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The Vital Vagus & Brain Retraining

vagus nerve brain retraining

The concept of brain retraining, or self-directed neuroplasticity, is rooted in the brain’s remarkable ability to adapt and change in response to new experiences and stimuli. This process is vital for learning new skills, adjusting to different environments, and even recovering from injuries or illnesses.

In recent years, brain retraining has gained increasing recognition as a valuable tool for self-healing, particularly for managing chronic health conditions such as mold illness, Lyme disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. We often describe brain retraining as a top-down therapy—it’s essentially a method that involves teaching the brain to adjust its responses to stress, trauma, and pain, which can ultimately alleviate symptoms and support healing through shifting the stress-based biochemistry in the body.

Top-down therapy—a method that involves teaching the brain to adjust its responses to stress, trauma, and pain, which can ultimately alleviate symptoms and support healing through shifting the stress-based biochemistry in the body.

Brain retraining encompasses intentional changes in how the brain functions by modifying neural connections and pathways.

The limbic system, responsible for emotions, memory, and behavior, plays a crucial role in brain retraining. Within the limbic system, the amygdala, in particular, is significant in processing emotional responses like fear and anxiety.

When the amygdala becomes overactive, it can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, contributing to various physical and mental health conditions.

Brain retraining techniques, such as those taught in my Primal Trust™ platform and its Regulate™ program, aim to regulate the amygdala and mitigate the negative impact of chronic stress and anxiety on both body and mind.

By rewiring neural pathways and reducing amygdala overactivity, individuals can enhance their emotional regulation, cognitive function, and overall well-being.  And we see amazing results in symptoms decreasing or even disappearing with brain retraining practices from all types of chronic conditions.  This shows how much the brain and the limbic system stress response are responsible for regulating much of how we feel physically.  And this is empowering information for patients seeking symptom relief from chronic conditions as brain retraining is easily done at home and you don’t need any special devices to do it.

Understanding the Maladaptive Stress Response

The maladaptive stress response refers to a state where the body’s stress response system remains chronically activated, leading to a host of physical and mental health issues. This stress response can keep someone stuck in Cell Danger Response and results in decreased ability to self-heal after physical, emotional, or chemical trauma has occurred.  This chronic activation is often linked to the limbic system, which regulates emotions, memory, and behavior.

When the limbic system is overactive, it can keep the body in a state of chronic stress, even in the absence of external threats. This prolonged stress can significantly impact the body, contributing to various chronic illnesses such as:

  • CFS/M.E.,
  • autoimmune disorders,
  • chronic Lyme disease,
  • POTS,
  • Long Covid,
  • anxiety, and
  • depression.

Chronic stress disrupts the body’s immune system, alters hormone levels, and contributes to inflammation, all of which play roles in the development and progression of chronic illnesses.

Recognizing the role of the limbic system and maladaptive stress response in chronic illness can help individuals identify and address the root causes of their health issues and develop strategies for healing and well-being. 

Brain retraining has been shown to have a direct effect on rebalancing autonomic nervous system function leading to improvement in symptoms from a variety of health conditions.  In Primal Trust™, we see many people vastly improve their self-healing ability despite length of time of illness or type of diagnosis using these nervous system regulation techniques.

The basic premise of brain retraining is to interrupt a patient’s habitual set point of stress-based thinking and feeling states, become consciously aware of the present moment, and redirect the conscious mind and limbic system into a more life-affirming state of being.  It is possible to help a patient shift their emotional and biochemical set point over time with repetition, mental rehearsal, and practice of creatively visualizing a different state of being. For many, this is more effective than meditation as it gives them an active strategy to consciously shift their own biology.  We recommend practicing 20-45min/day for 3-6 months for chronic health conditions to begin to make significant changes in symptoms and autonomic nervous system function.

Top Down or Bottom Up?

 In pursuing self-healing for chronic health conditions and addressing the maladaptive stress response, it’s essential to consider both top-down and bottom-up approaches.

 Top-down techniques involve working with higher-level brain processes such as thoughts, beliefs, and emotions to induce a state of calm. 

On the other hand, bottom-up therapy engages with the body’s physical processes, including the nervous system and physiological responses.

Both approaches are crucial as they target different aspects of the body-mind system and can complement each other in the healing process. For instance, top-down therapy can alter patterns of negative thinking and emotional responses, leading to changes in physiological responses. Bottom-up therapy can help calm the nervous system and alleviate physical symptoms, leading to changes in thoughts and emotions.

The Role of the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body, controls many vital bodily functions, including heart rate, breathing, digestion, and immune function. It also plays a role in the body’s stress response system, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “rest and digest” response.

The vagus nerve bridges top-down and bottom-up healing approaches, comprising both afferent and efferent fibers that transmit signals between the brain and the body.

Activating the vagus nerve is crucial for increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, enhancing energy levels, and improving health and well-being.  In Primal Trust™ we use tools to target the vagus nerve to help reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and decrease chronic symptoms by regulating the body’s stress response.

The majority of the vagus nerve consists of afferent fibers responsible for transmitting sensory information from the body to the brain. This makes the vagus nerve essential for the body’s interoceptive awareness, the ability to sense internal bodily sensations, and is thus vital for bottom-up therapy such as somatic practices.

The remaining efferent fibers transmit signals from the brain to the body, informing top-down therapy like brain retraining, ultimately leading to physiological changes such as reduced inflammation and increased energy.

This powerful influence of the vagus nerve highlights the importance of increasing vagal tone as part of any healing journey, emphasizing the need to incorporate body-based, “bottom-up” somatic practices alongside modalities like brain retraining, which focus on top-down approaches.

When we consider the predominance of afferent signaling through the vagus nerve, it becomes clear why it’s vital to include somatic practices (i.e. body focused awareness and movement practices) in any healing protocol, not just focusing on the brain. Toning the vagus nerve itself is crucial, providing the most efficient pathway for healthy signals to travel through.

One effective way to activate the vagus nerve is through somatic practices like qigong, yoga, breathwork, and gentle body-based, mindful stretches and exercises. These practices bring awareness to the body and breath, reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Additionally, they help retrain the brain’s responses to stress and pain, beneficial for chronic health conditions.

At Primal Trust™, we integrate various tools to maximize healing potential. While some programs focus solely on neuroplasticity or somatic practices, we believe in a multifaceted approach that combines brain retraining, vagus nerve stimulation, and somatic healing. This comprehensive strategy ensures the best chance for sustained improvement and well-being.  We teach these methods in online classes and almost daily live instruction in a community setting. 

In conclusion, brain retraining, vagus nerve stimulation, and somatics are all essential tools for self-healing from chronic health conditions. By reshaping brain responses to stress and pain and activating the vagus nerve through specific exercises and somatic practices, individuals can reduce symptoms and improve overall well-being.  The best part is the patients can do this in their own home and take a self-empowered approach to their healing protocol.


NCIMS Guest Blogger: Cathleen King, DPT is a physical therapist and neuroscience-based mind-body practitioner, whose professional focus is chronic illness and trauma healing. She is also CEO and Founder of Primal Trust™ Academy & Community, a rapidly growing worldwide platform helping others unlock their self-healing from conditions such as Lyme, Chronic Fatigue, Autoimmune and more.

Special Note from our Guest Blogger:

Before founding Primal Trust Academy & Community, I personally traversed the challenging terrain of chronic illness, so I understand the journey to healing intimately. That’s why I’m thrilled to share “How Healing Happens” – a digital 127-page practical roadmap of concepts like Cell Danger Response Theory, the Autonomic Nervous System, Polyvagal Theory, and the Limbic System.

Drawing from my personal experiences – from being bed-bound with chronic Lyme, CFS, POTS, mold toxicity, Panic Disorder, anxiety, and multiple chronic diagnoses to living a vibrant, fulfilling life – I offer insights into the integration of top-down and bottom-up healing modalities. By combining functional neurology exercises, vagus nerve toning, neuroplasticity, and somatic healing, I’ve developed a holistic approach to healing that has transformed my life and the lives of thousands of others.

Whether your patient is navigating chronic illness or simply seeking greater vitality and well-being, “How Healing Happens” offers a roadmap to reclaiming health and vitality. Please feel free to review and get your FREE copy here.

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