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  • Writer's pictureDennis Guyvan

Somatic Exercises to move from Collapse/Shutdown (Hypoarousal) to Optimal Arousal.Therapy in Denver

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

In the realm of mental health and emotional well-being, understanding the inner workings of the human nervous system can be a powerful tool. The Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, has illuminated the intricate connections between our physiological responses and emotional states. It has become a guiding light for therapists and practitioners, as they help individuals navigate the path to resilience.


Unveiling the Polyvagal Theory


At the heart of Polyvagal Theory lies the understanding of the autonomic nervous system, particularly the vagus nerve. This nerve plays a central role in regulating our physiological responses to stress, safety, and social engagement. The theory reveals three main states:

  1. Social Engagement: When we feel safe and connected, our bodies are in a state of social engagement. The vagus nerve promotes calmness, facial expressiveness, and vocalization.

  2. Sympathetic Arousal: This state is associated with our fight-or-flight response when we perceive a threat. It prepares our body for action, increasing heart rate and alertness.

  3. Dorsal Vagal Shutdown (Hypo-Arousal): In moments of extreme stress, the body may enter a state of dorsal vagal shutdown, often described as the "freeze" response. Here, the body conserves energy by slowing down, leading to feelings of disconnection and numbness.

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Understanding these states is crucial for individuals experiencing trauma, developmental challenges, or persistent stress. When stuck in a dorsal vagal shutdown (hypo-arousal), one can feel internally collapsed, disconnected from themselves, others, and the world.



The Role of Somatic Therapy

Somatic therapy, a holistic approach to healing, acknowledges the intricate mind-body connection. In Denver, somatic therapists recognize the importance of addressing not only the psychological but also the physiological aspects of trauma and stress. Through somatic therapy, individuals can reconnect with their bodies and access their internal resources for healing.


Here are some Somatic Exercises to move from Hypoarosal (Shutdown) to Optimal Arousal:



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  1. Deep Breathing: Deep and diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful way to stimulate the vagus nerve and shift from hypo-arousal (shutdown) to a more balanced state. Try inhaling deeply for a count of four, holding for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of six. This extended exhalation triggers the vagus nerve, promoting relaxation and regulation.

  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tension in the body can contribute to hypo-arousal. Progressive muscle relaxation involves systematically tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, promoting awareness and release of physical tension.

  3. Self-Soothing Touch: Gentle self-touch, such as placing your hand on your heart or massaging your neck, can activate the vagus nerve and bring comfort. The soothing touch sends a signal of safety to the brain, shifting from shutdown to a more balanced state.

  4. Grounding Techniques: Practicing grounding exercises, like the 5-4-3-2-1 technique (naming five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste), helps bring awareness to the present moment and can be especially helpful when feeling disconnected in hypo-arousal.

  5. Humming and Singing: The vagus nerve responds to vocalization. Humming, singing, or even chanting can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote a sense of connection and regulation.

  6. Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Devices: Some medical devices are designed to stimulate the vagus nerve directly. These are typically prescribed by a healthcare professional and can be beneficial for individuals with severe autonomic dysregulation.

  7. Social Engagement: Engaging in social activities and forming connections with others can help shift from hypo-arousal to a more balanced state. Spending time with friends, family, or participating in group activities can promote feelings of safety and connection.

  8. Laughter and Play: Laughter and play stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. Watching a funny movie, playing with pets, or engaging in light-hearted activities can be effective ways to shift from shutdown to optimal arousal.

  9. Mindfulness and Yoga: Mindfulness practices and yoga are beneficial for grounding and regulating the autonomic nervous system. These activities promote body awareness and can help individuals move from a state of hypo-arousal to a more balanced and present state.

  10. Professional Guidance: Seeking guidance from a therapist in Denver, who is trained in Polyvagal Theory and somatic approaches can provide personalized exercises and strategies tailored to your specific needs.

It's important to remember that people respond differently to these exercises, and what works best can vary from person to person. Starting with simple techniques and gradually incorporating them into your daily routine can help you find the exercises that are most effective for you.


Consult with your healthcare professional, therapist, or somatic therapist who specializes in Polyvagal Theory before practicing these exercises.


Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Internal Family Systems therapy is another approach gaining prominence in Denver and beyond. This therapy recognizes that within each person are multiple "parts," each with its own feelings and motivations. By identifying, communicating with, and understanding these parts, individuals can achieve a more harmonious inner balance and escape the internal collapsed state.


EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is an evidence-based trauma therapy. By processing traumatic memories, individuals can reduce the emotional charge associated with these experiences, facilitating healing and resilience and movement toward the optimal arousal state.


Brainspotting

Developed in Denver by David Grand, Brainspotting is a therapeutic approach that involves locating a "brain spot" related to trauma in the field of vision. By maintaining focus on this spot, individuals can access and process deep-seated trauma, gradually transitioning from shutdown to resilience.


Conclusion


In this blog, I wanted to highlight some practical somatic exercises and modalities to help you move from Hypoarousal to Optimal Arousal. There are ways to escape the grip of trauma and move toward a more balanced and resilient life. I can provide you with support and guidance to rebuild, reconnect, and rise stronger than before. If you are one of those who want to create a more balanced and resilient life, schedule a free 30-minute consultation today! I would love to connect and see how I can support you on this journey.


References:

  • Porges, S. W. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. W. W. Norton & Company.

  • Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal Family Systems Therapy. Guilford Press.

  • Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.

  • Grand, D. (2013). Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change. Sounds True.

  • Ogden, P., Minton, K., & Pain, C. (2006). Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy. W. W. Norton & Company.

  • The Movement Paradigm. (2020). Polyvagal chart. The Movement Paradigm. https://themovementparadigm.com/how-to-map-your-own-nervous-sytem-the-polyvagal-theory/


Note: This blog post is for informational purposes and should not be considered a substitute for professional therapeutic advice. If you are struggling with trauma or mental health issues, please seek help from a qualified therapist or mental health provider.

 

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Dennis Guyvan, a therapist in Denver, CO. He provides individual in-person/online therapy and life coaching in Denver, CO and online coaching worldwide . Schedule your free 30-minute therapy consultation with Dennis Guyvan.





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