Session #1 - Exploring Your Modes of Being

Session #1 - Exploring Your Modes of Being

👋 // Welcome + Grounding (10m)

🚦 // Experiencing Polyvagal Theory (25m)

Alright, so far we’ve been very mind-based. There’s a quote that I love from the Asaro Tribe of Papua New Guinea ~ they say that “Knowledge is Only a Rumour Until it Lives in the Muscle.”

So far your knowledge of Polyvagal Theory ~ or these three modes of the nervous system is still only a rumour as it’s still mind based.

So I want to give you an experience so that you can actually FEEL the difference of each of these Three Core Nervous System Operating Modes.

We’ll be going on an autonomic adventure ~ cycling through each branch of the nervous system ~ starting in Dorsal ~ firing up into Sympathetic - which is always required to escape Dorsal shutdown ~ and then gently resting in the Ventral Vagal anchor, which is our tend and befriend state.

So before we begin, ensure that you’re sitting comfortably and receive a full breath.


(play music that is one of sadness and stuckness)

First we’re going to feel into the Dorsal branch of the nervous system.

Place your fingers just under your ribcage. From the diaphragm downward is the realm of the dorsal vagus, it’s everyday or nonreactive role is to regulate healthy digestion.

But in survival mode it takes us out of connection + awareness and into collapse, immobilisation or numbness. The sensation is almost like one of witnessing ourselves but not really being HERE.

So think back to a time or specific moment in your life when you felt frozen or immobilised. Perhaps it was during a moment of overwhelming stress, panic or perhaps when you were experiencing the emotion of shame.

How is your awareness?

How is your posture?

What sensations are you experiencing?

Imagine this as a landscape you’re moving through. What do you see or feel? Perhaps it’s like murky swamp? What are the colours here, or the sounds? Really pain yourself a vivid picture of this internal dorsal landscape.


(play more activating music)

The sympathetic system is a spinal nerve system that emerges from the thoracic + lumbar regions, which is basically in the middle part of your back.

From here imagine a time when you were fully activated? Perhaps you were preparing to give a speech? Or start a difficult and vulnerable conversation? Perhaps someone was expressing anger towards you? Perhaps you were in genuine danger?

Visualise this moment

Remember this moment and now begin to exhale forcefully through your nose like this… continue doing this for 15 exhales.

Okay pause there, you should be noticing your heart beating faster, perhaps your peripheral gaze has narrowed a little, there might be a little heat present in your chest.

What thoughts or stories do you notice?

How is your posture?

What sensations are you experiencing?

If you were to imagine Sympathetic as a landscape what might it be like? What might be the texture of the ground? Is there heat in the air? What colours do you imagine might be here? What sounds might you hear? Really paint yourself a vivid picture of this internal dorsal landscape.


(switch the music to calming waters or a yin song)

Okay now continue wandering in this landscape of your mind, and feel the air begin to cool. As if you stumbled upon a lush oasis ~ you hear the sounds of water.

It’s specifically our ‘right vagus’ that moves down the side of our right neck + connects to our heart and forms the ‘vagal brake’.

So place your right hand on the right side of your neck + recall a moment when you felt this deep sense of embodied safety + connection. Perhaps you were somewhere deep in nature, meeting the eyes of a loved one or playing with a pet of yours. Whatever comes to mind bring that image closer and turn up the intensity so that you can really feel into the sense of connection.

From here, feel your feet grounded on the floor and now notice your breath, see if you can allow the breath to come into the back of your lungs.

From here receive three full sighs ~ with a double inhale through the nose and a full exhale through the mouth. Try this two more times.

Hopefully you’re now feeling the energy and sensations of your ventral vagal system coming online.

How is your awareness?

How is your posture?

What sensations are you experiencing?

Imagine this as a landscape…

❓ // Q&A (15m)

“Are the methods/tools to help calm the nervous system different, depending on whether a person is affected by chronic stressors (childhood trauma, e.g.) vs. single event trauma?” – Rob Tourtelot

“What are the most impactful things you can do to increase HRV?My HRV (as measured by WHOOP) is quite low (30-50), despite being in great shape physically.” – Vijay

“How do we learn to tell the difference between "good stress" (that helps make the body-mind stronger) and "bad stress" (that depletes the body)? Or are those terms misnomers?” – Alex Mart

“What are some ways to calm anger when it arises? I have found none, other than releasing it, and sometimes that is impossible to do. If I get angry before going to bed, It is almost definite that I am going to lose that night's rest.” – Yiannas Krompas

“What is the meta-frame that someone very experienced is using when he's working with his NS throughout the day. Is one's awareness on the nervous system first, and then everything else? Or how does one orient to this work?” — Ryan Vaughn

“Is the nervous system the mind? If so, what of consciousness?” – Nathan Paterson

“How can we get better at understanding what gut reaction is trauma related instincts that we could benefit from unlearning/re-wiring vs ones we should be listening to.” — Caryn

“How is the nervous system impacted by neurodiversity? (ADHD or autism)” – Angela Smith

“What are appropriate ways to bring this material to young children? Would love to hear any thoughts you might have had on this.” – Scott Drummond

“Something I'd love clarity on is in relation to which branches of the nervous system are active when 1. Practicing down-regulating Breathwork and 2. Whilst we are asleep. As far as I'm aware both are a blend of low-tone dorsal and ventral. What I don't understand is why ventral is online when 1. Engaging a self-regulatory practice where there is no co-regulation/social engagement 2. Whilst we're asleep and there is no co-regulation/social engagement” – James Dowler

“The standard advice seems to be that we should never take action when angry. That if we do so, we will act impulsively, messily; end up doing something we regret. However, when it comes to asserting one's boundaries, I have a sense that my anger is playing an important role. Often, my anger will tell me some transgression has occurred. Then, I wait it out, and as my nervous system settles, I rationalise the anger away: 'it wasn't that bad.', 'Life's too short to get upset/get into confrontations about such things' etc. What is the midpoint between ensuring one doesn't act out of reactivity, and yet that one doesn't repress or bypass the messages that our initial emotions are sending us?” – Ronan

🙏 // Wrap Up

The more that you can track these states in you physical body ~ the more state-shifting flexibility you’ll be able to cultivate over time.

My final invitation is for you to experiment with spending the next 24 hours checking in every couple of hours to ask yourself which of these three states you’re in.