Review: Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection by Deb Dana

I keep hearing about Polyvagal Theory and keep meaning to learn more. I haven’t had a chance so I decided to start with this book, which I think is a good choice. In the beginning of the book, Dana goes over the basic theory before diving into the exercises. In fact, the main tenets of Polyvagal Theory are in the BASIC acronym – Befriend, Attend, Shape, Integrate and Connect.

Polyvagal Theory gives us a hierarchy to the autonomous nervous system. At the lowest point, we are in the dorsal vagal system, which is characterized by immobilization (the freeze response); next is the sympathetic nervous system, which most of us know is characterized by mobilization, specifically the fight or flight response. Lastly comes the ventral vagal system, characterized by social engagement and wellbeing. The purpose of Polyvagal theory and these exercises is to help our clients move from the freeze-fight-flight states into a more constructive state of wellbeing.

What I really like about this book is that you could use these exercises with your clients (or even just one of them) even if you don’t know a lot about Polyvagal Theory, or even if it is not your general operating theory. Most of us are fairly eclectic in our approaches these days but we ALL have clients who go into fight or flight or even freeze, and knowing specific exercises to practice with them is always helpful.

Lastly, there is a huge appendix. There are some progress charts; but also, there is additional copies of all of the exercises. While each exercise was discussed in the body of the book, there are additional copies in the back so that you can copy them to distribute to your clients. Overall, I may not become a Polyvagal Theory expert, but the theory makes sense and I can see myself using many of these exercises with clients. It would be a good book to have on hand so that the exercises could be used as issues come up in session.

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Review: Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness by David Treleaven

I do a lot of mindfulness work with clients and groups, and it’s common to hear the adage that mindfulness is good for everyone – but that’s not always the case.  Trauma causes an internal dysregulation, and dropping in to pay attention to your inner experience is a land mine sometimes. Often if a person is having trouble in meditation, meditation teachers will say something like “just stick with it” – which is ok advice if you are not in a traumatic state, but if you are it’s doing some damage.  Treleaven is THE person to learn from if you want to become more trauma informed and trauma sensitive.  This book is great for anyone leading or teaching any kind of mindfulness, but I also think it would be helpful if you are a person who has suffered trauma and tries to engage in mindfulness.  It is a textbook-style book, but written in an engaging enough manner that anyone could glean helpful ideas from reading it.