Transitioning to an Understanding of the Autonomic Nervous System in Law

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter addresses something of whether the trauma inherent in legal study and practice might be mitigated by less focus on thinking like a lawyer and more on what an embodied approach to learning could open up. Although Law is intended to keep people safe, its privileging of education from the neck up acts to disconnect students and practitioners at a very deep level from their bodies, emotions and feeling states. This disconnection can leave us not feeling safe in our bodies, resulting in processes of the autonomic nervous system, paving the way for chronic stress.

As many involved in law in any capacity are impacted at a very visceral level, the chapter explores the role of the autonomic nervous system as a potential catalyst for enhancing emotional regulation, deepening learning and helping us feel safer in our bodies. From a place of safety, our learning and decision-making processes are likely to be more holistic and discerning. Using the lens of Polyvagal Theory, the chapter presents an experimental approach at the Law School of Ulster University, seeking to imbue the undergraduate curriculum, in particular, with somatic, trauma-aware learning, drawing on and intertwining mindfulness, somatic exploration and the new science of safety. The chapter further considers some difficulties and potential attending the embedding of a more embodied, polyvagal-informed approach in mainstream legal education
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWellbeing and Transitions in Law
Subtitle of host publicationLegal Education and the Legal Profession
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Legal Education
  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Mindfulness
  • Safety
  • Polyvagal Theory


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