Maui and the Healing Power of the Brain (and a FREE eBook)

Anyone who has ever had a pet or watched wild critters knows animals are inspirational (I’m told there are even people who find reptiles, insects and other vermin fascinating – myself . . . I prefer mammals . . . but who’s to say . . .).

I had a horse, Misty, dogs and cats.  My last kitty Maui, long after his passing, has been particularly inspirational:

  • Maui inspired me to write his story as a children’s book to help children know that they too can flourish when they set their mind
  • Maui inspired Judy and I to create CATNIPblog to share neuroscience research and how we can all live better lives harnessing the power of our own minds.
  • Maui’s story is proof the brain, including YOURS, is capable of “rewiring” and “repattenrining”.

Maui was part Siamese and lived up to the breed’s reputation of being intelligent, playful, social and quite mischievous.  


I named him for the jokester god of the Hawaiian islands. What happened to him was no joke.

When Maui was 11 years old, he had a  blocked ureter.  The treating vet told me Maui would not live.  I brought him home and helplessly watched Maui do nothing but lay on the floor with his chin on his favorite water bowl.  He didn’t eat for days and his back legs were weak.
One day Maui couldn’t move his back legs at all. The vet had neglected to tell me that cats not eating for 3 days or more can lead to heart problems which can result in a clot that blocks the femoral artery. The blockage causes the back legs to not function.  A permanent condition.

 The vet repeated Maui could die at any time and suggested putting him down. I was distraught.

Hope against hope, I took Maui home and helplessly watched him drag around with his two front legs.  It took him one human year or 7 cat years to rewire his brain and regain use of his back legs.

Maui taught me first hand about persistency, resiliency and how with patience the brain can be retrained  . . .  and the paws will follow.

To read Maui’s full story click here

Your human brain, too, has incredible plasticity.  Maximize aspects of your life by focusing on what you want and minimize what doesn’t support your wants and needs.

The old sayings “Practice Makes Perfect” and The Power of Positive Thinking have been proven accurate through scientific research.

You can shrink memories you can make them less likely to come to mind by avoiding them, by refocusing on other things.

Maui teaches us how to use persistence and trying—again and again and again in order to develop a physical capability (in his case redevelop a physical capability that he once had and lost). People can do this, too. People who do it are very often guided by therapists and professionals who have discovered how to do this, which takes a tremendous amount of persistence. They need to keep trying in the face of such a tiny amount of progress at least at first. Then progress builds.

Free Kindle version of “The Pulling, Climbing, Falling Down Tale of Maui and HIs Back Legs” click here

Offer good until September 23 only

Cures for broken hearts

I’ve worked with rape survivors, plane crash survivors, mugging victims, 9-11 first responders and hundreds of other clients plagued with disturbing memory using Interactive Guided Imagery(sm) to neutralize traumatic memory.   Based on my observation and client self-reporting it was apparent that the traumatic “component” of the memory was stripped while the memory was retained. After one session symptoms, at the very least diminished and for most people, vanished. Other therapeutic techniques, such as EMDR, work in similar fashion. (judy)

I found this study fascinating because a drug, propranolo, is used in conjunction with 4-6 sessions of therapy for people with post-break-up-stress.

The Study:

“In his lab at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, Brunet studies victims of “romantic betrayals” using reconsolidation therapy, a method combining medical treatment and therapy sessions: 70 to 84 per cent of the participants in a study Brunet concluded in November 2018 have experienced relief following their post-break-up stress.”

“We don’t treat the symptoms, we treat the memory,” Brunet says, “Because you don’t forget your memory – who would want to forget their love story?” Instead, the therapy “re-consolidates” the memory by removing the trauma from it.”

“An hour before a therapy session, the patient is given a dose – between 50mg and 80mg – of a beta-blocker called propranolol, and is asked to write a summary of the traumatic experience, following a strict format: a first-person text in the present tense that describes at least five physical sensations felt at the time of the event. By reading the summary out loud, the patient “reactivates” the memory, and does so over four to six weekly session, under the influence of propranolol. At every reading, the memory is “recorded again” while the drug suppresses the pain it contains. By the end of the therapy, patients tell Brunet that skimming through the text feels like “reading a novel” – the story is there, but the pain is gone. Brunet stresses that, if not complemented by therapy, propranolol is ineffective. “The pill or the session alone will not work,” he says.”

“Brunet originally developed reconsolidation therapy to help survivors of violent attacks recover from PTSD. He was studying psychology at Montréal University in 1989, when a fellow student shot 14 people on campus. Brunet wasn’t present at the scene, but he helped to deliver psychological care to survivors – an experience that deeply marked him, he says. In November 2015, after years of research, Brunet had just received conclusive results on the efficacy of reconsolidation therapy when Paris was shaken by a series of terror attacks that claimed 130 lives. He set up Paris MEM, a programme geared towards volunteer survivors struggling with trauma, where he applied his therapy for the first time. Brunet trained 200 doctors in 20 hospitals across France, and so far 400 patients have been treated.”

“On heartbroken patients, Brunet says, his therapy “works admirably well, even better than on patients with PTSD”. His study focused on 60 people aged from 30 to 60 who had suffered a grave romantic betrayal, such as being harassed by a former partner or being abandoned overnight. Healing that type of traumas can be as difficult as treating violence-induced PTSD, Brunet says: “Greek tragedies have been written about it. It’s not a banal incident. People often cite a breakup or a divorce as their worst life experience.”

“His reconsolidation therapy could be applied to other pathologies stemming from painful memories: prolonged grief, event-based phobias (such as a people becoming terrorised of dogs after being bitten), even some eating disorders or bouts of depression, if they can be sourced from a precise memory. “This will change psychiatry care,” he says.”

“Yet Brunet is struggling to commercialise his method; the pharmaceutical industry has shown no interest, as propranolol is no longer patented. Instead, he’s giving talks and training doctors in France and in Canada, and is planning a new study in his Montréal lab to further improve the therapy protocol. Brunet is certain of one thing: “People don’t really want to erase their memory. They just want to move on.”

My last thought:  Instead of more studies, Brunet might consult with Dr. David Bresler, who has been teaching clinicians how to neutralize and reframe memory, without drugs, for decades.

The Academy for Guided Imagery.


The Future is in Good Hands – Teen discovers way to heal brain

Teenager’s brain research is awe-inspiring. It could one day help  Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injury patients.

“When Indrani Das needed motivation, she left the lab. The 2017 winner of the Regeneron Science Talent Search — one of the United States’ most prestigious science and math competitions — enrolled in her local ambulance corps as an emergency medical technician. She needed to be close to people: the kind of lives she one day hopes to improve.”

“It was this thought that there could be a person at the end of this experiment … that drove me to continue,” she said. Answering 911 calls helped with that.
Das has made headlines for engineering a new way to treat brain injuries and neurological conditions — essentially finding a method to aid brain neuron survival. The science is complex, but the potential benefits are easy to translate: a better quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
With 47 million people with Alzheimer’s alone worldwide, that’s a lot of lives.”

Repairing the brain

“Das was educated at the Bergen County Academy for Medical Science Technology, a branch of one of New Jersey’s top public high schools. She describes a government-funded operation that allowed her and her cohort to “push ourselves to our limits” by conducting their own research projects.”
For the curious teen, that meant researching medical conditions considered incurable or irreversible. The brain became a focus. “Neurodegenerative diseases ruin a person’s quality of life,” she explains; “they take away from (a person’s) basic humanity.”
“It was that impact I wanted to understand and to study and to try and repair.”
With support from her parents and biology teacher-cum-mentor Donna Leonardi, Das embarked on her research. She began by growing and manipulating cell cultures, learning how they lived and died.”

Teenager pioneers method to save brain neurons

“I started working with these supporting brain cells called astrocytes (nerve cells that perform multiple functions in the brain, including post-traumatic repair and scarring.),” she says. “I managed to mimic an injury condition by giving them this chemical, which then made (the astrocytes) grow these spikes and start dumping toxic chemicals.”
“Das observed that in a brain injury situation, nerve molecules called glutamate would stop being taken up by astrocytes and would instead pile up around them and nearby neurons. The build-up of glutamate over-stimulates neurons, she says, “causing them to malfunction and die.”

To stop this required some bioengineering. Das used specially engineered microRNA to make the “injured” astrocytes recycle glutamate again. The neurons stopped dying as a result.

“Das’ research won her Regeneron’s $250,000 top prize, an award that opens doors for young scientists and counts 13 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Now in college, she’s researching at the Stevens Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, studying microglia, another type of supporting brain cell.”
“She also hopes her work will prompt further research in brain self-healing and supporting cells, not just neurons. “By attacking the problem from more angles … by looking at factors around these dying cells, we’ll have a better chance at re-establishing a patient’s quality of life.
“I was determined to work as long and hard as it takes to find a way to save these brain cells in disease,” Das says, reflecting on her breakthrough. “I still am.”‘

Comfort eating actually comforts

When I am a little stressed I want to eat – usually carbs – but if I am very stressed I lose my appetite. PA
I never lose my appetite because I’m an emotional eater – eat when I’m stressed, happy, bored . . .  From now on I’m calling it “Comfort Eating” – it sounds less . . . emotional . . .  and  is a new area of research. jw
For the second year in a row, just over a third of American adults reported eating “too much” or “unhealthy” food because of stress, according to an APA survey. Approximately 40 percent of people increase their eating when they’re stressed, 40 percent decrease their eating, and 20 percent stay the same. 

Dr. Janet Tomiyama has been trying to figure out if eating because of stress works for us.  Here is a summary of her findings:

  • Rats were given access to comfort food — usually Crisco mixed with sugar! 
  • Researchers then stressed them out
  • Over time, the comfort food actually dampened their stress hormones
  • Dampened down their brain’s responsivity to stress
  • Dampened down the signaling between the brain and the rest of the body, so they didn’t secrete as many stress hormones.”  

    CRISCO & sugar! At least they could have the decency to give us the cake under the frosting  . . .

We tend to be critical of people who eat because of stress BUT  “Not just psychologically, but also biologically — people who do a lot of comfort eating tend to show a reduced level of stress hormones and stress.”

What’s happening, according to Tomiyama:

  • “When you do anything that’s rewarding to you the reward parts of your brain light up — those parts of the brain can dampen down areas of your brain that are freaking out with negative emotion. And that’s why comfort foods tend to be foods that are high in sugar and fat. They’re really rewarding; they really do light up the reward centers of our brains.
  • There’s also some work showing that when you do comfort eating, it builds up fat in your belly region and that fat pad sends a signal to your brain to decrease the amount of stress hormones that you’re producing. 
  • Then there’s conditioning. If throughout your whole life, you’ve paired stress relief with comfort foods over and over again, then soon enough, your body is going to automatically respond to eating these comfort foods with relaxation.

Many people have had the experience of being given comfort food to cheer us up as kids. Part of the comfort t then came from bing cared for but that became associated with the food, which now gives us comfort on its own.

in addition to rodents, we also see comfort eating working in some non-human primate species as well. So my main take home from this is self-compassion: You’re not doing the comfort eating because you’re some sort of weak-willed human being; you’re biologically driven to do this. “ says Tomiyama.

What Tomiyama is trying to do now, is to see if healthy foods can also be comforting. Even in rat studies only unhealthy foods were used. Therein some data from surveys that say there are people who do use healthy foods for stress.

 “Nobody stress-eats strawberries, do they?”

Actually, strawberries might work she reports. Anything  sweet can dampen stress.

We’ll eat to that!

A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab at UCLA

Stretching it from Fowl to Feline

Can Stretching Make You Happier?

Neuroscientists believe stretching our bodies is part of a brain-body feedback loop and can make you more relaxed and open to the world.  

There is scientific evidence to back up the claim that stretching on a regular basis can make you happier.

Changes within your physicality can profoundly affect your brain.

We all know the leg bone is attached to the hip bone.  We don’t often think about the fact that EVERYTHING in your body is attached by a tight suit of interconnecting fascia. Tightness in your legs affects the tension in your shoulders and stress that you hold in your hips can affect the muscles all the way up through your lower back and to your skull.

Besides causing a lot of aches and pains—which will put anyone in a bad mood—this tension can work along your brain-body feedback loop to create an undercurrent of anxiety or stress to all your moods.

Along with range of motion exercises and massage, gentle stretching is key for keeping things loose and lubricated. Stretching also provides additional neurological benefits like improving heart rate, blood pressure and hormonal regulation.

Feeling Fowl? – Do The Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose One

“Some stretches are more effective on our moods than others. Generally, we all hold a lot of tension in our hip joints, making pigeon pose an effective starter stretch for relieving stress and anxiety. The posture, which you can see explained in the video, helps to undo the damage of long term sitting and to release emotional tension. It lengthens the piriformis muscle, a small gluteal muscle that is often underused and too tight.

Pigeon Pose Two

Be aware: If a stretch is painful there is a lot of frozen tension present and you should be very careful, go slow and stop before it is painful.  Do not push beyond your ability. Preferably, take a yoga, or stretching class or get professional help.

However, if you are not in a fowl mood a cat stretch might be more to your ability . . . or even quicker and easier . . . 

. . . Read How to trick your brain into being happy to find out how stretching your smile muscles can make you feel happier.