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Nervous System Balance

The autonomic nervous system is that part of our nervous system which controls all our non-voluntary, automatic bodily functions.

Historically, it has been considered that there are two primary circuits of the autonomic nervous system: - 

1. The sympathetic nervous system, in stress, often called "fight-or-flight".

2. The parasympathetic nervous system, in relaxation, often called "rest and digest".

However, this model doesn't always work.  For example we have the concept of "good stress" which is needed for motivation.  A feeling of depression may be induced by chronic stress but is more like being shutdown rather than being in "fight-or-flight".

A new model was proposed in 1994 by Professor Stephen Porges called polyvagal theory, named after the vagus nerve that innervates many of the functions of the body.  He suggests there are three circuits of the autonomic nervous system: - 

1. The ventral vagal circuit (positive states of safety, relaxation, social engagement).

2. The spinal sympathetic chain (mobilisation, fight-or-flight).

3. The dorsal vagal circuit (immobilisation, shut-down, depression, freeze-or-fold). 

This model recognises that whilst stress management techniques for calming the mind and body are effective for taming the fight-or-flight response, other approaches are needed to address a state of immobilisation or shut down (whether that is temporary or longer term).  We support this by a number of simple and effective exercises that can release stored tension in the body and help clients who are recovering from illness, injury or adverse events.

Everybody can benefit from these approaches through an awareness of how to recognise and switch between the different states of the autonomic nervous system.

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