Ask Alina is a weekly video series on the Brain Gardening instagram discussing Alina’s experience and insights after recovering from chronic illness through a brain retraining practice. Questions are gathered on Tuesdays from that account’s IG Stories. Episodes are filmed on Wednesdays and posted as soon as possible. To increase availability and accessibility of these materials, they are being archived on the Brain Gardening™ YouTube channel, which includes the option for closed captioning. The videos are provided for information purposes only and should not be used to replace or supplement the advice of a physician or other health care provider. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions prior to using any information or resources contained on or through this video. Brain Gardening™ is not affiliated with any other neural retraining programs.
A transcript of the questions and responses contained in this episode is available below.
Advice for people who do brain retraining but have symptoms that don’t match other successes.
So brain retraining is less about the symptoms and more about the circuitry of what’s happening underneath the symptoms. There are a handful or two of common conditions that many people with an overactive sympathetic nervous system find themselves experiencing. There are like the hallmark symptoms that draw people in to brain retraining programs because they are what might be more prevalent in others and not resolving completely through other modalities of healing.
But brain retraining isn’t limited to only healing or working for those conditions, because what brain retraining does is optimize the autonomic nervous system so that the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches are more imbalance. Brain retraining works to strengthen the connection to the parasympathetic nervous system, and it’s the parasympathetic nervous system that’s doing the healing.
The Parasympathetic nervous system controls your Rest, Digest, Relax and Heal functions. Many biological processes happen during sleep: The brain stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste. Nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which supports healthy brain function. While you’re sleeping, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which helps your body to grow and repair itself. If the sympathetic nervous system is overactive, that’s where insomnia can be an issue and lead to more disorganization in the body because it’s not effectively restoring and repairing.
The vagus nerve is heavily involved in the parasympathetic nervous system, and if you’re familiar with that nerve, it connects the brain to internal organs to control the body’s response in times of rest and relaxation. It also carries sensory signals from internal organs back to the brain, enabling the brain to keep track of the organs’ actions. So the brain is wired and networked to everything else going on in the body. Our thoughts and behaviors create chemistry that acts like a switch for our nervous system, where we can be supporting sympathetic or parasympathetic processes just in what thoughts we choose to honor or give energy to.
So if you have symptoms or conditions that don’t match those that characteristically are seen as resolving in other brain retrainers, I would not interpret that is not being effective for those conditions. For 1, I don’t remember every exact symptom because I largely felt like I was in a toxic stew of symptoms where everything was terrible and not a great way to be living life. To actually gain the distance to not remember every single one is amazing because it feels like that book of my life closed and I was able to start a new one. People don’t often want to go back and sift through things after they heal from something, so there may actually be evidence that people have healed from those things too, they’re just not openly discussing them. Another thing that could be helpful is to just look at brain retraining as this tool for rebalancing the nervous system and for strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what heals the body and there is a world of possibility in what it can do.
There are limits to brain retraining, like regrowing a limb or something where it’s more dependent on a surgery to resolve, but even in combination with that, brain retraining is supporting the parasympathetic nervous system to do it’s job more effectively than if thoughts or behaviors were pulling the body back over into the sympathetic nervous system and disrupting the body’s own natural healing abilities. You can relieve a lot of the internal pressure of wanting to solve symptoms when you reframe brain retraining as a tool to just support the body to work and function better.
Did you “rewire” every single thing you were reactive to? And how?
Well I was reactive to a lot of things and this would be a very long video if I went through and listed them all. So yes, I would say I rewired everything physically that I was reactive to—like smells, environmental things, people, behaviors I saw in other people, behaviors I had in myself, I was physically being triggered by myself and the symptoms, and I would say that I am largely rewired from reacting to those things. I stay more neutral where that emotional layer isn’t there but sometimes I’ll have the old thought come through and I won’t have that attachment to it. Just the awareness that it brings and I can make a choice that is grounded in my higher brain and not due to fear or insecurity.
For the how, it happened in layers, definitely not all at once. I focused on whatever seemed to be neeed at the time. SO if I had an opportunity coming up that part of me was viewing as challenging, I would try to break it down into little chunks to help build more emotional trust from myself. That gradual approach was really key because it allowed me to grow out of my comfort zone but in a way that wasn’t counterproductive where it was too drastic of a change. Being mindful of that process and not overloading myself with stress hormones, but actively working to stay grounded and grow was important. One of the benefits of having a bunch of symptoms and crosswires in the nervous system is that it can actually work to your advantage where you’re working on one area and somehow, someway, things are actually linked so when that reaction resolves, some other ones may resolve with it too. That happened a lot to me actually where I wasn’t needing to incrementally train for every single thing because in building new neural pathways for other training opportunities, I saw that those neural networks had other purposes too. Through every training opportunitiy, I think I built a level of confidence and sense of trust and safety that definitely wasn’t there at the beginning
Did you do Annie Hoppers DNRS program?
Initialy, I did. I started with the DVDs in November 2018. And I was bedbound/housebound at the time and by April 2019 I was in a better place to attend one of the in person seminars, so I did that and that’s really where things clicked into place for me. I think I had a better grasp for all of the pillars at that point and I did the program as it’s marketed for about 6 months or so. It helped me break out of the limbic loop and from there I started to step out of the framework of the program and do what I would call an adaptation that incorporated more of what was working for me in other modalities that were now having positive effects, such as creative pursuits, expressive journaling, and joyful movement.
What things did you think were not limbic but healed anyways with retraining?
So I had a lot of food sensitivities and food allergies. This started for me as a young child before I made that connection that my nervous system was getting dysregulated back then because I was in an environment that was not supportive of my developmental needs. I thought they were just innate conditions that I would live with forever. To be more specific, I avoided garlic and onion in meals for about 20+ years. It’s like in sauces, seasonings, and basically everything so socializing around food was not my favorite because I was in a hypervigilant state just trying to find something “safe”. I actually love garlic now. Onion, eh. I’m not about to bite into a raw onion just out of personal choice, but I can eat sauces and foods that have onion as an ingredient without reacting. If you told me this would be possible with brain retraining, I would have said no way. And it was actually like one of the last things I trained on because I really was maintaining it to be separate.
But I saw how limbic I was just in my thoughts and trying to navigate meals, that I felt like it would be of service to me of healing more deeply if I just tried. I did so very gradually. Thinking about the foods in a different way so I was more focused on appreciating like the culture that they’re apart of, and the different cuisines, and trying to approach it from that way, without actually eating the food at that point. And then I would put tiny amounts in meals and see how I responded and add from there over time as more trust and courage was built.
Now I have just so much more freedom and choice without getting myself worked up emotionally about meals. I think that was a large part of my reactions because I was reinforcing to my body that they were unsafe or dangerous, and my body was already the contain of stress hormones that were part of those thoughts and beliefs whenever I was exposed to the foods in some way. At my most sensitive, I was actually anaphylactic to particles just in the air.
Can brain retraining ease muscle/body pain?
Yes, I believe it can, either exclusively or in combination with other modalities. I know I personally have both. Brain retraining helps rebalance the parasympathetic nervous system. Mood elevating activities can flood the body with anti-inflammatory and pain relieving neuralchemicals which also support the parasymethatic nervous system. I started to experience significant relief when I also got well enough physically to establish a more regular joyful movement practice. So through yin and restorative yoga practices, as well as myofascial release techniques, that’s where I was feeling better than I had ever felt. I needed to get to a point where it was a regular practice though for that to be most apparent, so not like a once a week thing but like a almost every day thing. I found it to really build my strength and resilience in my muscles. But brain retraining was a needed component to that because in the past when I tried yoga, my thoughts were all over the place during so I wasn’t benefiting from the practice. Brain Retraining got me to the where I needed to be to be completely present in my movement or restorative practices.
Were you able to heal from neuropathy or small fiber nerve damage?
Yes, so I had lots of weird nerve things going on. I had fibromyalgia, I had these weird 24/7 internal vibrations where it was like burning, and physically twitching, and I felt like I was shaking from the inside but my body wasn’t actually shaking. I also had episodes where I would get numbness. It was primarily happening in my face, usually one side of my face was more significant. And it would last at least several days before I saw any improvement. If I wasn’t getting sleep, it would be much worse. I also had numbness in my hands and my feet very routinely. That was probably more constant than the face stuff. My doctors wanted to put me on a medication but I was really not comfortable going on it because of a previous negative experience that had imprinted me so I decided not to and fortunately I came across brain retraining around that time so I decided to focus my attention on that. I found it to help build this cushion, where I was not having the episodes as regularly and things started to shift and improve. I started to get more regular sleep patterns established and that helped significantly. I also found I was better able to manage kind of the emotional events that would typically happen before the symptoms got set off. It it built up this layer that just sort of became a barrier to the symptoms, either in minimizing their presence or if not that, that allowing me to feel more peace with them, and that really gave the space to heal because I was shifting out of fight/flight more regularly.