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The Guiding Power of Ikigai

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Hello friends! If you have been keeping up with my Excavating Your Essence series through previous entries, you've been prompted to consider goals and wishes for yourself without symptoms as a defining or limiting road block.

Spoiler Alert:

Symptoms do not hold the power to create or prevent your dreams. Brain retraining empowers you with tools to curate your experiences to still align with your underlying goals and free yourself from the confines of chronic illness.

Part of the success of brain retraining comes in having a clear distinction between past coping strategies and belief systems and in the ability to branch outwards into the realm of possibility. Leaving the comfort zone can increase embodiment of a higher self or create forward progression that demonstrates being attuned to your true self.

The limbic system's primary concern is safety and a primal strategy for maintaining safety can be automating simply what is more familiar or predictable. Brain retraining is about conscious pattern-breaking and intentionally shaking things up so you can shed any old layers of the self acquired from times of survival.

Brain Gardening

Various neuroplasticity-based programs are available with frameworks that guide a path to this common goal. If you're interested in co-creating a path that works for you, I invite you to consider the Brain Gardening® program, which combines neuroscience, creative expression, somatic practices, ecotherapy, and the healing arts for an integrative approach to wellness and stress management.

Regardless of what route you take, one of the best ways to make the most of your brain retraining practice is to have a clear vision and intention for your life outside of symptoms. Neuroplasticity teaches us that we are ever-changing, ever-evolving based on our experiences. Through self-guided neuroplasticity, you get to consciously redefine yourself, and intentionally phase out old-neural networks that do not have a place in that vision.

We are capable of great change.

Looking to nature, its fluidity and adaptability, reminds us that we too have that power and resilience within us as well.

Coming into brain retraining, my primary goal was symptom relief. I had forgotten who I was beyond chronic illness. While brain retraining, I have created a new sense of self, shedding limitations of the past and revealing the essence of who I've known myself to be underneath everything that had been layered upon me in life.

The healing journey is reconnection to your true self, or development of that identity if you've more often been contained within a state of survival. When brain retraining is a success, you get to shift into your ability to thrive. That shift doesn't often come easy. Behaviors and beliefs of the past can be deeply seeded, and at times it could feel like stagnant or even backwards movement. Please know, this is exactly the nature of the journey, and if that seems the case for you, recovery is still on the horizon.

The thing that has gotten me through those times is something that is described as ikigai.

Ikigai is a Japanese word that refers to a motivating factor that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living.

It is essentially your reason to get out of bed each day.

This became the carrot dangling over my head to keep going when brain retraining felt too challenging or when it felt easier to lean into old strategies.

My Ikigai was a dream I saw for myself and limbic system impairment was what I perceived to be the primary roadblock. I nearly gave up on that dream entirely in the midst of chronic illness until the concept of neuroplasticity provided a well-needed glimmer of hope that reignited that dream as possible.

In his research on the topic, psychologist Akihiro Hasegawa describes it as the following:

Ikigai is a sense of being alive now, an individual's consciousness as a motive to live. 'IKIGAI' is work of the mind integrating an "object of IKIGAI" and "feeling of IKIGAI".

Ikigai doesn’t have to be something extravagant. It can be found in the simplest things and is rooted in what brings us true joy. To explore this idea further, I recommend Yukari Mitsuhashi’s book, IKIGAI – Giving Every Day Meaning And Joy, as a practical guide to understanding ikigai and relating this idea to your life or career.

Neuroscientist Ken Mogi is another great resource on this topic. Mogi also mentions in his book, Awakening Your Ikigai, the five pillars of ikigai:

  • Starting small

  • Releasing yourself

  • Harmony and sustainability

  • The joy of little things

  • Being in the here and now

I encourage you to define your Ikigai as part of your brain retraining work.

Here are some questions to consider if this is a new concept:

What fulfills you?
What motivates you to grow?
When or how do you feel most confident?
Besides relief of symptoms, what do you want to accomplish or do in life?
What gives you a sense of purpose or a reason for living?

Remember, you are empowered, with or without symptoms, to create your reality.

Until next time, dear friends.

If you're interested in connecting more regularly, I have a blog on Brain Gardening called Seeds of Hope where I share more insights from my journey to wellness and wholeness, a weekly email list, as well as an upcoming neuroplasticity program.


About Alina

Alina Bachmann is a multi-disciplinary artist growth mindset coach, and creator of Brain Gardening®, a neuroplasticity resource inspired by her own healing journey. After over 20 years of chronic illness stemming from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), natural disasters, chemical injury, and toxic stress as an adult, Alina found wellness and wholeness through brain retraining—or brain gardening as she prefers to call it. She now uses her personal story of recovery and professional background as an informational designer to support others on their healing journeys through Brain Gardening®. In addition, Alina is attuned to Reiki Level II and certified from the Integrative Sound and Music Institute. Products and services by Brain Gardening® are rooted in science and cultivated through the arts. Research materials are presented from a designer lens using simple language, relatable visuals, and interactive tools. The upcoming Brain Gardening® program combines neuroscience with creative expression, somatics, ecotherapy, and the healing arts for an integrative approach to wellness. Subscribe to the mailing list for more tips or join the program waitlist at

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