When I began retraining, I was unable to watch the DNRS (dynamic neural retraining systems) videos due to an inability to process information. I learned the core of the practice from a coach I had called in distress begging for what the program asked of me. I spoke to her crying, hoping she would just tell me the steps and she did. I believe not watching the entirety of the videos is what helped me adapt it to my own needs and do what came naturally through the process. This led to more flexibility in retraining than those trying to follow it perfectly. I was able to incorporate other practices that I talk about here , here, and here. I also began to use body interventions such as TRE@ when physically healed in order to remain centered. You can read about that here.
Another practice I began, which wasn’t included in DNRS , was something I now know as Somatic Tracking. In the DNRS community, focusing on symptoms is something that is discouraged. However, I believe it is an important step to sit and observe the symptoms, in order to create acceptance of it rather than perpetuating the negative emotions associated , thus intensifying the symptom. The DNRS community goes to great lengths not to focus on symptoms,in order not to activate those pathways and I agree with not over focusing. I do not agree that they should just be ignored. Spontaneously, I would examine symptoms that came or those that were with me consistently. This practice originated due to my self analytical nature. In childhood, I learned to analyze people, myself and the world around me to try to understand situations I was living through. The “practice” consisted of me asking “why”, “what”, “how”, “when”, “where”, in order to understand motivations. Now, I would be bringing this analytical mindset into my body, and pay attention there.
The curiosity I had cultivated to understand the world I was living in, stayed with me when ill and often after strong reactions to food, environments, chemicals, wifi (for a short time), as well as symptoms intensifying in other conditions such as POTS and Lyme. At first I could not elicit curiosity during, or when the symptoms first began, since I got caught up in it. I would sit and reflect after the heightening of the symptom. I would examine what had happened in my body, what thoughts were elicited right before , after, and during the reactions.
When I first began, it was as a result of wanting to understand, so of course I was always asking questions, often in frustration. My reactions were overwhelming to me and I was flooded with emotions, and wanted answers. I would experience the emotions and symptoms and most of the time get caught in them. In speaking of reactions, I am also including reactions to people and situations in my life. As it progressed I became better about catching the symptoms during and tracking what was occurring in my body and brain.
I remember one time in particular, I began to be flooded with tears after eating avocado. I then had flashbacks of past trauma. I had mast cell activation syndrome which you can read about here. I
The timeline of the reaction became clear to me as it was occurring, and I remember saying, “my brain just came up with stories to justify tears that had been elicited due to the avocado. ” I had now taken away the analyzing and was just watching and describing. I watched the emotions calm, move , get stuck in certain places in my body, move again, and the burning dissipate shortly after. I watched the stories my brain was showing me, instances of invalidation and past verbal abuse and I listened. The burning in my stomach relayed how I needed to let go of the stories of invalidation that had gotten stuck, and claim my life as my own.
I continued to become the observer of myself as well as my symptoms and allowed for any memories, associations, physical unease , emotions, to come in , rather than resisting them. Each time I did this, I learned more and more about the symptoms and their role in my body and life. Sitting as the observer gave me space to choose how to proceed in the symptom, eventually calming them.
I do feel that this is a very important step into awareness that can be added to a retraining program. I had spent a lot of my time running away from symptoms, distracting from them, trying to numb them with different medications, and this just led to them growing and growing. Now, I was learning to see them, accept them, co- exist with them, even “befriend them”, and listen to them. What I learned is that the symptoms did have something to tell me.
Symptoms in chronic illness are letting us know we are not “safe.” In order to alleviate them, we have to create a state of safety. Reacting in frustration and sadness does not measure the body and brain that there is safety. Distancing from the symptoms (including emotions) , but continuing to listen to them by paying attention in a non judgemental way does. Researchers have found that mindfulness shrinks the amygdala and grows the medial prefrontal cortex. You can read more about that here. Brain retraining aims to calm the amygdala, to regulate the nervous system and help the body heal from the effects of dysregulation. So, as long as the person is able to pay attention to the symptoms without hyper focusing on them, this practice in my opinion is necessary.
(If you find yourself overwhelmed when trying to pay attention to symptoms, please work within your tolerance level, as you practice more, your tolerance will increase.)
Read more about Somatic tracking here.