How Understanding Polyvagal Theory Can Help

This relatively new understanding of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – called Polyvagal Theory – can allow most adults, but especially parents, teachers and health professionals to assist children, students, patients, and ourselves, toward greater wellness.

Most people will be familiar with the long-held view of the ANS as a continuum between just two ‘poles’: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) at one end; and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) at the other. In that earlier understanding of the ANS, there was the common assumption that the SNS referred to the person’s “Fight or Flight” response, while the “Rest and Rebuild” response occurred as a result of PNS function. While there is truth in those associations, they were not fully accurate, for two main reasons: 1. The view was lacking the fact that Fight or Flight is a stress response, while Rest and Rebuild is a normal response; and, 2. the under-pinning of our most highly evolved human behaviours come neither from the SNS, nor the PNS, but from what psychiatrist Steven Porges called the Social Vagal (or Ventral Vagal) that we’ll get to in a moment.

This three-part, or triune, layout of the neural circuits of the ANS has evolved as a phylogenetic heirachy. In other words, we share the Parasympathetic part of of our brains autonomic functions with more primitive animals (lower in the phylogeny). Then later in the evolutionary chain of biological development, the alertness and readying-for-action abilities of the SNS developed. Then most recently, only in higher mammals (and most especially in humans) were the most complex and inter-relational functions and responses conferred  by developing the Social Vagal Nervous System.

In both normal functions and stress responses, physical, mental and energetic expressions can come from anywhere in this heirarchy of ANS function. In the varying circumstances of normal everyday life most of us can move smoothly between and amongst the three stages of ANS patterns. In the case of historical trauma that hasn’t been fully processed, like PTSD, however, there is likely to be some fixation, or interruption in that smooth flow.

In stressful circumstances (from novelty to outright threat) we will use our newest, most evolved strategies, first (check in with others, provide love, comfort, touch, empathy). If that doesn’t work, (or hasn’t typically in the past) however, we’ll move to the alarm, fight or flight, discharge type of reaction. If that does not work, we revert to our most primitive and final strategy, which can progress from immobilization to deep depression, to parasympathetic shock.*

From having some understanding of Polyvagal Theory, and how all of us, as humans, move smoothly from one of these stages of response to another (or how we sometimes don’t) we have very useful tools to work more compassionately with ourselves and everyone around us. I highly  recommend the book I have named and given a link to below, to parents, teachers, health professionals and humans in relationship…


*Most of this article is based heavily of the excellent summary of Dr. Porges’ work, written by John Chitty in Chapter Six of his book: “Dancing With Yin and Yang”

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My Worldview, and its impact on my osteopathic practice

This writing is off the top of my head, in the short hour before needing to submit this as an article for the next edition of WellnessNews in Victoria, BC. I share that only because it also speaks to what I wish to share here, which, amongst other things, includes something of how my mind works.

On the latter point, I ruminate on things for days, sometimes more, aware that something is taking shape behind the scenes. I don’t really know exactly what the result will be, nor what it will look like, but I can feel its weight, its shadow, its posture, sometimes even its range of motion. Then the writing down happens in a quick flow, with very little editing or shaping at all.

So, what is surfacing this time is about the bouncing I do, between worrying about the destructive trends going on all around us, and the excitement I feel regarding very encouraging things I can feel unfolding – in myself, and in many other people and phenomena around me.

I was at the library a short while ago, where I picked up a copy of a book called, “Who Rules the Earth?”, by Paul Steinberg. You can watch a 10-minute video, summarizing that book’s message, also called Who Rules the Earth?  by the same author, here:

More on the whole project of purposefully Changing Rules can be found by clicking on the link.

All of these resources that Paul Steinberg points to demonstrate both the evidence of how far humankind has strayed from ways of being that enhance Life Itself, AND, also what is required in order to truly have an impact on how things could be done in much more respectful and gentler ways, in the wider sphere. As Steinberg says, “Recycling Is Not Enough”.

What does this have to do with my practice as an osteopath? Well, the work I do with my clients/patients encompasses two fundamental things:

1.  finding subtle means to reflect back to people’s unconscious minds the sensory information necessary to re-engage their self-healing capability, and;

2. educating those people regarding what needs to be understood, bio-mechanically, bio-energetically, and sometimes on even more subtle levels, what they can do to discern and listen to their body signals, and to make decisions more in harmony with those signals.

In other words, it is seeing what the “rules” for healthier living are (whether they are universal, and/or specific rules dictated by unique, individual circumstances), and beginning to align decisions and actions with those rules.





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On Addiction – What Is it, and What to Do

I am realizing that I have an addiction to distracting myself – mainly via Facebook in recent times. In the excellent talk by Dr. Gabor Maté that I have provided a link to, below, he asks, and answers, the question What Is Addiction? He says that all addictions are simply ways/attempts to relieve ourselves of pain/distress.

I have watched Part 1 of this video a couple of times before. It is  only a little over 3 minutes long, and it is an excellent overview of his message. I would, however, strongly encourage you to watch Part 2, also, as I just did. It is over 18 minutes long and is a TedX talk he gave in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It truly is one of the best TedTalks I have ever seen. And given how many excellent TedTalks I have seen, that is really saying something.

So, back to me and my own addiction. The truth is, I don’t know the exact origin of my own personal pain. There were challenges and traumas in my growing up years, to be sure. But in comparison with many people I have met over the course of my life – not all of of them patients, but also friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances – what I remember of my past seems trying, but not extreme. What I can not argue with, however, is the clear evidence that trauma has occurred, and that there is a marked impulse to distract from the pain of it.

Now in both parts of the talk by Maté, he speaks directly of, and quotes others also advocating for, the need to simply Be With the Pain. All addiction is essentially trying to run from the suffering, and the “surest way to Hell is to try to run from it” is the gist of one those quotes.

How does one Be with the Pain? How can I do that? Well a couple of things are crucial. The first, is what I am doing here, now: admitting it is a problem. Secondly, anyone who has identified their addiction will need compassion and support (from themselves, and others) to choose, over and over again, to Be with that Pain. Unfortunately it helps not at all for others to point out that (I’m) “You’re doing it again”. That just ends up being perceived as shaming and blaming – whether that is what was intended, or not. Recognizing instead that there is some sort of pain that I am trying to evade, and having compassion for that process, feels very supportive.

So, this writing is a reminder to myself to let my own pain be registered; to let it land. For me, that means taking breaks from online time, so that there is the space to let my mind rest. Only then can I be with my own pain. Today I spent all afternoon in the garden, raking leaves and cleaning up. That worked well for me.

I am also reminding myself here, that as a practitioner, and simply as a fellow human Be-ing, I can be compassionate with the addictive attempts by others to deaden or distract from their pain. Now of course it is easy to become an enabler of the addictions of others. But unwavering Love and Compassion can be firm and holding, while not collapsing.

There is, of course, so much more that can be said on this subject. This much is what I needed to share here and now.


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Life IS Balance – Wellness is the Expression of the Extent of that Balance

Life is all about balance; and about communication between the parts of our whole organism. Different regions, different systems of the body all need to be, and are, in constant contact with each other – at least that is so in a situation of healthy balance. When, however, there are imbalances, compromises to the communication channels between regions, between systems, the body is attempting to demonstrate, to gain attention for those imbalances, disruptions and/or distortions in those communication pathways.

In this way, it is very important to look at the presenting situation – of symptoms or challenges that arise physically (and mento-emotionally) for us – for they can be seen then as problems to understand and address. The best way I know of to facilitate a reading of what exactly needs to be understood and addressed, is by osteopathic assessment, palpation, and the treatment process itself.

So the body is a finely tuned instrument. It constantly expresses and reflects its state, and the psycho-emotional state of the mind. It is inexplicably linked to, and expressive of, how one sees the world. If we feel criticized, isolated or judged, for instance, that will be reflected in our posture; how we breathe and talk; how we hold ourselves; how we move about in the world; whether we meet the eyes of others around us; whether we allow ourselves to take in, and feel the support of the ground beneath us, the chair we are sitting on; whether we feel the natural world around us – or not.

Having some conscious awareness of how these interactions between our view of ourselves and the world around us, take place, can be very freeing. New neurological research (well represented by the book, The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb, PhD) indicates that there is a regulating influence, or an improvement in one’s health that follows simply from acknowledging to oneself how one is feeling. So, if I am feeling sad, and I attempt to move around it; if I don’t want to admit it to myself that I’m feeling that sadness (or angry, desolate, fill-in-the-blank with any uncomfortable feeling for you), then I’m going to tense up against even trying to feel it. Now, the tension itself has become more of the problem than the sadness, anger or whatever I was failing to acknowledge feeling. Note here that I ALREADY AM FEELING the uncomfortable emotional content, but I am trying not to “see,” “hear,” taste,” or “sense” it in any way. If, on the other hand, I simply acknowledge what I’m feeling – it doesn’t have to change – there is already a shift in my brain chemistry toward a healthier perspective toward myself and “the world”.

A big part of the work I do as an osteopath is to share with the people, parents of young children, or animal care-givers seeking my help, the perspective that is so evident to me from that person/child/animal’s body, so that they can use that understanding to work with me in re-establishing a more harmonious balance and regulation within the communication networks that are always functioning in a live physical body. If we are alive, that network is functioning at some level. Our level of health and wellness is  largely determined, however, by how clear and unimpeded those communications are, and the extent to which they are acknowledged.

If you are an osteopath, physician, chiropractor, physiotherapist or massage therapist and would be interested in exploring ideas like this in a practical and experiential way relevant to your own practice please get in touch with me directly, at: Please use the subject line “Professional Workshop List”

I am presently in planning mode for course offerings to begin in the next couple of months. I may also offer some other forum for discussion and sharing amongst my patients and the general public. If that interests you, please send me an email to the same address, but use the title: “Public Discussion”

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My practice has moved

Karen and I are here in the hot sun taking a few days restful break at Yellow Point Lodge. 

Tomorrow, Sunday, July 5th, we return to Victoria and make final preparations for our move, within Fairfield, on July 6. 

As I will have to make some minor renovations to the practice space at the new address – 1907 Shotbolt Rd – I’m booking patients from Monday, July 13 onwards. 

My telephone number, fax number website URLs and email address will all remain the same as before. 

Along with the move there are some other things that will change in the next while, and the first. that I will share now, is that I will be doing some new workshop offerings in the autumn of this year. 

Please send me an email if you’re interested in being on a list of people informed about those coming workshop offerings. 

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Thanks Everyone! … We Have a Place to Move To

I had a great response to my last post, asking for help in finding Karen and I a place. Thanks to everyone who sent me leads, told friends and colleagues and/or who held the vision of us landing in a new place to admirably meet our needs.

To our great relief, we have recently found another place to live in for both our practices and our home base – right here in Fairfield. We move from 1238 Richardson Street to our new home at 1907 Shotbolt Road, on July 6th. I won’t be seeing patients at the new address until 8th of July, at the earliest.

1907 Shotbolt-Front

The entrance to the practice space will be via a door along the right side of the house, just beyond the end of the driveway. Access will be easier than it might appear in this Google Maps picture.

More information will be forthcoming closer to our move date. Again, many thanks to all of those who supported us thus far…

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Looking for a new place: Moving our home and practice(s)

My partner, Karen Ledger, and I are moving from 1238 Richardson Street, as of the end of June. We don’t yet know where we’ll be going. This fact is, in part, my impetus for writing this post. We would be grateful for our community of friends, family and clients to send us (very brief) leads on places for rent that fall along the lines of the parameters I’ll lay out, below. Many thanks in advance if you can offer any assistance to us – even if it is just holding the vision that we find something that is nourishing as personal sanctuary, and (connected to the living space, or separate from it) a place that works admirably for my osteopathic practice.

Most of you reading will know (though some will not) that Karen and I have been lucky enough to live in a beautiful property in Fairfield. It has a great garden, and wonderful practice space for me, and a very nice studio out back which Karen has used for her office and part-time practice space. The rest of the house is not so salubrious, but has served us very well for years now.

The white door to my clinic is open to the waiting room area in the following pictures. Last pic is my treatment room. One before that is the hallway to treatment room and bathroom, beyond.



DSC_0181 DSC_0182 DSC_0183 DSC_0184 DSC_0178


We would ideally love to find a place in Fairfield again – since it works so well for us and our clients to get to and from. If that doesn’t work, we are also looking in other parts of Greater Victoria  EXCEPT Oak Bay (unless it was purely for our home, since bylaws don’t allow home offices – meaning it is too risky to try and combine home and practice space behind the Tweed Curtain). The western communities (Colwood, Langford, Sooke) are too far out, and James Bay generally feels too crowded in. Gordon Head is possible but not preferable.

So here is a list of features we’d love to have in living and practice spaces – ideally in the same location.

A garden for growing vegetables – a south, west or east facing area

Bright rooms, 2 bedrooms and a den/office area for Karen

A nice LR, dining rm and kitchen area. We like to cook…

Storage  and workshop area (garage or basement?)

Enough room in LR or another area for me to do music in (piano, guitars, and other instruments)

Room for my practice:

Whether it is part of the home space or not, I need relatively level access for movement-restricted clients/patients.

The space again needs to be bright and attractive.

including a separate entrance, a room private, but bright enough to be a treatment room, and access to a bathroom nearby. Preferably an additional separate area where 1-2 people could wait for their family member while the treatment goes on.

We are in our early 60’s and very responsible tenants. Both of us have been home-owners in the past. We have excellent references.

We have both always been non-smokers, and we have no pets.

In my practice as an osteopath I see people of all ages, and I treat animals, mostly dogs, OUTSIDE the house. At our present home I treat dogs on the step outside the white clinic door. (See above pic.)

I presently have an administrative assistant (Lyle) who works two half-days per week with me. Depending on layout of either home or separate office space for the practice, Lyle might work mostly off-site. Or, if I am renting office space that includes reception staff Lyle’s services may not be required any more.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you can suggest any places for rent that are:

well under $3000/per month for a whole house, suitable as joint home and practice space;

OR, a nice house for rent that would meet most of the wish list except for the practice space (so it then could be in Oak Bay) for well under $2000/ per month;

AND/OR a nice practice space that you know of: Full-time space, level access or elevator and parking for patients for less than $1000 per month

we would love to hear from you.


I can reached at


Regards to All,










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