Our top Polyvagal Theory Books for recovering from trauma

For those seeking to explore the hidden power of the Polyvagal Theory, these books provide an excellent opportunity to explore the nervous system and its role in healing from trauma.

Polyvagal Theory, developed by renowned psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Porges, offers profound insights into the human autonomic nervous system and its influence on our emotions, behavior, and overall well-being.

Understanding the intricate interplay between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system can be transformative, not only in therapeutic settings but also in our everyday lives.

The Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, revolutionizes our understanding of the autonomic nervous system and its role in regulating our emotional responses.

It suggests that our nervous system operates in three distinct states, often referred to as the Polyvagal Ladder.

Complex PTSD Help The Polyvagal Ladder Simplified

By breaking down the different rungs of the Polyvagal Ladder, we will explore practical techniques that help activate the vagus nerve, stimulate the parasympathetic response, and ultimately foster feelings of safety, connection, and resilience in the face of adversity.

Whether you are struggling with anxiety, past traumas, or simply seeking to enhance your well-being, this article will provide you with the tools and strategies to travel the Polyvagal Ladder and reclaim control over your emotional energy.

What is the Polyvagal Theory?

Polyvagal Theory Guide What is the Polyvagal Theory

The Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, revolutionizes our understanding of the autonomic nervous system and its role in regulating our emotional responses.

It suggests that our nervous system operates in three distinct states, often referred to as the Polyvagal Ladder.

What is the Polyvagal Ladder?

The Polyvagal Ladder is a concept developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist, to explain the hierarchy of responses that the autonomic nervous system (ANS) can produce in different situations.

The autonomic nervous system regulates involuntary physiological functions, such as heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate.

Understanding these responses can be helpful in various fields, including psychology, trauma therapy, and stress management.

Consider that that there are three “parts” of the nervous system “ladder”, which we describe below that are the foundation of Dr. Porges’ Polyvagal Theory.

The Polyvagal Ladder Explained

Picture a ladder—a ladder depicting the stages of safety and connection, where each rung embodies a distinct state of our autonomic nervous system.

We call this the Polyvagal Theory Ladder, or Polyvagal Ladder.

At the bottom lies “shut down,” a state of disconnection and immobilization, where the body perceives danger as overwhelming, prompting a retreat into a protective cocoon.

Above it sits “unsafe,” a precarious rung marked by heightened arousal and vigilance, characterized by the fight-or-flight response as the body braces itself for potential threats.

Finally, at the top rests “safe,” a state of calm and social engagement, where the nervous system signals security, enabling us to connect authentically with others and navigate the world with confidence.

Complex PTSD Help The Polyvagal Ladder Simplified

The Ventral Vagal State: Safety and Connection

At the top of the ladder is the state of safety and social connection.

The ventral vagal state is characterized by a sense of safety, connection, and social engagement.

In this state, the vagus nerve promotes feelings of safety and social engagement.

It involves facial expressions, vocalizations, and the ability to connect with others.

When we are in this state, our vagus nerve is activated, promoting a calm and regulated nervous system response.

It allows us to feel connected to others, experience joy, and effectively navigate life’s challenges.

To activate the ventral vagal state, various techniques can be employed.

Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can help regulate the breath and stimulate the parasympathetic response.

By consciously engaging in slow, deep breaths, we can cue our body to relax, promoting a sense of safety and connection.

Complex PTSD Help The Polyvagal Ladder Simplified

The Sympathetic State: Fight or Flight Response

The middle portion of the ladder is the sympathetic nervous system activation, often associated with the fight-or-flight response.

This state prepares the body for action, increasing heart rate and energy to deal with perceived threats.

When we perceive a threat, whether real or imagined, our body gears up to either confront the danger or escape from it.

In this state, our heart rate increases, our muscles tense, and our senses become heightened.

Although the sympathetic state is essential for survival, chronic activation can lead to anxiety and other stress-related disorders.

To regulate this response, grounding techniques can be utilized.

By anchoring ourselves in the present moment through sensory experiences, such as feeling the texture of an object or listening to calming music, we can shift our focus away from perceived threats and promote a sense of safety.

Complex PTSD Help The Polyvagal Ladder Simplified

The Dorsal Vagal State: Freeze and Shutdown

The dorsal vagal state is often associated with freeze and shutdown responses.

When faced with overwhelming stress or trauma, our body may enter this state as a defense mechanism.

It is characterized by a sense of disconnection, numbness, and immobilization.

In this state, our body conserves energy and withdraws from the external world.

To move out of the dorsal vagal state, self-care practices can be immensely helpful.

Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as taking warm baths, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in gentle exercises like yoga, can gently stimulate the parasympathetic response and ease us out of the freeze response.

Complex PTSD Help The Polyvagal Ladder Simplified

The Importance of Understanding Polyvagal Theory

Understanding Polyvagal Theory is crucial for various reasons.

First, it helps us make sense of our emotional and behavioral responses.

By recognizing the different stages of the autonomic nervous system, we can better understand why we react in certain ways in different situations.

Polyvagal Theory also provides valuable insights into the impact of early life experiences on our nervous system development.

Traumatic experiences in childhood can disrupt the healthy functioning of the autonomic nervous system, leading to long-term difficulties in emotional regulation, social engagement, and overall well-being.

By understanding Polyvagal Theory, therapists and individuals can work towards healing and restoration.

Polyvagal Theory also offers practical tools and techniques for promoting emotional regulation and connection.

By engaging the ventral vagal complex, we can activate our body’s natural capacity for self-soothing, relaxation, and social engagement.

These practices can be beneficial in therapeutic settings, as well as in our everyday lives to enhance resilience and well-being.

Our list of top Polyvagal Theory Books

In this handpicked collection of polyvagal theory books, you’ll find a range of resources that unravel the complexities of Polyvagal Theory in a accessible and engaging way.

Whether you’re a therapist, researcher, or simply someone with a curious mind, these books offer invaluable knowledge and practical tools to harness the power of the Polyvagal Theory and promote emotional regulation, connection, and healing.

Polyvagal Card Deck: 58 Practices for Calm and Change

Polyvagal Card Deck by Deb Dana

Polyvagal Card Deck – 58 Practices for Calm and Change offers clients easy-to-implement exercises and strategies for managing wherever they are on the autonomic ladder.

Deb Dana is the leading clinical translator of Stephen Porges’ influential polyvagal theory and author of several best selling polyvagal theory books.

With her new Polyvagal Card Deck: 58 Practices for Calm and Change, she further extends the reach of this groundbreaking perspective on mental wellness.

These informational cards enable clients to enhance a broad understanding of their nervous system as well as help clinicians to guide them through a process of tuning in.

The cards have been thoughtfully created to provide polyvagal concepts and prompts grouped into three areas:

1) the autonomic hierarchy: ventral, sympathetic, and dorsal

2) a section about regulating the system

3) a bonus section exploring play, stillness, and change.

Clinicians can use the cards at the beginning of a session to frame the work or at the end to create a plan for ongoing work; clients can reach for the cards any time they want some nervous system support.

Deborah Dana, LCSW, is a clinician, consultant, author and speaker.

Her work is focused on using the lens of Polyvagal Theory to understand and resolve the impact of trauma in our lives.

She is a founding member of the Polyvagal Institute and lectures internationally.

Deb’s work shows how an understanding of Polyvagal Theory is applicable across the board to relationships, mental health, and trauma.

She delves into the intricacies of how we can all use an understanding of the organizing principles of Polyvagal Theory to change the ways we navigate our daily lives.

Deb believes that we all benefit when we have a basic understanding of the ways the nervous system works and learn how to become active operators of this essential system.

Clinical Polyvagal Theory books written by Deborah Dana with publisher W.W. Norton include:

The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation

Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client Centered Practices the Polyvagal Flip Chart, the Polyvagal Card Deck, and

Polyvagal Practices: Anchoring the Self in Safety

Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory

Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology)

Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory by Deb Dana

Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory by Deb Dana

In the polyvagal theory book Anchored, by Deb Dana, you can discover your body’s neural pathways to calmness, safety, and connection.

An intense conversation, a spat with a partner, or even an obnoxious tweet―these situations aren’t life-or-death, yet we often react as if they are.

That’s because our bodies treat most perceived threats the same way.

Yet one approach has proven to be incredibly effective in training our nervous system to stop overreacting and start responding to the world with greater safety and ease: Polyvagal Theory.

In Anchored, expert teacher Deb Dana shares a down-to-earth presentation of Polyvagal Theory, then brings the science to life with practical, everyday ways to transform your relationship with your body.

Using field-tested techniques, Dana helps you master the skills to become more aware of your nervous system moment to moment―and change the way you respond to the great and small challenges of life.

Here, you’ll explore:

Polyvagal Theory―get to know the biology and function of your vagus nerve, the highway of the nervous system
• Befriending Your Nervous System―attune to what’s going on in your body by developing your “neuroception”
• Using Your Vagal Brake―discover key techniques to consciously regulate the intensity of your emotions
• Connection and Protection―learn to recognize and influence your internal cues for safety and danger
• Your Social Engagement System―find ways to create nourishing relationships with others and the world around you
• Practices and guidance to gently shape your nervous system for greater resilience, intuition, safety, and wonder

Through guided imagery, meditation, self-inquiry, and more, Anchored offers a practical user’s manual for moving from a place of fear and panic into a grounded space of balance and confidence.

“Once we know how our nervous system works, we can work with it,” teaches Deb Dana.

“We can learn to access an embodied, biological resource that is always present, available, and there to guide us toward well-being.”

Deborah Dana, LCSW, is a clinician, consultant, author and speaker.

Her work is focused on using the lens of Polyvagal Theory to understand and resolve the impact of trauma in our lives.

She is a founding member of the Polyvagal Institute and lectures internationally.

Deb’s work shows how an understanding of Polyvagal Theory is applicable across the board to relationships, mental health, and trauma.

Deb dives into the intricacies of how we can all use an understanding of the organizing principles of Polyvagal Theory to change the ways we navigate our daily lives.

Deb believes that we all benefit when we have a basic understanding of the ways the nervous system works and learn how to become active operators of this essential system.

Other polyvagal theory books written by Deborah Dana with publisher W.W. Norton include:

The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation

Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client Centered Practices the Polyvagal Flip Chart, the Polyvagal Card Deck, and

Polyvagal Practices: Anchoring the Self in Safety

Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology)

Our Polyvagal World: How Safety and Trauma Change Us

Our Polyvagal World: How Safety and Trauma Change Us by Stephen Porges

In Our Polyvagal World, Stephen Porges, the creator of the Polyvagal Theory, explains the principles in simple terms that are accessible to all.

Since Stephen Porges first proposed the Polyvagal Theory in 1994, its basic idea—that the level of safety we feel impacts our health and happiness—has radically shifted how researchers and clinicians approach trauma interventions and therapeutic interactions.

Yet despite its wide acceptance, most of the writing on the topic has been obscured behind clinical texts and scientific jargon.

Our Polyvagal World definitively presents how Polyvagal Theory can be understandable to all and demonstrates how its practical principles are applicable to anyone looking to live their safest, best, healthiest, and happiest life.

What emerges is a worldview filled with optimism and hope, and an understanding as to why our bodies sometimes act in ways our brains wish they didn’t.

Filled with actionable advice and real-world examples, this book will change the way you think about your brain, body, and ability to stay calm in a world that feels increasingly overwhelming and stressful.

About Stephen Porges

Stephen Porges, Ph.D. is Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium.

He is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland.

He served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award.

He has published more than 400 peer-reviewed papers across several disciplines including anesthesiology, biomedical engineering, critical care medicine, ergonomics, exercise physiology, gerontology, neurology, neuroscience, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, psychometrics, space medicine, and substance abuse.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders.

The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders.

Other Polyvagal Books by Dr. Stephen Porges

The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011),

The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, (Norton, 2017)

Co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018)

Polyvagal Safety: Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation (Norton 2021)

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery by Dr Arielle Schwartz

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery Applying the Principles of Polyvagal Theory for Self-Discovery, Embodied Healing, and Meaningful Change arielle schwartz

Trauma recovery is as much about healing the body as it is the mind.

Yet, so often, the focus of healing involves retelling the story of the past without addressing the physiological imbalances that trauma leaves in its wake.   

That’s why Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery by Dr Arielle Schwartz is so invaluable for anyone healing from trauma.

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery by Dr Arielle Schwartz PhD bridges this path of healing between the psyche and the body by walking you through the sacred practice of yoga so you can release the burdens of trauma from your body and mind.

Grounded within the principles of polyvagal theory, affective neuroscience, and trauma-informed care, this book will help you gain a better understanding of how our brains and bodies respond to stress and trauma and offer a self-led healing journey toward feeling more empowered, grounded, clearheaded, inspired, and at ease.

With her innately compassionate and gentle guidance, Dr. Arielle Schwartz introduces you to the power of the yogic philosophy and offers a variety of accessible yoga poses and breathing practices that will allow you to:

  • Nourish your nervous system
  • Reconnect with your body
  • Ground yourself in the present moment
  • Release unresolved patterns of fight, flight, freeze, or faint
  • Widen your ability to tolerate emotional discomfort Develop a felt sense of resilience
  • Anchor yourself in self-love
  • Reclaim connection with and trust in your body
  • Create a personalized yoga practice for your own self-care

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz, PhD, author of The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual

Arielle Schwartz, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist, EMDR Therapy consultant, certified yoga instructor, and writer with a private practice in Boulder, Colorado.

She is a specialist in mind-body approaches to healing trauma.

Arielle Schwartz is a trainer for therapists and specializes in PTSD, Complex PTSD, Therapeutic Yoga for trauma, resilience, and Post Traumatic Growth.

She believes that all people deserve to be empowered by knowledge and is dedicated to offering informational mental health and wellness updates through her heartfelt community presentations, social media presence, and blog.

Her psychotherapy practice is called resilience informed therapy which offers an integrative, strength-based approach to trauma treatment.

Other books by Dr Arielle Schwartz

The Complex PTSD Workbook

The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook

EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology

A Practical Guide to Complex PTSD

The Power of the Vagus Nerve: The Up-To-Date Guide to Enhancing Vagal Tone and Boosting Brain & Body Energy by Reiner Hartmann

The power of the vagus nerve by Reiner Hartmann

Have you ever wondered how your body does so many amazing things without you even thinking about it?

Like how you breathehow your heart beats, and how you feel happy or sad?

Well, there’s a superhero nerve in your body called the vagus nerve, and it’s super important for helping you feel good, stay calm, and even make friends!

While traditional therapeutic approaches have focused primarily on talk therapy, there is a growing recognition of the importance of somatic-based interventions in trauma healing.

In The Power of the Vagus Nerve, we’re going on an adventure to discover all the cool stuff this nerve does and how you can make it even stronger.

It’s like giving superpowers to your body’s superhero! Here’s what you’ll find inside:

  • Fun facts about how the vagus nerve is like the boss of your body’s feelings and health.
  • Easy ways to check if your vagus nerve is feeling strong or if it needs a little boost.
  • Super simple exercises that you can do to make your vagus nerve the best it can be. You’ll learn how to breathe in ways that chill you out, move to feel awesome, and even eat foods that make your vagus nerve happy.

And because we think you’re super cool for wanting to learn about your body, we’ve got some extra special stuff just for you:

  • How to turn stress and worry into calm and happy vibes.
  • Tips for getting the best sleep ever and waking up feeling like a superhero.
  • The secret to making friends and feeling great around other people.

So, are you ready to unlock the superpowers of your vagus nerve and feel amazing?

Other Polyvagal Theory Books by Reiner Hartmann

Daily Vagus Nerve Exercises

The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges

The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology)

Bridging the gap between research, science, and the therapy room, Dr. Stephen Porges has whittled down key elements of the Polyvagal Theory and published The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory.

When The Polyvagal Theory was published in 2011, it took the therapeutic world by storm, bringing Stephen Porges’s insights about the autonomic nervous system to a clinical audience interested in understanding trauma, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Porges’ polyvagal theory books made accessible to clinicians and other professionals a polyvagal perspective that provided new concepts and insights for understanding human behavior.

The perspective placed an emphasis on the important link between psychological experiences and physical manifestations in the body.

That book was brilliant but also quite challenging to read for some.

Since publication of that book, Stephen Porges has been urged to make these ideas more accessible and The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory is the result.

Constructs and concepts embedded in polyvagal theory are explained conversationally in The Pocket Guide and there is an introductory chapter which discusses the science and the scientific culture in which polyvagal theory was originally developed.

Publication of this work enables Stephen Porges to expand the meaning and clinical relevance of this groundbreaking theory.

Other Polyvagal Theory Books by Dr. Stephen Porges

The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011),

The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, (Norton, 2017)

Co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018)

Polyvagal Safety: Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation (Norton 2021)

Whether you’re a therapist, researcher, or simply someone with a curious mind, these books offer invaluable knowledge and practical tools to dive deep into the realm of Polyvagal Theory.

By immersing yourself in these polyvagal theory books, you can gain a deeper understanding of your own nervous system and unlock the hidden power of Polyvagal Theory to promote emotional regulation, connection, and healing.

So, grab a book and start healing today.

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