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Our Nervous System &
mindful body-based 

our nervous system

We are what we think / feel / inhabit

This page (very briefly) outlines the three primary states of our nervous system, and the core beliefs associated with each state.

The nervous system states, as defined by Polyvagal Theory are...

  1. Rest and Digest (also known as our social engagement part of the nervous system)

  2. Fight and Flight (when we are activated by a perceived thread, and will run away (flight) or mobilise ourselves to turn towards and face down the threat (fight)

  3. Flop or Freeze (where our Dorsal Vagus system kicks in, and we collapse or shut-down)

Popular Psychology employs a 'traffic light' motif to frame how these states show up in our system.


  1.  Green » System Go (all is safe) » Ventral Vagal Engagement

  2.  Orange » System on Alert (warning) » Sympathetic Nervous System

  3.  Red » System Stop (not safe) » Dorsal Vagal Shutdown

Image by Gong TY

Ventral Vagal Engagement

Sympathetic Nervous System

Dorsal Vagal Shutdown

Ventral Vagal Engagement

Feeling safe, connected, playful, curious, and relaxed

When we are in the 'Green' state, we are OK. We can fully engage with our senses, we can orient, make eye contact, our face communicates vividly how we feel. We have a voice. We can think and communicate and engage with others without feeling threatened. We have relaxed into an alert presence, being fully in the here-and-now.

When we inhabit this part of our nervous system, there is a sense of 'coming home' to our Self.


Healing and transformation happens organically from this state.

Examples of core beliefs

of the ventral vagal system


» I am safe

» I belong

» I am welcome

» It is ok to be authentically me

» It is ok to express myself

» I am worthy just as I am

Sympathetic Nervous System

Feeling activated or overwhelmed, but I've got this! (I can)

The 'Orange' state can either be Sympathetic Arousal (activation) or Parasympathetic Settling (calming), depending on what preceded this state.

Most therapy sessions will happen within the boundaries of the 'orange' DANGER section. This is where I support you to learn how to down-regulate when you get activated, to tune into the safety signals of here-and-now present moment, and create the space needed to process what has happened.

We learn to observe when and how we get activated and when and how we calm ourselves. This movement and rhythm between states is about being alive. Our living body is filled with rhythms, that of our breath, our heartbeat, of every cell pulsing.

We learn to 'ride the edge' as Pat Ogden frames it. We create space within a Hakomi session to meet the inner tension, and in a safe way so that we don't get stuck in the 'red zone' (which takes us into shutdown)We learn to process or release sensations of fear, rage, anxiety, grief... whatever is arising to be seen, met, felt.

Examples of core beliefs

of the sympathetic nervous system


» I need to be vigilant in order to be safe

» I need to play small in order to belong

» I am welcome if I conform to group-think

» It is not ok to be authentically me

» If I express myself fully, I will be rejected

» I need to be right in order to feel worthy

Dorsal Vagal Shutdown

Feeling hopeless, collapsed, overwhelmed, numb, disassociated / shutdown (I can't)

When we are in the 'Red' state, of FEAR or PANIC, we are almost incapable of dealing with any external input. Our parasympathetic shutdown masks the extremely high and unbearable sympathetic activation, and leads to immobility. We are flooded with fear-driven physiological responses and can no longer think straight. In this state we have only one emergency response and that is safety.


Everything we perceive is through the lens of "am I safe?"

Working in a Trauma-Informed way is essential for healing.

Examples of core beliefs

of the dorsal vagal system


» The world is not safe

» I do not belong here

» I am not welcome

Our nervous system state = our core beliefs!


What I find most remarkable about our nervous system, is that each state that we inhabit has its own set of core-beliefs, world view and behaviours. 

Consider this: if your nervous system is set to WARNING, no amount of positive affirmations around "I am safe" will go in, the message is in direct conflict with your body signal.

That is why a large part of Hakomi Therapy is about bringing our attention back to our most resourced state and leaning in to our story (and all the somatic sensations that go along with that). We do this with the aid of Mindfulness, Non-Violence and holding space with Unconditional Kindness.


When we shift states (like shifting gears) the stories we tell our Self that support our limiting core beliefs become less believable, less compulsive, less alluring, less magnetic. 

'I am safe' must be REALISED at a body level, as so we must develop our capacity to reside within our Ventral Vagal state.


It's the secret to what all the Yoga, Qigong and other ancient embodiment practices are always pointing us towards. 

Towards us. Inwards. Home.

With practice, we can train ourselves back into the Ventral Vagal Social Engagement System and the core beliefs inherent to that part of our Self that knows and supports our ability to thrive, connect, live authentically, be playful, curious, compassionate beings.

The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer is the song of our Ventral Vagal system.

In this prayer, we are asking for ...

  • peace (the abiding state of the ventral vagal system)

  • bravery (being able to hear and respond from our heart-intelligence)

  • discernment (pre-frontal cortex is online and functioning)

In therapy, we have the opportunity to attune towards this most healing and whole part of our Self.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference



Want to know more?

If understanding your nervous system and how you 'operate' interests you, you may like the following resources...

What my Clients say

Thank you Ahly for holding space for me, I needed that reminder that I can find peace, even during these troubling times.


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