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***See below for a complete topic breakdown.***

Join us on Reddit at r/ATTMindPodcast to discuss this episode.

Reality, at least the way we experience it, is formed of models in our mind.

blind melephant parable
Remember the parable of the blind men and an elephant? [wiki]
Is there, perhaps, an essential or ‘true’ reality? Maybe, sure, but insofar as how we experience ourselves and the world around us, we are engaging with, discerning, constructing and reconstructing predictive models in our head. These models support our sense-making and meaning-making processes. As those models change or expand, the meaning and sense we make of the world changes and expands. Learning changes us and the world we live in, and thus, how we relate to/with/in life.

I imagine that is why you listen to this podcast, or any podcast, as they engage you with the models of others and as a consequence, your models change and expand. Your world changes, perhaps ever so slightly, as a consequence of thinking differently about a subject, concept, or issue; as a consqeunce of learning.

The radical possibilities of this learning process are especially poignant when what we are learning about is ourselves, specifically as individuals or generally as an organism. I imagine this is why you (or at least much of my listeners) are interested in psychedelics as well, they disintegrate our models for self and other and in turn show us things about ourselves that we otherwise might  have never seen, enabling us an opportunity to know thyself and recontextualize our engagement of the world, hopefully for the better.

Well, I suspect that knowing thyself and expanding the models you have for the world and yourself in a way that positively adds to the quality of your life and the lives of those you care about is something of interest to you. Thus, I also suspect that this episode will be right up your ally.

Polyvagal Theory offers a neurophysiological framework to consider the reasons why people act in the ways they do. Through a polyvagal lens, we understand that actions are automatic and adaptive, generated by the autonomic nervous system well below the level of conscious awareness. This is not the brain making a cognitive choice, These are autonomic energies moving in patterns of protection. And with this new awareness, the door opens to compassion. – Deb Dana [source]

deb dana polyvagal attmind podcast

Our guest for this episode of the podcast is Deb Dana, LSCW and she is on the show to tell us all about polyvagal theory and the explanatory power it has for how and why we are the way we are in the world and with each other, in a psychological, neurobiological, sociological, but also practical way. Deb Dana, LCSW is a clinician and consultant specializing in working with complex trauma and is the Coordinator of the Kinsey Institute Traumatic Stress Research Consortium. She developed the Rhythm of Regulation Clinical Training Series and lectures internationally on ways in which Polyvagal Theory informs work with trauma survivors.

Don’t know what Polyvagal theory is? don’t worry. Deb Dana takes us in and through a working understanding of the theory while explaining how it applies to relationships, mental health and trauma, therapy, safety and danger, the neurobiology of survival, and even into contemporary American politics.

Polyvagal theory is easily one of the most valuable things I have learned about in my life and I am very excited to share it with you.

discuss this episode on our subreddit



Episode Breakdown

  • What is the polyvagal theory
  • The 3 organizing principles of polyvagal theory: neuroception, hierarchy, co-regulation
  • Neuroception – the first organizing principle
  • The value of face to face interaction in a world of digital communication
  • Cues of safety; cues of danger
  • The nervous system is an organ of relationship
  • Hierarchy – the second organizing principle
  • The evolution and dissolution of the autonomic nervous system
  • Addiction through a polyvagal lens
  • Trauma through a polyvagal lens
  • Paired Antagonism
  • Co-regulation – the third organizing principle
  • The health risk of the ‘perception’ of loneliness
  • The difference between social support and social connection
  • Eye contact, listening, and still-face
  • The role of the therapist
  • MDMA and psychedelic-assisted therapy through a polyvagal lens
  • What does “safety” and “being safe” mean?
  • Contemporary American politics through a polyvagal lens
  • How to regulate the nervous system.

Relevant Links


This is Deb Dana’s main educational site for her work with polyvagal theory. Here you will learn more about her work, her workshops, and how to contact her directly.

Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation (book)

“This book offers therapists an integrated approach to adding a polyvagal foundation to their work with clients. With clear explanations of the organizing principles of Polyvagal Theory, this complex theory is translated into clinician and client-friendly language. Using a unique autonomic mapping process along with worksheets designed to effectively track autonomic response patterns, this book presents practical ways to work with clients’ experiences of connection. Through exercises that have been specifically created to engage the regulating capacities of the ventral vagal system, therapists are given tools to help clients reshape their autonomic nervous systems.”

I have found that although this book is geared towards clinicians, it is written in a way that is easy for non-clinicians to understand and apply to themselves.

Her more clinically written textbook on this subject, co-authored with Stephen Porges is Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies

*** Quick note: If you are interested in learning more about how I have incorporated polyvagal theory into my work with psychedelics and conscious relating, you can attend one of the workshops I will be teaching this summer 2019 in the UK. Dates are not confirmed yet but sign up for my newsletter to be informed when they are, as well as my other teaching events this coming summer.



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  1. Such a great podcast, ruined by needless attacks on the President, and other partisan politics.
    Keep the leftism to yourselves and you’ll have a podcast I’d be willing to share with others. Since you didn’t, I won’t.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you are so adverse to an alternate political opinion and so worried about the perception of your political slant by your peer group, and even perhaps that your peer groups ability to hear a different political view at all, that you would choose not to share with them “such a great podcast”.

      Next time I’ll be sure to be completely non-biased, non-offensive, and non-opinionated on social matters so as to protect its fundamental sharability.

      Also, I am glad you liked most of it. Hopefully, the fact that it came wrapped in a politic you don’t agree with won’t prevent you from getting something positive from it.

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