About a month ago I shared that I was about to start a neural retraining programme, based on the theory that some chronic health problems can be traced back to a neural impairment – basically a brain injury.
I’ve now completed a 4 day training programme, and am into my 2nd week of implementing the strategies. I’ve decided to share regular updates on my progress, as I think this is something that a lot of people would be intrigued about. Now that I’m immersed in the programme, I should state up front that there are a few caveats about what I can share. Because retraining your brain involves neglecting old patterns in order to replace them with new neural pathways, there are certain things that won’t be helpful for me to think or write about. In fact, simply by giving them thought, I am reinforcing the old patterns that I’m attempting to rewire. So, I won’t talk specifically about my symptoms, and I won’t have much to say about bad days, or any setbacks that I might be having. That said, I don’t plan to sugarcoat the experience. I’ll just be focussing on the wins and sharing any positive outcomes. No doubt you’ll be able to read between the lines and see the complete picture!
The programme I’m using is called DNRS (Dynamic Neural Retraining System). It’s based on the idea that an impairment of the limbic system can trigger a wide range of symptoms. Obviously it’s important that these symptoms be investigated by western medicine initially, as they can be caused by a number of potentially serious illnesses. However, in cases where mainstream medicine turns up a blank, limbic system impairment is considered. The kinds of symptoms that respond well to neural retraining are chronic and unexplained pain and fatigue, and sensitivities to chemicals, foods, smells, sounds & light. People have also seen remarkable relief from depression, anxiety, brain fog, migraines, EMF sensitivity and all sorts of seemingly unrelated conditions. The case studies are fascinating. Some of the most extreme conditions see dramatic turnarounds in a matter of days and weeks. Others see slow and gradual improvements over many months of sustained practice. I’ve noticed that chronic fatigue sufferers tend to be in the ‘slow & steady’ camp.
I went away for four days to do the DNRS training so I could replicate as closely as possible the workshop experience that attendees normally have (DNRS is usually run as a live workshop in Canada). Remote attendees watch 14 DVDS that explain the theory and teach the retraining process. There are writing exercises and activities and the expectation that you focus on applying the theory to your daily life over those 4 days. It also involves a deep dive into the science of neuroplasticity and how the limbic system works. If that interests you, I recommend starting with Norman Doidge’s ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’.
In brief, it is now well accepted that the brain is plastic, and that small changes to our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving can trigger dramatic physical changes to the wiring of our brain. We can literally think our way to a new brain. So, in the case of a person with a limbic system impairment, something has caused our brain to get stuck in a loop whereby a threat is perceived. Initially the threat is real, but for some reason, when the danger is over, the brain doesn’t return to its normal calm state. Instead, a pattern is set up that continually reinforces the messaging that the threat remains. The longer this goes on, the stronger the reinforcement and the more intense the brain’s response patterns. The initial trigger could be any kind of trauma that the brain perceives as dangerous, be it exposure to a toxin, a virus, an accident or stressful experience. The trigger could be acute or build gradually over a long period. I can trace the beginning of my symptoms to a car accident nearly 15 years ago. Stressful experiences in the intervening years intensified the reinforcement which has led me to where I am today. Understanding all of this has led to me viewing my symptoms in a whole new light. I can now see them all as the result of a malfunctioning brain, rather than a whole lot of disparate and seemingly unrelated physical problems. It now makes complete sense that so many of my symptoms could never be diagnosed. And perhaps most comfortingly, having done the training, I now feel in control of my recovery.
Understanding how the limbic system works is core to successfully embarking on the DNRS training. It’s important to be able to accept that a person with a healthy limbic system would not be experiencing the symptoms that you have. The next step is to change all of the thoughts, beliefs, feelings and responses that you currently have in relation to your symptoms. For someone with a very limiting chronic health issue, that means changing almost every thought, all day every day. It’s hard work. The first part of the programme involves spending an hour every day repeating a series of words and actions that reinforce a new way of thinking, and associating this thinking with positive emotions. This is effective because the more deeply you engage with something, the more likely it will ‘stick’ in your brain. By engaging your whole body, your voice and strong positive emotions, you give the retraining the best possible chance of having an impact.
I call this ‘doing my rounds’, as it involves repeating a particular process for an hour, either all at once, or over a number of sessions through the day. I’m yet to fall into a groove for this routine, but I think breaking it up over the day works best for me. I’ve found it to be less tedious than I expected, and I absolutely notice a difference in my energy levels after completing a round. The most challenging part of doing my rounds is coming up with memories and visualisations to create a genuinely strong positive emotion. I really have to trawl my memory banks and creativity to make this as powerful an experience as possible.
The second part of the process is to catch all of those old patterns as they occur, and ‘reverse’ them by applying the same theory. This is way easier when I’m in a good mood, or just generally feeling optimistic. For me, this might look like doing a short round of retraining when I wake up tired, and rather than buying into negative thoughts and accepting that heavy feeling, I’ll take a walk around the property and enjoy the fresh air. Or quickly heading off a thought process about back pain by doing a quick round of retraining in my head. A few nights ago we went to a winter solstice celebration for Matariki at my daughter’s school that involved watching a performance, sharing a Maori feast and toasting marshmallows around a bonfire. This would normally be a significant challenge for me – physically and emotionally. I would expect to suffer physically during the evening, and worry that the impact would last many days after the event. In the lead up I worked hard to think about how much fun this would be, and how enjoyable the bonfire experience would be for all of us. It presented such a challenge (emotionally) that on the day I couldn’t even do my rounds, but in the end I enjoyed the experience far more than I might have, and followed up by working hard on the ‘day after’ symptoms. It’s baby steps for sure, but it’s heartening to have small victories and see my efforts pay off.
The final step in retraining is to challenge yourself daily by wrapping a previously triggering experience in new patterns of thinking and feeling. A challenge might involve exposing yourself in a controlled way to something that would previously cause symptoms. In my case, this could be anything from going for a long walk, to driving to the city or having coffee with a friend. I’ve had mixed feelings about this step. I already feel like I challenge myself quite frequently in my daily life, as I’ve never been particularly good at accepting my physical limitations! I’d usually just do too much, feel anxious about it and suffer the consequences. Now I’m trying to keep doing what I would always do, but instead of worrying, or expecting consequences, I work on catching and changing the old patterns in the process. I have successfully headed off symptoms on quite a few occasions by doing this. I think in the coming weeks I’ll try to do this in a more structured way, but it’s hard to get my head around pulling back and limiting my challenges to one a day, as this feels like it goes against the training. I’ll probably try a few approaches and see how it goes.
After 2 weeks of neural re-training I’d say I’m seeing results. At this early stage I don’t think there has been any permanent ‘rewiring’ as such, but I do see that when I practice consistently, I feel better. I have more energy and my symptoms are less impactful. These are great signs. I’m motivated to continue, and I do believe that I will keep getting results. Ultimately I have real hopes that this is the final countdown to getting my mojo back. With one more week until the school holidays, my plan is to set up a more structured daily routine and practice it. I’ve been less focussed than I could be, and I know I’ll need to set up some good habits if I want to continue to retrain effectively while I have a full house of kids and visitors. Wish me luck!