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.
Do you believe benzos can cause permanent damage in the body?
I did when I was in withdrawal but I proved myself wrong with implementing a neural retraining program. The brain is ever-changing. We can be chemically injured and our experiences can also cause damage, but it repairs and functionally adapts. The way to heal it is to provide conscious direction that supports the healing. That’s what neural-retraining programs do. The knowledge is only part of it. Turning that knowledge into action is where the healing happens.
How to use brain retraining to heal POTS? Specific tips?
Brain retraining balances the nervous system. With POTS, the body is likely stuck in sympathetic overdrive. For me, healing POTS was a combination of cultivating calm so I could balance out my nervous system, repatterning triggers and associations so they no longer had the power to activate my sympathetic nervous system, and incrementally training as another means of repatterning and building resilience. Early on my journey, I was on a betablocker to regulate my heart rate and when I started brain retraining, I was still on it but as I build up the skills in self-regulating, I weaned off it successfully without a reemergence of symptoms.
How did you exercise? Did you have any issues sweating?
Exercise was not a priority for me in the beginning because I was mainly bedbound. I trained on being upright first, then moving more around the house, and moving to the outdoors when I felt more comfortable. It was an incremental approach, focused not on pressure of accomplishing what ideally I should be doing, but allowing myself to grow into the direction of that goal in a way that supported my body and my nervous system with gradual changes.
As for sweating, so that whole system was deeply affected by these issues. My temperature regulation was majorly dysregulated. I was sweating and getting hot flashes and I’m in my 30s when the room would be cold. The thing with sweat though, that I learned, is it smells different when you’re in sympathetic overdrive. It’s not a normal sweat like I know now when I do physical activity and my body is using it as regulation. When it’s dysregulated sweat, it smells like onions. At least mine did and onions weren’t even part of my diet because I was intolerant to them before I rewired.
Did you have food issues that prevented you from getting enough calories, making exercise harder?
Yes, this was a complex problem for me because the dysregulation of my nervous system causes excess cortisol for me. I was screened for Cushing’s syndrome multiple times over the course of two decades because doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on with my adrenal glands. This presented as weight gain. And I was barely eating anything so I was frustrated because my body wasn’t matching my diet, and the outward assumption when you’re overweight is that you’re overeating. Exercise was something I honestly didn’t have the energy for and I didn’t feel good in what I was doing it, because I was approaching it by how other people exercise and not what would be supportive for my body. Bootcamps and cardio workouts weren’t fun for me and it felt unsupportive. Like there was too much pressure and hype. I needed to cultivate calm. I needed to be gentle with myself and my body. It had gone through so much. Instead, I shifted to stop thinking about exercise and instead focused on joyful movement. This meant doing things I actually liked or wanted to do, with purpose, and that would be motivating for me to do them. So I did work in my garden. My accountability buddies for joyful movement came up with the term gardio. Garden work for cardio health. I went on regular walks out in nature. I bought a hula hoop because I remembered the joy of them as a child. And I started a regular yoga practice that I continue to keep up with now. My first year of rewiring wasn’t focused on exercise but I built up to it. I also had a stationary bicycle that I would ride while watching youtube videos of scenes where riders had a gopro on their helmets so it helped me feel like I was out of the house and out traveling somewhere beautiful on a bike. For any roadblocks, it’s an opportunity to get creative to go around or through them.
I have severe fatigue and feel like I am missing out on life because I don’t have enough energy to do things outside. How can I train to increase my energy?
Okay, if your goal is to do things outside, the first step is to identify where are you at in the process right now? What is within your level of comfort to do? Is it sitting upright by the window, and still getting the benefit of seeing, hearing the outdoors? Is it moving a chair outside, and sitting outside for an extended amount of time? You could feel the sunshine, hear the birds, feel the breeze, smell an earthiness to the air. That’s doing things outside. Maybe you do that as a daily or weekly routine and if you want to take it a step further, you can stand up, walk a few steps in a garden, and go back to sitting if you prefer. It’s all about meeting yourself wherever comfort is at, and then branching out from the place so you can build up to what your goal is. It can be too drastic or too much pressure to do a 180 from comfort or to push towards the ideal without pacing for resilience to build. If you’re holding yourself to external standards or beliefs of what you feel you need to do and it’s not genuinely something you want to do, that’s another thing that brain retraining can also help unpack.
When you started brain retraining, did you feel fatigue 24/7? What is the best way to train around this?
Yes, I did. I was exhausted as if I just competed in a triathlon with no training or conditioning and the reality was that I went from like my bedroom to the bathroom or the kitchen. I had barely any energy to carry out normal basic tasks that kept me alive.
Training focused on probably 2-3 things mainly. 1) Cultivating calm so I could regulate and my parasympathetic nervous system could get back online 2) Incrementally training so I could move forward into my goals 3) Patience and grace. It’s not a quick process and it can be made slower and harder by that internal pressure or frustration or holding yourself to perfectionist standards. Self-compassion is such a huge part of the success of rewiring.
I’m pregnant. I workout, eat well, and rest. Still my brain is mush. Help?
First, congratulations on your pregnancy. I personally am not an expert in this area so I can’t speak much for pregnancy aspect but it sound like you are caring for yourself and your baby well and doing some of the most important things—movement, nutrition, and rest. That’s great because I am not pregnant and it took me a long time to prioritize and balance those things. Your body is growing a person and with that comes hormones and a lot of a chemical process that are not entirely anything you can control. Your power is in your thoughts. So if you feel your brain is mush, maybe something that could help in that moment is to acknowledge how amazing your body is right now to be doing all that it’s doing. It’s creating life and this experience will eventually move to the next stage, so it’s not a permanent state or yourself where it will always feel the way it may feel now. Sometimes just knowing change will come and it’s not something you need to actively pursue can be the answer. I think there is the habit of doing but there is also power in pause and rest. Maybe self-compassion is enough. Maybe that compassion can create a chemical shift within that can also help to regulate any dysregulation from hormonal changes. I realize this is a simple answer, but sometimes simple works.
What to do when you run out of energy?
I am really liking this topic. So, there are a few things to discuss here. I think the biggest thing would be to look at objectives and whether they are realistic or perfectionistic. I had the tendency to overload myself with various things and set out to do them in an unrealistic timeframe, working up adrenaline the whole time so I could power through, and then at the day, I would be burnout, exhausted, and so frustrated with myself for not getting everything done even if I had accomplished a lot. I’d completely overlook what I did accomplish and focus only on what I still needed to do, then repeat the cycle. That may be a reason why someone is running out of energy. Because the objectives or standards are not attainable. Another thing, is a core belief on productivity and that rest isn’t okay. We need rest. Our bodies need rest. Rest is just as important as energy because rest can be what restores energy. So being mindful of rest cues is an important aspect of energy use. When I run out of energy, I take a break. Even if it’s 5 minutes, that alone can be enough to recollect, shift the chemistry, and go back to what I was doing. I’m starting to implement the pomodoro method where rest becomes more a part of my process of doing so that I can be more intentional with my energy and allow for rest to be more integrated. There isn’t really a one-size fits all answer here but those are some things to consider and maybe some of the other answers in the video will also give more insight.
How did you retrain on tachycardia? Can you talk about your tremor and how it went away?
So I found the sensations that happen with POTS to prompt emotional reactions from me when I would notice them. I felt afraid that something bad was happening in my body and like I was in danger. That’s a normal response the first time you feel the sensations, and what may be the typical course of action then is to go to a doctor, and they do their testing. I went through that process of course and that sense of danger was alleviated because it was identified and is not a life-threatening condition. I still had that fear though because I was imprinted from the first time, so I kept having that fear any time I felt the sensations because I didn’t have a means of undoing the sensations. I needed to focus on reframing the sensation and being at peace or accepting of them so I didn’t introduce more stress hormones from stress or worry in noticing them. When you focus just on gifting yourself calm, in whatever means is available, so rewiring the thoughts around the sensations, and actively pursuing opportunities that help support calm. The parasympathetic nervous system is then doing its job, to heal, to restore, to balance out the body and to regulate the heart and other organ systems. It becomes a team effort. The conscious focus is no longer on the symptoms, but on managing the thoughts and feelings. The body is then provided the ecosystem to alleviate the symptoms without added stress disrupting the process.
What to do when you don’t feel you have enough energy to retrain your brain?
Well having a goal in mind or motivating factor can be a driving force for pushing through those moments. If it feels like it’s too far of a stretch to get there, I think it’s important to meet yourself wherever you are at in the process. What is one thing that can be done to move forward in that direction? It doesn’t have to be a leap. A step towards the goal it is still a step forward and it’s still worth celebrating. One thing that’s not easily illustrated by the rewiring journey because it can be so non-linear is that as you stick with it, as you keep going and overcoming challenges, moving through experiences that were difficult, things get easier. You gain a momentum within yourself that empowers you with tools to support yourself in the direction of where it is you want to go. Your resilience and ability to adapt and change grows. It helps to have a system that is measured or incremental so you can regulate more balance in the process of growing.
Brain retaining helped with symptoms and now I’m up to a 10 minute walk. Will it help regain full mobility.
First of all congratulations that symptoms are resolving and that you’ve increased your walking! That’s wonderful news and I’m so happy for you. It sounds like you have a system in place where you are actively training. I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but I do believe brain retraining can assist in advancing mobility especially when used with incrementally training that is rooted in joy or some sort of motivating factor. What does full mobility mean to you? What does it feel like? What does it look like? If you can sink into those feelings, I believe that can help drive more forward motion and facilitate changes with neuroplasticity. Any doubt or limiting beliefs can and should also be addressed and rewiring.
I have chronic 24/7 fatigue and brain fog. Do you have any advice on how to shift them?
I don’t think this is something I have mentioned on my page much yet, but have you explored laughter yoga? When I was at the beginning of my journey, those symptoms were the heaviest, and my prefrontal cortex was less accessible. Mirror neurons can be a huge benefit in those cases where it becomes more of a subconscious effort. Laughter yoga is a practice where you are intentionally laughing with others for the benefit of the neurochemicals that get produced when we laugh. This cocktail of restorative hormones helps to counter stress hormones that are part of symptoms like fatigue and brain fog. There are youtube videos that explain and show laughter yoga examples, but the more effective method of participating I have found is do engage in Zoom calls with laughter yoga buddies where it’s more live and you see their faces. Even just watching can be helpful if you aren’t ready to actively participate, but in participating whether it’s genuine laughter or not, the neurochemicals work on regulating things more.
If you’d like resources, let me know. I should probably do a post focused on laughter yoga soon. I’ll add it to my list.
I am feeling discouraged, because I am bedbound and I have no muscle energy and heart palpitations. What can I do?
This sounds like me in 2018 and I so remember that feeling. If you’re on this page, then you’re aware of brain retraining which is a great start. If you don’t already have a coach you’re working with, I would encourage that for added support and encouragement because then it alleviates some of the frustration or uncertainty. Another thing that can be helpful is to think of the long-term goals you have for yourself. You may be bedbound now, and some people may be content with that, but is sounds like you have a different outlook for yourself. I would develop that if it isn’t already. What would you like to do if physical limitations weren’t the barrier in the way? It’s okay to think about these things, because I feel like they are a source of power that can reempower us to move in that direction. Thinking about them may also give insight into limiting beliefs that are also present and that’s something that can be addressed directly through brain retraining. As for the symptoms, I hope some of the information I’ve said in the other answers resonate here as well. I believe there is a path from those symptoms to whatever goals you also carry. It doesn’t look exactly the same for everyone, but the basics are essentially the same—an incremental approach that guides from point A to B. That’s where it can be particularly helpful to have a coach because it can be less of a zig zag to get there.
How can I do my brain retraining practice when I’m bedridden with intense symptoms?
Okay, I personally do not agree with more rigid methods of retraining the brain, because what drives people to such programs is a need for regulation, and if the method is a source of stress, it’s counterproductive and the method needs to be adjusted to meet you closer to comfort so that you can grow more efficiently. If you are not yet in a position where you can feel supported in staying upright or standing, that’s an arbitrary standard that may be more of a stressor than a restorer.
What brings you comfort? What brings you feelings of safety or support? That can be a means of self-regulation and restorative neuro-chemicals. I would meet yourself wherever you are when you are experiencing intense systems and offer yourself that experience. Whatever it may be. And for any thoughts that need repatterning in the process, that’s something still within your power to change because of the fundamental principle of neuroplasticity.
How can I stop the thought “I feel so tired” because it’s true and I feel tired.
What if you didn’t have to stop it? What if you acknowledged that feeling as valid? What could you offer yourself in knowing that you are tired but also that it doesn’t have to serve as a barrier. It can be a message. It may simply be a message from stress chemistry. Excess stress chemistry can deplete our energy. The feeling is real and usually the message is requesting rest, but rest can mean a lot of different things. It doesn’t need to be sleep. It could mean a change in activity, so instead of something stressful or draining, the activity switches into something that brings joy or comfort. Restorative chemistry like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins can enliven us with more vibrant energy and feelings. They also repair the physical and chemical effect of stress. Maybe the feeling of I’m tired becomes a signal to engage in such opportunities more consciously and intentionally.
How do you gauge when to rest and when to just tell your brain you can be active without doing too much?
I think this is something everyone has a challenge with because I really don’t think everyone has it all figured out, even if they’ve recovered from chronic health issues or limbic system impairment. I’ll admit it and say that I personally am not perfect with this. I don’t get the symptoms anymore, which is nice, but I’m still learning what my body can do and when I need to step more consciously into rest. It’s a balancing act and sometimes the range changes. Especially if you’re doing something new or learning something new, there’s a learning curve and that can take more energy than when the process is more patterned and the pathways are more established. I think the important thing here, is not to fear doing too much. For example, it’s spring time here and my yard was in need of some preparations. So I worked on it and I paced myself and in theory it seemed beyond my capability because I hadn’t dealt with it by myself before and it seemed like a lot of work. But I approached it in steps and took time for myself if I needed to and I got it done. Muscles were used and sometimes that can mean temporary discomfort, and then it went away and I have this beautiful yard to look at now. So the fear part can be a road block, or thoughts that something will be too much, or damaging. I think it’s those limitations or perceived limitations that source stress or inaction, because it’s uncertain or unmeasured. Brain retraining allows you to step more fully in the present and ground in the strength of yourself—body and mind. I think that perspective helps the resistance that comes up. The limbic system just wants to keep things safe and comfortable, and comfort is still important to be mindful of as you don’t want to completely abandon it, but comfort can grow. It isn’t fixed. And we are neuroplastic and adaptable.
How would you increase your physical activity when it leads to tachycardia a few hours later?
There are two things I would consider here, without knowing your particular situation, so I don’t know what’s applicable exactly.
1) Is that the physical activity is not the source of the tachycardia. It may be a perceived pattern. I know, just going on a different direction, if I ate a certain food, I was convinced I would have a certain reaction, if not immediate, then delayed. If it didn’t happen immediately, I’d look out for it. I’d think about it. I’d wait for it. And eventually it would come. And the problem there was that I was activating the pathways to that symptom every time I thought about it. Our brains are so powerful that time becomes irrelevant when we think things. I could bring up something from my past and have the same thoughts or emotions come up in the present. So if you have any patterning of certain thoughts after physical activity, that may be the source of the tachycardia and not the physical activity exclusively.
2) is that tachycardia is usually the result of excess stress hormones, so if physical activity is believed to be the issue, I would look to exercise modalities that will provide you more restorative chemistry, such as a yin yoga practice or joyful movement to see if that makes a difference. So maybe it’s not increase the activity you’re doing but switching to something that will be more supportive and you can build up from there.
Is it possible to rewire your brain even if you are living in a stressful situation? I have low energy but feel relief after doing my brain retraining practice. Is it enough?
Well I don’t know the specifics of what you are implementing and how you are implementing it, but I can answer the first question. One thing that I believe is needed for brain retraining is access to feelings of safety. If you can source those feelings in your environment, I believe that’s all that matters. I know my environment or life circumstances were far from perfect while I was rewiring, however, navigating those experiences with tools I was also building allowed me to refine and learn deeply on how to implement to create shifts. With external circumstances, there is only so much within our control to manage. Our power rests in our associations/beliefs and mindset to create shifts that bring about more peace, even in the midst of stress. I don’t believe outward circumstances need to change for brain retraining to be a success as long as safety and grounding can still be accessed. The more you access it through practice, the stronger it will grow.
How do you stop thoughts about using all your energy in an activity?
Well, it sounds like you have the awareness that you have those thoughts and that might be contributing negatively to habits or experiences you wish to change for yourself, so that is a definite start and half the battle! Not everyone has that conscious awareness and some people are still stuck in a non-conscious cycle. That kind of thought is part of a fixed mindset. If you’ve been following my posts on Tuesdays, I’ve been offering reframes each week on what it is to embody a growth mindset. So in this case, that would recognize that energy replenishes. So in doing an activity, you can take breaks in order to be mindful to replenish energy, such as the pomodoro method I mentioned in another answer in this video, or you can plan for restoration after or before the activity. The goal isn’t exactly to dismiss the thought but to provide a means of support so that the thought doesn’t become a barrier. I hope that answer helps. I’m happy to address this more specifically in the Flip Your Script image series.
How do you use incremental training to do more exercise to create more daily energy?
Incremental training is very much about the individual. So you start wherever you are and work up while balancing comfort. It’s like the edge that they talk about in yoga. You don’t want to plow through it and do something completely out of your range of motion but just expand to the edge of comfort, pause, and see if you can grow or move beyond that point slightly. The more you practice, the more that endurance builds up and the muscles are conditioned and able to do more. Another important facet though is being mindful of restoration so that more energy doesn’t get out of balance. I think when we get too focused on rest or too focused on energy is when problems with dysregulation can present.