Q: Can you speak to the use of mind body exercises while rewiring/working with limbic system impairment? For example yoga nidra, body scanning, MBSR and other mindfulness modalities that involve being in and with the body?
A: This is a good question. Mindfulness can be a very powerful tool in helping to rewire the brain and calm the nervous system. There is definitely a difference between focusing on symptoms & body checking (as Automatic Negative Thoughts), and using your present moment awareness to invite relaxation into areas of the body. The key difference here is perspective. If you are checking in from a place of fear or worry, or noticing symptoms because they are bothering you, you want to redirect your brain and focus elsewhere. If on the other hand, we can be present in this moment and actively use our brain to direct parts of our body to relax without getting into a story about it or passing judgment on it, that is useful. In this second scenario, we are also cultivating a loving kind relationship with ourselves, which is also important for creating resilience and keeping ourselves well long-term despite the ups and downs that inevitably happen in life.
Q: I have been doing brain retraining for a few years and have now been diagnosed with a new autoimmune illness. How do I continue doing my practice in the midst of feeling yet another insurmountable struggle ahead with many new physical symptoms? Do I consider the new symptoms as just its and train around them? How do you navigate additional food restrictions (I've been advised to do autoimmune paleo diet) while trying to add foods back in to the diet? How to not focus on the physical symptoms when it seems daily they are increasing?
A: It is certainly a challenge when we are trying our best to actively rewire and other issues continue to surface. It is common to feel frustration in these times and question the value of rewiring. And yet, we know from the research on neuroplasticity that if you actively direct your brain and do so repeatedly, your brain has no choice but to change. The resulting changes in the brain and nervous system impact all the major organs and systems of the body, including the immune system. That is something worth pursuing.
Do consider the new symptoms as part of what needs rewiring and retrain around them. At the same time, take care of yourself as best you can in a positive and healthy way. Sometimes this means adding other things into our routine outside of the scope of brain retraining, but relating to them as temporary support that will help calm the brain and nervous system and support the rewiring process so that you can recover faster. We stay out of Automatic Negative Thoughts, fortune telling, and overfocusing on what is present, and keep our eye on where we are going. Remember, what you focus on is what your grow. With increasing physical symptoms, it becomes even more important to, as Jeffrey Schwartz says, "Don't believe everything you think [of feel] because your brain is sending you false messages." Do the best you can to elevate your emotional state as much and as often as you can. By releasing that neurochemistry you are blocking the inflammatory response, which can have a direct impact on decreasing physical symptoms.
If you choose to do the Paleo diet, relate to it as temporary and focus your incremental training on things other than food for the next while. Remember that all limbic system issues are connected and that we don't have to train with each and every one to make progress. And sometimes, as we train on one thing other things naturally sort themselves out. Watch the inner self talk around the diet and try to minimize the focus on it (and food in general) as much as you can for the next while. Redirect your brain to things that are life affirming, elevating, or at the very least reasonably distracting.
Know that setbacks happen. It is very rare that the rewiring process is all positive forward progress. But it's what we do when they happen that determines the course & length of our recovery. And when the going gets really tough, use a good distraction that has nothing to do with health or retraining (like a good book or Netflix, or a hobby that you really enjoy) to hit the pause button for a while and give your system a break. Distractions can be really helpful in that they give our system time to calm down. Then afterwards, it can be easier to actively direct the brain in ways that are useful.
Best wishes on your recovery process!
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Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com