The Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga Book | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Therapeutic Practices for Emotional Health

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga Schwartz

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Treat Trauma Holistically

Unresolved trauma is one of the leading causes of other-presenting mental and physical health concerns, including increased likelihood for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, or suicidality. Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga allows us to compassionately understand and address the imbalances within the autonomic nervous symptom that form the basis of most mood, anxiety, or traumatic stress-related disorders. Recovery from trauma requires interventions that restore our nervous system to be more flexible and resilient. A resilient nervous system is better equipped to handle the inevitable stressors of life.

The Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga book focuses on the intersection of polyvagal theory, yoga, and psychotherapy by weaving together the wisdom tradition of yoga with neuroscience, attachment theory, somatic psychology, and traumatology. The application of polyvagal theory allows practitioners to compassionately support growth by enhancing the health of the autonomic nervous system, while therapeutic yoga allows one to attend to the interrelationships between mind, emotions, physiology, and behavior.

Applied polyvagal theory in yoga provides conscious breathing, vagal toning, mindful movement, and meditation practices that aid in rewiring the nervous system. Readers will discover how to help both clients and themselves cultivate a felt sense of ease during times of safety; enhance their capacity to handle challenges with equanimity; and reclaim their ability to recover from stress swiftly and efficiently. 

Hope in the Midst of Despair

Applied polyvagal Theory in Yoga Schwartz

I began writing this book as our world was navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this time, our frontline health care workers and mental health providers faced unprecedented stress and burnout. Here in my Boulder, Colorado community, the Marshall wildfire destroyed nearly 1,000 homes in the course of a single day. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine raged onward as an earthquake in Turkey and Syria accounted for over 46,000 deaths and uprooted the lives of countless others. Since completing the book, profound aggression continues to devastate those in Israel, the Gaza Strip, and throughout the middle east. Collective feelings of helplessness and anger exacerbated by polarized political situations throughout the world continue to leave those in disenfranchised groups with the least access to mental and physical health care.

As a result of shelter in place mandates back in 2020, many of us became increasingly isolated. Ultimately, this led to an epidemic of loneliness. Nonetheless, we persisted. So many of our community connections needed to occur virtually. Just as the world seemed to be careening toward an existential crisis of despair, we tune in and listen; we express care for each other’s well-being across a distance. 

The need for a spiritual sense of meaning and connection has been paramount during this time. Amidst the profound loss, many of us discovered positive changes that served as a reminder that distress can coexist with well-being. As yoga studios shut down in March of 2020, I, too, moved my classes onto an online platform (You can learn more and sign up for a class here). After over 25 years of teaching students in person, I learned to adapt to this new technological interface. My trauma-informed yoga class, which had previously only been available to those in my local community, became and remains an international group of devoted yoga students. 

In the fall of 2020 I taught the first Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga course which became the inspiration for this book. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to guide thousands of students within international communities—and the ripple effect of this work continues. As written in the dedication:

“To all who know suffering and seek to alleviate the collective burdens we carry: The deep calm within me bows and recognizes the deep calm within you.”

Dr. Arielle Schwartz

What is Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga?

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga Image Credit Sabrina Husain Bajakian Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The purpose of this book is to provide psychotherapists, yoga therapists, and yoga teachers with simple yogic interventions that can be offered to clients or students to facilitate greater mind–body wellness through the applied science of Polyvagal Theory. The book focuses on the intersection of Polyvagal Theory, yoga, and psychotherapy. Another way of looking at this is that we are honing in on where science, soma, and soul meet.

The vagus nerve is best understood to be a conduit of connections between the brainstem, eyes, ears, throat, heart, and viscera (gut). In times of safety, the vagus nerve along with the parasympathetic nervous system initiates a relaxation response. In this case, the vagal brake inhibits the mobilization of the sympathetic nervous system that reduces cortisol, lowers heart rate, slows down the breath, and enhances digestion. However, when in danger, the vagus nerve and PNS can initiate a rapid reduction of the heart rate, or faint response which can lead you to feel collapsed, fatigued, or shut down.

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga aims to demystify traditional practices by highlighting the physiological mechanisms of change. The integrative model presented within the pages of this book weaves together the wisdom tradition of yoga with modern perspectives drawn from neuroscience, attachment theory, somatic psychology, and traumatology. Yogic breath, movement, and awareness practices can be seamlessly integrated into psychotherapy sessions to enhance the efficacy of other interventions. Moreover, we encourage clients and students to utilize these regulating strategies outside of sessions or classes. Through repetition, the neural pathways associated with social engagement, safe mobilization into play, and safe immobilization into rest become more accessible.

The practice of yoga guides us to practice letting go of the urge to ruminate on the past or worry about the future by returning our attention and curiosity to the present-moment experience. The rhythmic predictability of the breath and sensory anchors of the felt sense help us develop greater tolerance for the unknown. Each time we move into the here and now we have choice to move out of the automaticity of threat-based reactivity. We can pause, reflect, and perhaps discover a quality of spaciousness or peacefulness. Herein, we access a felt sense of “coming home” or an implicit knowing of our own wholeness. This is the gift of yoga.

From Illness to Wellness

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga Image Credit Sabrina Husain Bajakian Dr. Arielle Schwartz

No matter how traumatized we are, we still carry within us an intrinsic capacity to feel joy, warmth, gratitude, appreciation, and love. Strengthening our access to these positive emotions is as equally important as attending to our pain when it comes to trauma recovery. A holistic approach to trauma treatment not only allows us to focus on the elimination of our clients’ distress but also invites us to recognize their inherent wholeness. A shift from an “Illness” model of care to a “Wellness” model mirrors a transition from “I” to “We” in which we attend to the union that exists not only within us as individuals but also between us and others.

This book is not only written as a set of interventions that we might offer to a client or student, but also discusses how all of us must focus on attending to our own nervous systems, bodies, and minds. Thus, rather than speaking about “them,” I offer this body of work as a set of tools for all of “us.” In truth, the only person you can change is yourself and when you are residing in a place of connection to your deepest, wisest, most compassionate Self, you are better able to offer your presence to others. The role of psychotherapist or yoga teacher is not about fixing the other; rather, healing arises as a result of feeling safe enough within trustworthy relationships, whether the connection that arises is with yourself or another. All change begins with cultivating a connection to yourself.

I hope that you will join me as part of our global community in reading this book. 

As subscribers to my work, you have an opportunity to receive 20% off and Free Shipping through Norton Publishers. You can navigate there and use the code APVTNEWS at checkout or simply use this link (the coupon has already been applied):

Images by Sabrina Husain Bajakian

Advanced Praise for Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga

“This well-researched book not only cites the most current applicable studies related to brain science and yoga as they impact mental health, but also provides a steady and thorough summary of yoga’s ancient wisdom as it applies to Polyvagal Theory and psychotherapy…Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga has become a valued and validating reference as I offer LifeForce Yoga practices to the yoga and mental health professionals I serve. No matter the healing modality in which you work, I fully endorse the many gifts this book has to offer you and your clients.”
— Amy Weintraub, founder of LifeForce Yoga, and author of Yoga Skills for Therapists,
Yoga for Depression, and the Yoga for Your Mood Deck (from Amy’s foreword to the book)
“This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to deepen their knowledge of the power of somatic approaches to trauma healing. Drawing on the wisdom of yoga and the science of Polyvagal Theory, Dr. Arielle Schwartz offers practical tools and strategies to help clinicians guide their clients to release stress, rewire their nervous system, and find a sense of peace. This book will help you support yourself and others through the journey of trauma healing and recovery.”
? Scott Lyons, PhD, holistic psychologist, mind–body medicine specialist, founder of The Embody Lab, and author of Addicted to Drama

“In this beautifully articulated book, Arielle Schwartz leads the way into a deep and wide exploration of body wisdom. Her brilliance lies in her capacity to curate a path of consilience across three major disciplines: science, soma, and soul. Each chapter offers polyvagal-informed yoga practices that enable readers to bring her model to life.”
? Jan Winhall, Polyvagal Institute, author of Treating Trauma and Addiction with the Felt Sense Polyvagal Model

“Trauma is a complex, multi-layered topic with a lot of interconnected pieces. It therefore makes sense that healing requires an integrative and multidisciplinary approach. Dr. Arielle Schwartz provides this?which is no easy thing. But, her real genius is presenting these ideas in a practical, actionable, and easy-to-follow way that gets results. A highly recommended read, and an important contribution to our field.”
? Alex Howard, author of It’s Not Your Fault and creator of Therapeutic Coaching™

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Photo Credit: Jes Kimak

Arielle Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist, internationally sought-out teacher, yoga instructor, and leading voice in the healing of PTSD and complex trauma. She is the author of five books, including The Complex PTSD WorkbookEMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology, and The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook.

Dr. Schwartz is an accomplished teacher who guides therapists in the application of EMDR, somatic psychology, parts work therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of trauma and complex PTSD. She guides you through a personal journey of healing in her Sounds True audio program, Trauma Recovery. 

She has a depth of understanding, passion, kindness, compassion, joy, and a succinct way of speaking about very complex topics. She is the founder of the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy in Boulder, Colorado where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation. Dr. Schwartz believes that that the journey of trauma recovery is an awakening of the spiritual heart.

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