The Connected Yoga Teacher Podcast

115: The Polyvagal Theory and Yoga with Dr. Ginger Garner




We all know that communication and language are important in a yoga class. But it’s not just about giving instructions and guidance about breathing or poses – it’s also how we communicate. The timber and volume of our voices, music or chanting in the class, even certain words, can have an effect on other people, but also ourselves, and it creates an internal response for both parties. This is all part of the polyvagal theory, and Dr. Ginger Garner joins Shannon on this episode to explain how this theory can influence how we teach, communicate and hold space as yoga teachers.


Dr. Garner is a trained doctor of physical therapy, licensed athletic trainer, professional yoga therapist, published author, and renowned educator. She strongly believes that health and healthcare should be approached holistically, and founded the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute, the first yoga therapy certification for healthcare providers in the world.


The polyvagal theory, the wandering nerve, the use of sound, music, cues and communication in a yoga class, chronic pain – Shannon and Dr. Garner dive deep into these topics and more. Dr. Garner shares examples from her multi-decade career about the use of polyvagal theory in treating chronic pain, and highlights some tools yoga teachers can put into practice in their own classes.


Whether you want to improve how you communicate with your yoga students, or be more aware of the impact and influence something as simple as your voice could be having on your yoga classes, this episode is full of great information.


Key Takeaways:

[2:56] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Dr. Ginger Garner

[4:17] What got Dr. Garner into yoga, and what was her first experience with yoga like?

[6:49] What is the main work that Dr. Garner does?

[9:14] What is the polyvagal theory?

[15:33] The polyvagal theory involves the vagus nerve, which Dr. Garner calls the wandering nerve. Why is it called that?

[21:28] How does polyvagal theory apply to how yoga teachers cue and communicate in a class?

[24:00] What does it look like when yoga teachers are trying to create that safe space?

[27:14] In what way can yoga teachers use sound in their classes to affect vagal tone?

[28:39] Shannon and Dr. Garner discuss eustress and distress and some examples.

[30:56] Dr. Garner explains how sounding would play out in a yoga class.

[33:26] What could be therapeutic for someone may be disassociating for someone else. Dr. Garner highlights some examples of this.

[37:43] What does breathwork have to do with the nervous system?

[43:19] Shannon shares an anecdote about her student who was suffering from chronic pain.

[44:06] People can get stuck in a circle of chronic pain, and then turn to yoga as a means of breaking that cycle.

[46:08] What are some tools that Dr. Garner suggests to overcome negative pattern?

[55:15] Why do we forget to breathe in a way that helps us?

[1:01:25] Shannon and Dr. Garner discuss the importance of integration of fields of study for more effective treatment.

[1:03:53] Find out more about Dr. Garner and the work she does by visiting her websites – links below.

[1:06:27] Shannon shares her biggest takeaways from this interview.



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Quotes from this episode:


“How I use yoga, how I use polyvagal theory, how it all comes together is to create a safe space for people who are in a lot of pain.”


“When I’m teaching yoga teachers or I’m teaching healthcare providers to use yoga, … I want them to be able to create a therapeutic landscape that is conducive to creating safety for that person.”


“Sound can be a trigger, but it also can be a eustress, a positive stressor.”


“Using sound as therapy and music as medicine is in its infancy still.”


“Our biomedical system is quite broken.”


“[Yoga] alone doesn’t fix it, and [surgery] alone doesn’t fix it, but together, it will. It can.”