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The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology)

The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) [Kindle Edition]

Stephen W. Porges
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Soak in the wisdom of this fabulous book and you'll see the role of the body's response to our social interactions in a whole new light. The Polyvagal Theory is a profoundly important contribution to our understanding of how we connect with others through the regulation of our own basic physiological state....Read on and understand our brains, our minds, and our relationships in a rich and extremely helpful way! --Daniel J. Siegel, MD, author of The Mindful Brain and The Mindful Therapist"

Product Description

A collection of groundbreaking research by a leading figure in neuroscience.

This book compiles, for the first time, Stephen W. Porges’s decades of research. A leading expert in developmental psychophysiology and developmental behavioral neuroscience, Porges is the mind behind the groundbreaking Polyvagal Theory, which has startling implications for the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, and autism. Adopted by clinicians around the world, the Polyvagal Theory has provided exciting new insights into the way our autonomic nervous system unconsciously mediates social engagement, trust, and intimacy.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Game Changer ! 8 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I chose this rating because the author adds something unique to my personal and professional understanding of social engagement systems, attachment and self regulation.
Having originally trained as a body psychotherapist, this theory successfully explains the underlying neurological mechanisms operating throughout various disorders.
Porges also builds on the attachment theories of Bowlby and Ainsworth in terms of social engagement
The clinical perspectives sections is especially useful when thinking about abuse, trauma and BPD.

Essentially, this is well laid out and a relatively easy read.
The writer comes across as a humanist who values the quality of kindness and compassion.

I have been following the work of Dr Porges for a year now and this book has not disappointed !
For those interested, Dr Porges will continue to work on this theory through his Research Triangle Institute International, where what will be developed will be.....
' models in which you can trigger the nervous system to recruit circuits that will support health, growth and restoration'
-National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine

This work comes from a different place, an inclusive place, similar to Bromberg's concept of a continuum of dissociation (his last book in the trilogy - the shadow of the tsunami)
Porges sees remediation less through medical models or pharmaceuticals and more through harnessing our innate adaptability.

Thank you Dr Porges !
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Key to understanding PTSD 20 Aug 2014
Hugely revealing book, helped me understand the mechanisms underpinning my PTSD symptoms.

Very informative book, just about accessible to the layman if you persevere. And it is worth persevering. It will greatly illuminate what is actually happening during episodes of seemingly lost control.

I would recommend reading this alongside:
Unlocking the Emotional Brain: Eliminating Symptoms at their root using memory reconsolidation
The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog: And other stories from a child psychiatrist's notebook- what traumatised children can teach us about love, loss and healing
The Tao of Fully Feeling

These books offer true hope for people struggling with PTSD, trauma and dissociation. The very symptoms that seem so disruptive and uncontrollable are actually mechanisms that hold key to healing and going on to thrive
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 25 July 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great book, gets difficult in parts to read, but worth sticking with it...
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging 22 Oct 2014
By Em
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A challenging read, but well worth the effort. Has expanded my learning horizon considerably
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
276 of 280 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bi-Directional Model of Vagal Influence on Body/Mind 8 Jun 2011
By Martin K. - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am merely a psychology-degree wielding 24 year old with a natural curiosity for anything that influences behavior. This theory, developed by Steven Porges over 40 years of research, is one of the most comprehensive examinations of the influence of the vagus nerves on the physiological and psychological functioning of humans. The theory hinges on the idea that there are three components of the autonomic nervous system (ANS): the reptilian unmyelinated vagus branch, the sympathetic nervous system, and the myelinated neomammalian vagus branch. These branches, in order, correlate to different behavioral responses. The unmyelinated controls homeostatic functions as well as the "freeze" response. As such it develops first, in utero. The sympathetic nervous system, through the spinal cord, controls fight/flight responses by activating the pituitary-adrenal-hypothalamic axis. Finally, exclusive to mammals is the myelinated vagus which acts primarily to control the heart rate via connections to the sinoatrial node of the heart. These components of the ANS act in phylogenetic order, so the myelinated vagus inhibits functioning of the sympathetic nervous system, which inhibits the unmyelinated vagus.

The focal point of Porges' book is that the development of the myelinated vagus, originating in nuclei called the nucleus ambiguus, is crucial to inhibiting the fight/flight/freeze responses in response to environmental stimuli. The assessing of risk in the environment, which he calls neuroception, is regulated unconsciously and the myelinated vagus helps to resist primal behavioral responses. The strength of the myelinated vagus can be measured using respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which is an indication of beat-to-beat heart rate variability. When RSA is high, vagal "tone" is high, indicating a strong myelinated vagus. When the RSA is lower, it indicates less vagal "tone" and therefore a weaker myelinated vagus. Humans with low vagal tone are less likely to engage in prosocial behavior because they have less ability to prevent themselves from plunging into fight/flight/freeze behavior when posed with environmental challenges. Porges adds a fourth behavioral adaptation which is "social engagement" (to go along with fight, flight, and freeze responses). In mammals, prosocial engagement is facilitated by high vagal influences on the heart which prevent the individual from entering fight/flight mode. As Porges explains, these vagal influences are strong predictors of positive attachment, healthy social behavior, self-regulation, and even attention span.

The implications of this theory are vast, and it opens up a plethora of research topics for the coming generation of psychophysiologists. Hopefully this book can be as enlightening for other readers as it was for me. I just wanted to give a terse overview of the theory, but nothing can replace actually purchasing the book and delving deep into the subject matter. Enjoy.
106 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, enlightening, but dry 31 July 2011
By Harrison Koehli - Published on
Porges has made some very significant discoveries on the nature of emotion, the nervous system, and its significance for physical and mental health as well as a general understanding of human behavior: why we are the way we are. This book collects some of the most significant papers he's written on the topics, all on the basis of what he has come to call the "polyvagal theory". For decades the understanding of the autonomic nervous system and its relation to stress has been overly simplistic. It has ignored the very large role of visceral feedback on brain processes and the hierarchical nature of our response to the environment, whether it is safe or threatening.

The book is quite academic and uses scientific jargon, so be prepared for that. It can be quite dry and repetitive, given that the various chapters were written as essays and include a lot of necessary "background" material. That said, the repetition is great for learning what might otherwise be confusing and difficult topics. If you don't have any previous training in psychology, this is a great help. And the information is paradigm-changing in its importance.

Summing up just a few of the basics of the polyvagal theory, Porges bases his analysis on an in-depth study of the evolution of the nervous system from the simplest invertebrates to mammalian life and humans in particular. This approach brings with it some important insights. For one, our nervous system is constantly assessing the environment, whether it is safe or not. This process happens without our conscious awareness. Ordinarily, if the environment is safe, we predominantly use our newest "hardware", so to speak. We are socially engaging, communicative. We share, love, nurture, support, play. This is intimately tied with the myelinated vagus, which as a result of evolutionary processes, is intimately tied with heart rate, breathing, and the use of the muscles in the neck, head, and face. All of these are integral to the expression of emotion. But when we encounter a dangerous situation, we revert to an evolutionary 'older' system. We stop engaging socially and instead fight or flee. And if the danger looks hopeless, the primitive vagus takes over, immobilizing us for a painless death. Trauma can leave us stuck in one of those lower circuits, as can various forms of mental illness (autism, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, etc.).

Porges uses these concepts to analyze human behaviors, like play, sex, communication, monogamy in a new light. And all together, it demonstrates just how important it is to our well-being to have a good vagal 'tone'. That's where programs like Éiriú Eolas are so useful, as a way of calming down our stress response, reducing inflammation, and fostering healthy emotion and the vagal benefits of prosociality, bodily restoration and healing. As he points out, the state of the body is intimately tied to the mind. While external stimuli can trigger intense visceral states (fear, terror, rage), it works the other way, too. Visceral states (inflammation, illness, bodily stress) can influence our emotions and our general psychological state. An understanding of how these systems work, and how healthy states can be actively fostered, will go a long way to healing the many illnesses of civilization, whether they be mental illness like depression or anxiety disorders, or modern diseases.

After reading this book, I can't help but think that our society as a whole does NOT foster polyvagal health. We are less communicative, less helpful, less 'happy', less nurturing, and on and on. Hopefully this book will bring more awareness to the fact that these things are essential to human health, and we can do something about actively fostering them. Eiriu Eolas is doing that, as are some clinicians who utilize the advances made by Porges. Hopefully that will keep expanding. Until then, do read this book. It's a lot more coherent than the reigning theories at this time, and if you like understanding things, will not disappoint.
115 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally Someone Takes the Autonomic Nervous System Seriously! 3 May 2011
By Passionate Therapist - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The real role of the autonomic nervous system in human functioning has been neglected far too long. Perhaps that is because our culture likes to think everything that is important is subject to the will while the autonomic nervous system is not. But authors like Antonio Damasio and Porges are starting to correct that bias. This book is a compilation of papers, slightly revised, that Porges wrote over the years with graduate students. As such there is some repetition as the polyvagal 'basics' are explained over and over. However, each time, it is explained slightly differently, resulting in a highly nuanced explanation of this crucial concept.

Therapists and other clinicians working with movement, body-based, and experiential therapies have long understood that chronic human emotional suffering involved some type of chronic shift of the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward the sympathetic. However, using the old two-part oppositional model of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic versus parasympathetic) was not satisfying. This was in part because some physical manifestations of distress were parasympathetically mediated: asthma, ulcers, enuresis, irritable bowel disease, freezing reactions, etc.. This seemed to overturn the simplistic idea "parasympathetic good, sympathetic bad". But actually the manifestations listed above stem from a 'dorsal vagal' reaction. Now as Porges shows, "ventral vagal good, sympathetic worse, dorsal vagal worst" Now intuition and physiological models are back in line. The intuition of clinicians was always correct, the 'science' had to catch up.

The polyvagal theory is practically begging for implications to be drawn about the practical areas of lifestyle, physical exercises, interpersonal relations, social relations, psychotherapy, childrearing, family life etc... Porges manages to resist the temptation, perhaps because he feels a scientist should not go there. As another reviewer writes he does mention listening therapy, but if I am not mistaken, that was developed by Alfred Tomatis The Conscious Ear: My Life of Transformation Through Listening who Porges does not cite or credit, but that is a quibble.
98 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Social Engagement System 27 Mar 2011
By M. Aalberse - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book should help to make Stephen Porges' important contributions better known.
In this time where all talk is about « the brain » (instead of the central nervous system, which would give « the brain » already a more appropriate place), it's high time to return to the body and it's autonomic nervous system, and the role it plays in depression, anxiety, fear and most important of all, in « social engagement ».
From this model we can both gain a better understanding why music, movement, face-to-face dialogue and methods such as cranio-sacral therapy work, but also shed a brighter and more realistic light on how some of the socalled « energy psychotherapies » work.
This model helps us better understand how to re-activate the social engagement system and how this is beneficial on all levels of human functioning.
Porges's results with autistic persons with his form of « listening therapy », derived from his theory, is just one example of the importance of his model...
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As a student of the body mind relationship this is essential 5 Jun 2011
By J. WILSON - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a very heady person who happens to be involved in quite a few esoteric/Alternative Therapies: Alexander Technique, Somatic Experiencing, Buddhism etc. This book has finally provided me with a hard Science explanation for the Body-Mind-Environment Relationship. So now I can stop annoying my colleagues with far fetched intellectual questions that are generally avoided in the experiential scene. It is an essential work, which opens up new ground for therapists. It is also a brilliant treatise for being Human. We are interaction.
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