My Brain Retraining Story

September 11, 2018

A little over a year ago, I purchased the Gupta Programme, a limbic system retraining program for patients with ME/CFS and related illnesses. I was reluctant to try it but also somewhat hopeful. Mold avoidance is incredibly difficult and I was weary from six months of camping and countless loads of laundry. Maybe brain retraining could help me? What if it really could reduce my reactivity? A friend I love and trust was excited about the program’s potential so I decided to try it. 

The first few videos of the program left me  burning with anger. Gupta was claiming my devastating illness was caused by a combination of stress and a virus. He talked about stressful college semesters and difficult jobs. What? What about the rest of the population who are just as stressed and catch the same viruses? Why don’t they get ME/CFS type illnesses? Are they just better at coping with life’s challenges?! I was furious.

Brett gently reminded me that we didn’t need to agree with Gupta’s theory of what causes the illness in order to try the exercises. The program might still be a helpful piece of the puzzle even if he was wrong about a lot of things. 

I dragged my feet but kept going. It bothered me that Gupta was not a doctor, yet he was claiming to have a cure. He went so far as to promise 100% recovery to those who stick with the program. I had no problem learning about treatment options from other sufferers but this seemed a bit arrogant. Why wasn’t he more upfront about the fact that he had no medical background? How could he make such confident claims about an illness that is notoriously difficult to treat?

Besides, some of the things he said about symptoms being nothing more than sensations that we assign meanings to, seemed incompatible with my worldview. As a Christian, I believe that truth exists and that suffering and evil are real and not illusions. There is a way that things ought to be and function. The “sensations” we feel when things are not functioning the way God intended are not neutral or meaningless. They are reflections of reality. They are painful because they are pointing to real physical brokenness, not because we decided to interpret them as negative. Still, I tried to give Gupta a chance.

When I got to the part where he starts teaching the exercises, the whole thing started to feel like an elaborate placebo effect. The most important exercise is based on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). You interrupt thoughts about your symptoms with hand motions and phrases and then visualize yourself 100% healthy. There was also a meditation component where you concentrate on your breathing for 20 minutes each day. Plus another meditation where you focus all your attention on whatever symptom you’re experiencing and say “soften and flow” until the feeling melts away. 

I felt ridiculous doing the exercises but something shifted in me when I remembered the biblical story of Naaman. Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army and a leper. He came to Israel because he was told that the prophet Elisha could heal him. Elisha sent word that he should wash in the Jordan River seven times and then he would be healed. Naaman was enraged when he received the message and replied, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:11)

Was I going to be like Naaman? Was I really going to pass up potential healing because I was too proud to accept a solution that seemed silly? Would I choose suffering over a cure that might make me look bad? No way! I decided to set aside my doubts and humble myself. What if Gupta really did have a cure? Besides, mold avoidance probably already sounded just as crazy to most people. I stopped complaining and gave the program an honest shot.

I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. Not even my family and close friends. I was worried that if the Gupta Programme worked, if simple thought exercises could stop my symptoms, then maybe the neurologist who thought my illness was psychosomatic would be right after all. I didn’t want to plant those hurtful thoughts in the heads of the people I loved, at least not until I had more clarity. Maybe the mold caused a real limbic system injury that these exercises could repair?

Still, I kept silent while I did my brain retraining exercises faithfully. We moved indoors last September and I had healed so much through mold avoidance that I continued to do really well. I couldn’t really tell if the exercises were helping me or not.

On the one hand, seeing how well I was doing indoors led me to experiment with going into more buildings and interacting with more people. I was less reactive than I might have thought. Brett and I even started taking swing dance lessons. Was the brain retraining giving me the courage to try new things? I think it probably was.

On the other hand, I was always feeling conflicted when I was doing the exercises. The breathing meditation was relaxing but that was it. The “soften and flow” exercise never reduced any concrete symptoms like pain or nausea. I think it helped once or twice with anxiety. The NLP portion made me feel like I was playing a complex and exhausting game of denial.

When I experienced a downturn in the winter, I almost gave up on the program. With my friend’s encouragement, I decided to renew my efforts once more but I found that the NLP exercises still made me feel like I was brainwashing myself into believing I was well, when I really wasn’t. It split me down the middle and made me feel like I was at war with my own body. Instead of reducing stress the exercises were causing more stress. 

That was when I decided to stop doing them. When I stopped, a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I felt happy and free. I was able to bounce back with detox treatments and reached a level of health and stability I hadn’t reached before. February and March were fantastic! They were the best months I’d had since I fell ill in 2012.

Even though I had stopped doing the exercises I was still in the mindset that I shouldn’t try to notice symptoms too much. I was in a good location so I figured it was okay not to think so much about mycotoxins. I stopped paying attention to exposures and stopped decontaminating immediately. I could no longer sense mold contamination on items and thought it was probably a good thing.

Until I woke up one day and realized that I was very nearly disabled once again. How did I end up back here? Had I really spent most of the last four months laying in my hammock? I wasn’t reacting to things in an acute way, but my post exertional malaise was back with a vengeance. My liver was hurting daily. My fatigue was so crushing and my brain so foggy that I was spending my days in a stupor. I was achy all over. My lymph nodes were swollen. I was trying all sorts of supplements to help symptoms with only marginal success. 

When I started waking up with a swollen face and throat, I finally got the message my body was trying to send. My environment was no longer clear enough for healing to continue. Unfortunately, I had re-masked (was not reacting to problematic toxins in an acute way) without even noticing. 

I realized I needed to go back to what had brought so much healing in the first place: mold avoidance. I talked to Brett and he agreed. Even my friend who encouraged me to try brain retraining said she had a hunch Gupta wasn’t working for me and that I needed to go back to scrupulous mold avoidance. 

That was just a week ago. The good news is that I was able to unmask again within 24 hours of camping in pristine air. I have energy and feel like myself again. I haven’t felt this hopeful since I started declining in April! I’m excited about finding a clearer rental outside of the city where I can continue to heal. 

It’s not that I think the Gupta Programme is terrible for everyone. I do know people who have been helped by it. I agree that believing recovery is possible is more conducive to healing than hopelessness. I agree that reducing stress and anxiety can help the body to repair itself. But there are other ways to do it that suit me better.

I also agree that avoiding small amounts of toxins that aren’t actually causing harm is unhelpful. But in my case, I believe small amounts of certain mold toxins still cause real harm. Perhaps my blood brain barrier is still healing. Trichothecenes and other mold toxins appear to compromise the integrity of the blood brain barrier. Not to mention, it was mold avoidance itself, not brain retraining, that brought down my insane reactivity to foods, chemicals and non-toxic molds. I expect that with time and detoxification, even my reactivity to toxic mold will start to go down.

I think it’s possible that people can remain hyper-reactive even after tissue healing and detoxification has occurred and maybe that is a limbic system issue. Perhaps experimenting with paying less attention to small exposures and trying to live a relatively normal life could be helpful in that case. 

In my case, it was the opposite of what I needed to heal. I have a long history of ignoring and mistreating my body. As a teenager, I deprived it of food and felt a morbid pride when I danced on painful injuries. When I got sick, I pumped my body full of antibiotics for Lyme, enduring excruciating and worsening symptoms because I was told it meant the treatment was working. I coped by distracting myself from the pain and disconnecting from my body. I thought denying my body made me tough.   

What I needed most was to reconnect with my body and learn to listen to the information it was giving me. Mold avoidance taught me just that. It showed me that my body was not the enemy and I didn’t need to fight it.

I love this quote from Lisa Petrison of Paradigm Change. This sums up my own experience perfectly,

“I think the best strategy is to learn to cultivate your intuition. Which is to say, probably, to learn to treat your limbic system as a team member rather than an enemy.

I think it may be that the limbic system may get damaged by some of these toxins and that it may overreact due to kindling issues.

But I think it is more the case that in most cases, people have learned not to listen to what their limbic system is telling them, throughout their life, and so have a tendency to override it. And therefore it feels like it needs to start screaming to be heard.

So my goal – actually for both of these problems – is to make a better effort to get in touch with what your intuition is telling you about the environment and to have it be a concerted goal to be able to tell less problematic toxins from more problematic toxins.

And then, as time goes on, to trust the intuition more and more. To the point that, eventually, there is no question but to just do what it suggests. Like say, a bird would do, in terms of deciding whether to stay in a particular environment or move on.”


By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.

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25 Comments

  • Ruth H.

    Ana, Thank you SO much for taking the time and energy to put this post together. It is very helpful to hear about your experience. When you and/or a loved one is sick there are so many things that promise to help, but usually the only information available is from the people selling or people who have been helped. Thanks for letting your experience be of help to others.

    September 12, 2018 at 6:00 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I’m glad it was helpful Ruth!

      September 17, 2018 at 12:01 pm Reply
  • Ellen

    Ana, thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    September 12, 2018 at 11:41 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      You’re so welcome.

      September 17, 2018 at 12:02 pm Reply
  • Jennifer Dages

    This is a really helpful and thoughtful post. I have encountered more ideas like this recently and I appreciate hearing of your experience and how you have thought through this as a Christian. The truth really does matter. Thank you.

    September 13, 2018 at 4:30 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I’m so glad to hear it was helpful. Thanks for the comment.

      September 17, 2018 at 12:02 pm Reply
  • Ruth Meyer

    Thank you for writing this, Ana. I thought it was interesting about using hand motions, because that’s something I’ve been doing for a while now. Context: when I’m reading my Bible, mostly, but other times of the day, I get plagued with thoughts that keep coming back and back and back. It could be something bad, or wrong, or random, or something I’m worrying about, but I can’t seem to get rid of it or block it out. So, I started using hand motions (and the little bits of Sign Language I know), and reading my Bible out loud. It helps, but really, like you have come to realize, things like this can’t be ignored. They can’t just be “talked away” or wished away, etc. You have to talk about these things, with God first, and ask for His help. And, talking with others.
    I clam up so much, because I feel like I’m the most heavy-duty “worrier” in my family, while at the same time always trying to be the peace maker, and the “make them smile” person, and support my family. I tend to stuff my struggles, instead of sharing them, and getting the help I really need. You’ve given me some food for thought, and something I really need right now. Thank you, Ana. 🙂

    September 13, 2018 at 7:32 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you for sharing your story Ruth. 💕

      September 17, 2018 at 12:03 pm Reply
  • Ana Ducasa

    Love your honest approach to your experience. Continued prayers for healing and wholeness!

    September 13, 2018 at 8:43 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Ana!

      September 17, 2018 at 12:03 pm Reply
  • Leslie Gompf

    It sounds like DNRS would be a better solution for you. Annie Hooper’s book explains the science behind the limbic system damage and why the techniques work. I will happily purchase a copy of the book for you. (Thr book is not the program but it seems your first stopping point is the why/how…. I am well over 50% better after doing DNRS, and I have NOT done an hour of training a day. I can do things that were not possible before — go to my sons’ performances whether in a moldy auditorium or in a crowded football stadium!!! I can attend meetings, accompany my daughter to her doctor appointments, etc. … Sometimes these things are effortless, sometimes they take a reasonable amount of concentration to get through. There is still one mold / toxin that I cannot be in, no matter what techniques I use. I won’t sleep in a bad place, but fewer places are bad.

    What Gupta talked about with associations is backed up with science. One study that I read tested people via fMRI to see how their brains reacted. First, they exposed the person to a noxious substance. Then a harmless one — so they knew what reaction looked like. Then they exposed the subjects to both smells at the same time– and introduced fear. Later, they exposed the subjects to just the harmless substance and their brains reacted in the same way they had when they were poisoned. Their brains created an association that linked harmful with harmless and their limbic system thus decided that it was necessary to avoid the harmless substance.
    I can remember the first time I got bad mast-cell symptoms (pre-anaphylaxis ) and I know that just before the symptoms started I had become very afraid of being in the building where I could smell the mold — a mold that wasn’t in my “mold house”.
    In other words, I no longer react to the things that were harmless to me before my brain made an unnecessary association. I am better at containing reactions to harmful things because I know that going into fight-flight mode shuts down my immune system. Fear is antithetical to healing. I refuse to live my life based on fear!
    My BEST victory came within the first week of doing DNRS (I had full belief in the science of it all.) I stopped reacting to that stuff which shall not be named. I had become so desperate with reactions, my family so negatively affected, my life feeling so hopeless because I couldn’t see how I could ever avoid it, that I was very seriously thinking of suicide. …. The first few days of DNRS practice were very intense but I quickly noticed that I wasn’t detecting the stuff as often. (It was in my house. ) Now I rarely notice it and almost never have mast cell or mental repercussion from touching it. (I still don’t like touching it — it is a very unpleasant feeling.)
    I now wash all clothes in the same machine. I have removed the markers I had used to identify which clothes had it and which did not. I set aside maybe 1 thing a month for charity because there is too much on the item. I HAVE A LIFE!
    I am on a FB list where the question Gupta or DNRS?” is frequently asked. The answer is that it is an individual thing. Gupta stresses meditation, DNRS stresses the power of neural reorganization via visualization. Gupta is more for the laid-back self-starter, DNRS is more heavy-handed (although I’ve never been one to follow rules exactly and I did not follow all of hers.)
    Your story of avoidance gave me great inspiration and hope. I tell you my story now in hopes of returning the favor.

    September 13, 2018 at 11:38 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you for sharing your story Leslie! I’m so glad to hear that DNRS helped you so much. I definitely agree that living in fear of these toxins is unhelpful and damaging.

      September 17, 2018 at 12:05 pm Reply
  • Andrea Vik

    Ana I just want to tell you about my experience with DNRS. I did it for two weeks and stopped paying attention to my reactions until I got anaphylactic and a terrible seizure and almost died from a bad exposure. I felt with DNRS like you did about Gupta – that I was brainwashing myself, but I didn’t want like you to be too proud to try it. I think both Gupta and DNRS can be very dangerous for people with mold illness.

    September 14, 2018 at 12:12 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Oh my goodness Andrea! Thank you for sharing your story. How scary! Reducing fear is one thing. Ignoring your body is quite another. So dangerous!

      September 17, 2018 at 12:06 pm Reply
      • Ana Harris

        It really validated my own experience too.

        September 17, 2018 at 12:07 pm Reply
    • Maria

      This is counterproductive . You started the program and stopped when you had reactions ? First , one has to be in a “training zone “ you can’t go above what the body can handle as you retrain . Second , neither dnrs or Gupta says to “ignore “ symptoms , especially if they are life threatening , just keep retraining . In stopping you created more neural pathways of fear . But ,you can begin again . I went into anaphylaxis on a plane as this is my normal mast cell reaction . I continued to retrain and am 80 percent healed . I no longer have anaphylaxis . I hope you continued so you would no longer have to suffer . Whether you do it or not you will have reactions until the limbic system calms down .

      November 18, 2019 at 9:42 am Reply
  • Ben

    A great and very thought provoking post Ana. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says. To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven… If someone has been pursuing mold avoidance or following a mold detox protocol for years and is still extremely reactive a brain retraining program might be helpful. But for someone to teach themselves to ignnore the real problem. A body that is trying to get rid of years worth of stored toxins will only lead to a severe decline in health and possibly death. I’m so sorry you learned this the hard way and thanks so much for sharing your experience openly with those of us dealing with mold illness.

    September 14, 2018 at 5:08 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you for your comment Ben! I do agree with you.

      September 17, 2018 at 12:07 pm Reply
  • Maiysa

    Thanks for your post Ana. I also live in Rapid City, and we have chatted before. I have MCAS, POTS, EDS, thyroid, allergic to mold, had cancer, and many more. I have learned that the ragweed, and recently my dog stepped in stink weed which caused a severe allergic reaction for, but ragweed and sage are awful for me here in Rapid, and in Vegas. We only come here in the summer. I started drinking a tiny few sips of Pau d’Arco tea, which I truly had to go very slowly with this as I react to everything, and it helps with the fungal issues. I notice I get little bumps on my face and neck, possibly some type of candida that never shows up, but the tea gets rid of it. But fungus will make the mast cells go crazy. They have a wild dance party when that uninvited mold guest arrives. But Pau d’Arco helps. And only the pink kind, by Buddha, I am actually allergic to the yellow flower type. Go figure. But what I really wanted to say is that I do the Gupta and the DNRS and they have helped me a lot. It’s not a cure, but what a difference. I add a step of Christian music and I just feel myself healed and really feel it. I don’t do this in front of anyone, it’s RIDICULOUS! But it helps so much and I walk away from the steps feeling better than what I started at. I too in the beginning thought this is BS, and I was mad as well thinking it could be that easy. How rude to say so. Ha! I get it. But I kept it up, and it’s my 5th or 6th month, and my family has noticed a difference as well as I have. I also went into it knowing that it can take over a year or two for it to work. I also thought I would avoid the anxiety one gets in the beginning from the so called amydagla shift or changing, but that really started happening and could feel my body as best to be described as vibrating and I couldn’t sleep. I read that it means your body is changing, and I got through that but didn’t like it and almost stopped because of it, but so glad I stuck it out. I need a refresher because it can get stagnant, but it has helped me. Am I cured-No! But during anaphylaxis, it has helped me avoid major medications by calming my body down and relaxing. Smiling when the ambulance is on the way is a truly difficult thing to do, but it helps a lot. Histamines love panic and it helps to start the party. But these techniques have helped me to calm down when I would rather panic during these episodes. Not that I’m hyperventilating or anything, but I didn’t notice how negative my subconscious thoughts are and have snuck into my brain since having mast cell activation. I’ve been accused my whole of being a Poly Ana with a lot of positivity, but of course MCAS has changed that a lot, but I was not aware of the negative thoughts that had crept into this new body I have. I have not found the program too helpful for pain, just a bit, but mine also is off the chart pain. So that has not helped much for that unless I stay mediated and laying down all day, who wants to do that. Anyhow, I had a procedure two months ago-UCLA had to put a team together for biopsy of recurring thyroid cancer, and I am allergic to anesthesia so what a joy that was trying to get the best care and staying on top of doctors, and having to reschedule a few times. NIGHTMARE! But, I cannot tell you how much the GUPTA program helped. I put his meditations on my iTunes and when there was panic around and I lost my sh*t a few times from them having to keep rescheduling because the doctors never got in touch with my MCAS doc for protocol, I went back to the program and kept my ear phones in and just meditated until I was calm enough for the procedure. At UCLA during the chaos caused by much incompetence, they found an MCAS knowledgeable anesthesiologist and I knew I was going to be ok. I actually woke up with everyone around so happy I made it through and no cancer, YAY! But I woke up to pushing my hands just like the program says, and saying STOP STOP STOP and smiling, I could hear the medical team laughing. I of course had no idea what I was doing from being under, but it truly helped me so much to have that program. I tell people, for me it’s not a cure, yet, I stay hopeful, but what a difference in my mental health for having to stay strong. Nothing is easy with mast cell or mold avoidance and so forth. Any little bit helps. It’s a lot of work that’s for sure. I’m sorry as it just doesn’t work for everyone. But yeah, I’m not 100%, at all. But will let you know in another 6 months how it’s going. Also, I just realized, I’m usually about four ambulance calls in during my stay here and this year, not one. Knock on wood, and have another month to go. But so far so good. Hmmmm, is it Gupta, or is it Pau d’Arco tea? lol I don’t know. I also had the permanent back braces that have been there for 30 years removed. What a difference! Metals are not my bodies friend either. So who knows but these are the only new things I have done differently. Maybe it’s one, but I think it’s all three. And things always change so we will see. I only share this to hoping it helps as I call it my nvestigative work, to figure what is going against my body. It’s like finding a needle in haystack some days. Wishing you better health soon. So unfair as you are so young. Prayers to you and your sweet husband. I have one too, and they are key. So grateful. Peace

    September 17, 2018 at 1:21 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      It’s good to hear from you Maiysa! I remember you. I’m so glad to hear that you found some things that helped and that the Gupta Programme has been beneficial to you. I’m so glad you haven’t had to go to the hospital so much this year. I do agree that panicking can make reactions worse. In my case, Gupta/DNRS just wasn’t the right approach for me and actually served to increase anxiety and distract me from taking the steps that actually help me to heal. Thank you so much for your prayers! I pray you continue to improve. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      September 17, 2018 at 3:01 pm Reply
  • Maiysa

    Thank you Ana. I also got anxiety but it took a few weeks to pass. It was a bit scary for me, and the Accelerator I just can’t do at all. But I’m so sorry it didn’t help you. Ugh!!! We are all so uniquely made. I so wish there was a one size fits all. Okay, love hearing your updates and seeing what’s working for you. It’s a terrible mystery isn’t it. I wanted to tell you that I noticed mushrooms in the yard yesterday, so there might be some active mold spores at this moment, but it’s cooling down and the pollen is dropping, it helps me so much and hope you can find your way back soon. Have a healthy day. 🙂

    September 18, 2018 at 9:01 am Reply
  • Annie

    Thank you for sharing this! I just now stumbled across it! I am at such a cross road right now with my health. My drs keep telling me to do DNRS but I also have mold Toxicity & I am out of the toxic home we lived in. I am trying to do mold avoidance. It’s definitely really tough but I do see small shifts & improvements! I have tried th DNRS but I’ve become weary of it & don’t really feel like it’s beneficial for me. In some ways yes! But I’m other ways no. Thank you again for sharing!!!

    July 1, 2019 at 9:15 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I’m so glad you’re noticing some improvements Annie! The best thing is just to listen to you body. It sounds like you’re heading in the right direction. ❤️

      August 10, 2019 at 10:22 am Reply
  • Anonymous

    I found this article after googling Christians and brain retraining. I also am a Christian with Lyme and mold illness and now increasing MCAS symptoms from current mold exposure that I am finding it very difficult to get away from. Anyway, I really appreciate what you had to say about this and the details you provided.

    As a Christian, I am very discerning about what I am and am not willing to do in order to heal. The Bible says to guard your mind, so anything that involves mind altering raises questions and concerns. I also appreciate what you had to say about symptoms being your body’s way of alerting you that something is wrong and shouldn’t be ignored. I agree but have to admit I have been ignoring a lot of symptoms until they got progressively worse. All of this is so incredibly hard to deal with and unravel.

    I’m glad you are able to do the extreme mold avoidance. I just can’t see myself doing that. I’m in a pretty desperate situation already and hoping to survive without too much harm until resolution comes in my living situation.

    God bless!!

    August 4, 2019 at 3:27 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Hello friend,

      I’m so sorry to hear about the desperation you’re facing. I do understand what you mean. This is a terrible illness.

      It could be that you can begin to heal and make some gains without doing anything extreme. Almost always, it is necessary to get away from the original exposure and the belongings that were present in that bad environment. But mold avoidance doesn’t need to be an all or nothing thing. Incorporating decontamination protocols into your existing situation and spending more time in pristine nature is bound to help. That doesn’t necesarily mean you’ll need to go camping in the wilderness for extended periods of time. I did that because I was very, very severe and the results were so extraordinary that it was worth it to me to keep going.

      Anyway, I wish you the best on your journey. God be with you! ❤️

      August 10, 2019 at 10:29 am Reply

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