Can we use our brains to overcome almost anything? Lauren Vaknine thinks we can.
There are more connections in the human brain than there are stars in the galaxy, so it’s no wonder that our brain holds an immense amount of power. By gaining a deeper understanding of how our brains work, we can learn how to optimise our brains in our favour. Whether you’re looking to overcome trauma, stress or illness, our brains hold the power to help us deal with these challenges.
I found out about brain training through my own personal experience of living with an auto-immune disease. Before my second birthday, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and the following year with Uveitis in my right eye.
By the age of 17, my condition took a turn for the worse and I was required to take a chemotherapy-based drug. This treatment left me wheelchair-bound, unable to move any joint in my body. I was unable to feed myself and sit up straight. My liver was damaged and I had lost half of my hair. It was at this point that I decided to immerse myself in intensive self-study and I told myself that disability wasn’t meant to be my story; remission was.
Researcher John Assaraf describes the two parts of the brain in conflict with each other as the Frankenstein brain and the Einstein brain. The Frankenstein brain is the primitive part of the brain, often labelled the Reptilian brain, and is located in the right prefrontal cortex. The Einstein brain is the newer part of the brain that allows for problem solving and emotional intelligence and is located in the left prefrontal cortex.
Whether you have received a life-changing diagnosis or you have multiple deadlines at work, the Frankenstein brain activates in the same way, as it sees this as a dangerous stress trigger and will release the stress hormone, cortisol, as a way to ‘protect’ us from these stressors. However, regular influxes of cortisol can do a lot of damage to the immune system, making it even more challenging to overcome illness.
The Einstein brain uses positive imagination, and will offer positivity, solutions and possibilities. This was something that really helped me use the power of my mind to overcome my disability.
We can encourage more Einstein brain activation by spending time each day doing breathwork. When you feel you are in a stressful situation, take a few seconds to breathe more deeply. Breathe in for four, hold for four, out for six, hold for four, and do that six times. This will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, where the Einstein brain is.
Advancements in neuroscience over the past 20 years have shown us that the brain is ‘like plasticine’ and that it can be moulded depending on our thoughts and actions. This has become known as neuroplasticity. Our brains are malleable and can be trained and retrained. The question is, how do we do this?
There are three stages of neuroplasticity, as defined by Dr Tara Swart. They are: learning, perfecting and retraining.
- Learning: The more we read, learn and acquire more information, the more powerful our brain will become.
- Perfecting: Once we start taking in new information, our neurons get coated in a white, fatty, electrically insulating layer (myelin) which helps to speed up transmissions, making our neurons work more efficiently.
- Retraining: When we develop a new skill, new neurons grow from embryonic nerve cells. These new neurons connect with other existing neurons to form a new pathway.
By completing these three stages, we can create new positive neural pathways and be better prepared to overcome stressful situations. We can also enforce this through affirmations, learning new skills and regular repetition.
In addition, our identity can also impact our positive neural pathways. If we give ourselves an identity based on a limiting belief about our abilities, then we are programming this to be a fact, unable to change. If you are telling yourself that you are ill or that you are unhealthy, then your brain will come to understand this to be true.
In order to change or break the behaviour, we need to change the identity behind the behaviour. If you find that your behaviour supports the idea that you are ‘ill’ then I would encourage you to think about how you could reframe this by asking yourself the question: how would a healthy person react to this situation in order to support a new, empowering identity, and how could you begin to embody that?
Affirmations are a powerful tool to help encourage the development of these new neural pathways. Some examples include: ‘My body is healthy and strong’, ‘My body does not control me, I control what happens with my body’ and, ‘My body is getting stronger every day’.
When I changed my mindset, I was able to begin learning how to activate my Einstein brain and keep my Frankenstein brain from being the dominant one.
I heavily credit the above brain training methods for helping me reach a state of remission and maintaining this. As a wellness and transformation coach, I regularly work with my clients to help them access the parts of their brain that can have a positive impact on overcoming their illnesses.
The small amount that we do know about the brain and how it relates to consciousness shows us that we are powerful creators, who can overcome anything by choosing where we place our attention and embodying the identity that supports our desire. For this reason, a holistic approach to pain management and overcoming illness is always key.
3 ways brain training can help you:
- Overcoming anxiety: Activating the parasympathetic nervous system switches off the Frankenstein brain and calms the autonomic nervous system.
- Face your fears: We need to activate the parts of our brain that enable us to rationalise and if done consistently over time, we can move ourselves out of fear and into positive, problem-solving state.
- Cope with pain: The fundamentals of neuroplasticity teach us that the brain is malleable. We can rewire the neural pathways in our brain that keep us stuck within the identity of ‘the sick person’. Knowing how to shift out of that is invaluable when dealing with pain.