Behind the Smile

Cranial Approaches to a group of cranial nerves which play a vital role in emotional regulation and in trauma physiology.

Our feelings and emotions are revealed on our face and in the tone of our voice. Musculoskeletal structures of the face, the ear and throat share a network of nerves, known as the Social Nervous System. This system co-ordinates facial expression and vocalization, with the regulation of heart rate and breathing. It enables orientation, communication, co-operation and empathy. 

Healthy function of this system supports a wide range of emotional responses which reflect the situations we encounter. Malfunction can result in anxiety, depression, isolation and anti-social behaviours, which are all common features of traumatic and developmental stress disorders. Central to the Social Nervous System is the Vagus Nerve. This massive and intricate cranial nerve is best known for its rest and digest function. Not only is its motor output much more complex but the nerve is 80% sensory. Vagal input to our brains is instrumental to our sense of safety and our emotional adaptability. 

DAY 1 - THE PHARANGEAL FOLDS

Day one explores the intricate bony structure of the face and the musculature of the face, the ear and the throat. During the embryonic period, these structures, together with their neural network, originate in the pharyngeal folds between the developing brain and heart. Practical sessions will concentrate of the bony viscero-cranium and the pathways of crucial Cranial Nerves.

DAY 2 - THE FACE, THE THROAT AND THE EXPRESSION OF EMOTION

Day two features The Polyvagal Theory of Stephen Porges, which clarifies the range of survival strategies open to us in dangerous and life-threatening situations. The theory identifies the Social Nervous System as a subdivision which is neither fully autonomic nor fully voluntary in its function. Practical approaches will concentrate on Cranial Nerves of the Social Nervous System, which control facial expression, vocalization and vocal tone, swallowing, breathing and head turning.

DAY 3 - INTEROCEPTION, THE SENSORY ARM OF THE SOCIAL NERVOUS SYSTEM

Day three addresses the role of the sensory input from the internal organs, in particular the heart and the gut. The changes in our internal organs are the building blocks of our emotions. Sensory information conveyed by the Vagus nerve from the viscera to the brain plays a key role in our perception of danger and safety, and the resultant emotional responses and behaviours. This pathway is also crucial for empathy. Darwin noted the bi-directional flow along this vagal route in all higher mammals.

DAY 4 - THE HEART AND ADAPTABILITY UNDER STRESS

Day four focuses on Vagal tone, heart rate variability, communication and pro-social behaviour. The following topics will be covered: the role of the vagal brake in homeostatic control of the ANS, the importance of good vagal tone for babies and infants, and vagal afferents – the link between sensory input from the gut and the heart and the expression of emotion. Practical biodynamic cranial strategies will be explored for enabling social engagement and healthy heart regulation.


© Katherine Ukleja 2014