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Polyvagal Theory:
Start with Safety

Developed by world-renowned researcher and Unyte’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Stephen Porges, Polyvagal Theory focuses on what is happening in the body and the nervous system, and explains how our sense of safety, danger or life threat can impact our behavior.

Polyvagal Theory gives us a scientific framework that supports the integration of physiological (“bottom-up”) therapies with cognitive (“top-down”) approaches to help change and improve how we feel, think and connect with others.

Polyvagal Theory is transdisciplinary and can be combined with many modalities to better inform your clinical practice or trauma-related work.

The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a practical application of Polyvagal Theory, which helps retune the nervous system to be more regulated and resilient to life’s challenges.

Our nervous system is always trying to figure out a way for us to survive, to be safe.
— Dr. Stephen Porges

Overview

Through nervous system regulation, we can…

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FEEL BETTER
Respond effectively to
life’s challenges
“Respond vs. react,” replacing emotionally charged reactivity with controlled responsiveness and resilience.

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THINK BETTER
Access higher learning and cognition
Learn and retain important facts and concepts that enable greater confidence and societal contribution.

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CONNECT BETTER
Build positive social relationships
Develop relationships and truly connect with others.

Neuroplasticity

The ability of the brain to change in response to stimulation is known as “neuroplasticity.” The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) and Focus System are based on this principle, providing gentle and specific stimulation in order to activate the neural pathways used in the processing of sensory information. 

Neural connections in these pathways are strengthened and new connections are established through repeated sessions of multisensory input, allowing the nervous system to adapt and find safety more quickly and easily.

The Science Behind the Polyvagal Theory:
The Vagus Nerve

The mind and body are connected through the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system, stretching from the brainstem to the colon. It is our internal control center, allowing the brain to monitor and receive information about many of our bodily functions.

The vagus nerve helps to regulate critical aspects of human physiology, including the heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, digestion and even speaking. As the body takes in information automatically through neuroception, the vagus nerve communicates this information to the brain, which processes the signals and cues from the world around us and in turn determines how we react through three physiological states: Parasympathetic/ventral vagal state, sympathetic state, or dorsal vagal state.

The Autonomic Ladder:
Three Hierarchical Physiological States

The autonomic ladder, as envisioned by Deb Dana (2018), is one way to visually represent these physiological states.

  • Parasympathetic/ventral vagal state: Our centered, “true self” state, where all social interaction, connection and creativity occurs.
  • Sympathetic state: Feeling of threat or danger, and feeling the need to either “fight” or “flee” from a situation to seek safety.
  • Dorsal vagal state: Our “freeze” state, when we feel our lives are so immediately threatened that we become immobilized.

Nervous System Regulation for Everyone

At Unyte-iLs, our mission is to empower every person to guide their nervous system to be more aware, regulated and resilient so they can feel safe, happy and healthy and more effectively respond to life’s challenges.

We partner with healthcare and therapeutic professionals to deliver these multisensory products in person or remotely to both children and adults. Our programs include music, movement and breathing that nourish the nervous system to enable meaningful and lasting changes in physiological state and quality of life.

Dr. Stephen Porges

Dr. Stephen Porges is the Chief Scientific Advisor at Unyte-iLs, driving the development of new products, therapies, research and educational programs based on Polyvagal Theory. He is the creator of the music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) — a practical application of the Polyvagal Theory — and co-founder of the Polyvagal Institute (PVI), a not-for-profit organization focused on the facilitation of Polyvagal research, education and community-building.

Read more about Dr. Stephen Porges →

Dr. Ron Minson

Dr. Ron Minson

One of the founders of Integrated Listening Systems and now Clinical Director at Unyte-iLs, Dr. Ron Minson received his medical degree from the UCLA School of Medicine and is board-certified in Psychiatry and Neurology, and served as Chief of Psychiatry. He learned of the effectiveness of sound therapy after witnessing the successful treatment of his own daughter.

Read more about Dr. Ron Minson →

Dr. Stephen Porges

Dr. Stephen Porges

Dr. Stephen Porges is the Chief Scientific Advisor at Unyte-iLs, driving the development of new products, therapies, research and educational programs based on Polyvagal Theory.

He is the creator of the music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol — a practical application of Polyvagal Theory — and co-founder of the Polyvagal Institute (PVI), a not-for-profit organization focused on the facilitation of Polyvagal research, education and community-building.

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D., is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium. He is a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and professor emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award.

In 1994, he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric and physical disorders. Dr. Porges is also one of the founding members of the Polyvagal Institute (PVI), a not-for-profit organization focused on advancing social communication and connectivity by raising awareness, building community, facilitating research, and offering education on this new understanding of the mind/body system. PVI facilitates research and ongoing education of the Polyvagal Theory.

He is the author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011), The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, (Norton, 2017), and co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018).

Expand your knowledge of Polyvagal Theory with SSP Training and Certification

This training program delivers foundational knowledge of Polyvagal Theory and the science behind the SSP, expanded practical training on SSP delivery, and actionable steps to integrate the SSP into your practice.

DOWNLOAD: POLYVAGAL THEORY RESOURCES
Download our bundle of Polyvagal Theory Resources to help practitioners like yourself, and your clients, better understand Polyvagal Theory and its applications within a clinical setting.

Access more useful resources here.

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