Embodying the Polyvagal Informed Toolbox

In addition to developing the skills and strategies of the polyvagal informed toolbox, implementation of these resources within our daily activities and lives is an essential element.

For the opportunity to reflect on this article and earn CE/CME credits, see the instructions below.

In the process of integrating a polyvagal informed paradigm into our daily lives, there are two important components.  The first aspect involves understanding and developing the principles, skills, and strategies that comprise the polyvagal informed toolbox.  This is an intentional and deliberate process that was described in detail in the previous article.  This is a necessary factor in applying the principles of Polyvagal Theory.  Without fully training and developing these skills and strategies, we do not have the necessary tools in order to leverage our biology within a polyvagal informed paradigm.

The second required component relates to embodying the principles and practices which emerge from the polyvagal informed toolbox.  In essence, this aspect relates to applying these skills and strategies in our daily lives.  Whereas the previous article focused on the development of the necessary skills and strategies, this discussion will emphasize the application of the toolbox within our daily routines.  By combining these two components, specifically developing the necessary skills and strategies and applying them on an ongoing and continuous basis, we are best positioned to leverage our biology towards being at our best in any, and all, aspects of life and promoting our health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.

In the previous discussion regarding the polyvagal informed toolbox, there was description of the need for an intentional and deliberate practice in order to develop the polyvagal informed skills and strategies.  As we turn attention towards applying these tools in our daily lives, the importance of a deliberate and intentional process remains present.  This is essential in order to embody a polyvagal informed paradigm to the greatest extent.  It is only through this approach that we are able to optimally pursue health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.

The rationale, from my perspective, as to why an intentional and deliberate process towards embodying these principles is needed relates to our biology.  It is important to recognize that our fundamental biological processes, as determined through expression of our genes, represent the pursuit of our biological imperative to reproduce and propagate the species.  This is consistent across all living organisms.  The basic drives, such as food, water, shelter, and reproduction all function in order to serve the overarching function of propagation, or continuation, of the species.  This concept is at the foundation of biological survival and selection pressures which determine the evolution of genetic traits over time.

While a full discussion of natural selection and evolutionary pressure is beyond the scope of this article, these principles form an important foundation for consideration of the intentional and deliberate process for embodying the polyvagal informed paradigm.  While the ventral vagal circuits are a result of mammalian evolution, as eloquently described by Stephen Porges PhD, the traits associated with ventral vagal states only optimally emerge when our nervous system is in a state of safety and connection.   Why is this? 

From my perspective, a potential explanation lies in the interaction between our biological needs for propagation of the species and for connection with others.  It would seem that an important mammalian and, in particular, human strategy to ensure survival, and therefore reproduction and propagation of the species, is through connection with others.  In essence there is safety in numbers, as the cliché states.  While this is no doubt true, the absolute requirement for reproduction is survival, at least up until the point wherein reproduction has occurred.  As such, survival becomes a paramount consideration, followed closely by connection with others, once the primary requirement of survival has been accomplished.

In my opinion it is this explanation that informs why our ventral vagal complex is only able to fully emerge from a state of safety and connection.  Continuing with this paradigm, it can be appreciated that if survival is of primary importance, then we must ensure that we do not misinterpret cues in our internal and external environments in a fashion that jeopardizes our survival.  For example, there would be a survival advantage towards a bias of neuroception of equivocal cues towards uncertainty, risk, or threat.  In prehistoric times, if there was movement in tall grass it would benefit our chances of survival to neurocept such an event as a potential risk and, accordingly, shift towards protection and survival states.  If we had neurocepted such an event as a cue of safety, for instance another human in our tribe walking through the grass, but it had turned out to be a tiger our survival would have been at risk.  This consideration informs the existence of a bias of neuroception towards cues of uncertainty, risk, and threat.

Due to the existence of the bias discussed above, if left to its own devices, our nervous system would be biased towards neuroception of cues of uncertainty, risk, and threat.  The result of this is a tendency towards the protection and survival states determined by sympathetic and dorsal vagal activation.  This remains the case in our contemporary society, despite substantial reduction in immediate risks to our survival compared to prehistoric times.  Social and cultural evolution occurs more rapidly than does biological and genetic evolution.  As a consequence of this bias in neuroception, our nervous system will be more likely to shift towards sympathetic and dorsal vagal states.  As such, deliberate and intentional practices are needed in order to overcome this tendency and allow us to leverage our biology towards that which we most value.

This explains why ventral vagal states, though a definite component of our biology, emerge fully only from a place of safety and connection.  Essentially, as humans we will become receptive to and seek out connection with others when our primary need for survival has been satisfied.  In order to leverage our biology towards greater degrees of ventral vagal activation, when appropriate, it is necessary to embody the polyvagal informed toolbox in order to better identify and recognize the cues of safety and connection which are present internally, externally, and relationally. 

Embodiment of the polyvagal informed toolbox is the result of a conscious decision to, firstly, train and develop the requisite skills and strategies.  Secondarily, a choice is made to implement these resources on a regular and continuous basis, to the greatest extent possible.  It is important to pursue these objectives with self-compassion, particularly because as humans we will not always accomplish this goal.  There will be times, perhaps many instances, in which we do not successfully implement these skills and strategies.  In such moments, what becomes most important is to recognize the situation without criticism or blame and then attempt, as best as is possible, to again implement the skills and strategies moving forward and repair whatever may have occurred.  Indeed, the embodiment of the polyvagal informed toolbox and paradigm can best position us to pursue these processes with the greatest degree of compassion for ourselves and others.

Through the intentional and deliberate development of the polyvagal informed toolbox and its application in our daily lives, we are best positioned to appropriately optimize ventral vagal activation across our activities and experiences.  In so doing we are able to benefit from the attributes of ventral vagal stabilized states, thereby promoting our ability to be at our best, even within high demand and high consequence situations.  In addition, embodiment of the polyvagal informed toolbox leads to greater nervous system flexibility and adaptability, improved ventral vagal tone, and a more effective and efficient vagal break.  Taken together these benefits are all foundational in the pursuit of health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance within the Practices of the Healthcare Athlete.

The CE experience for this Blog Post / Article is powered by CMEfy – click here to reflect and earn credits: https://earnc.me/n6n0r6

This experience is powered by CMEfy – an AI-powered platform that directs learners along a pathway to capture reflections at the point of inspiration, point of care. Clinicians may earn CME/CE credit via ReflectCE, the accredited activity portal. Learn more at about.cmefy.com/cme-info.


Allison, M.  The Play Zone:  A Neurophysiological Approach to our Highest Performance.  https://theplayzone.com.

Dana, D.  Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory.  Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2021.

Dana, D.  Polyvagal Practices: Anchoring The Self in Safety.  New York:  W.W. Nortan & Company, 2023.

Porges, SW.  Polyvagal Safety: Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 2021.

Porges, SW.  The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 2011.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.