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Neuro Rewiring: Hidden Gem to Offset Traumatic Stress

Author: Meng Li



healing traumatic stress relax physical body


In September, I arrived in Berlin from Beijing to conduct a research project. After taking a 12-hour flight, running at the airport for the connecting flight, looking for my luggage and filing a missing luggage claim, I arrived at the hotel near midnight, being awake for the past 24 hours. It was morning time in Beijing. I was exhausted but not sleepy anymore, digesting what had happened during this long day. I checked my phone and found messages from my niece with lots of hearts emoji. Tears ran down my face.


I went to business and personal meetings the next day, and had to remember how to go through daily life in Germany, from buying a bus ticket, finding a train platform to orienting myself around on the street. Sometimes I needed to speak German at a grocery store or to the bus driver. My mind was running fast to capture the vocabulary, grammar and syntax. I was busy adapting to the new environment – and – adaptation means stress. Even in a positive way, it was still stress.


I could not sleep much at night. My hotel was more like a self-check-in apartment in the middle of nowhere. There was no reception, nor much human touch. With the jet lag, I managed to fall asleep 1 to 2 hours at night and that was it. The day after that, I started a professional training, which was very intriguing to me. It was done in German. I could manage to follow the majority of it, meanwhile I felt really tired. In the evening, my mind was replaying German words spoken by the peer participants. My mind was stimulated all the time.


For 4 days after my arrival in Berlin, I could not turn off the fight or flight mode, despite my strong willingness to do so. I could not breathe deeply without consciously making an effort, and physically I did not feel well. Any noise disturbed me and being in the subway station was overwhelming. I went to see the doctor but did not receive much prescription. Finally, I decided to receive a – what I call – Neuro Rewiring from a peer participant of the training, a professional in this field.


During the session, I was lying in a comfortable leather chair, tilted at about 150 degrees, like a seat in the Business Class in the airplane. The therapist led me into deep relaxation. Within minutes, I could breathe deeply and effortlessly. My body felt much more comfortable and I was as tranquil as a baby. We went through my experiences at the airport and in the past few days. I shed a lot of tears and released strong emotions. Afterwards, I felt much lighter and happier. I could take the subway with ease and got a few hours of sleep at night.


This is the technique that I want to share today: Neuro Rewiring.



Unblocking from the Past


I want to take a step back and talk about what makes me interested in Neuro Rewiring in the first place. As a coach, I encounter clients who want to make certain changes but are not able to move forward over time. In summary, they want, but they can’t. They are stuck.


Some of the clients did not mention any particular event in the past that could be related to their current way of living. The commonality of the clients is a sense of powerless. They are not proactively making changes in life, as if life just happens “to” them.


Other clients can recall events in early life that was hurtful or shaming, which could be connected with their current situation. They wanted to change but were held back somehow. In such cases, I suggested them to go see a psychotherapist to resolve that past event. The results vary. The length and style of the psychotherapy was out of my influence, so were costs to the client.


In both scenarios, my coaching with the client was put on hold: without dissolving that blockage in the clients, it was hard to move forward towards their goals or to realize their full potential. Therapy is supposed to make clients go from “not okay” to “okay”, and coaching can support clients to go from “ok” to “great”. If part of them is still not okay, it is hard to move towards “great”, as not the entire body, mind and heart are onboard.


This frustration led me to the research project on “Neuro Rewiring” in Berlin, sponsored by the Bonn-based Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. My target group is the everyday people, people who function well in the society, assume decent roles at work and have a relatively thriving life. They are not the textbook-described pathological people with severe symptoms. But they also have struggles, be it finding a job that they love, having better relationships or bringing more vitality into life. It is their welfare that I dedicate my research project to.


If there could be a score to their overall quality of life and if the current score were 6 or 7 out of 10, unblocking from the past could potentially move them to 8 or 9. It is about their satisfaction with life, about their aliveness, about realizing what they really want, and creating a future without any regrets.



Neuro Rewiring of the Brain


In order to explore how Neuro Rewiring could benefit one’s mind and emotions, it is worth looking into how the brain works.


Biologist and brain researcher Dr. Gerhard Roth and Senior Coach Dr. Alica Ryba created a “four-level model of the personality”, which corresponds to four levels of the brain: the low, middle and upper limbic brain (limbic brain is also known as the mammalian brain), and the cognitive-linguistic brain.[1]


The limbic brain is at the core of the four-level model of personality. Wikipedia defines the limbic system as the following:[2]


“The limbic system, also known as the paleomammalian cortex, is a set of brain structures located on both sides of the thalamus, immediately beneath the medial temporal lobe of the cerebrum primarily in the forebrain.


Its various components support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, long-term memory, and olfaction.


The limbic system is involved in lower order emotional processing of input from sensory systems and consists of the amygdala, mammillary bodies, stria medullaris, central gray and dorsal and ventral nuclei of Gudden.”




Limbic System, brain structure for fight and flight mode
Limbic System, source: wikipedia



limbic system including amygdala and hypothalamus for traumatic stress
Parts of the limbic system from a cross-section view, source: wikipedia

Note: another clear illustration of the brain structure can be found on the Johns Hopkins Medicine Website:



Below is what I summarized about the four-level model of personality as well as four-level brain structure mentioned in Dr. Roth and Dr. Ryba’s co-authored book Coaching, Beratung und Gehirn (i.e., Coaching, Consulting and Brain):[3]


The lower limbic brain is in charge of automatic biological activities such as digestion and hormone regulation. Other basic behaviors and sensations regulated here include: attack and defense behavior, flight or freeze, aggression, anger and sexual behavior. This part of the brain can barely be regulated by one’s will and runs completely unconscious. The lower limbic brain includes central amygdala, which works closely with hypothalamus when someone is under stress.


The middle limbic brain is related to emotional regulation, such as joy, fear, anxiety, defense and surprise, as well as rewards and motivation. This part of the brain includes basolateral amygdala, mesolimbic systems, etc., and is also unconscious to us. This is where the unconscious part of the self is formed. Early life attachment experience has large influence on this part of the brain, which plays a role in the formation of one’s relationship patterns. Emotional memory, which is associated with hippocampus, is related to this part of the brain too. [4]


The upper limbic brain is linked to socially regulated emotions. It puts a break to the instinctive impulses from the lower limbic brain and decides if certain behaviors are appropriate. This part of the brain is conscious to us and is related to morality, ethics, empathy and evaluation of risks. It includes the limbic parts of the cerebral cortex. (This part of the brain reminds me of social norm, culture, and civilization.)


The fourth level is the cognitive-linguistic brain, located in the neocortex. (According to Wikipedia, neocortex is “a set of layers of the mammalian cerebral cortex involved in higher-order brain functions such as sensory perception, cognition”).[5] This part has the “executive functions” such as problem solving, rational thinking, intelligence, as well as language capabilities such as grammar and syntax. This is also part of our conscious self. (This part of the brain reminds me of business meetings with an executive.)


Dr. Roth and Dr. Ryba pointed out that the critical part is: there is little influence top down from the cognitive-linguistic brain to the limbic brain, or from upper limbic brain to middle or lower limbic brain; however, the influence from bottom up is enormous, i.e., the middle limbic brain has tremendous influence on the upper limbic and cognitive brain[6]. That means, our behaviors and thoughts are largely influenced by the deep-rooted emotions at the middle and lower limbic brain, such as stress, fear and pain, which are unconscious to our conscious mind.[7] Accordingly, through talking and logical thinking alone, one can only access the unconscious mind to a limited degree.


This explains why people get stuck from achieving what they want, and why pure talking can only get the clients so far in solving such issues.



The Brain for Our Highest Good


Our brain is designed to function for our highest good. As Bessel van der Kolk MD mentioned in his bestselling book The Body Keeps the Core: the most important job of the brain is to ensure our survival. [8] There is innate protecting function of the brain.


My research mentor, certified Hypnotherapist and Co-Founder of Hypnos in Berlin, Katharina Marquard, made an analogy of one’s deep-rooted emotions and memories to a vault. After discussing with her, I have the following understanding from a layperson’s perspective: as is shown in the movie Ocean’s 8, where an expensive necklace was kept in a vault deep down underground guarded by security staff, unresolved, troublesome memories and feelings are buried deep in our brain as if there were a vault. There is a “guard” in our brain to the vault, so that the latter cannot be opened easily. The goal is to keep us emotionally sane and well-functioning, as otherwise, the outburst of emotions may be too overwhelming and too painful, more than what we are ready to handle.


Not opening the inner vault does not prevent us from living our daily life. We can still have a business meeting, pay the bills and have lunch with a friend. However, if we want more of life, if we want self-realization and achieve that 8-to-9 satisfaction rate out of 10 mentioned earlier, looking inside and knowing who we really are is inevitable. This means, we need to look at and go through our shadows, and integrate this part of ourselves into the whole of us instead of rejecting it.



Accessing the Vault


If disturbing emotions and memories are at the root of one’s stuckness, then accessing and unblocking these emotions is the path to setting us free.


There is more than one way to approach this inner vault. Among the modalities I have personally experienced, Neuro Rewiring is a very effective method.


Based on what I learned at an intensive training at Hypnos and my discussion with Katharina Marquard, it takes three steps to access and unblock the emotions:


First, the “guard” in the brain, who diligently protects the vault for our highest good, needs to feel safe enough to relax. This can only happen when someone else can take over the guard’s job temporarily. The guard must trust this person enough to believe he/she can do an as-good job as the guard to protect us. Only then, can the guard go temporarily off duty (how loyal our body is to us!). This external someone, is a therapist, whom we have familiarized with and felt safe with.


The second step is to spot the root of the painful emotions that kept us blocked. As people often say, emotions are energy in motion. When emotions are stuck, for example when we are shocked, too painful, or lack of support to process them, they became stuck energy in the body. To have this energy back in motion and dissolved is crucial for resolving the stuck emotions.


Like gold mining, there are many ways to locate and access the exact spot of the troubled emotions. Various healing modalities were derived over the past hundreds of years for this. With Neuro Rewiring, the emotion itself is the vehicle and the clue. It leads us through layers of consciousness to locate directly and exactly to the memory of the events, which the disturbing emotions are associated with. In my own experience, the events may have happened a week ago, 10 years ago, 30 years ago or even earlier.


Putting the guard into relaxation and having it believe that its “master” (i.e., us) are in safe hands, differentiate Neuro Rewiring significantly from other healing modalities and therapies. The reason is, the guard is not able to do double duty: to guard the vault and open the vault at the same time. When the conscious mind is active and engaged, we can only go so far into our memories and emotions.


The third step in the process is to – what I call – rewire the experience. Different therapists have different approaches. In general, resources and new possibilities are acquired, so that we reclaim our power as an adult and have creative ways to confront what was once difficult and challenging.


Back to my own story, I felt refreshed, energized and joyful after two therapy sessions. A couple of weeks later, I encountered road rage from an aggressive driver and decided to receive another session. Soon after the session, I could sleep through the night as I did before the research trip, whereas in the weeks before, I woke up in the middle of the night almost every day.



Trauma Revisited


These experiences and healing process led me to the research of trauma and traumatic stress.

The word “trauma” may sound intense and unusual for everyday life. In fact, many people are familiar with the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical Medium Anthony William defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as the following: [9]


“… the experience of lingering uncomfortable feelings (from mild to extreme) that result from any adverse encounter, and that limit a person in any way.


These feelings include: fear, doubt, insecurity, worry, concern, panic, avoidance, anger, hostility, hypervigilance, irritability, distractedness, self-loathing, abandonment, defensiveness, agitation, sadness, frustration, resentment, cynicism, shame, invisibility, voicelessness, powerlessness, vulnerability, loss of confidence, lack of self-worth, and distrust.”


As human beings, we are powerful on one hand and vulnerable on the other. When there is vulnerability, there is potential for trauma. Anthony William gives a few examples on trauma triggers in daily life: “getting fired from a job, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, the experience of being betrayed by someone you trusted, small fender benders that don’t even results in injuries, or a moment in life when you feel like you failed at something. There are no limitations to what can cause PTSD.”[10]


The famous ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experience) was originally conducted in 1995 to 1997 to over 17,000 adults in the U.S., and researched on potential traumatic events that occurred in childhood (under 18 years).[11] The research showed that about 64% of U.S. adults reported of having at least one type of ACE before 18 years old, and nearly 1 in 6 (17.3%) reported having four or more ACEs.[12]


ACE has economic and social impact too. It is estimated that $748 billion is spent annually on ACE-related health conditions in Bermuda, Canada and the U.S.. Related chronic diseases include cancer, diabetes, heart disease and suicide.[13]



The Neuroscience of Trauma


Bessel van der Kolk mentioned in the book The Body Keeps the Score:[14]


“In PTSD, the critical balance between the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) shifts radically, which makes it much harder to control emotions and impulses.”


According to Dr. van der Kolk, the amygdala is like a smoke detector and the MPFC is like a watchtower. When something happens in the external environment, image, sound, smell and touch are collected by the thalamus, an area inside the limbic system that looks out for danger for us. The sensations are then sent out through two routes: downward to the amygdala in the unconscious brain, and upward to the frontal lobes, the conscious brain.[15]


The amygdala acts microseconds faster than the frontal lobes. Therefore, our body may have already made a move, e.g., dodge an object, before our rational mind figures out what is going on.[16]


In contrast, Dr. van der Kolk describes the frontal lobes, especially the medial prefrontal cortex located above our eyes, as the watchtower.[17] This means MPFC has the capacity to evaluate if we are in real danger, or it is just – false alarm.


Dr. van der Kolk mentioned, “intense fear, sadness, and anger all increase the activation of subcortical brain regions” (Note: subcortical structures are “a group of diverse neural formations deep within the brain which include the diencephalon, pituitary gland, limbic structures and the basal ganglia”.[18]), and they “significantly reduce the activity in various areas in the frontal lobe, particularly the MPFC.” He added, “effectively dealing with stress depends upon achieving a balance between the smoke detector and the watchtower.”[19]


Dr. van der Kolk talked about two ways to achieve such balance: [20]

  • The top-down approach, which is to strengthen the capacity of the MPFC through mindfulness practice, meditation and yoga;

  • The bottom-up approach, which is to restore the autonomic nervous system (ANS) through movement, breath or touch.

The bottom-up approach reminds me of various forms of dance movement therapy – simply moving the body with rhythmic music in a friendly environment. Bio Danza (i.e., organic dance) is one form of such therapy, which is available in many cities.


Touch can be from massage and aroma therapy. One activity one can easily do at home is ayurvedic self-massage with oil. Called Abhyanga, self-massage with oil is direct expression of self-love. It is believed people practicing self-massage with oil is filled with love, and comes to deep stability and warmth through the massage. [21]


For breath, there are many types of breathing exercises. The key is slow, deep, long breath that involves the diaphragm. This will automatically turn on the parasympathetic nervous system.


What Dr. van der Kolk did not mention though, is Neuro Rewiring as an effective tool to calm down the amygdala. This can be considered as the third approach besides the top-down and bottom-up solutions. What Neuro Rewiring does is decreasing the activity in amygdala, therefore cultivating a sense of calm and peace.[22] Unlike the top-down approach in which activities impact on MPFC first and then amygdala, this approach works directly on the amygdala and bypasses any middlemen.


In my own experience, it took as few as one session to restore emotional balance after an emotionally disturbing event. I personally recommend anyone who want to make a change to their emotional state, to get unblocked from the past, to draw a peaceful end with an unresolved issue, or to change a pattern, to try out this modality: Neuro Rewiring.



What is Neuro Rewiring


What I call Nero Rewiring has another name in the industry. So far, I intentionally did not mention this other name, as it is commonly not understood or misunderstood by some people. I myself was one of them.


Just like reintroducing an alienated member of a village back to the community, I gave her a mask so that people got to know the real her, before unveiling who she is.


This modality is hypnosis. I did not realize how much preconception there is about this word and this industry, until I started working on the research project. If everything has a meaning behind, and if all my personal encounters served a purpose to my project, they allowed me to experience how powerful this tool was. From what I have seen, hypnosis is much underrepresented in the world of healing modalities. It is a hidden gem and works very effectively to offset traumatic stress.


My own experience in a hypnotherapy session was pleasant and calm. I was in a tranquil state; the emotions flowed freely without my mental judgement. My therapist was respectful, friendly and resourceful. In the whole process, I was relaxed yet my intuition was sharp. I was nowhere near falling asleep, and felt that I could come out of the hypnotized state (trance), get up and get going anytime. As a practitioner myself, I proactively participated in my session and my therapist supported me in doing so.


After two sessions, I asked myself why didn’t I know about this modality earlier? Amazed by the results, I am passionate to share Neuro Rewiring with coaches, clients and anyone who might benefit from the awareness of traumatic stress. That would be, basically, every human being.




Disclaimer:

This article is for informational sharing only, and cannot replace advice, diagnosis or treatment by doctors. Texts related to neuroscience, brain function or hypnosis are a layperson’s understanding and experience only, and are not professional opinion or advice.


[1] Coaching, Beratung und Gehirn: Neurobiologische Grundlagen wirksamer Veränderungs-konzepte, Gerhard Roth and Alica Ryba, Fach-buch Klett-Cotta, page 184 [2] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system#Spatial_memory [3] Coaching, Beratung und Gehirn: Neurobiologische Grundlagen wirksamer Veränderungs-konzepte, Gerhard Roth and Alica Ryba, Fach-buch Klett-Cotta, page 184 [4] Interview with Dr. Alica Ryba, About the role of the unconscious in coaching, www.coaching-magazin.de [5] Neocortex, wikipedia.org [6] Ibid, page 189 [7] Ibid [8] The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk, Penguin Books, page 55 [9] Medical Medium, Anthony William, Hay House, Inc., Page 161 [10] Medical Medium, Anthony William, Hay House, Inc., Page 158 [11] About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study, https://www.cdc.gov [12] Fast Facts: preventing adverse childhood experiences, https://www.cdc.gov [13] Ibid [14] The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk, Penguin Books, page 62 [15] Ibid, page 60 [16] Ibid [17] Ibid, page 62 [18] Subcortical structures, Jana Vasković, MD https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/subcortical-structures-anatomy [19] The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk, Penguin Books, page 62 and 63 [20] Ibid, page 63 [21] The Benefits of Ayurveda Self-Massage “Abhyanga”, www.chopra.com [22] The Neuroscience behind Hypnosis, London College of Clinical Hypnosis Asia, www.lcchasia.com

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