed in some way, for me to have some self-compassion and for the people around me to bring compassion to me, understanding that my nervous system is struggling right now.
Charlotte: And Deb, one of the things that I think is -- I'm going to say a hallmark in how I've experienced you as a teacher -- is that you're willing to name this in your own experience.
Deb: Yes. Yes.
Charlotte: And would you say a little bit about the power of that or the opportunity of that?
Deb: Yes. I'm a firm believer in a practice that I called Notice and Name, so I notice where my nervous system is and then I name it for the person I'm with especially if I'm not in the ventral vagal state of connection because then I can't offer the coregulating energy that is so important.
Another concept of Polyvagal theory is that your autonomic state comes first and then because we're humans, we're meaning making creatures we make a story out of it. And so if I am in a dysregulated state and I don't name that for you, your nervous system is going to pick up on that and you're going to make a story up about it and the story is most likely going to be one about how there's something wrong with you, not that I'm dysregulated.
So it's my responsibility and I think the responsibility of people who move through the world with the Polyvagal framework, to be able to Notice and Name and then share that with you and say, "Wow, you might be feeling I'm a little distracted right now because my nervous system is a bit unsettled." Just as you did in the very beginning. You named your nervous system, right? And I said, 'Oh it's sending you a message, right? And you sent me a message saying, "Oh it's feeling a little activated right now."
So that we have a shared language, you and I. We can speak Polyvagal so to speak and you with your people in your webinar are going to create a language of the nervous system so that you all can be on the same page and understand each other and not get caught up in your own old story that may not fit what's happening right now.
Charlotte: I think what's so beneficial around this experience is it takes the idea that there is this state that I'm going to arrive at and stay in as like a goal.
Deb: Right. Now let's move that out of the way right away.
Charlotte: Because especially for those of us who've been involved with spiritual practice or meditative practice as long as I have, it's easy to get that story going around that I should be able to rest in this place and while it's true that, that capacity has deepened in me, I'm just as capable of being as dysregulated as anyone else. I think that's a really wonderful awareness to bring out, right from the get go.
Deb: Great part of being human, isn't it that we all travel up and down dysregulated and re-regulate all the time. The goal is not to simply be in ventral vagal. The goal is to notice when I leave ventral vagal and have resources to get back to ventral vagal, right? Either my own self-regulating resources as well as coregulating resources because both are required.
Charlotte: And that's I think that's a highlight of why this course is going to be unique really is to integrate both of those aspects.
Charlotte: And I was wondering, Deb, I know we have -- there's a lot here that's really wonderful that we're going to continue to can explore, I wanted to ask because I know some of our participants may be interested in maybe just a tiny bit more understanding from an anatomical perspective because your descriptions of the Polyvagal are so spot on in terms of our experience. I know some of us maybe also looking for maybe a little bit of grounding around like where can we think of the system in our own body mind system?
Deb: Okay good, let's do that.
Deb: The autonomic nervous system is made up of parasympathetic and sympathetic so those two branches right? And then within the parasympathetic we have two pathways, dorsal and ventral.
So let's start with where the vagus nerve originates. The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve -- we have 12 cranial nerves and this is number 10 -- and it originates in your medulla. So if you put your hand on the back your neck, where your neck meets your spinal cord that's pretty much where your medulla would be so inside there is where this wonderful vagus nerve begins.
Vagus in Latin means "wanderer" and vagus nerve wanders throughout your body so it's aptly named, I love it. So if we go from your medulla and we go down through your larynx, pharynx, lungs, heart and if we go to your diaphragm from where we started to the diaphragm is the territory of the ventral vagus.
And then if we go back to the brain stem -- because the vagus nerve is not just one nerve, it's a bundle of fibers so if you think about, I'm thinking about an electrical wire, if you cut it open and it has a bunch of different colored wires in it, it’s like the vagus. Inside this it's a bundle of fibers that starts in a brain stem and goes down to different places.
So go back to the brain stem and this bundle of fibers go from your diaphragm down to all of your digestive organs and that's your dorsal vagus. So when you have digestive issues we want to look at the dorsal vagus, right? Because the dorsal vagus is not working correctly when we have digestive issues.
So then we have diaphragm up diaphragm down for the two parts of the vagus and then your sympathetic nervous system is not cranial, it's spinal. So when you very gently reach your hand down from your neck down and the other hand from your waist up and if you're a yogi, don't try -- there's some pose there, don't do that.
Charlotte: And you've got it. You've got the basis of it.
Deb: But very gently, do not try to reach your hands together so between your two hands that's where your spinal, your sympathetic nervous system is. It comes out of the sympathetic chain which runs down the side of the spinal cord and the axon goes out to then meet its organs, okay? And it helps us do these great big movements as well as innervating the heart and the lungs and the blood vessels. My friend who's a neonatologist said, "A simple way to explain this to clinicians is if your sympathetic nervous system was not running in the background all of the blood would pull at your feet and you'd be dead." That's an easy way to think about. One of the things it does, right?
But that's the anatomy of this autonomic nervous system and the old way of thinking about it was that it was a system, it was antagonistic so it was either or. And Steve's beautiful work with understanding the two parts of the vagus really has what has brought into this understanding of a hierarchy of response, and for clinicians that has been a brilliant understanding of being able to track shutdown, collapse, dissociation.
Charlotte: I know that some participants as well -- and I'm just going to name this because I know that this is also where you live -- is that whether you are a clinician or you're someone who's just keenly interested on how you can shape and interact with your system and learn to listens to its messages, when Deb refers, as she will because her work is in training clinicians and as an expert consultant for this series, she's wanting to educate clinicians in a clear way which I so appreciate. I think we're so hungry for this kind of education and you're providing such as service here. I don't want that in any way to feel like it's a barrier to someone who isn't a clinician and you didn't say it that way and that's not our intention here. I'm just wanting to name that just for clarity.
Deb: Yes if I had my way, a kindergartner would learn Polyvagal theory because it is the foundation for all of our lived experience. It is underneath every moment of our life, so absolutely everyone should understand the nervous system, yes.
Charlotte: And I really, again, I just want to really say what a service this is for your generosity in being part of this series.
Deb: And I guess as long as we're talking about the archaeology or the architecture of the nervous system that we should, perhaps this would be a good time to bring in how the ventral vagus connects with all of these nerves in your face because that forms this social engagement system.
So remember the vagus is cranial nerve 10 and it connects in the brain stem. It's interwoven through evolution that is interwoven with the cranial nerves 5, 7, 9 and 11. So you have this system of 5 nerves that are all interconnected, that then have to do with eye gaze, hearing, and the tone and sound, rhythm of our voice, and swallowing and sucking, so all of these things are now part of this new ventral vagal social engagement system which is why when you and I are talking and lovely to look at each other’s faces, our nervous systems are getting cues from that.
My nervous system is sending you cues and then getting cues back from you and yours is doing the same. And that's what everybody's nervous system is doing all the time. It is looking, searching in the world for signals of safety and signals of danger and it’s also sending through this beautiful social engagement system in the face, cues of safety and danger.
Charlotte: And again, I'm just going to pause for a moment because the feeling that I had in my body as you were naming this process that's going on live, it's very comforting. I feel a lot of safety.
Charlotte: And to slow down and be in this experience live is such a gift and for you to explain how this is really what we're all seeking.
Deb: Yes. Yes and even for those of us for whom we came into the world and perhaps were not met with that loving warm embrace that little ones so need, if we didn't get that over and over, often times we'll say, "I'll stop looking afterward or I don't need anybody. I'm independent." And that's a cognitive belief that we have created to survive, but the nervous system has never stopped longing for connection or needing connection. That's just a given.
Charlotte: And this idea of this -- I think we both use this word "story", this story of this narrative about our life, this is something that I definitely know we'll talk more about because it's so powerful.
Charlotte: It's really powerful. You know Deb, because of -- I'm going to pause for a moment -- where shall we go next do you think?
Deb: Well, I think it's a good time because you're talking about story, I think it's a good time to go upstream from story and go to neuroception, how about that?
Charlotte: I love it.
Deb: Okay. So neuroception is a new word. Steve created that word because the nervous system is acting below the level of the cortex, and so perception happens with cortical energy, right? It's a thinking thing and the nervous system is not thinking in that way so he had to come up with a word so he came up with neuroception, which is the nervous systems way of responding to what I call inside outside in between. So it responds to what's happening inside the body. It responds to what's outside in the environment and it responds to what's happening between people.
Charlotte: Can I ask you to pause for a moment because that's really juicy and I just kind of want to let that land for just a moment. So neuroception is this awareness of what I'm experiencing inside my body, so this kind of excitement in my right around my diaphragm actually, so this neuroception. Neuroception is also what I experienced as we are talking to each other, the signals that you were naming earlier of Name and Notice as well as what's happening around me in my environment. So perceiving all of that because it's happening through my nervous system, is what you're saying? My nervous system is what's perceiving.
Deb: Yes your nervous system, I think we would say is your nervous system does this detection without awareness. So it's detecting all the time, inside outside between, and then we feel what happens with that neuroception so you become aware of a tingling in your diaphragm or a warmth between us. That is the outcome of your neuroception.
So we bring perception to neuroception so that we can use it in some way. But your nervous system is this internal surveillance system that is just working all the time in this way, all the time, and its goal is to keep us safe, right? So the question the nervous system asks is, "Is it safe in my body in this moment in this place with this person? It's always asking that.
Charlotte: And so, is what you're saying then that, that is really for all of us, kind of what's running the show? Like that's really what we're looking for? I know you've said this before but I think it's kind of radical.
Deb: And if we don't bring awareness -- which is what your beautiful gift is to help people bring awareness -- if we don't bring awareness to neuroception then it's simply directs our lives without us being aware of it, without us knowing, it's just doing it in the background. So your work is to help with people bring awareness in these beautiful ways so that we can then interrupt, we can reshape our nervous system, and as we reshape our nervous system our stories change, so we're back to story our stories change.
Charlotte: So understanding neuroception as kind of our set point below conscious level, below the conscious level of awareness.
Deb: Right. Right. And it's sending you cues of the three general categories that it sends. Steve linked each word to one of the states. So, from ventral vagal the neuroception is of safety. From sympathetic the neuroception is one of danger and from dorsal vagal the neuroception is one of life threat. And we remember, it's not truly if I'm in a dorsal vagal response it's not truly that my life is threatened right now but my neuroception some familiar sense in there has that-- brings me to that place of feeling life threat and a need to disappear, right? Yeah.
Charlotte: I appreciate just being able to ask you about it a little differently just because I feel like it's so new that to hear you talk about it in a little different way just helps to maybe answer questions or help us visualize or understand our experience in a new way.
Deb: Right, because we live top down most of the time, right? We think our cognitions are running the show. So, it's sort of a radical thought to think well, my story was created to match my nervous system state. It's not the other way around. I had a nervous system state and then my story was created to make sense of it, right?
So, in Polyvagal practice we're trying to live embodied up rather than brain down and I guess the other thing I would like to say that the vagus communicates both body to brain and brain to body. It's a bi-directional system, but 80% of the information comes from your body to your brain. And 20% comes back as a motor response so we kind of have had it backwards. So, we want to turn it on its head, right? Yeah.
Charlotte: Deb, thank you for that lovely comment about my work about bringing awareness because I realize that in that regard having awareness is in a relevant way for people, in a simple relevant way is we're sort of you and I meet because we both have that same interest of finding ways that are very simple and practical and every day to live into.
Charlotte: You know, you were just talking about -- Oh, and I lost it. Oh, hopefully it'll come back.
Deb: So, as you were saying you know, these simple, easy ways to bring awareness that made me want to sort of say, “Yes, that is so important.” That they need to be easy, simple, and repeatable because that's how we begin to create new patterns in our nervous system, you know, from your practices that you teach that are easy yet powerful. They're easy to do, quick to have some response to, so they're powerful in that way, and so, we can keep doing them. As we keep doing these small practices we begin to shape our nervous system differently. So, that's what you're bringing to your participants, these ways for them to slowly shape the nervous system which is the only way to do it.
Charlotte: Yeah, and how powerful to recognize for those of us that have been in a body based practice. The opportunity that we have to help people become more aware that what's actually happening in addition to lengthening the spine, or strengthening the core, or deepening the breath or, in addition to you know, having more body awareness strictly from the structural sense of caring for this body, which in and of itself is beneficial, but that we also have this you know, opportunity to really directly interact with the states that we are experiencing and to invite that to be part of what we offer is I think takes -
This is where my next question is going to go because I'm quoting you I believe around saying that, “Our state is where our story is written.” The state is what holds the story, and if we're asking someone's body, if I'm asking someone's body to come into a more relaxed state, going through movement is really beneficial but helping someone understand that the state they're experiencing, they can also experience in other times in their life and other, like to be aware that this is a state that isn't only tied to this experience. This experience is one way to get into that state but would you say the resting state of dorsal or the restorative state of dorsal and the restorative ventral state that those are also built into us, right?
Charlotte: So, I don't know where I'm going exactly with this question. Maybe, I've said something that can you can respond to in some way.
Deb: Yeah. I liked what you said about-- because what we've talked about so far is the three discrete states and how they act either when the ventral vagal system is overseeing them and they're just helping us move in with wellness through our daily living, or when they're acting on their own and then we're in a survival response rather than an integrated system.
And you talked about the restorative dorsal vehicle stillness and that is actually a state in which ventral and dorsal are working together. So, it's a more complicated state because it involves two states interacting. The ventral bringing the safety to the dorsal vagal’s immobilization.
So, it's like you know, if they're connected and working together. So, this full length from your medulla all the way down, it goes through your diaphragm up and down works together. We can have that lovely restorative rest, deep silence. You know, this is stillness, safely still. We can be safely still when we're there.
Then the other state that is a shared state is when ventral and sympathetic are working together. I like to think of them holding hands and playing because that's native play, right?
We can you know, we get energized and we get competitive but we're still having play and if they don't hold hands anymore then play becomes aggression, right? The fun turns into fear pretty quickly. So, again it's a more complicated state for many people. I often ask them people when I'm doing a training, “Okay, if I said we're going to take a 10 minute break and then when we come back we're going to have ten minutes of play time. What does your nervous system say?” It is so fascinating because you get a fair smattering of people who go ventral vagal, “Yahoo!” And a lot of people who say, “I'm terrified. I'm going to run away.” Or, “I'm now frozen and I'm going to disappear.” So, play is not easy.
Right, not easy.
Deb: So, I don't know what your nervous system said when I said what would happen if I said ten minutes of play? But everybody, all of your participants are going to have a different experience and I think that's one of the things we really need to attend to when we're even you know, in our family systems, with our friends, colleagues, working with other people in groups, that our nervous systems are all toned because of our life experience.
The autonomic nervous system is a system of relationship. It is toned by what happens between people, right? So, your nervous system and my nervous system have had very different experiences within this broad category of similarity. We then each have our own response patterns.
Charlotte: It’s interesting Deb, because I appreciate your checking in around well what was my experience when you were saying that, and I I'm curious because I think we've talked about this kind of thing before but I had this experience like, “Oh, it's Deb. I want to play with Deb.” Then there is also this other like, “Well, this is kind of-.” Like, wonder what's this kind of -- Like is this going to be okay? You know, so, it was a little bit like this, right?
Deb: Yes. So, because you and I have a relationship there's maybe enough cues of safety that we've had together so that your system said, “Oh, I can play with Deb.” But then there's this other piece that may be based in your history somewhere that says, “Oh unknown. Unpredictable. It’s a little scary.”
Charlotte: Yes, exactly. I know that that's like a journey to explore unpacking. It could be around play. I guess it could be around times when I didn't feel safe like when there was danger or at times when I didn't feel connected, would that be like a fair place to go to look either to whether my ventral was able to be there in a way whether I felt ventrally connected. Would that be a way to say it whether I felt safely connected while I was wanting to engage?
Deb: Right, because play in its definition is unpredictable, kind of doesn't have a lot of rules you know, and so, for many people's nervous systems that unpredictable, don't quite know what's going to happen, in past experiences whether it's play or just in life, has brought danger or life even threat. So, we have created a habitual response pattern to unpredictability or not knowing the rules of either you know, sympathetic or dorsal. So, yeah.
Charlotte: Yeah. I appreciate that unpredictability because that's also the unknown and as we know that's you know, just you and I connecting was a step into the
unknown and people signing on for this was a step into the unknown and so here's another example that you've kind of really laid out so well around how just within our own experience, we have this whole range, this whole ladder and that we don't just want to stay safe. We also like to venture out and you know, we do like to play, we do like to you know, do new things and you know, stretch ourselves.
Deb: Yes, yeah, yeah. Maybe this is a good time to talk about the concept of the vagal brake --
Charlotte: Oh, that'd be great.
Deb: -- which kind of helps us stay regulated enough. The vagal brake, the metaphor I use. I use either the brakes on a bicycle or a door opening and closing -- I live in Maine, where we have bridges that go up and down. So, bridges that go up and open and close.
It's that ability of the ventral vagus to relax just a little bit so that we feel more sympathetic energy in our system but the ventral vagus is still running the show. So, it's like when you're going downhill on a bike and you want to go a little faster you release the brakes. When it gets to a point where you think, “Oh, my God. I'm going to crash.” You put the brakes back on, because if you don't, what happens? You end up at the bottom of the hill in a heap, right? In our nervous system way, my ventral vagal was not able to hold me safely. It released, my sympathetic nervous system came on board and totally wrapped me up with cortisol and adrenaline. And that didn't save me. So, then I ended up in my dorsal vagal collapse.
Charlotte: Wow. Wow.
Deb: So, the vagal brake is the important part of the ventral vagal system that relaxes to allow us to have more passion and energy and fun and play and then re-engages before it gets to be too much, right?
Charlotte: Mm-hmm. As you're as you're describing this, again I'm just going to slow down for a moment here because this is a whole different way of looking at my experience to recognize that however much I can draw on that safe connection as I'm engaging.
Charlotte: It sounds like what's going to actually help me in my outcome.
Deb: Right, because as long as we have enough ventral vehicle on board to keep the other systems regulated, we're good. We're good. Right. So, sometimes we need a lot of energy because we're you know, doing something. We want to go dancing or we're passionate about something and so our vagal brake releases and just allows more sympathetic to be felt in our system but it doesn't allow cortisol and adrenaline to flood us because those then take us out of safety into a survival response and so, I'm no longer wanting to go dancing with you because now, I don't want to be around anybody. Now, there's danger everywhere, right? Yeah.
Deb: It can happen very quickly which is why learning to track our nervous system is so important, right? When I reach the edge where I know, “Ooh, one more and I'm going to go over the edge. What can I do to bring myself back a bit?” That's where your practices come in. Your small and often simple practices of awareness. Yeah.
Charlotte: Around that, adding this piece for those of us that have some repertoire of small and simple practices, adding this piece to help us track our own system is incredibly valuable, incredibly valuable because it’s more about a refining of how I can you know, Rick Hanson says, “Live bigger.” How I can you know, go for those experiences that really bring me joy, you know, connecting with people that I really want to connect with or you know, joining my husband's Ukulele group for crying out loud.
Charlotte: You know, offering a signature offering online. I mean wow.
Deb: Exactly, and your vagal brake has allowed you to take these challenges and do them beautifully, yes. I want to say it also allows us to sit with distress safely, to feel the sadness safely rather than getting swept away in it. So, it's not just the happy, joyful. It's also being able to really you know, be reflective and take in the difficult things that are going in our lives but do it from a place of being safely regulated. Yeah.
Charlotte: So, Deb, this is just so timely I think because we're in addition to whatever our own shaping has been through our own life stories now collectively, we're at a time where many of us feel messages that this world isn’t a safe place.
Deb: Right, right.
Charlotte: I think that at a deeper level the more we can know the ways that we can regulate ourselves so that we bring that forward into however each of us are called. I know so many people personally that are called to really provide some greater service you know, take a stand or get involved in legislative action or you know as leaders in their own you know, community or just contributing as volunteer which is also so powerful. The way our voices can be heard, I think this is so relevant culturally you know, it were like real around reshaping our culture because it is not how our news is presented, you know.
Charlotte: It's not even how our -- I know Stephen Porges’ book that you mentioned writes about how it's not even largely how our education is offered.
Charlotte: You know, so we're really like salmon swimming upstream, you know.
Charlotte: I just kind of want to name that because especially when you're already working on a cause and you feel like you're a salmon going upstream, to recognize that also we can support ourselves even within that journey.
Deb: Yeah, and you know, you notice in the world nowadays, you can see the hierarchy in action, right? You can see the sympathetically charged actions and behaviors that that come from a real place of fear. And then you can see the dorsal vagal despair or collapse giving up that come from that place of life threat.
What we need is the ventral vagal hope and passion and moving things forward from that place of feeling safely connected you know. I like to say ventral vagal energy is an un-opposable force, right? You know, Steve talks about benevolence as the active ongoing use of ventral vagal energy in service of healing. That's really what I think this world needs right now. We need ventral vagal oversight over our systems so that we can make changes but do so in a way that is compassionate, right? Yeah.
Charlotte: I just want to appreciate you Deb, because it was you that kind of said yeah, trust in goodness. I mean you helped me really land on you know, that was an idea that came to me and that's the name of this course and that's actually how that came about is what we're talking about right now. You know, there's something really benevolent about our own nervous system when we recognize what it's really wanting to direct us towards --
Deb: Right, right.
Charlotte: Can I just tell a little story?
Deb: Sure. Please do --
Charlotte: I want to I want to hear what you're going to say first.
Deb: No, I want to hear your story.
Charlotte: Well, my story is about this little book that I read and I'll put it in the resources for sure.
Charlotte: It was about this gentleman who was an anthropologist. I believe he's still alive and he spent time in Malaysia, decades ago, when people were still living in small tribes of about 15, and they didn't own homes and they were nomadic in the jungle. They lived so closely connected to each other that language wasn't very developed in their culture. There was actually quite a lot of stillness in what he described.
When he would go to meet these tribes he would walk. Often there would be a tribal member there in the jungle and you know, in communicating. He would say that the tribal person was just waiting because he knew that this person was coming or that you know, there was just this sense of when there was some distress, when someone lost you know, a significant person, a mother or something they had rituals that honored this person and that they you know, they were so closely connected to each other that they didn't rely on words really so much as this instinct of what the others needed.
When we look in the natural world we can kind of see that kind of really collective instinctual knowing that I think many of us at least in in the generation that I’m living in haven't been trained to recognize and I don't want to name it and often it's named as something exotic or something that you know, the native people had this knowing of when there was a bear in the woods or you know, and it's something that sort of mystified but actually there's this way that we know isn't there, like our beings perceive that I don't want to -- maybe some of my examples weren't clear but I kind of feel like there's part of our ancestral legacy that in our modern culture even kind of more removed from how we used to be caring for each other that is also sort of something that we need to maybe by understanding that. It also helps us understand how this ventral vagal system isn't something that maybe so comfortable for us to explore or familiar or what would you say?
Deb: Well, when you're talking about that way of knowing I immediately thought about you know, neuroception, right? That this autonomic nervous system is just receiving cues and in that tribe, they were exquisitely attuned to their nervous system into their neuroception and to the cues and I think we've lost some of that you know. It's still there but we don't pay attention to it. I was doing a bit of writing this morning a project I'm working on and talking about how we either ignore the cues or we override them, right?
Deb: We have not remembered how to tune in to them and listen to the message and then make an informed decision based on the message from the nervous system. So, I think if we did that we would be happier ourselves and we would have a more peaceful and connected world I think. Yeah.
Charlotte: Is it partly in your sense -- I'm really going off on a tangent here maybe but it's a partly in your sense because we are so primed to avoid danger and there's so many cues of danger especially if we're not feeling safely connected like that we're so much more vulnerable to those cues?
Deb: Right, you know, again everybody's system has been shaped a bit differently and you know, if you think about your system you can think about some pretty common triggers of dysregulation for you, right? You probably can name a bunch of them and if you think everybody has their own and some of them are hardwired into us.
Certain sounds like low rumbles or high-pitched squeals are sounds of danger and life threat to our nervous system ,whether we think about it or not it just is. Certain tones of voice like if you know, someone who has a tone of voice and you think, “Wow, I don't really like this person.” You might think, “Huh, I wonder what it is.” You might come up with, oh the voice does something to me, right?
People who have a monotone voice often are met with people who don't want to connect with them and it's simply because the monotone voice is sending a cue of danger.
There are all these ways that were sending cues without knowing. If you have a neutral face, a neutral face is perceived by another nervous system as a bit dangerous because we can't figure out what is the cue coming there, right? So, we tend to back away or keep our distance rather than then moving towards so there's all these subtle ways that the nervous system is reading cues even though we don't know where we're sending them, so, yeah.
Charlotte: Something that you named earlier is that you know, probably for all of us there were times when we really were reaching out for our caregivers to respond to us and they just missed our cues.
Charlotte: They might have been doing the very best they could and they just missed our cues.
Charlotte: I think one of the gifts that you have named and I just want to name it directly as this capacity we have in many experiences, maybe not in every single experience but in many, many experiences that we can rewire what's happened in the past and that we can rewire even how our nervous system has been shaped, that we can actually bring in the strengths that we need and in a way educating ourselves around how our system works is a way that helps us then prioritize where we might benefit from more support in our own system.
Deb: Yes, right. We can find the places where we have great resources and find the places where we're missing some resources and then we can strengthen the places we're good at and we can bring in places that aren't our strong point. So, yeah.
Charlotte: Yeah. You mentioned sound, and you mentioned our eyes, and our expressions, as having cues that either send signals of danger or can I trust this person? Can you say more about that?
Deb one of the Wow, life-changing gifts for me is understanding about coagulation and you know, I'm not a licensed clinician. On the other hand I've been very dedicated as a practitioner in terms of continuing my own personal work as well as personal development. I feel like this is such an important topic to bring into this webinar from a professional standpoint as well, deeply from a personal standpoint.
Charlotte: So, I'm just curious how -- all right. So, okay. Go ahead. Go girl.
Deb: So, let's talk about coagulation because we live in a society that seems to value independence and self- regulation. We keep trying to teach people to self-regulate.
The thing about that is we really can't self-regulate until we've had enough experiences of co-regulating. That's the foundation.
We come into the world, wired for connection. We come into the world with what Steve calls a biological imperative to be in connection with another person. We don't survive unless we are connected with another person when we are born. We need that for a long time in order to build the skills of regulation.
So, if you think about a baby you know, who comes into the world and you know, learns to co-regulate with its mother, right? It's that mother-baby attunement that begins the journey of coregulation. You know, for many babies there's a misattunement.
You talked before about you know, just it wasn't a fit there's a misattunement for all sorts of reasons you know, whether it simply isn't a fit, whether mom is not able to regulate herself, whether the baby has a medical issue. There are all sorts of reasons that misattunement happens and then we don't get enough of those co-regulating opportunities, right?
So, as grown-ups we're still looking for them. If our experience has missed opportunities for co-regulating our nervous system still wants that. In fact until the day we die we're looking for co-regulating experiences. So, we need those that's my nervous system and your nervous system need to have reciprocity.
You know, I offer you receive. You offer. I receive. There’s back and forth flow of regulation and that doesn't mean that I'm always regulated and you are but it means that if I'm dysregulated, you can bring your regulated system to help me re-regulate and then I do the same for you. So, we're in regulation and then we lean and then we come back and then we lean and then we come back and that's the gift of co-regulation and co-regulation builds trust and connection and deepens intimacy, right? Self-regulation builds different things.
You know, trust in my own capacities, it doesn't build intimacy between us. It builds my own capacity to regulate and it's important. Self-regulation is important because if I'm going to be a trustworthy person in the world people have to know that I can both self-regulate and safely co -egulate, so they're both necessary both necessary.
I think we kind of miss the boat though as grown-ups in this society around knowing that we still need to co regulate. Many of the people I work with find the need for co-regulation to be deeply distressing because co-regulating was never a safe option you know, so when they find out they still need it, it's a little scary. I say but we can learn how to do it safely.
There are safe people in the world. That's what our nervous system needs to know. There are other nervous systems in the world that are safe and can co regulate with us.
Charlotte: I think one of the things that I'm just I just really want a name for myself in my work with this course and in my work in general is that sometimes when I’m in the position of leading an exercise or you know, having others in my group who have needs that are very different from my own sometimes what I experience is that my system gets flooded. My system gets activated in the moment and sometimes I need to pause and I may need to ask the group you know, for support to navigate this moment because I'm a work in progress. I'm a work in process and we all are.
Charlotte: I think it's that level of transparency that I really want to Wow, celebrate! because that's what brought me into this work, was recognizing that who I am is my teaching in the moment and Wow. I mean that's in a way very -- it felt very responsible on the one hand around the self-regulation and then on the other hand it's also this incredible gift to connect in such a genuine way.
Deb: Yes, yes. Again, your transparency, your Notice and Name, and then ask for what your nervous system needs is really a beautiful example of what we're all aiming for, right? Because I can't do it on my own. I need other people to regulate with me.
Charlotte: Thank you Deb. Could you give like one little example of -- like sometimes what I'm -- I'm getting-- this is kind of my curiosity for myself and I kind of feel like I have a sense for myself more and more a growing sense, of when I'm -- when I'm ready to co-regulate, when I'm ready for more social connection, when my system is like saying, you know I need this right now.
Deb: Yeah, yes and again continuums are really helpful to use when you think about response patterns and autonomic nervous system needs. Because everybody has a different need for co-regulation.
My system, whether I came into the world this way and then it was tuned top of that, or whether simply from experience and probably more the former that there's some nature and nurture in here but, I compared to some of my friends and colleagues I have a less of a need for social interaction, then they do. So it's not that I don't need co-regulation, it’s that I need it less often and in a different form perhaps.
So your system will have its own unique needs we all need it, but we need it in different intensity, frequency and duration, which is again interesting to track. And that can be a mismatch, that tempo can be a mismatch with a partner or friend. And you feel it, you feel there's this need out there and my nervous system is saying I've had enough. If you can talk about it with, the other person through the language and the nervous system then you have a way to really come to some creative solutions around it, right?
So if I say wow, my nervous system is just saying I can't do anymore interaction right now. The person-- you know my friend could say I get that, I get that. You know it’s not that you don't want to be with me, it’s that your nervous system said I'm full.
Deb: No room for any more so. Or I'm drained and I really need right now.
Charlotte: Right yeah. I'm going to pause for 1 quick second. I think what you saying that's so wonderful is, that it’s not personal, there’s no reason to be hard on myself or expect someone else to be different.
Deb: Right, right. It's you know the story is really one of what the nervous system needs in this moment, not anything else, right? And I think if we can keep looking to our own system and ask what does my system need right now, and then look out there at the people around us, what do those nervous system needs right now. We have a way of connecting from compassion and curiosity, you know because if we think about the nervous system in this way, you know blame and judgement and motivation go away and that makes room for compassion and curiosity.
Charlotte: Do you feel like, going back to co-regulation for a moment, I know we're going to start eventually wrapping up here. But do you feel like that in co-regulation there's room to do practices of rewiring by remembering times when we had a safe connection?
Charlotte: And drawing in those memories like in a real felt sense in our body, could you just talk about that a little?
Deb: Yes and that I actually do practices around this, I call it Remembered Reciprocity. And really bringing it to life, bringing that moment to life when you were with someone were it felt, that there was an "Autonomic Intimacy" and then there was co-regulation going on and really letting that fill you and just holding on to that for-- it doesn't have to be very long right?
I think most of us have a moment with a person or pet, pets are wonderful as well. That we can bring to life and then that begins to build a reciprocity resource even if it’s not happening now.
And then for some people, those moments are really hard to find and so, I do what I called Imagined Reciprocity, so you know imagine a person who has the qualities that you would like to being connection with and imagined having a moment of co-regulation with that person, see if you can bring that to life. So there lots of ways to again bring your nervous system into this felt experience of co-regulation even if in this moment it’s not happening.
Charlotte: It really opens the door doesn't it?
Deb: Yeah, yeah.
Charlotte: And I know that, the ventral vagal system is-- we can come in to relationship through it, through this social engagement right? You mentioned about you know our eyes, how we look, the sound in our voice, you know I remember when I was a project manager, one fellow used to call me a sergeant, because I had this certain tone of authority. And I had to really learn about that, honestly, in my life you know, and you know my dedicated marriage you know, it’s been a great way to really.
Charlotte: Really get to come into relationship with what was that about for me.
Would you talk about "Social Engagement" and because you know that that's one of the doorways that I'm drawing on, for bringing awareness experiences into this course and could you talk about like-- how to be curious or what you might, what you might offer around why we would do that kind of practice?
Deb: Well it’s a great way to experiment with moving through different states by intentionally deactivating or activating elements of the social engagement system. For instance if I asked you to hold your head still, don’t move your head, keep it straight and then look at me and I’ll look at you with the neutral face and just sort of a look - what happens to your nervous system?
Charlotte: Wow, it kind of almost feels like it's shutting down.
Deb: You can feel it right?
Deb: It’s very -- then if we bring some of the elements back, if we smile. You notice your head wants to tilt right? And again that's part of the social engagements that this head turning tilt is connected and so usually when we’re talking -- you know that's again a sign of safety to the nervous system.
So the nervous system is looking here around your eyes that a place called the “orbicularis oculi". This is where your nervous system is looking to see who is this person, sending cues of safety and danger, so when your eyes aren't sending a signal of welcome the other person’s nervous system feels that, it’s a clench you felt right away right? Yeah.
Charlotte: So powerful.
Deb: It is powerful.
Charlotte: And as we go on to this "awareness exercises" I use them myself because it really helps me to, have a time to practice so that during my day I can be more aware of what's happening.
Deb: Right, right.
Charlotte: Yeah. And so we have our eyes, we have our voice which I mentioned. Could you talk a little bit about I know you've named in the past some research around, how sound, how you know humming or different ways of sound affects our ventral vagal system.
Deb: Yeah, so our nervous system is tuned, just biologically tuned. We respond to the frequency that is pretty much within the female voice range, so the mother’s voice. And we think about how you talk to a baby or you talk to a pet in that sort of-- we call it "Mother-ese" and then one of my colleagues who's a veterinarian called it "Pet-ese" I think that we sing songy kind of way we speak. Because the nervous system responds to that, it feels welcome, it wants to move toward and being in connection with that.
Sort of that rhythm, the inflection, the change in tone is what the nervous system is looking forward to, to feel those signals of welcome, right that you’re friend, not enemy.
So and there's an interesting researcher’s studied around the practice of "chanting Om" and the alternative was chanting Sssss. Om-- or Ssssss.
And the people chanting Ooom, their ventral vagal system was really active and on live and actually the, baseline state changed over the course of the study. And one of the thoughts was, that part of what chanting Ommm does is that you can feel it in your ears, you can feel the vibration in your ears, which is another place that your social engagement system is being activated so, chanting Om toning in a group, because toning by ourselves is wonderful but then when we tone or sing with others there's this shared experience right? We’re going back to co-regulation again. We’re doing it together so--
Deb: Yeah. So sound is very activating of states. Music, that's why music is created the way it is, music is created to take you through states and states shifts. And so you think -- what are some of my favorite musical pieces, think what state do they help me be in. There's a paradoxical effect with music that we can actually be with sadness or grief or you know, sympathetic or "dorsal vagal" safely or feel connected to it, through music without getting flooded by it. So it’s a lovely way to explore and be with.
Charlotte: Because of the movement, well and maybe because we feel held by the music.
Deb: We’re always looking for this ways to be with and rather than be swept up in.
Charlotte: That's so well said.
Deb: Comes back to your awareness practices, that's what you’re helping people to do, to not escape from something but to be with it, safely.
Charlotte: So Deb do you think chanting Om for example, would that be an example of an exercise that would help tone the Vagal brake?
Deb: Yes, yes. Breath practices, movement practices, all of those things that you’re going to be teaching, are ways to exercise the Vagal brake because you’re moving to the edge of regulation and coming back, to the edge and coming back. So that's a great vagal brake exercise and increases flexibility of response. Which really-- we have flexible response, we can be-- you know fully human right? We can be messy and come back into regulation right? That's part of being human, that flexibility and that's what’s missing for people who have distressing life experiences or unresolved trauma, that flexibility isn't there. There's the activity that then they got stuck in. So exercising the vagal brake is what we’re doing.
Charlotte: And I want to hear a little more about regulation, could you like-- if you are going to say a couple of sentences about how would you think about regulation, like what would be a way to think about "oh this is regulation"?
Deb: That's a tough question.
Charlotte: Because it’s so different for each of us right?
Deb: Yes I mean regulation at its heart is my ability to notice where I am and find a way to bring more Ventral vagal back on board right? That's regulation-- I'll give an example of not being regulated. I was standing in the kitchen, trying to get out of the house and my husband Bob, needed just one more thing and I could feel my system dis-regulating, right? And I could actually watch it, but I had in the moment, no capacity to interrupt it.
Charlotte: Yes, I can relate.
Deb: It was like -- you know the Ventral Vagal train was leaving the station, I was not on it.
Charlotte: Yes that's a-- you know and thank you for being so open about that because it’s really-- I mean this is really every day.
Deb: Absolutely, absolutely.
Charlotte: And many days, maybe we’re able to be on that train and then--
Charlotte: And oh boy some days we really miss the train.
Deb: Exactly. And for whatever reason you know, whether if it’s just one more thing too many, or my own resilience was down that day and so, my work then is to notice it, have awareness of it, find a way to-- you know work my way back into regulation and then make it repair with Bob. Those are the steps, we have this ruptures because we you know can't hold on to regulation and we just make a repair and that's what makes us stronger and makes a relationship stronger, yeah.
Charlotte: And that's such a beautiful -- that's so beautiful to know that just because something happens.
Charlotte: And you call it a rupture, it's not the end.
Deb: No it's not. And actually fascinatingly. Ed Tronicks’ research around babies and also Allan Schores’ research around babies and attunement or misattunement. The research really tells us that it’s the misattunements and the repairs that create resilience. So not that we always want to be in attunement, that doesn't not get us where we want to go, it’s the misattunements and the re-regulation, the re-attunement, the repair that creates "strength and resilience."
Charlotte: Wow, that's you know it kind of really encourages me to-- to be willing to be authentic, to listen inside because I think maybe-- you know I imagine others of my generation were trained with such a right, wrong-- like there’s a right way and there's a wrong way and there wasn't a way for listening, there wasn't a training about listening right? I mean that's commonly how were trained right? And so to add this now, and to know we can go back and get support where we needed it you know?
Charlotte: Totally lovely and I know Deb we have talked about this before, just would love for you talk a little bit about it here how we can regulate with a pet, we can regulate with--
Charlotte: Someone else and nature there.
Charlotte: Say something about that.
Deb: So it’s fascinating that the co-regulation with another person is certainly, what we’re longing for and what we need. Co-regulation with a pet has predictively proven to bring ventral vagal on board. An interesting study with on monitoring the pet owner and the pet’s nervous system when they were separated, they were both dys-regulated and as soon as they came back together, they became coherent and it was really beautiful. So you know it, when you have a pet, you could feel that.
For people who don't have pets and for relationships are scary or not available, nature is pretty predictably activating a ventral vagal as well. And even nature not out in real nature but nature on a plasma screen has been shown to bring ventral vagal.
So there lots of ways to get some of this ventral vagal resourcing on board and to exercise our vagal brakes. There's a way-- I think there's probably a way for everybody, you know to find their portal in, and for me someday is nature is my choice, it’s where I want to go. I want to start my day in nature, and then for other days it’s you know sharing a cup of coffee with Bob. You know and one’s not right or wrong. If I listen to my nervous system, my nervous system will say "today this is where I'm pulled," that's what should we be doing, listening in and then following that.
Charlotte: I know that one of the ways that you’ve described this capacity that we have, to listen in and to really connect safely, co-regulate and have that be more online, is around-- when we're pulled off and then were able to come back, so if we're going about our day, it’s that-- it’s the times when we've practiced maybe of exercising our capacity to really feel, you know trust--- that we’re in the driver’s seat, we're putting our best foot forward, where you know-- we’re making our bed, whatever small or large actions are appropriate for us given our circumstances. We’re going forward with that project, where making that phone call where you know-- whatever action it is, that we're able to be taking those actions, with that feeling of being safe and connected is that kind of -- like what we’re looking for in these exercises, it’s like we're looking for how can we engage?
Charlotte: How can we engage in different ways?
Deb: Right. Yeah, we're looking for all the different options for engagements because, we all will use different ones on different days. I like what you just said. We’re trying to move through our day from a ventral vagal state. Because think about something that you have to do, you know I have to write this report and get it out. Okay and if I do it ventral vagal state I can do it with curiosity and some you know some energy and excitement and you know it’s not draining, right?
If I do it from a sympathetic anxiety or anger, the report will probably still get written but it’s not going to sound the same and I'm going to feel drained. And from a dorsal vagal, you know despairing place, I may just you know put a few words in paper and send it off, because that's all I can do.
So the action can get done but it will be very different and that's what we're always looking for, you know-- so it’s not that nothing gets done, but it doesn't get done with kindness.
Charlotte: And I think, you know what I'm learning is with kindness to myself as well.
Deb: Yes, yes absolutely.
Charlotte: Well I know that you use mannequins in your work and that's something that I’m just exploring in this course.
Deb: Yeah, great.
Charlotte: You know bringing mannequins in and I'd love to hear like insight you have about you have about that, something that you've observed when people work with mannequins because I imagine for many people it’s going to be brand new.
Deb: Yes and fun. Everyone in my training program gets a mannequin and we use them over the course of the training and I have discovered, that there has not been a person yet who has not held a mannequin and had some “autonomic connection” to it. So nobody goes ohh, I don't want to do that, the nervous system just goes ohh.
What I have people do and you'll figure out what you’re going to invite your participants to do, but I have people sculpt their nervous system state. Like where-- like if I'm feeling ventral with a bunch of sympathetic right now because I'm on and teaching, what would my mannequin look like right now?
And then you know as I go through a period of time you know, does my state change and how does a mannequin change. So that's one way, the other way that is fascinating to you is to scalp your mannequin first in your Ventral vagal stage. And then scalp your sympathetic and then your dorsal vagal and then come back sympathetic and ventral. And as you move your mannequin through down and up the ladder, you'll notice your nervous system follows along. So it’s giving your nervous system a template, so that it knows it can do this. So that's a really easy, non-threatening way for people to begin to get know their nervous system and to tell their nervous system, that yes it is possible to go down and up the ladder, you know to not get stuck. Yeah.
Deb: It is.
Charlotte: I want to go back to one more thing and then were going to ask you to share another real gift of meditation, that you’re coming out on your book.
Charlotte: But I want to go back, to something you named earlier, this is something that's near and dear to my heart and it’s an area of co-regulation that I think, has room -- also more room to be embodied and that is death and dying process. And I want to just name for any of us who are looking as that’s our next movement in our lives, it’s important you know. We see that on a horizon that, we didn't use -- you know it didn't use to be there may be so directly. I want to just name the support that we have around co-regulating with our hospice movement, with our understanding that this is another time when you know, having support is so powerful so, powerful to hold the space for this movement of our life, you know.
I had the opportunity to-- I offer Reiki sometimes I'm in an opportunity to offer Reiki to someone who’s close to the end. And I know one woman had been having a lot of pain, just physical pain, but I think probably also mental, emotional pain because we know when we’re in physical pain that we experience and also is this-- you know it’s hard to hold, it’s hard to hold clarity or a sense of possibility when we have chronic pain right?
And she just experience her whole body feeling supported and I think the gift of touch which is another one of the practices will explore a little bit of awareness that I'll be bringing in. You know it’s another-- it’s so simple Reiki or healing touches is a more disciplined practice, but Reiki is a very gentle kind of -- very basic back to how grandmas use to treat wounds you know, just supporting this little one when they would come crying in right? Can you say a little bit about that -- you know either within the context of death and dying which is kind of a tangent where I went too, an issue that's near and dear to my heart, that end or anywhere you want to go around touch, Deb.
Deb: Touch is so important and such a powerful regulator and a powerful dys-regulator of the nervous system. So again we want to be very careful with touch, define the touch that brings comfort and nourishment rather than an adaptive survival response.
The research around the power of touch is undeniable with it. Dacher Keltner at Greater Good Science Center has done a lot of research around touch and the health benefits, both mental and physical health benefits. Tiffany Field, has lot of research around touch and she has a phrase that I love, she calls it "touch hunger", many of us are touch hungry right? We don't have enough touch in our lives. So to find a way to bring touch, because that is the ultimate co-regulator, is touch.
You know in my work with clinicians, even handshakes, handshakes are a wonderful touch and are pretty generally accepted around the world. So handshakes, a hand on the back, you know a hug, these are ways that our nervous system can feel touched, right? And when we’re not touched and when you know-- our practices say, our clinical licensure boards say don’t touch, you know clients can feel untouchable, right? That's a very sad state that we're in around touch I think. You know you have to be careful around touch, but we need touch all of us need touch, so you know.
And your nervous system will tell you what the right touch is, right? Your nervous system will respond by saying yes this feels safe and good or this does not feel safe and good, right? And we want to respect that, both in ourselves and with others,
We tell little kids-- go, I have grandkids and say so go kiss grandma goodbye, you know I don't want it, go kiss grandma goodbye anyway. That's an override of their nervous system saying for whatever reason, I don't want to right now. So let’s respect that and honor that and go great I just send you a high five right? Because it’s not about our connection, it’s about my grandchild listening and honoring and growing up to know the nervous system is sending them messages that they need to pay attention to, I mean so-- you know touches is important and complicated, complex, and absolutely necessary for life.
Charlotte: And I think you know-- you've been really generous around, for those of us in this group experience together, to name in a lot of different ways, how each of us is going to respond in a very different way. And in different circumstances we may respond differently or we will respond differently. And to know that that's true and to honor that each of our voices, being true to our own voice just like you just gave that wonderful example as a grandma you know that, you know sometimes your grandchild may want to give you a high five instead of a hug or a kiss and that you're so cool with that like, how cool is that, like that's what we want to bring to each other when we come together in this setting, is we want to bring that recognition that we’re each going to be listening to what’s true for us and to be open to explore, you know try this out maybe and if you get a really red flag then wow what good information is that. Any other tips around exploration and how to practice good self-care.
Deb: Yeah it's interesting you're just talking about how you all-- you know listening and have different experiences in, I would say that we should all expect that, we should be looking for that, anticipating that. You know being curious about that, because that is -- you know that's the openness that we can bring when we think, oh yes, my system is going to respond differently, than somebody else is and that's a good thing.
Deb: Because we're brought up to think often, it’s a misfit kind of thing and that's not a good thing. So we want to switch that and say, it’s a good thing, it’s a good thing and that's you know where we get to explore, right?
Deb: So to really be expecting that and bringing that in, but that what makes your group juicy, is it a bit different.
Charlotte: Yeah that’s excellent, well thank you for that.
Charlotte: Well Deb, I think we're coming to our close-- anything you want to add before we wrap it up with your meditation?
Deb: It's been a delight, it’s been a delight and I hope that your participants have fun exploring with you, because I know you’re going to take them on a really wonderful journey, around awareness and all these different ways of befriending the nervous system so. I'm excited for you and for them.
Charlotte: Thank you and I'm excited that were going to get to be with you live later on in the course.
Charlotte: So-- that'll be so fabulous to revisit this.
Charlotte: Yeah and so we can kind of keep an eye out and ear out for those--
Charlotte: What did you exactly, what did Deb exactly mean when she was talking about this, by the time were together again that'll be lovely to see what unfolds.
Charlotte: And a great, great, great gratitude so, I'm going to turn it over to you now for this experience you’re going to guide us in
Deb: This one is called "Feeling the Face Heart Connection".
Deb: “So, close your eyes is that feel safe for simply soften your gaze. Place your hands at the base of your skull, hear in the brain stem is the evolutionary origin of your social engagement system.
Focus your attention on the place where your brain stem meets your spinal cord, the space where 5 cranial nerves come together, to form the pathways of your face heart connection. This is the hub of your social engagement system, rest here for a moment, since the beginnings of your quest for connection.
And now move your hands, placing one hand on the side of your face and the other over your heart. Feel the flow of energy moving between your hands, traveling from your face to your heart and your heart to your face. Follow this pathway in both directions.
Explore the ways your face heart connection searches for contact and signals safety. Sense the system reaching out into the world, listening for sounds of welcome, looking for friendly faces, turning and tilting your head seeking safety, feel your heart joining in the search.
And now feel the system broadcasting signals of safety, your eyes, your voice, your head movements inviting others in to connection, your heart sending its own welcome.
Move between the two experiences of sending and searching, broadcasting and receiving. And take a bit of time to savor the pathways of your face, heart connection.
And then as you feel ready, come on back here.
Charlotte: Wow it’s really, it’s beautiful to have that appreciation for my own brain stem and how it’s orienting me in so many ways.
Charlotte: And powerful, powerful sensing of the giving and receiving and how that's all connected in this whole system.
Charlotte: Deb this is such a privilege to work with you and you've really just, made this course so relevant and so kind, just real practical ways to be kind, I'm really grateful for this and wish you all the best as you step into this new year of books and-
Charlotte: So many things and will look forward to more.
Deb: Yes, thank you it is been a great joy.
Charlotte: Yes, thank you.