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I want to emphasize the long distance sessions I offer. Somatic Experiencing is a powerful modality! It allows the practitioner (me) to track the client’s nervous system (autonomic, polyvagal system) and then to apply techniques which build resilience and keep the client close to their regulated functional range (or window of presence). I call it Somatic Processing because I also include Zapchen Somatic exercises, Biodynamic Craniosacral wisdom, Birth Process work (Pre- and Perinatal Psychology) when appropriate. Let me know if you are interested in having extra support!
In this post, I plan to elucidate the connection between astrological Chiron and the modern (last 20 years of) research on the Autonomic Nervous System and the Polyvagal System. I suspect it will take several posts to get all of my ideas out coherently!
I am uniquely placed to be able to discuss this topic. As a healing facilitator utilizing Somatic Experiencing, Craniosacral Therapy and Pre- and Perinatal Psychology (along with Polyvagal techniques), plus having spent the past 15 years studying and practicing Spiritual Astrology, I can easily bridge the gap between experiential learning (understanding, repairing, and healing my own and others’ Polyvagal Systems) and cognitive understanding. Also, having my personal astrological Chiron conjunct the MidHeaven in my own chart, I have spent a lot of time researching this dynamic asteroid.
So let’s get started!
Who or what is Chiron in the astrology chart? Not to reinvent the wheel each time I write about a previous topic… you can go back to some of my previous posts about Chiron here: https://astrodharma.me/2010/09/02/chirons-curse/ or here: https://astrodharma.me/2012/01/11/astrological-chiron-spiritual-barometer-or-errant-asteroid/
In addition, if you type in Chiron into the search function here on my blog, you will discover about a dozen other posts which mention Chiron’s attributes or aspect interpretations etc.
Next, to get a primer on Somatic Experiencing or Polyvagal Theory (in Therapy), here are more links: Somatic Experiencing (SE): https://traumahealing.org/about-us/ Or for a technical (very scientific) approach to the Polyvagal Theory: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108032/ And a general description on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvagal_theory Also using Polyvagal Theory in Therapy (Deb Dana is a well-known researcher and therapist using it): http://www.debdanalcsw.com/the-rhythm-of-regulation.php and finally from Counseling Today, a psychologists take on using the Polyvagal Theory in practice: https://ct.counseling.org/2016/06/polyvagal-theory-practice/#:~:text=Polyvagal%20theory%20identifies%20a%20third,out%20of%20unique%20nerve%20influence.&text=When%20the%20dorsal%20vagal%20nerve,us%20into%20immobility%20or%20dissociation.
In a nut shell, Stephen Porges (the scientist did the lion’s share of research on and who coined the term: “Polyvagal Theory”) revolutionized the previous paradigm of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) in the late 90’s when he discovered several new differences from the classical dual Fight-or-Flight (sympathetic system) and Rest-and-Digest (parasympathetic system) view of the ANS. In other words, most people who take a college level science class have heard of the Fight-or-Flight sympathetic response, which is usually paired with the parasympathetic Rest-and-Digest response. Prior to 1997, that was where the ANS story ended. Porges added more pieces to this picture:
1) He discerned that first of all, the Vagus Nerve – which is one of the primary regulators of the ANS – comes out of the brain stem in two different places. Meaning there is a dorsal branch (upper side) and a ventral branch (under side) and each of these branches controls different functions in the body. In general, the ventral branch is more associated with the sympathetic nervous system (and the social engagement system, which I will discuss below), where as the dorsal branch is more about rest-and-digest functions and the parasympathetic system.
2) Second he also noticed that when there is good regulation (which requires safety, support, caring, protection, etc) in the organism, then their nervous system can come up out of sympathetic or parasympathetic behaviors into what he termed the Social Engagement System (a.k.a. the 3rd branch of the Polyvagal System). When we are well-regulated, which requires repair and healing for those of us stuck in old trauma-based patterns, we can rest easily in our body, we can interact with others without bracing, without assuming the worst, without worry. This is what being in the Social Engagement System is all about – we can be social with others with ease. We can smile and speak our truth and expect to get most of our needs met. Wow! (For some of us who are stuck in old challenging patterns, this might seem impossible. But with a skillful practitioner or well-trained support team, we can repair and re-pattern these stuck, braced, twisted, tangled parts of ourselves! It does take time however.)
3) Third, Porges and other researchers noted that there are many connections between Cranial Nerves – for instance, the Vagus nerve (the 10th cranial nerve) is intertwined with the 11th cranial nerve, the Accessory nerve. Sometimes damage to the Vagus nerve also affects functions of the Accessory nerve and vice versa. Also, the Vagus nerve (ventral branch) has a number of connections to the facial nerves – the Facial nerve, Trigeminal nerve, etc, which play a significant role in the Social Engagement System functions. Can we smile with ease and authenticity for instance? Does it feel safe to smile and express joy? If I object to something, can I express that with relative ease? In addition, the ventral branch of the Vagus nerve plays a significant role in our hearing – one of the reasons that trauma can lead to hearing loss or loss of hearing certain tones.
In the 80’s and 90’s, and up to the present moment, along with Porges’ groundbreaking work, a researcher (PhD) named Peter Levine was doing work with trauma – in particular looking at why animals in the wild do not experience traumatic reactions to overwhelming events but animals in captivity (and humans) do experience trauma responses to the same events. This is a very crucial area of research! Levine’s innovative research eventually led to his creating a modality for trauma resolution called Somatic Experiencing (SE). SE works to track the nervous system, to see which stage of the stress response the system is stuck in and then to apply specific techniques to skillfully move the system back toward regulation and resilience. (See the link above for a clearer, more elaborate description.)
In the next post, I will begin to describe how Astrological Chiron can be woven into this beautiful tapestry of contemporary research and progress in working with the Autonomic Nervous System, the Polyvagal System and Trauma Resolution.
Thank you for reading!