Polyvagal Theory + Exercises

What is the Autonomous Nervous System?

The autonomous nervous system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, controlling every body function that occurs without us consciously thinking about it, including:

  • Mood
  • Breathing
  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature

The sympathetic nervous system is activated in response to a threat, danger or stressful situations. It triggers the fight or flight stress response, increasing the release of stress hormones and speeding up body functions to help protect us, for example, making us run from a lion. 

The parasympathetic nervous system counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system by exerting a relaxing effect on the body. It is managed mainly by the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in the body – running from our brain down through our eyes, ears, vocal cords and down to all our major organs, including the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and gut. The vagus nerve has two branches: the dorsal vagus nerve and the ventral vagus nerve. The dorsal vagus nerve takes over by shutting the body down when we feel overwhelmed, stressed or threatened and reactions like fight, flight or freeze are not an option. (Heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, and breathing becomes shallow, redirecting blood and oxygen away from our extremities and towards our vital organs, meant to help us conserve energy so that we can survive a stressful situation.) It also suppresses the immune system and when chronic, can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. The ventral vagal nerve on the other hand is responsible for our body to relax, to digest and absorb nutrients from food, and to heal, regenerate and become stronger. It is also the state for social interaction and being in relation. When we are in a ventral vagal state, we feel safe and connected.

What Can Damage the Vagus Nerve?

The following factors can lower vagus nerve function and cause the sympathetic nervous system to remain active for extended periods of time and become dominant:

  • Poor diet high in processed foods
  • Lack of sleep
  • Over-stimulation from screens
  • Health and financial concerns 
  • Being constantly on the go with no time to rest 

Sympathetic Dominance Symptoms

Low vagal tone and sympathetic dominance suppresses our immune system. It negatively affects our health and can contribute to and cause numerous symptoms and conditions, including:

  • Muscle tension, especially around the neck and shoulders 
  • Increased pain & inflammation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Elevated blood sugar & blood pressure
  • Impaired digestion and digestive issues like nausea & bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation
  • Poor sleep and insomnia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Weight gain
  • Increased anxiety, stress and depression
  • Headaches, migraines & dizziness etc.
  • Frequent infections
  • Increased irritability
  • Difficulty focusing and remembering things
  • Unable to think rationally
  • Impaired mood
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Autoimmune conditions

What is the Vagal Brake?

The vagal brake is the heart’s natural pacemaker. In the face of regulation and calm, the vagal brake engages and the heart beats between 60-80 bpm. In the face of dis-regulation and stress, the vagal brake releases and the heart rate accelerates beyond 80 bpm. Without a vagal brake, the heart would beat so rapidly that the body would eventually grow exhausted and collapse.

The Vagal Brake Metaphor: Bicycle Brakes

Dr. Stephen Porges, the scientist responsible for much of the research on the polyvagal system, compares the functioning of the vagal brake to a bicycle’s brakes. When the vagal brake is strong, it can be used as a tool to regulate sensation and emotion. In this example, the bike’s brakes engage smoothly and easily to regulate speed. When the vagal brake is undeveloped or weakened, sensations arise unexpectedly and emotions appear quickly. In this example, the bike’s brakes have been disconnected. Without brakes, the bike’s speed is totally dependent on the surface. If the bike is on a hill, it rolls out of control, until the surface plateaus. For most people, the vagal brake is an unrecognized part of their physiology, and an unused tool in the emotional regulation toolkit. For most people, emotions and sensations swing wildly when stress and dis-regulation strike.

Why is the Vagal Brake Important?

If our vagal brake is strong, we can use it as a resource to regulate in times of stress. We can choose how much energy to bring into our body and nervous system, and how much energy to expel. A strong vagal brake adds resiliency to our daily rhythm and is essential for physical and mental health and eases symptoms for a range of chronic illnesses. Use, or disuse, of the vagal brake directly impacts physical health and emotional well being. When a body is so accustomed to continuous influx of stress and stimulation (vagal brake is off), it feels unsafe and ill. The most important benefits of a strong vagal brake are:

1.Improved Capacity for Stress
When the vagal brake is strong, our relationship with other people changes. Everyday stressors, like those in the workplace, at school or at home, feel easier to manage. A delay on the way to work doesn’t disrupt the flow of your day; it’s simply a part of the day. A forgotten lunch doesn’t trigger a story about the person who did the forgetting; it’s simply a forgotten lunch. In general, a strong vagal brake makes for greater empathy and compassion for the self and others. When stress arises, you’ll know how to engage the vagal brake to return to regulation.

2. Greater Feelings of Safety 
When the vagal brake is strong, the heart beats at a steady and regulated pace. A predictable heart rate means daily events feel less threatening. When the heart rate increases unpredictably, daily events feel overwhelming. A strong vagal brake allows you to sense cues of safety and danger more clearly; people and events are less likely to trigger emotional and physical responses. What might have triggered a ‘threat’ response in the past is tempered, and a sense of safety is quickly restored.

3. Renewed Access to Empathy
For many people, the capacity for empathy has been dampened by frequent stress and being overwhelmed. When the vagal brake is strong, we can respond to one another’s needs as they arise. We are less reactive and defensive. We reunite as humans. We can extend one another greater compassion and kindness from a place of calm. It is from this place that great change can happen, both personally and globally.

The Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve

There are simple things we can do to stimulate the vagus nerve, switch off the sympathetic nervous system and activate our parasympathetic nervous system. Improving vagus nerve tone and parasympathetic nervous system activation calms the whole body and has been shown to improve physical and mental health and ease symptoms for a range of chronic conditions, such as:

  • Reducing pain and inflammation
  • Improving sleep
  • Improving digestion and absorption of nutrients from our food, helping to ease digestive complaints like nausea, gas and bloating
  • Reducing fatigue and boosting energy
  • Reducing heart and breathing rates
  • Controlling blood sugar and blood pressure
  • Increasing calmness and relaxation to help ease anxiety, stress and depression
  • Boosting our immune system
  • Improving concentration, alertness and memory

Easy Exercises that Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

Improving vagal tone and parasympathetic nervous system activation can be naturally stimulated quickly and easily on your own. 

Practicing the Vagal Brake

This exercise helps you strengthen the connection between breath and stress and serves as a tool for regulation: Imagine a time of minimal, manageable stress. Picture that moment, and allow yourself to feel the sensations related to stress in your physical form. Notice the sensations and the emotions. Then, bring attention to your breath. Notice the depth and quality of the breath. Next, mindfully extend the breath. Imagine that you are bringing energy into the body on each inhale, and removing energy from the body on each exhale.

If you wish, and if it is helpful, imagine being on a bike at the top of a small hill. Your fingers are on the bike’s brakes. When you release the brake every so slightly, you allow the bike wheel to roll. You control the speed of the bike. When you press the brake slightly, you slow the bike down. You control the speed of the bike. Imagine your nervous system is the bike wheel. Imagine the brakes are your vagal brake. With each breath, you bring energy into the nervous system, providing yourself with new, fresh energy. With each exhale, you take energy out of the nervous system, removing old, stale energy.

Gargling activates the muscles at the back of the throat, which the vagus nerve runs through. Gargling to the point where your eyes tear up is optimal for activating the vagus nerve. Warm salt water helps to kill bacteria at the back of the throat.

Humming, singing or chanting activates the vocal cords, which the vagus nerve passes through. The stimulation of the vagus nerve has been shown to increase heart rate variability.

Slow, Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing
As we breathe, inhaling stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, our stress response, while exhaling increases parasympathetic nervous system activation, our relaxation response. To activate the vagus nerve and increase the amount of oxygen taken in and transported around the body, breathing should be:

  • Slow, ideally taking 6 breaths per minute
  • Effortless
  • Performed using the diaphragmatic (belly breathing)
  • In and out through the nose
  • Exhale twice as long as inhale 

By practicing the vagal brake, you strengthen the connection between breath and stress. The vagal brake becomes a tool for regulation in times of need. Breathing exercises are also one of the best vagus nerve exercises for digestion. Performing slow, deep breathing for one minute before eating activates the parasympathetic nervous system, to increase digestive enzyme production, which optimizes digestion and the amount of nutrients we absorb from the foods we consume.

Touch Your Lips
Lips have parasympathetic fibers spread throughout them. Running your fingers gently over your lips can stimulate them.

Half Salamander Exercise
The Half Salamander Exercise is a quick and easy exercise from Stanley Rosenberg’s book “Accessing The Healing Power Of The Vagus Nerve” that instantly activates the vagus nerve and our parasympathetic nervous system as well as:

  • Increasing upper back thoracic mobility
  • Reducing forward head posture by bringing the head into better alignment with the spine
  • Increasing breathing capacity to help ease anxiety and stress

To perform:

  • Sit in a comfortable upright position
  • While keeping your head facing forwards, bring your right ear towards your right shoulder and look with your eyes to the left 
  • Hold this position until you yawn, swallow or sigh. 
  • Then repeat on the opposite side. Keeping your head facing forwards, bring your left ear towards your left shoulder and look with your eyes to the right. Hold position again until you yawn, swallow or sigh. 

The Basic Exercise
The Basic Exercise is another simple exercise by Stanley Rosenberg which combines upper back mobility and using our peripheral vision to instantly activate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. The Basic Exercise can be performed laying down or in a seated upright position.

  • Interlock your fingers and place your hands against the back of your head.
  • While keeping your head facing forwards, look with your eyes to the left. 
  • Hold this position until you yawn, swallow or sigh. 
  • Then while still keeping your head facing forwards, look with your eyes to the right. Again hold this position until you yawn, swallow or sigh. 

Yoga stimulates the vagus nerve and increases parasympathetic nervous system activation, which has been shown to have the following benefits:

  • Lowers heart rates
  • Reduces pain
  • Relieves depression and anxiety
  • Improves sleep quality

Cold Exposure
As our body adjusts to cold temperatures, the vagus nerve is activated to reduce our sympathetic stress response and increase our parasympathetic rest and relaxation state. In addition to strengthening the vagus nerve, it has the additional benefits of:

  • Increasing lymph flow, which removes toxins, bacteria, viruses and other waste products from the body
  • Causing the heart to pump more efficiently to increase blood flow and deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the whole body
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Speeding up our metabolism, which boosts the immune system and the production of white blood cells to help fight infection and illness

Exposure to the cold can be achieved with:

  • Cold showers
  • Drinking cold water
  • Icing the vagus nerve by placing an ice pack on your forehead or side of the neck
  • Splashing your face with cold water
  • Sucking on an ice cube
  • Eating popsicles/ice lollies

Prayer & Meditation
Prayer and meditation (even for just 2-3 minutes) has been shown to ease anxiety and stress and increase relaxation.

Acupressure & Acupuncture
Acupressure and acupuncture stimulate the vagus nerve and increase heart rate variability, while also reducing inflammation, improving digestion, while easing nausea and vomiting. There are 3 pressure points that stimulate the vagus nerve specifically:

  • Concha cymba – in the cavity above the ear canal.
  • Stomach 36 – 3 finger widths down from your wrist in between the 2 large tendons.
  • Nei Guan P6 – 4 finger widths down from the bottom of your kneecap on the outside of your shin.

You can stimulate these vagus nerve acupressure points yourself quickly and easily at home by applying firm but not painful downward pressure on them with your thumb or finger in a circular motion for 1-2 minutes on each one.

Massage has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and increase parasympathetic nervous system activation. It has been shown to provide the following benefits for range of conditions, including fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and autoimmune conditions:

  • Reduced pain and muscle tension
  • Improved function
  • Reduced anxiety, depression and stress
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved sleep
  • Boosts the immune system

For a vagus nerve massage, massage the feet and carotid sinus’, on the side of the neck.

Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3 fats stimulate the vagus nerve and have been shown to reduce resting heart rates and increase heart rate variability. Omega 3 anti-inflammatory fats can be found in:

  • Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
  • Flaxseeds, use sprouted for added benefits
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Walnuts, consume activated ones for added benefits

High Fiber Diet
Eating foods high in fiber – fruits, vegetables, beans & legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, herbs & spices – is essential for regular bowel movements. The removal of digested food and toxins in stools prevents bad bacteria and other pathogens in the gut from thriving and impairing vagus nerve activation. Fiber has the additional benefit of feeding the good bacteria in the gut, which reduces inflammation and increases vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system activation. As each different food feeds a different type of good bacteria in the gut, eating a variety of plants is recommended to optimize gut health. Eating seasonally is one way of reaching this target.

The vagus nerve innervates the gut. Probiotics and fermented foods increase the good bacteria in the gut, which activates the vagus nerve. 90% of the nerves from the gut connect to the brain via the vagus nerve. The increase in good bacteria in the gut has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress and depression.

Fermented foods include Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Water Kefir.

Cosmology and Medicine of the Q’ero Nation from Peru

save for later: download PDF

Wisdom of the Inca

The Q’ero Nation of the high Andes in Peru are the last remaining direct descendants of the Inca, who called themselves the Children of the Sun. They retreated into the mountains upon arrival of the Conquistadors more than 500 years ago to protect and safeguard the ancient wisdom of how to live in Ayni (right relationship/sacred exchange) with Mother Earth, Father Sky and all living beings; the knowledge of the living and vibrating divine energy that flows through everything and connects All That Is; a deep legacy of healing techniques and energy medicine embedded in this cosmology, that stretches back 50,000 years. By now, research and findings in quantum physics have confirmed the existence of this omnipresent energy field, its open potentiality and our power to influence it through our thoughts, intentions and witnessing.



Upon their arrival in the mountains, the Q’ero Nation received a prophecy of the return of Pachakuti (Quechua language Pacha = world, earth, space/time, realm, soil and Kuti = turn, churn, movement). The prophecy speaks of a period of upheaval and cosmic transformation signifying a reversal of the world, an overturning of the space/time continuum and foretells of a grand cataclysmic event.

A Pacha also represents the span of 500 years, a traditional Incan way to read time. The first arrivals of the Spanish to the Americas (1476, Brazil -1492, Bahamas) coincided with a Pachakuti. Now, 500 years later we have entered a new Pacha represented by the tumultuous nature of our current world and environmental destruction, during which the paradigm of  Western civilization will continue to collapse while the way of the Earth people will return. More importantly, the shamanic elders speak about a tear in the fabric of time itself. As we change our way of thinking and become more conscious, redefine our relationships and spirituality, elevate to a higher state of consciousness, peace and order emerge out of chaos and we pass into an age of transformation and re-connection with nature.

The return of Pachakuti is taking place on a collective level. This tear in the fabric of time will offer us the possibility to leave all old concepts + perceptions of time + space in the past. These changes give us the potential to recreate ourselves in a completely new paradigm. The Andean elders advise us not to lose this opportunity because if we are able to give up the limiting concepts that we have around us, we finally will be able to see what we can be. This concept has been adopted by several political movements in South America, particularly those seeking to advance indigenous peoples’ rights. In this context, it signifies the beginning of a new cycle and the desire for substantive change in the political environment.


Sacred Space

At the beginning of every energy medicine session, sacred space is called in, addressing the four directions of the southern medicine wheel and its archetypes, as well as Mother Earth and Father Sun:

Sachamama/Amaru (Serpent/South), representing the element Earth, where we can learn to shed our past with the same grace as the serpent sheds her skin. The south relates to our physical existence and is connected to the root chakra.

Choquechinchay/Otorongo (Jaguar/West) representing the element Water, where we can learn to see in the darkness without fear, conquer the Ego by embracing uncertainty, master life and death and learn how to transform heavy energies (Hucha) into light energies (Sami). The west relates to our emotions and is connected to the sacral chakra.

Cewa Kinti (Humming Bird/North) representing the element Air, where we can learn to trust our intuition, listen to the voice of our soul and dare the leap of faith of stepping into the unknown of our soul quest. In the north, we receive the sweet nectar of life and we are supported by our ancestors. The north relates to our spiritual awakening and is connected to the solar plexus chakra.

Apuchin/Kuntur (Condor/East) representing the element Fire, where we can learn to establish higher vision and a change of focus from problems to possibilities, to step into self-responsibility and dream a new world into being. The east relates to conquering our mind and is connected to the heart chakra.

Pachamama (Mother Earth) is honored in her unconditional love and support of all life she bears.

Inti Taita (Father Sun) is honored for the wisdom of light he represents, along with grandmother moon (Mama Quilla) and the brothers and sisters stars.


Cosmic Parents

Mother Earth and Father Sky (or Father Sun) are regarded as our true spiritual parents, whereas our physical parents literally only gave us our body, raised and ideally protected us lovingly through childhood. The Q’ero, as with many other indigenous cultures, practice initiation rituals for boys and girls for them to consciously step into adulthood by accepting Mother Earth and Father Sky as their true cosmic parents, thereby releasing responsibility and expectation from the physical parents and putting it into the hands of the initiates.

I have come to experience that introducing this simple concept can already help clients to forgive and reduce anger and disappointment towards their physical parents while reconnecting them to a bigger order, a reliable relationship to these motherly and fatherly principles. I introduce this concept as a guided meditation prior to every hypno-therapeutic intervention, bringing my clients in touch with the energies of earth and sky, inviting them gently to integrate this transpersonal map into their inner world. Being embedded in this cosmology offers us a comfort and relief that can’t be found in our materialistic world view with its hyper individualization and separation, where care and support is marketed as a commodity and continuously destroys connection and common welfare. It reminds us that we are allowed to trust, have patience, faith and courage. It reminds us that it is worth the struggle of life.


As many ancient traditions in the world, the Q’ero work with the Chakras, representing energetic portals to our luminous energy field, which is believed to be the timeless blueprint of our soul, holding our destiny and predispositions. The Q’ero believe that all of our unresolved traumatic experiences, emotions and beliefs are imprinted in our luminous energy field, constantly informing our physical body via the Chakras and eventually causing psychological or somatic symptoms. They believe that our physical body is a manifestation of our soul, that we are spirit on a physical journey.


The basic energy healing treatment of the Q’ero is the illumination. The client identifies the issue they want to work on and blow it into a khuja, one of 12 stones the shaman holds in their mesa, their healing bundle. Once the affected chakra is identified it is opened and the sludge (Hucha) that has accumulated due to the imprint is cleared out and released to the fire. The khuja is then placed on the identified chakra functioning as a magnetic carrier of the intention that supports the process of clearing the imprint. Imprints are holographic – that is they are woven into the luminous energy field and can be cleared before or after psychological or somatic imbalances manifest. This is important, as the Q’ero claim to be able to heal before a physical manifestation can be detected medically. Once the imprint is cleared, the energy field is filled with light, which is both healing and reorganizing the field as well as connecting the client to their higher self existing outside of time.

I want to emphasize once again the distinction between cause and symptom, healing and curing. While a medical doctor will work at curing a disease by treating the symptoms, the shaman works at healing the cause by clearing the imprint in the energy field. The Q’ero believe that once all imprints are cleared and all chakras are balanced, we acquire the rainbow body, which is the full spectrum at which the luminous energy body radiates. The process of illumination can be compared to peeling an onion – this work is done over time, layer by layer until no imprints remain. As the shaman works on the energy level and tracks the imprints with their intuition, there is no need for a deep dive into the story behind it. Yet rewriting that story, drawing a new map of one’s envisioned life journey is important for the client to consciously step beyond the limiting habits and maladaptive coping strategies they have been exposed to for years or decades.

Cord Cutting

Embedded in the illumination process, there are many ways of healing different issues. One of them is cord cutting. The Q’ero believe we develop energetic chords with people we are in toxic relationships with. Like an umbilical chord, they enter the body somewhere and cause distortions as energies coming through that don’t belong to us. This is a boundary intervention, where the client vocally addresses the concerned person, giving back their energy and making a clear and conscious cut to no longer allow this energy to dominate them. Within sacred space the chord cutting is being witnessed and from my experience this is one of the most effective interventions, especially with women stuck in appeaser response.

Soul Retrieval

If an experience causes a serious dissociation or as the shamans say, soul loss, a soul retrieval is performed. This is another intervention embedded in the illumination process, where once the khuja is placed on the chakra, the shaman uses their drum to travel to the client’s unconscious on their behalf, as it is believed that we are unable to track our own lost soul parts. In the underworld, the shaman retrieves the soul contract connected to the original wound, the lost soul part and the gift it holds. The client then rewrites this contract, changing it from it’s limiting or harmful conditioning to something more life-enhancing, and integrates the lost soul part and their gift, thus having access to the powerful resources this part holds. Soul loss to the Q’eros is losing part of our essence, of our essential life force which derails us from our destiny and makes us fall in to the grip of fate. The process resembles that of the trauma therapist who helps the client to free and integrate the part that was dissociated as a measure of protection from further pain by supporting them to slowly allow themselves to remember, feel and release the trapped and frozen emotions from the body and nervous system.

As the Q’ero believe in past life times and timelessness, the loss of a soul part may have happened way in the past and thus effected many life times. Their cosmology is far more complex than ours and their work goes beyond what we may have accepted so far. We have come to understand the inter-generational connection to our ancestors through the findings in the field of epigenetics, but we are still hesitant to accept the truth of the spiritual nature of our existence.

Healing the Appeasement Habitus with Energy Medicine

save for later: download PDF

Women often cope with intolerable situations and stress not with a sympathetic response such as fight, flight, or freeze, but with appeasement (or submission, fawning), a parasympathetic response of the dorsal vagus identified as another important trauma response along with shutdown since Dr. Stephen Porges’ findings on the polyvagal theory.

Appeasement springs from a very resilient nervous system that is not available to everyone. It represents a complicated and skillful neurobiological strategy that, through appropriate interaction, appeals to the offender’s relational system and aims to elicit compassion and trust. It is a desperate attempt to avoid abuse, injury, or even death through submission. Especially in inescapable environments where fighting only increases the threat and harm, appeasement seems to be the best survival strategy. It is an attempt to repair the attachment to the caregiver by prioritizing the caregiver’s needs over one’s own. Later in life, appeasers often try to find safety by constantly reading and adjusting to other people’s emotions. Appeasement can easily be confused with empathy, however, it is a fear-driven type of self-sabotage expressed through heightened vigilance and sensitivity to threat.

The most famous example of appeasement is Stockholm syndrome, which is described as a reaction to traumatic entrapment and paradoxically leads to a positive relationship with the oppressors that may persist beyond release. Perpetrators, however, are in most cases family members or close acquaintances with whom a relationship is often maintained into adulthood despite ongoing threats, whether out of shame, fear, or habit. Trauma can only be processed, however, if this contact is at least temporarily interrupted.

Appeasement is the mammalian defense response most relevant to life-threatening situations and traumatic entrapment, and appears to be the foundation of complex PTSD. Long-term appeasement in childhood leads to a number of typical behaviors and beliefs about the self: high sensitivity, empathy and vigilance, sense of responsibility, auto-aggression (such as negative self-talk or self-blame), shame and guilt, low self-esteem, insecurity, anxiety, “not being good enough,” feeling unseen or unimportant, depression, addictions and self-harm, chronic pain or illness, and unhealthy boundaries.

The lack of healthy boundaries is a widespread problem that women unfortunately still face almost everywhere in the world. The paternalistic structures we still have to live with today demand excessive flexibility and tolerance from women, be it in terms of their careers, their opportunities, their relationships or their role as mothers. All too often, women are still expected to conform to circumstances without argument, rather than saying no or even getting angry when our boundaries are crossed or ignored.

Often this dynamic begins in childhood, when girls are expected to be polite, quiet, helpful and reasonable, while boys are allowed to be louder and more aggressive because of their seemingly wilder nature. If we have developed a coping strategy based on appeasement regarding our caregivers in addition to the societal dictate, we are often unconsciously and deeply enmeshed in this response pattern. We try at all costs to please other people and to recognize their needs wordlessly in order to be accepted, liked or at least left alone. In doing so, we ignore our own needs and boundaries because we have never experienced healthy relationship dynamics. We often do not know what is right or wrong because we carry a distorted perception of these categories and blame ourselves for external situations. This leads to a variety of psychological and somatic problems, as well as internal and external disorientation and isolation.

Connection and orientation are two of the many healing effects of energy medicine. The cosmology of the Q’ero Nation of Peru, whose wisdom and medicine I studied in the Light Body School (Dr. Alberto Villoldo), is based on the ancient culture of the Incas, who, upon arrival of the conquistadors 500 years ago, retreated to the high Andes and guarded this wisdom. Today, the descendants of the Incas; the Q’ero carry this knowledge to the world. For example, they believe that we have never left paradise and that we (can) still live in harmony with nature. This is contrary to our Judeo-Christian understanding of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden and our original sin, the collective guilt for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The Q’ero believe that we are One with the Earth and indeed her guardians and stewards, that we are connected through our luminous energy field to dimensions and entities beyond our limited perception of a materialistic/reductionist reality that seeks to understand everything through the mind. This mind represents only one and the least developed organ of perception and intelligence of our body. Far more wisdom lies in our hearts and guts, in our intuition and subtle remembrance of a way of life that was lost centuries ago.


How Energy Work Can Heal Appeasement

It may seem difficult to accept the concept of the luminous energy field or energy body that not only the Q’ero work with. When we turn to the fairly new scientific discipline of quantum physics, we find evidence of a universal truth that has been known and used for millennia by indigenous cultures around the world, and which we have programmatically been trained to forget about in our “civilized” world. Consider the European witch hunts resulting in mass extinction of herbalist and spiritual women, knowledgable in the healing arts and midwifery, in direct connection with life. The loss of this wisdom has systematically separated us from our roots and intuition. Since C.G. Jung published his profound research and theory on the collective unconscious and archetypes about 100 years ago, we are slowly beginning to remember and reconnect with our spirituality .

For women in particular to move beyond appeasement, a more feminine, maternal, loving and caring setting is needed than our scientific, sober approach. For generations, the toxic influence of our paternalistic structures has resulted in this self-destructive coping strategy being passed down from mothers to daughters. Energy medicine, with its cosmic as well as loving and compassionate understanding, opens a space where it is often easier to overcome this heavy, ancient legacy as we connect with our ancestors and get back in touch with our yin qualities and buried strengths and qualities. It works with our intuition, our soul, our connection and with the subtle flow of energies.

Energy work not only offers a higher level of cosmic order and connection, but can also serve as a compass for navigating our lives. By becoming independent of other people’s approval, we learn to find everything we need to feel safe and loved – within ourselves and beyond. In this way, hypnotherapy and energy medicine overlap and complement each other: both methods allow us to feel into our subconscious, our beliefs, and our bodies, bringing us into contact with ourselves. But while the Western approach addresses the heart, body and mind, Q’ero medicine enriches the healing work by nourishing our spirit, deepening our trust. Energy medicine offers us a map for a profound quest of the soul, reassuring us of the eternal omnipresent flowing energy.

Combining energy medicine with our Western approach also helps our conditioned minds to better accept and integrate energetic transformation. When we reflect cognitively and emotionally on what triggered our imprints or a soul loss, and how the core beliefs that arose from them affect our lives, an energy medicine cleansing of our light body can manifest much more sustainably in our lives. For this reason, I prepare each energy medicine intervention with a few sessions of therapeutic self-exploration, as I have found that a drop-in session with energy medicine without prior reflection tends to be misunderstood as a wellness treatment. In my humanistic understanding, all therapeutic work is an invitation to take an active and personal responsibility for our own healing and to apply the insights gained in the sessions to our daily lives.

Energy medicine is a deeply nurturing and connecting practice, primarily because of its transpersonal framework within a sacred space and the support of the invoked archetypes and energies. By actively participating in the healing process, by consciously letting go of what no longer serves us and drawing healthy boundaries, we step out of our passive victim role. At the same time, we are invited to receive care, attunement and love, accompanied by stimulation of all the senses through the use of flower waters, rattles, drums, bells, crystals and feathers. In this setting we more easily find the courage to give ourselves permission to express our needs, to show up in our pain and suffering without fear of being judged, belittled, pushed away or ignored. Through this authenticity, we are able to connect deeply with our inner truth and wisdom, and step out of the limiting beliefs of our life story, piece by piece.

What is Trauma?

How is Trauma defined?

The word trauma is Greek in origin and means wound. A traumatizing experience is characterized by the fact that the intensity of the experience, despite stress tolerance, resilience and the available coping strategies and options for action, overwhelms or threatens us existentially to such an extent that we cannot process and synthesize (integrate) the experience. It is not important how extreme the situation is, but how we are able to cope with the stress, thus not every traumatic event causes a traumatic stress response.

Autonomous Nervous System

Natural reactions to life-threatening situations can be well observed in the animal kingdom. The antelope pursued by the lion instinctively activates the sympathetic part of its autonomic nervous system (fight or flight). Since it cannot win a fight, it chooses flight. If it does not succeed in escaping, the parasympathetic part of its autonomic nervous system takes over body regulation and responds to this life-threatening situation by going from a sympathetic freeze up to a total parasympathetic shut down (slackening and shutting down of all sensory perceptions), which then anesthetizes the animal so it won’t feel the agony of death. If the lion does let go of it – thinking the antelope is already dead – it will jump up at the right moment, flee and once in safety, will immediately shake and shiver. (Engaging self-regulation, stress discharge and a reduction of adrenaline.) By physically discharging what it has experienced, the action is complete for the antelope; it is not traumatized despite this frightening, life-threatening situation.

This natural process shows very well what is often missing in human stress processing in general and in traumatizing experiences in particular – the physical discharge of the stress and regulation of the system, for which especially children need an adult (with a fully developed nervous system), because the child’s nervous system has not yet learned this self-regulation. If the co-regulation by a caregiver is missing, the child develops an insufficient tolerance for stress as well as substitute actions for the failed integration of the experience – traumatic memory becomes an incomplete action. The accumulated, unprocessed stress (trauma) leads to a permanently increased stress level and thus has far-reaching effects on the psyche, health and vegetative system, and often manifests somatically – with muscular tension, a wide variety of physical symptoms (often visceral) and even chronic dis-ease. Substitute actions further deteriorate our individual stress tolerance.

Due to the lack of mental energy, even small challenges quickly trigger a sympathetic (hyperarousal) or parasympathetic (hypoarousal) reaction of the nervous system that is inadequate for the situation and mental processing of the situation is blocked. This contrasts with a healthy person, where the identical challenge can be processed within their individual, healthy stress tolerances and thus becomes easily integrated.

diagram describing the effects of trauma

Dissociation Continuum

The trauma spectrum describes the progression from successful to failed processing of stress and overwhelm, beginning with:

  • adjustment disorders
  • acute stress response
  • primary structural dissociation = post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • secondary structural dissociation = complex traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD)
  • up to tertiary structural dissociation = Dissociative Identity Disorder (DIS), in which the affected person distances themselves so strongly from their experience that they can only bear what they have experienced by completely splitting it off (dissociating) and establishing one or more other personality states in its place that carry the experience for them.

Dissociation (the “non-realization” of the traumatization) manifests in different ways and intensities (partial dissociative or complete) within the trauma spectrum:

  • de-personalization (lack of personal reference)
  • de-realization (dream-like unreality)
  • de-somatization (not feeling the body/pain)
  • de-affectualization (emotional distance)
  • de-temporalization (distorted sense of time).

There may be partial or complete amnesia of the traumatizing experience, brought to consciousness by intrusions, flashbacks, freeze and shutdown experiences, or identity insecurities to the point of identity change (tertiary dissociation), also accompanied by amnesias and/or fugue in the here & now. It is now even discussed whether a large part of psychogenic disorders such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, somatization disorders, personality disorders also have their origin in traumatizing experiences.


diagram mapping PTSD vs Complex PTSD from trauma


Two Forms of Trauma – PTSD and cPTSD

PTSD triggering experiences include shock traumas such as accidents, war, natural disasters, death, etc. Here the flashbacks and associated panic are particularly frequent.

Developmental trauma (cPTSD) usually originates in childhood and is much more complex and often more subtle. Triggers are e.g. emotional neglect, devaluation, violence, abuse, etc., which are mainly characterized by the repetitions that create enormous stress for the helpless child; being is dependent on the caregivers, they don’t have the possibility to fight off these situations or to escape (fight or flight). In this process, the child is caught in the ambivalence between attachment and love for their caregivers and the fear and terror generated by the traumatizing experiences.

Therefore, the survival strategy is a partial or complete dissociation of the traumatizing experience and identification with the aggressor through internalization of the threat and formation of an ego-dystonic introject (guilty processing, internalized voice). In this way, attachment (survival) and thus a superficial, coherent integrity with oneself and the aggressor can be maintained, as the natural, instinctive reactions to life-threatening situations are not available to the child in his dependence on the aggressor. The transition to tertiary dissociation is fluid and dependent on the intensity of the experience; this occurs primarily in victims of organized (sexualized) violence.

Dissociation and introject formation are therefore vital protective mechanisms for the helpless child, however are no longer adequate or necessary in adult life. Maintaining them requires enormous mental energy, which has symptomatic effects ranging from exhaustion, intrusions and flashbacks of the traumatizing experience to the disintegration of the ego identity and can lead to the affected person no longer being able to lead a normal life as the pressure of suffering is very pronounced. Traumatic experiences thus have a massive impact on the organization of the nervous system and the internal system, which is why trauma sequela are also considered a physiological disease, since the effects at the mental and action-based level cannot be controlled by the person at will. The nervous system, which is programmed and sensitized to alarm, receives a triggering stimulus and the rehearsed and neuronally-linked response pattern runs automatically and is experienced as ego-dystonic and externally determined.

The first steps to restructure the nervous system are resource work, which focuses on the person’s strengths and abilities as a counterbalance to the stressful experiences. This strengthens mental energy, and a supportive, compassionate, and safety-giving environment that allows dwelling in the ventral-vagal attachment mode. Identifying external resources and attachment figures to draw upon is also an important step. Through this focus, new neural pathways can be linked and reinforced through repetition, which in the future will help the person in challenging situations to activate step by step a more adequate vegetative response strategy and to stabilize further and further.

As with everything that is newly learned, it takes patience to establish these previously non-existent or barely existing neural connections. Therapeutic methods in the stabilization phase are e.g. resource, joy or gratitude diary, mindfulness exercises, imagination of a safe place, inner strengths conference, practicing dealing with flashbacks and freeze.

How the Inner System works in Trauma Therapy

As soon as the system is sufficiently stabilized, the traumatic material begins to show itself, as it wants to be integrated. In trauma therapy, therefore, much work is done with the imagination and hypno-therapeutic methods, which make it possible to get to know and restructure the inner map and organization of the personality. First of all, it is about compassionate and caring witnessing of one’s hurt parts, recognizing and acknowledging the protective mechanisms once created as necessary for survival and becoming aware of the temporal discrepancy (here&now vs. there&then).

Through the preparatory imagination and observer perspective exercises, contact is made with the inner world. It is perceived that there is still someone inside who can observe everything – the ego-syntonic ego-states (willingly accessible parts of the self, e.g. our roles in family, work, friendship, public) are learned to know and distinguish, and the perception and impact of feelings and thoughts are sharpened. This preparation is essential for the challenging phase of trauma confrontation, in which the dissociated, wounded inner parts are also invited to show themselves in their existential need through various imagination exercises.

These wounded or fragile parts are trapped in the traumatizing experience. They hold for us, so to speak, the experience that we had to split off there&then in order to survive. They are usually protected by an ego-dystonic part, which ensures our survival (control) and fights (outbursts of rage, aggression, violence, perpetrator introspection) in case of danger (trigger) and thus tries to prevent the triggered, fragile part from overwhelming us with its feelings (intrusion).

According to Richard Schwarz and his approach of the Internal Family System (IFS), it is necessary to first obtain the permission of the protector part in order to make contact with the injured or fragile part. As soon as the fragile part is emotionally witnessed and released from the traumatic situation, the protective part can take on a new task in the internal system. Often these protector parts are particularly powerful, talented, creative, etc. parts. Their abilities were not available to the system until then because of their protective role. A third variant of a traumatized part is fixated on attachment and often expresses itself as a “people pleaser”, e.g. in the form of difficulties with demarcation and saying no, an exaggerated need for recognition and a lack of self-worth.


diagram describing inner child wounds and traumas


How we finally heal from trauma

The challenge now is to overcome our fear of the feelings and memories of the hurt parts and, with the support of a safe and stable environment, to find the courage to witness and allow these feelings and memories so that they can be integrated into the inner system. Typical avoidance strategies are excessive preoccupation (workaholic), substance abuse, emotional withdrawal, attachment avoidance, blaming others, rationalization, etc. (see S. Freud defense mechanisms). In this way we can maintain our everyday functions and do not have to face what we have experienced.

Dissociation is a substitute action for the integration that could not (yet) take place (completion of the action). In therapy, contact is made with the injured and fragile parts in a very gentle and slow way, step by step, making sure that we are well emotionally stabilized to engage in this venture in order to prevent re-traumatization.

One method is the inner conference – an imagination exercise in which we identify a negative belief set that is essential for us, turn it into a positive one, and thus invite the inner conference of all parts that want to express themselves. Usually, those parts for which this positive statement does not apply then show up, giving us the opportunity to witness and feel the feelings and ideas of these parts, thereby releasing them and freeing them from their role.

Once we have synthesized (realized, personified and presented) the traumatic memory, the action is complete.


Synthesis in Trauma Therapy

Synthesis work in trauma therapy is a natural mental action and an automatic process of linking related aspects of an experience and differentiating (personifying, realizing, presenting) between them in such a way as to establish a coherent and cohesive memory.

In synchronous synthesis, we create our phenomenal self moment by moment, i.e., every two seconds, over and over again. Diachronic synthesis, in turn, links all past syntheses together and creates the perception of a linear time axis along which our phenomenal self moves.

Thus, a successful synthesis establishes our phenomenal self (the sense of I-ness) at all levels of perception:

  • visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory senses (VAKOG)
  • nociception (pain sensation)
  • vestibular sense (balance)
  • proprioception (body sensation / depth sensitivity)
  • autonomous nervous system (sympathetic, parasympathetic)
  • all action tendencies/clusters (daily life, danger defense, bonding, sexuality, caring, belonging, food intake, relaxation, etc.)
  • the resulting ego states as integrated and conscious personality parts with their respective feelings (intensity, simultaneity), thoughts (memories, expectations, perceptions), behaviors and impulses

A coherent synthesis can be disturbed by traumatic experiences or persistent social or emotional stress or neglect in childhood and adolescence, because integrative capacities are low and linking and differentiation in the situation does not occur or occurs only partially. This leads to – according to the intensity of the traumatization – double, i.e. co-conscious synthesis of injured parts, up to sequential, i.e. fragmented synthesis (DIS) with mutually amnesic parts. Thus, the ability to synthesize represents the dissociation continuum (PTSD, cPTSD, pDIS, DIS) and can be understood as a survival strategy due to the overwhelmed ability to integrate, as dissociation ensures survival (there & then). In this process, de-personalization, de-realization, identity insecurities and amnesias can occur, whereby the injured/fragile parts draw attention to themselves through intrusions, flashbacks or other, different secondary symptoms (depression, anxiety, panic, compulsions, aggression, somatizations, etc). They seek integration, while we continue to avoid and struggle to maintain dissociation, i.e. the desire to protect one’s life (here & now).

Dissociation as a result of trauma

In structural dissociation (DIS), the different parts have no awareness of each other and are amnesic regarding the respective experiences and sequential syntheses of all other parts. At least two personality parts exist, each with associated injured parts. An example would be wondering where the oranges in the kitchen came from that you don’t like at all. One personality part bought them, another wonders and cannot remember going to the supermarket. Here the first step would be to come out of the dissociated ego perspective of the individual parts bit by bit into a perception of WE, to explore the inner system and to make all parts known to each other, whereby this should be practiced primarily in everyday situations before traumatic material is processed.

Only when it is possible that all parts are co-aware and there is a willingness to cooperate in the system, is coherent synthesis then possible. This necessarily takes place fractionally, i.e. in small steps, also called titration. Important here is the regulation with the help of metaphors as dosage helpers, so that slowly (and according to the integration ability of all parts) can be advanced, in order to avoid a retraumatization by too fast and/or too intensive synthesis. This means that pieces of memory (fragments synthesized there and then) are collected like pieces of a puzzle and then put together piece by piece to form a coherent picture. Here it is important to note that we like to overestimate ourselves and want to achieve a lot quickly once avoidance has been overcome and curiosity prevails, as we do not yet fully remember or realize the extent of what we have experienced (personified/presentized).

As soon as our perception for other parts, as well as the perception of the parts among each other is more permeable and co-aware, it is especially important to promote self-reflectivity and perspective-taking and at the same time to always address all parts. The different parts usually have their own goals, which can also be contradictory, so that mutual compassion, understanding, witnessing and democratic interaction (cooperation) are the basis for a coherent synthesis. The question: Who wants what for what? is inevitable to get step by step from the 3PP over the 2PP into the 1PP and from the WE to the realization “This is all ME”. The more we can take to ourselves, the more the hurt parts are relieved and the symptoms disappear. When the hurt parts realize that the traumatic situation is over (there & then), they are safe (here & now) and they receive the missing care and perception, the adaptation of the pathological survival strategies into adequate and timely action tendencies can succeed.

The trauma therapist works here as a coach and helps, especially at the beginning, to show through model learning how care, compassion and recognition for the injured parts can succeed, so that this integrative work can be increasingly managed independently. Since trauma therapy requires a high degree of mental energy, it is extremely important to ensure sufficient stabilization before the integration phase, to make people aware of resources and experiences of success, so that there is sufficient positive counterbalance (mental energy) for holding and accepting the traumatic experiences.