What are Limbic System Retraining Exercises?
Also referred to as, “the emotional brain,” the limbic system is a complex set of structures in the midbrain responsible for interpreting sensory information and determining whether something is threatening or benign. Then, based on this determination, it will prompt the nervous system to activate the fight or flight response, if a threat is perceived, or return to parasympathetic function (rest and digest) if no threat is deemed present.
Because the primary job of the limbic system is to keep us safe, it sometimes errs on the side of caution and learns from past events to overprotect us in the future. For instance, if in the past, while under a large amount of psychological or emotional stress, you were exposed to a large amount of chemicals from the environment, according to the limbic kindling theory – a “conditioning effect” may take place in which the limbic system “wires in” an association between the chemicals and the stress response. Once a conditioning event has taken place, the brain and body may continue to produce an outsized stress response to even a normal amount of chemicals such as those found in ordinary household products.
Limbic System Impairment or Dysfunction
As we mentioned above, sometimes in some instances the functioning of the limbic system can be impaired such that the “threat-detection & response” mechanism effectively gets stuck on high-alert – misclassifying sensory stimuli as threatening when it is actually benign. This leads to chronic elevation of the sympathetic stress response which is now being understood as possibly being at the root of many modern complex chronic health conditions, some of which include:
- Food sensitivities
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Chronic Pain Syndrome
- Hormone imbalances
- Dysautonomia e.g. POTS
- Brain fog
- EMF sensitivities
- Lyme Disease, Long COVID, and Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome
- Immune system dysfunction
- Emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions
- CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndromes)
More research needs to be conducted into what causes the above conditions, but one active hypothesis points to “central sensitization” and “subconscious conditioning” as playing a major role in such conditions.
What’s optimistic here, is that we know from the field of neuroplasticity, that the brain is highly malleable and able to change its own structure and function in response to new inputs and deliberate exercises. If you or someone you know has suffered a substantial decline in quality of life due to the onset of a chronic illness, re-origin has many success stories as well as research that gives reason for hope.
What is limbic system retraining?
Limbic system retraining refers to any exercises aimed to restore proper function to the limbic system. More often than not, for those struggling with a chronic health condition, the limbic system has been reset to default to a heightened state of arousal and anxiety. This leads to hyper-sensitization and increased levels of immune activity and inflammation.
In such cases, the goal of any limbic system retraining exercise program should be to systematically desensitize the limbic system with respect to the triggering stimuli. This is all possible thanks to neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s innate ability to change both its structure and its function in response to new activity and information. If you’ve ever gone from not knowing how to ride a bike, and then being able to find your balance and ride… you’ve used neuroplasticity. If you once were afraid to fly, and now you love jet-setting off to different places… you’ve used neuroplasticity. Every time a new habit, routine or skill is acquired, the brain has changed accordingly.
When it comes to rewiring the stress response, there are a small handful of basic principles that make up good limbic retraining exercises.
6 Key characteristics of a good limbic system retraining exercises
The process of improving brain function by building new beneficial neural pathways is made possible thanks to brain plasticity. Just like a muscle can respond to training, so too can the limbic system change with the help of deliberate brain retraining or ‘rewiring’ exercises. However, not all exercises are created equally. For anyone looking to overcome a heightened threat reflex, the following elements must be included in an effective brain retraining program:
The person must become aware of the heightened stress response, what triggers it, and how it feels in the body and mind.
The limbic retraining exercise should prompt the individual to interrupt the vicious cycle of reacting to symptoms. This is typically done through a combination of body language, somatosensory mapping, and NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programing to rewrite any old mental scripts or trauma loops.
The person must learn to shift their brain chemistry from CAN (Cortisol, Adrenaline, Norepinephrine) dominant to DOSE (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins) dominant. This is typically done through mental rehearsal and/or allowing oneself to become immersed in a positive and pleasant sensory experience. Listening to music, dancing, visualizing health, and walking in nature are all good options.
It isn’t enough to simply intellectually understand this process in the cortex. Rather, an emotional shift must be felt in one’s body. It is for this reason that such sayings as: “Lose your mind, come to your senses” can be helpful to employ.
The process of identifying, interrupting, and replacing an old unpleasant experience or response with a new positive one, eventually becomes its own reward and thus triggers the release of dopamine with respect to the act of improving one’s brain through limbic retraining exercises. It becomes easier and easier to maintain motivation, and results beget further results.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Bruce Lee once said: “I don’t fear the man who practiced 10,000 different kicks. I fear the man who practiced 1 kick, 10,000 times.” – A core principle of any effective brain rewiring program is repetition. If permanent change is the goal then it must be understood that, just like going to the gym, the brain and body do not change in any meaningful way based on what is done once or twice. Rather, it’s what you do repeatedly that leads to lasting change.
Key benefits of a good brain retraining program
A good brain retraining program should aim to produce the following benefits:
- Reduce anxiety & stress
- Restore health & homeostasis
- Increase energy & wellbeing
- Improve focus & productivity
- Break free and heal from “self-perpetuating inflammatory conditions:”
- Sensitivities (food, chemical, EMF)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain
- Lyme Disease
- Post Viral Fatigue & Long-Haul COVID
- General overwhelm, burnout, anxiety & depression
The re-origin program has been designed by expert Ph.D. Neuroscientists and Clinical Psychologists, to incorporate easy-to-use, step-by-step techniques that anyone can learn and apply to his or her own unique condition. Learn about our program
Limbic System Retraining FAQ
Can you retrain the limbic system?
Yes, scientific research shows that it is absolutely possible to retrain the limbic system using self-directed neuroplasticity exercises like the ones in the re-origin program.
What is the goal of limbic system retraining?
The aim of any limbic system retraining program is ultimately to calm the nervous system and restore homeostasis to the body. This is very similar to the goals of any functional medicine protocol, but rather than requiring a physician, one can begin to improve one’s state of wellness through the use of deliberate and specific brain retraining exercises.
What are the benefits of retraining the limbic system?
Some of the documented benefits of limbic retraining include:
- Reduction of the chronic stress response
- Improved energy and ability to recover
- Improved mood and sense of wellbeing
- Reduction in physical symptoms related to limbic hyperactivity
- Recovery from chronic self-perpetuating inflammatory conditions
How do I calm my limbic system?
- Temporarily limit your exposure to stress
- Become aware of what’s triggering your stress response
- Interrupt the pattern using a fully body-mind-based brain retraining technique (which you can learn in our program)
- Practice on repeat (our coaching program can help with this)
- Join a community of people who are all learning to do the same thing and making strides on their own healing journey!
Join the re-origin limbic retraining program
re-origin offers a science-based, self-directed neuroplasticity program for people struggling with chronic health conditions. Sign up for a free info call to see if re-origin is the right fit for you.
- Jason, L. A., Porter, N., Herrington, J., Sorenson, M., & Kubow, S. (2009). Kindling and Oxidative Stress as Contributors to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Journal of behavioral and neuroscience research, 7(2), 1–17. Accessible from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022475/
- Gupta A. (2002). Unconscious amygdalar fear conditioning in a subset of chronic fatigue syndrome patients. Medical hypotheses, 59(6), 727–735. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0306-9877(02)00321-3
Ben Ahrens, Co-founder & CEO of re-origin®