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Going on imaginary dream vacations gave me my life back

A full review of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System ‘DNRS’

(Note: I am not associated with the program, I just did it and am grateful for the woman who created it. You may notice that I’ve written this post with word choices that are mostly friendly to current brain retrainers. I do not detail any symptoms or triggers.)

Months into my health journey, it began to click that a calm brain helped me bounce back from exertion. 

For the first time in my life, I became a meditator, and noticed the positive effects. I would ultimately try every healing modality under the sun – diet, supplements, acupuncture, saunas, and many more – to get my energy and cognition back. 

But the slightest combination of stress took me back to Square 1.

I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life walking on eggshells. 

What ultimately got me fully “out” was healing my brain’s fight-or-flight system with the help of an online program called DNRS, which I discovered 2.5 years in.

One key component of the program is going on imaginary dream vacations for an hour a day.

Annie Hopper, the creator of the DNRS, explains the science behind how acute and prolonged environmental stress can injure the brain’s limbic system. 

When our fight-or-flight system gets stuck in overdrive, it can block our body from properly healing and lead to chronic illness.

The program is based on the concept that our conscious minds can be used to shift subconscious aspects of the nervous system to reduce the fight-or-flight response and to nudge our bodies into a parasympathetic recovery response helpful for healing.

This does not mean our very real hypometabolic and neuroimmune condition is “in our head.” 

However, I learned my thoughts and imagination can be used to help heal my dysfunctional autonomic nervous system. 

The program interweaves external video footage of expert scientific talks and studies, including a segment that features wounded war veterans using visualizations as part of their rehab to regain mobility after paralysis. It also include’s Annie Hopper’s own inspirational healing journey and includes inspiring testimonials. 

Unlike the name sounds, “Dynamic Neural Retraining System,” it does not involve complicated mental gymnastics. It’s also not about trying to trick yourself to go past your current energy zone with positive thinking. 

DNRS rather provides a simple yet substantial template to calm the limbic system. On top of that, unlike some similar programs, the last part involves creating new healthy neural pathways.  

You do this by remembering and imagining yourself on peaceful and joyful adventures – so simple, yet so powerful when practiced consistently.

More than positive thinking, it involves making positive feelings come alive in your mind and body.

It provides a nice structure, some tactical advice, and excellent lifestyle recommendations/boundaries which were really helpful to me.

What the Dynamic Neural Retraining system actually is:

  • 14 hours of informative video (there is an online or DVD program – it’s the same content) which costs $250. It groups the program into 3 “days” of material. I took 5 days to complete it and know people with reduced mental capacity who took a few weeks to finish it. I did the online program. The DVD program offers subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Danish, and Finnish.
  • There is an interactive element. Specifically, there are short prompts throughout the program to complete. These prompts and your responses get emailed back to you for you to keep. I appreciated this as it helped me apply/remember things I was learning. People with the DVD program get a physical workbook to accompany the program. There also is enjoyable and helpful “homework” task associated for each “day.”   
  • The DNRS “rounds” themselves which are 10 talk-aloud steps and take 15 minutes each (you can do them shorter, but remember it’s what you put into it).
  • The 5 pillars of DNRS: Recognizing limbic impairment. Interrupting patterns of limbic impairments. Doing an hour of DNRS rounds per day. Incremental brain retraining. Elevating emotions during retaining. 
  • Helpful guidelines/boundaries for lifestyle and communication. These guides have improved my life, and I still abide by them simply because they now come naturally. It also includes a list of POPs to recognize and rewire (the program explains what these are). 
  • It encourages a commitment of an hour a day for a minimum 6 months (whether or not you have fully healed by then).

Optional DNRS add-ons:

  • 1-1 coaching. They offer optional one-on-one coaching with understanding trained people who successfully completed DNRS, available after you complete the program. I did one session with a DNRS coach who was friendly and gave helpful advice. I believe it’s $115 for 70 minutes and $60 per 30 minute follow-up, and is discounted if you buy in bulk.
  • Group coaching. They also recently started to offer a much more affordable add-on weekly group coaching program via Zoom called “Living DNRS” for support and encouragement along the way. It is a 12 week program that meets each week for 1 hour with an instructor and is $230 ($19 per session).
  • A free moderated community forum to connect with others and get inspiration. Unlike the program itself, which is user friendly, it takes some patience to navigate. You can request access to the forum after 30 days and show confirmation that you have fully completed the online or DVD program. In the forum, you can connect with DNRS practice buddies* if you want to.
  • You can apply to attend one of their in-person seminars (on hold during this time). These are held at various locations in the US, Europe, and Canada for people who have completed the online or DVD program to get a more in-depth experience. They find hotels that use friendly cleaning products and cater to current dietary requests. The cost is around $3200 or so, depending on location. I didn’t go to one, but I’ve heard that they are very inspiring, helpful, and transformative. 
  • They recently released a $79.95 follow-up program for a “Deeper Dive into DNRS,” which apparently provides lots of helpful suggestions and more specific advice for incremental rewiring for specific issues and examples from DNRS alums. My good friend got it, and said it is very helpful. 

What’s are practice buddies?

A practice buddy is another person who completed DNRS you can recite your full rounds to via voice chat or video chat – whatever you and the other person decide on. I decided to give this a try long after doing it just on my own. I went through quite a few though and stuck with 1 awesome buddy. Every Monday morning, we take each other to a new adventure from backyard BBQs, African safaris, whale watching in Vancouver, surfing, mountain lakes, Italy, wake-surfing, beautiful hikes, Antarctica, you name it. I swear he researches the breeds of penguins and the landmarks. 

One concept of DNRS explains how the limbic system can subconsciously scan the environment for danger and make associations to protect us. 

The limbic system is the part of our brain that regulates our autonomic nervous system function and endocrine function in response to stimuli. 

Even after I moved out of my water-damaged home to a healthy home, my capacity was strangely sharply reduced on foggy and rainy mornings, before I could even look outside.

Here’s what I personally interpreted was happening based on general concepts I deduced from the program. My body’s external sensors must have sensed humidity, my subconscious brain remembered humidity = Moldovian Princess (I changed the name here for current brain retrainers – I actually re-labeled it “Foo Foo”), my brain associated humidity = danger, and that may have perpetuated a stress response to humidity reducing my energy capacity, before I could even notice the clouds.

I certainly didn’t decide to turn down my capacity dial.

But I did sense that my fight-or-flight center was dialed up to level 11, which was blocking me from recovering from exertion.

From my personal experience, a plant needs to be in healthy soil for it to grow. 

(Read Vera’s story about how she reclaimed her health, after leaving a toxic home environment.)

Before I began DNRS, I did the following things:

– I took my gut to calmer waters by eating foods my body could best metabolize and kept my blood sugar levels stable based on listening to my body.

– I had long quit my job (I was previously hanging on by a thread working part-time from home)

– I got the elevated “Moldovian Princess” levels out of my body, addressed “Heavy Metal Bands” (want to keep this brain retrainer friendly) both in a gentle way and moved to a sunny healthy home.

– I saw a mindset and NLP coach, who helped me identify emotional triggers, limiting beliefs, and unhelpful patterns and roles I was playing in life. I reassessed old patterns to prove myself to others and of trying to rescue others. 

– I did work to process my emotions, feel my feelings, and let them go.

– I established healthy boundaries after a mindset shift that my health came first (which my coach helped me with). After countless fails, I became good at saying “no” and leaving without needing a “valid” excuse. 

– I had a supportive and calm home environment (my now husband).

– I had 0 pressure to recover by a certain time due to family or finances or some self-imposed deadline.

If one of these things isn’t an option for you, it absolutely does not mean you can’t heal. Rather, it means you have a resilience building opportunity that will make your recovery story even more powerful. 

These things were just helpful to me and why I think my recovery with DNRS was relatively faster than most.

Based on what I’ve personally observed, any strategy that involves calming the brain to help increase capacity is probably not going to be as effective if the body is in actual danger.

I knew though I didn’t want to live in a bubble forever, though, with my supplement baggie, avoiding exertion, avoiding mold, and avoiding entire food groups.

I took my body to calmer waters, then DNRS helped me strengthen my sails.

I could also see how doing DNRS consistently could build resilience to overcome existing everyday minor stressors without having to first eliminate them. 

And I could see how doing some of the things I did before I began DNRS, while simultaneously doing DNRS, like learning to set boundaries and having a coach (which DNRS also provides), would work for people, too. 

[As a friendly reminder, nothing in my post is meant to be prescriptive, we all must decide what path makes sense for each of us.]      

I began DNRS after a setback had me needing a wheelchair to make it to the airport gate.

That Christmas 2018, my now husband and I did not fly home to my parents on the East Coast for Christmas like I had done every year. I was too weak, and I vowed to focus on my health (and not repeat the epic health disasters of the prior two years.) 

We flew to the Southern California desert, a much shorter, calm trip. I brought a hilarious book with me. We stayed at a place with a full kitchen and stocked the fridge with groceries from the nearby Whole Foods.

My goal was to do nothing. I put my phone away, and just read my book by the pool.

Then my dear 95-year-old Grandpa passed away on Christmas Eve. I knew Grandpa was looking over me when the day after Christmas, I clicked on a link on my computer that would change my life. It was to a health conference related to mold, and one of the speaker bios led me to DNRS’s neuroplasticity program. 

I had a Perfect Storm of health events that led me to develop ME/CFS.

I realize, looking back, that with some help from God and the universe, I created the perfect healing rainbow there in the desert. (A bit cheesy, yes, but true.)

Doing DNRS rounds, which are like joyful vacations for your brain, lying in the sun, with nothing to do…. no phone…meditating…enjoying the sauna (I had already gradually increased my body’s ability to enjoy the sauna in the two months prior at a local salon)…no TV except a light Netflix show in the evening…going to bed early with blackout blinds and enjoying the quiet desert mornings…my body experienced significant healing.

It’s amazing what our bodies can do when they’re in the right environment. 

I could really feel the healing happening.

Three weeks later, I easily walked back through the same San Francisco Airport, rolling my own luggage (my husband went back to work earlier). No wheelchair assist.

It rained almost every day for the next 3 weeks in our Bay Area city apartment, but as I continued to practice DNRS, I continued to improve and my walks became longer and longer. 

I was no longer confined to a 0.7 mile radius on a “very good day”… I can now laugh at this and how I knew the exact distance of everything in my neighborhood.    

I had a setback at one point a few months in, but it only lasted several days unlike previous crashes which were usually a minimum of 10 days. 

This is when all my mindset work kicked in. While doing DNRS, I also was introduced to the book The Energy Codes. It explains why bad things happen, and reframes them as opportunities.  

I looked in the mirror, acknowledging my fears and despair, and told myself it was okay. I was strong, that my immune system can clear what it no longer needs, and I took myself on those vacations in my mind. 

I used my setback as a resilience building opportunity.

I told myself that this was an opportunity to show myself how resilient I am. And I bounced back.

By mid-March, I was back in fully “shimmy strength” dancing in front of the mirror, shaking my body to the rhythm of the music. For most of the prior 3 years, except for a handful of “very good” days, I could only dad dance, rocking my weight back side to side. 

View this post on Instagram

I’m back.. and so is my favorite backup dancer. #wildthing

A post shared by Liz Carlson (@lizcarlson9) on

You could say my “dancing in the mirror” in full force to Wild Thing wearing my best friend’s sweatshirt was the moment I knew I was better. But I think it was the moment I could pinpoint as my recovery was a moment I had with myself in the mirror after the blip I had.

It was staring into my own eyes in the mirror, saying “You’ve got this Liz.” It was about the bounce back.

Starting to up the exercise

In April, I began to start upping my exercise by going to the community swimming pool, beginning at 12 laps. Up to that point, I had been just going on longer walks and a few mirror dances. 

I had no worries — I had put a pause on this blog (it was just a series of Google Docs back then), and my July 2019 wedding was still a while off.

At some point, I stopped DNRS and began to significantly up my exercise. 

The program recommends a minimum of 6 months, but I thought 4 was enough. 

By early May 2019, just over 5 months in, I was walking 3 hours a day, swimming 20 to 40 laps in the community pool, and then I tried to also include the elliptical in our apartment complex’s little gym (which felt high-resistance even on level 0).

I was significantly stronger than I ever had been in my entire life. The brain fog and flu-like symptoms were completely gone. 

I was doing 3x more physical activity than I had typically ever done in my life. 

For context, before I got sick I was walking 30-45 minutes a day (I have a unique heart so I never ran or did intense exercise). 

Looking back, I wish I told myself: “You’re not trying to win the best beach body competition. You just want to be healthy, strong, and enjoy life. Don’t forget about your neuroplasticity and self-care.” 

Katie and Vera, who have their own powerful ME/CFS recovery stories which they both shared on my site, have reminded me that health is created every day.

Health is created every day.

But I ignored the “stress creep” and let the self-care slip:

By late May, I began to feel the “stress creep.” I was certainly experiencing more stress, but also seemed to be experiencing an exaggerated response to it like in the past. My sleep got worse. This was a sign of autonomic nervous system dysfunction.

One day, after very minor Moldovian Princess exposure (someone’s sweater), treadmill walking, swimming, and working out on the elliptical, and the stress of the wedding planning, I crashed. 

I bounced back mostly, but I didn’t get fully back into DNRS. I got caught up in the details of wedding planning for a destination wedding, and wasn’t fully 100%. 

I became comfortable with the 90%.

I nevertheless was able to dance the night away at my wedding.

Every testimonial on the DNRS website seems to be a person who did the online or DVDS program who then went to the in-person seminar. DNRS offers these about a dozen times per year or so at various locations in the US, Canada, and Europe.

It seemed that most people did it themselves – though not always fully correctly – and then had an “aha” moment at the in-person seminar, got amazing at DNRS, and stayed committed for the next 6 months to 2 years.

Then there was me. I did it right and pretty awesome (I felt) in the beginning, then I quit. This was the complete opposite of most of the recovery stories.

Did this mean I’d get stuck at 90% or am a failure?

All these people seem to have done DNRS every day. Can I pick it back up a 2nd or 3rd time? 

And I wondered — would I really be healed if I didn’t do this magical seminar where people have these a ha moments, and DNRS is ingrained?

But it also didn’t seem right for me to go to an in-person seminar, since I had already come so far.

And I also know from experience that when you make it to full health or near full health, that others can look to you as a guru to lift them up or troubleshoot their issues, and I didn’t want that at the time. The program probably has rules about this though.

By August 2019, I returned to DNRS.  I wanted full, continued health, and I knew a calm and joyful brain was key for it.

I remembered a DNRS success story testimonial from an older woman named Linda who said she didn’t feel anything in the first 30 days of DNRS, just “a bit more hopeful” yet 2 years later after doing it every day, there she was in a hot air balloon living out her dreams.

The turtles. The turtles win the race. I recommitted to DNRS with the spirit of a turtle.

I got back to 100%. And then on my honeymoon in November 2019, I paddleboarded, which had been one of my health dreams I had envisioned perhaps a hundred times. 

In my vision it took me a few attempts to mount the paddle board. But I did it on the first try while my husband struggled.

I was one with the board and the ocean. The sun was beginning to set hitting my shoulder.  The current was strong on the way back to shore, but I was stronger and paddled my way back with strength and ease. I sat on a beach chair at the beach club (a quiet time before the happy hour began and after the cruise people left), and cried tears of joy. Tears of everything. That I had done this. That I had gone through. That person staring up at the cracks on your ceiling feeling things a body shouldn’t feel flashed before my eyes. That I was on the other side. That I did the work. That my brain had healed. That my body had healed. And I felt so good. 

You think these miracles happen to other people. But then it happens to you. And that they can happen to anyone.

I detailed my timeline fully above. But if you’re looking for a quick answer: I experienced significant healing in the first few weeks though it took a while longer for me to fully heal from ME/CFS. It wasn’t without a bump or two.

Some people experience very rapid healing and others have taken closer to 2 years. And it’s common to heal certain issues faster than other issues (what stuff heals faster is different for everyone). You can Google DNRS success stories and see them for yourself.  

I really admire the “turtles” who took longer, all the work they did has clearly made them so resilient. My spirit animal:  

Tortoise spirit animal

What I also personally found inspiring was seeing recovery stories from all ages and years of chronic illness before beginning DNRS.

DNRS 

[Note: 1. This section includes ITs, a general replacement word for diagnoses. I wanted to let brainer retrainers, who are currently focusing on other things, know this in case they wanted to skip this section. 2. Most of the info below on DNRS was previously mentioned in this post, but here is an overview for people considering their options.]

DNRS is a 14 hour online or DVD program which focuses on healing limbic system injuries. It requires the most follow-up daily commitment than other programs, specifically an hour a day of proactive “rounds” on top of interrupting POPs (which you’ll learn in the program). It encourages a minimum commitment of 6 months. 

It is tailored for any type of limbic system injury including but not limited to ME/CFS, POTS, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, PTSD, Anxiety and Depression, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, and countless related symptoms and diagnoses. It’s more than just neurolinguistic programming (NLP) or any other acronym, yet it’s not anything complicated.

The woman who started it, Annie Hopper, had MCS and had to camp outside, though there are amazing recovery stories from all mentioned conditions. 

DNRS includes recommendations and boundaries for limbic-system triggering things to avoid, which I feel is extremely beneficial during the rewiring process and has had a positive impact in my overall life. 

The program does have a bit of a 90s vibe in terms of visual design and video production quality (LOL), though the content is top-notch and the program is extremely usable in the way it’s organized. 

Price: $250. DNRS also has a new $79.95 “Deeper Dive” program that goes into specific tips for people who have already completed the original program. A friend who did DNRS really recommended the deeper dive supplemental program. (I hear you’ll see Annie Hopper with a hip new haircut!)

Add-ons: DNRS also offers coaching (individual or group), which I have only heard positive things about. I did one session with a DNRS coach and she was really supportive and helpful. They also offer a week long in-person seminar which you can apply to after you complete the online program. 

From personal observation, a good amount of people who do the program incorporate a higher power into it, though God or anything spiritual is never mentioned anywhere in the program itself. 

ANS Rewire 

ANS Rewire focuses on healing autonomic nervous system dysfunction. It is specifically tailored for ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia and downstream issues like digestive issues, chronic pain, and much more. 

ANS Rewire, unlike most other neuroplasticity programs, contains a lot of solid diet and lifestyle advice. The 40+ videos it contains, which are about 30 minutes each, are packed with lots of scientific information about ME/CFS. 

The rewiring rounds themselves are simpler and while they calm the brain, they do not include steps to grow joyful new neurons like DNRS does. It does help you redirect things, though. CVS Unravelled, which is started by the founder of the program who himself healed from ME/CFS and fibro, offers wonderful recovery stories (some of which used ANS Rewire, and the rest who used other programs or healed on their own).  

Price: ANS Rewire costs $400 AUS ($290 USD) last time I checked. The Australian-based founder offers 1-1 coaching as an add-on for $120 ASD ($90 USD) per 1 hour session. 

The Lightning Process 

The Lightning Process, also called the LP, is a 3 half-day in-person seminar taught by a highly trained practitioner and includes follow-up coaching with the same practitioner. Most practioners are currently using Zoom due to current global events.

It goes over the nervous system and how it can get stuck in fight-or-flight mode, limiting beliefs, and much more and helps people unlock their ability to heal. It employs the research behind psychoneuroimmunology. The technique taught combines breathing, gentle movement, NLP, and visualizations.

It is tailored for people with ME/CFS, post-viral syndrome, MS, chronic pain, Anxiety & Depression, digestive issues, and more.

The Lightning Process I believe includes a mental framework and language suggestions for people to tap into their healing potential. I have not done the Lightning Process so do not be beholden to this summary, but people who are ready for a new approach can contact any LP practitioner to learn more, like Jodie who recently shared her own inspirational recovery story with us.

Price. It costs $800-$3250+ USD depending on the practitioner and if you do an individual session or a group session (group sessions are cheaper) and the amount of follow-up coaching.   

The Gupta Program

The Gupta Program is a video-based brain retraining and holistic healing program for healing from ME/CFS created by a founder who healed from it himself. It includes 15 videos on NLP, calming meditations, timeline therapy, breathing techniques, pacing advice, visualizations, and more with interactive elements.

The founder himself fully recovered from ME/CFS and it caters to this and similar conditions, like those mentioned with the other programs.

You can do it either online or they’ll mail you a USB with the video files.

Unlike DNRS which is recorded in the founder’s home, it’s recorded in the mountains in Switzerland. Like DNRS, it also offers a free positive online healing community (they do a Facebook group) and add-on one-on-one coaching with trained practioners.

It is focused on calming the limbic system and is apparently very meditative. The cost is $349 USD. The price includes the online program and a 12-week webinar with the founder. 

DNRS, Gupta, and ANS Rewire come with nice complementary guided meditations. 

Yes. I am happy to be another DNRS success story.

Could I live the life I was living before the way I was living it in the place I was living it?

I believe my body said “no” to that life for a reason.

I have a wonderful new life with healthy boundaries, healthy patterns, and a sustainable lifestyle.

My diet is really continuing to expand (I put off retraining my food reactions for a long time), and my energy has been 100% for over a year.

It’s not just the big physical milestones, it’s the small everyday things like easily being able to unload the dishwasher at night and live life without my supplement baggie. PEM is a thing of the past.    

I know that a perfect state of health and calmness is within me and that I can always come back to it. 

Mantra

 

I once read enough dis-ease research papers to qualify me for an honorary PhD. I spent many hours going into the forums and try to find people with my exact same symptoms to see the exact supplements and drugs they took that might help me.   

But this program was my full ticket out. And it’s based on science, offering a new paradigm for healing. 

Healing my limbic system helped me return to a parasympathetic recovery state so my body could do its thing. And it has brought so much joy to my life. 

I hope my story provides you encouragement. Whatever program or strategy you chose ultimately has to resonate with you. 

I wanted to share an amazing free online event, the Rewiring Wellness Retreat, going on Saturday and Sunday, September 19 and 20 from 9 am – 1 pm Pacific/California time (5 pm – 9 pm UK time). 

My friend Holly, comedian and creator of the podcast Happy Chill Fun Time, which is part meditation / part vacation for your brain (I’m an OG fan, and I couldn’t be happier for her that it’s taking off), is co-hosting it with another wonderful DNRS alum Ashley Lauren.     

It’s a free, fun 2 half-day virtual event (with multiple breaks) focused on inspiration and building community with other brain retrainers. Topics include laughter yoga, a positive association cooking class, an intro to EFT, a notecard system for shifting beliefs, and more.

Here is the schedule if you’re interested (again, it’s free): https://www.rewiringyourwellness.com/schedule

No brain rewiring program is affiliated with the event, it’s a grassroots kind of thing. Most of the 12 speakers, though, are DNRS alums, some are Gupta program alums, and others have used other similar techniques or programs and/or have created their own special offering. 

All levels of retrainers are welcome. (Note: Diagnoses, symptoms, and triggers won’t be discussed during this retreat, only inspiration for rewiring!) 

I’ll be in attendance for both days, and I’m looking forward to it. 

If you’d like practical and uplifting health recovery information, please sign up for our newsletter below. This blog is not medical advice nor meant to contradict what you have discovered yourself to be true. 

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