Healing Within Connectedness & Love (part one)

I’ve been pondering healing and thought that I would sharing some of my musings around this and the importance of connectedness as part of healing, in particular to our heart, to love, nature and to something bigger than us.  Part one of this blog will explore what healing means and part two will touch on the importance of living in a heart based way, connectedness and reconnecting to the interconnectedness of everything as part of healing.

I’ve especially been considering healing in relation to trauma, persistent pain, ME/CFS, long covid, PoTS and other long-term conditions, which is probably because these are the areas I work within and have lived experience of some too.   Many people are healing from trauma and/or a long-term health conditions in our modern world.  Last week I read in a new report by The Health Foundation it has suggested that 9.1 million people in England are expected to live with a major illness by 2040 and that a significant proportion of this will be related to certain conditions, including anxiety, depression, chronic pain and diabetes.   In my opinion there are many factors that need consideration here including healing and the innate connectedness that we need to reconnect to and nurture.


What does healing mean?


There is no agreed definition of healing, healing in acute terms means repairing damaged tissues, or fixing an injury, for example.  Things get complex when it’s not a simple acute injury and there isn’t a specific time frame to heal or repair the wound/injury.  When there are, for example, layers of trauma, or many symptoms from fibromyalgia, or someone is living with persistent pain healing becomes trickier to define.

Before reading on I invite you to consider what healing means to you?

I think we could say that healing is always an individual experience that involves reducing or transforming suffering.   However, if we were to say healing is only a change in suffering this would be a simplistic view, especially as suffering is complex and it is always changing, everything is always changing, and because healing is about more than the suffering or struggle that is part of the picture.

Another thing to consider with what healing means is that it may or may not mean full resolution of pain, anxiety, or other symptoms.  Often people have shared with me themes around alignment with their heart and what’s meaningful, connectedness and wholeness as part of what healing means to them, and these are things I can relate to from my own healing journey too.   Some people may say that not feeling whole implies that something is broken and needs fixing.  I don’t see it this way and instead see it as a disconnection from our true selves, disconnection from nature and a disconnection from the wider whole/universe (there are different terms for this, it can essentially be seen as something bigger than ourselves).  Although we may at times feel broken we never really are, our true self is like the sky in that it is always there and can never be broken and the weathers come and go.

A journey to wholeness is something I see as a heart based connection, a connection to meaning and purpose, to a sense of belonging, and to the love, trust and compassion that’s within us all.  We could maybe say that healing is a coming home to ourselves, reconnecting to our inner wisdom and connecting to the interconnectedness of everything.  I would say healing is also an alignment of mind, body and heart, a place where we can live fully connected from an open hearted presence with a gentle strength and love.  We will explore this a little more in part two of the blog.

I think that it is helpful to consider what nervous system regulation means in the context of healing, especially because we can’t heal with a nervous system that is dysregulated too often/too much.


What is nervous system regulation?


Nervous system regulation includes the whole nervous system and is often discussed in terms of the autonomic nervous system.  Everyone’s nervous system dysregulates many times a day and then re-regulates, the problems come when the nervous system is dysregulating too often or too much relative to the context and not re-regulating well.  A well regulated nervous systems helps us to feel safe or safe enough to be fully present and to engage with others and the world in general, and it helps all of our systems to function optimally.

There isn’t an agreed definition of nervous system regulation, this is one that I created for my Creating A Healing Path workshop series:

‘Nervous system regulation can be thought of as when our nervous system is flexibly able to move between different states in response to stressors & the level of arousal matches the context/what you are required to do.  It is where it is working in a balanced way that supports optimal function & healing.’

A quick summary of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) could be helpful here.  The ANS unconsciously controls and regulates our organs and unconscious body functions, including heart rate, breathing (which we also have conscious control over), blood pressure, and temperature.  It is split into two branches, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), fight or flight, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), rest and digest.  These work together to maintain a state of balance in the body (homeostasis) and we need both branches of the ANS, neither is good or bad.  The levels of activation of the SNS and PNS are always fluctuating, our central nervous system CNS) and autonomic nervous system are constantly adjusting, along with all other systems, to try and maintain homeostasis.  Our ANS and the CNS (mainly the amygdala and hypothalamus in the limbic system in the brain) are constantly monitoring for threat/danger or safety.  The ANS and CNS are constantly surveying our internal environment (information from all systems), along with our immediate and wider external environment, including how the interactions with others feel.  Our nervous system takes a better safe than sorry approach and our previous experiences and modern society mean it is often dysregulated by things that aren’t actual threats.  Once the threat, or potential threat, has gone we need to be able to return to regulation to function optimally and feel safe and settled again.  When this doesn’t happen automatically or takes sometime we can assist this process and there are many ways in which we can do this, this is part of healing.

It is important to mention that changes in ANS activation are associated with different chemical messengers which of course impact all of our systems.  Our thoughts feelings and emotions are also in themselves associated with different chemical messengers, they are part of our biology too.

There are different models that can help us to understand the ANS and nervous system regulation, the ones I use most often are Dan Siegel’s window of tolerance and Stephen Porge’s polyvagal theory, combined with the 3 circles model by Paul Gilbert (part of Compassion Focused Therapy).  For this blog I’m going to touch on the window of tolerance model and polyvagal theory.

The window of tolerance model was developed by Dan Siegel to describe the optimal level of arousal, it has three parts:

  • Hyperarousal (too much SNS – fight or flight)
  • Window of tolerance – optimal zone of arousal (balanced ANS)
  • Hypoarousal (not enough SNS & PNS without the vagal brake)

In this model a dysregulated nervous system is one that is too often, or too much for the context, in hyperarousal or hypoarousal, and/or takes longer to regulate from these states back to regulation, and sometimes gets stuck for a while in one of these threat/protection based states.  When the nervous system is dysregulated in the direction of hyperarousal a variety of things associated with this can be present including: fear, panic, initial freeze (deer in headlights) emotional overwhelm, anxiety, irritability, anger, over-activity, lack of clarity, worry, gut issues, increased muscle tension, pain, insomnia, a tired and wired feeling.  When the nervous system is dysregulated in the direction of hypoarousal a variety of things associated with this can be present including: disconnection, dissociation, low mood, depression, decreased muscle tone, shame, guilt, feeling numb, fatigue, shut down.

(infographic by Dr Sarah Davies, the link to the blog that this is in is below)

Through the lens of the polyvagal theory by Stephen Porges we see the ANS protection responses as:

  • SNS (fight or flight, includes the initial freeze response)
  • Shut down or collapse (PNS minus vagal brake, termed dorsal vagal in this model)

Porges suggests that there are three pathways in the ANS, being the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) (mobilised/activated, protect/survival mode, unsafe), the ventral vagal circuit (safe, regulated, sympathetic and parasympathetic activity balanced with the vagal brake, and able to be socially engaged) and the dorsal vagal circuit (unsafe, protect/survival mode, shut down).   These three systems/states are also included on the above infographic).  The SNS part is where there is increased SNS activation (hyperarousal in window of tolerance).  The initial freeze response (deer in headlight type response) is SNS dominant, this is where we freeze whilst a decision is automatically made as to whether we can fight or flee, if neither are possible and this response continues eventually the SNS is overwhelmed by the PNS (we lose the ventral vagal regulation, the vagal brake – the rest and digest part of the PNS).  Here we go into a primitive survival response of shutdown or collapse, this is termed dorsal vagal in this model (it’s where there is increased hypoarousal in the window of tolerance model).  The ventral vagal system is where we are said to be safely activated, in other words the SNS is balanced by the PNS with the vagal brake.  Here all systems can function optimally, the ANS is in balance, the limbic system in the brain is settled and the frontal lobe is online.  When we are in the ventral vagal system we feel safe and secure, this supports social connection and full engagement in a heartfelt presence with ourselves and the world.

The wider our window of tolerance, the more frequently we can be in the ventral vagal system and the more easily we can return to this place again and again.  This helps systems function optimally and we can, for example, find ease within challenges.  Being in our ventral vagal system or window of tolerance helps create the conditions that support healing.  Also with a wider window of tolerance we can more often be in a full heart felt presence and have a greater tolerance to be with our own and others suffering, along with being able to access the wisdom to discern what may be helpful in alleviating or decreasing the suffering.

There is a lot of information on the window of tolerance model and polyvagal theory available, like this blog on the window of tolerance model:


You can find a free beginners guide to polyvagal theory on Deb Dana’s website here:


Considering nervous system regulation alone would be a reductionist way of looking at things, it needs to be considered as part of the whole picture.  This includes considering all systems, what is happening in our body, the thoughts and memories that are present, our behaviour, previous experiences, essentially the whole of our experience and the connectedness of everything.



Healing doesn’t have an agreed definition except in acute injury.  Healing involves changing or transforming suffering and creates a new way of being through reconnection to our true self and living aligned with our mind, body and heart.

When our nervous system is not well regulated, we don’t feel safe, we can’t see the bigger picture and are disconnected from ourselves, others and the wider whole, and we can’t heal from this place.  It is important we remember that we don’t control any of our nervous systems threat/protection responses (hyperarousal/hypoarousal), they are quickly automatically activated when protection is deemed as needed.  When we are within our window of tolerance or ventral vagal system enough (a regulated and balanced nervous system state) we are safely able to fully connect to ourselves and others, have a more expansive view, and conditions are optimised for healing.  A healing state is one that rests in safety and connection, a place where strength & gentleness are balanced, a place where the seeds of change can be planted, begin to grow and later flourish and these are all part of having a well-balanced regulated nervous system.

Perhaps we could see healing as a return to wholeness, or an alignment of mind, body & heart.  An alignment and wholeness that means that we can live a life full of meaning, with a sense of purpose, fully connected to ourselves, others & to something bigger than ourselves (the wider whole) in an open hearted and grounded way.  These will be explored a little in  part two of this blog.

What do you think, does this way of seeing healing resonate with you?

Link to part two of the blog https://unityphysio.co.uk/healing-within-connectedness-love-part-two/

(brain in hands image with this blog is from Shutterstock by Sergey Nivens, all others are owned by Ann Parkinson at Unity Physiotherapy & Wellbeing)

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