The Science of Safety: Why Understanding Polyvagal Theory will Change Your Life

Film Three of the Restorative Practices Film Series
The Science of Safety (57 minutes)

Wherein we explore Dr. Stephen Porges, PhD's, landmark Polyvagal Theory, and its clinical implications.

In this film, we take a deep dive into the work of Dr. Stephen Porges, PhD, the world's leading expert on the relationship between the Autonomic Nervous System and behavior. The film takes you deeply into the theory, which you can conceptualize as a deep map of the human nervous system. In the words of Deb Dana, LCSW, author of the marvelous book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, "When I teach Polyvagal Theory, I tell my clients that they are learning about the science of safety–the science of feeling safe enough to fall in love with life and take the risks of living."

Learning Objectives

  1. Participants understand why we conceptualize the theory as a deep map of the nervous system
  2. Participants understand the three different neural circuits that comprise the vagal system: the Ventral Vagal, the Sympathetic, and the Dorsal Vagal
  3. Participants understand the felt qualities of the Ventral Vagal (Connection) System, the Sympathetic Syste, and the Dorsal System, and could identify them in themselves and others.
  4. Participants understand that pathways out of distress depend on which platform of threat is evoked, and can conceptualize different pathways back from shutdown, fight, and flight.


  1. Your nervous system re-tunes depending on whether or not you feel safe. When you feel threatened, you see, hear, feel, think, interpret, and behave differently than when you feel safe.
  2. Moment-to-moment detection of safety or threat, known as neuroception, shapes the tuning (neural platform) your body is wearing.
  3. Wellbeing arises when we are baselined in a ventral vagal (Connection) state.
  4. When we experience threat, there are a set number of options for how our nervous system responds: the fight/flight responses are high energy mobilization responses, the shutdown responses (feeze/ shutdown) are immobilization responses. If you want to understand this through the analogy of water, watch Core Neurobiological Self: Polyvagal Theory as Water
  5. Depending on which threat platform is evoked, there are different pathways out of it. This is much of what this learning platform is designed to provide you. See, for example, Coming out of Fight, Coming out of Flight, Coming out of Shutdown.


  1. What is safety? What makes you feel safe- physically/ emotionally? When / where / with whom in your life do you feel safest? How do you know when you are feeling safe? What places do you feel most safe? Now, and in the past?
  2. When you reflect on this idea of safety, and of being aware of when you feel safe, and on cultivating safety, what do you want to make sure that you remember about this?

A Brief Illustrated Introduction to the Polyvagal Theory

Supplementary Related Resources