Annie Hopper teaches her Dynamic Neural Retraining System™ to workshop participants in Canada.
Planet Thrive is excited to present this interview with Annie Hopper, a core belief counselor who has healed herself of severe, life-altering chemical and electrical sensitivities and fibromyalgia using groundbreaking neural retraining techniques based on the concept of brain plasticity. She now teaches others these same exercises that healed her own brain by conducting 3-day Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) workshops in British Columbia, Canada. Annie is claiming her approach is an MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) cure and is so confident she can help you that she offers a 100% money back guarantee if after six months of daily training you do not experience a significant improvement in your health. Julie Laffin, a Chicago-based performance artist, and Julie Genser, founder of PlanetThrive.com, recently conducted a virtual Q & A with Annie get to the root of her treatment approach and find out just what she means by “cure.”
JG/JL: Hello Annie, thank you for taking the time to discuss your exciting new protocol with us. Please share with us how you initially became severely chemical and electrically sensitive.
AH: The main exposure that I had was over a five month period. I believe it was due to unhealthy air quality in an old building where I rented office space for my busy counseling practice. I gradually started to become sensitive to chemicals. Within six months the sensitivity had spread from perfumes and colognes to all chemicals.
JG/JL: What level of MCS were you at prior to beginning your work with neuroplasticity? Our impression is that you were severely affected.
AH: Laundry detergent residue, fabric softener residue and fabric softener dryer fumes were horrific for me and I would at times have “seizure like” reactions to exposures. I became severely chemically sensitive in April 2006. Chronic insomnia and fibromyalgia had set in by this time as well. To go anywhere outside of my home took Herculean efforts and courage – I had to wear a carbon filtered mask to go anywhere. I felt like a freak. By the following year around the same time, I had also become electrically sensitive.
JG/JL: We understand that, at one point, you were homeless. Tell us a bit about that time and how you survived.
AH: When I became electrically sensitive in addition to being severely chemically sensitive, I could no longer live in my own home. I camped for a short time and then ended up living on a broken down houseboat for four months. It was a step up from camping and I was grateful to have a roof and my own space. I survived in large part with lots of faith and love from my partner and family although they lived thousands of miles away. I lived alone on the houseboat with my dog Bella and my partner James would take a week off from work approximately every five weeks to come and see me. Food sensitivities were not an issue for me so I could pretty much eat anything and would shop at a local grocery store for food. Although shopping was difficult, I could force myself to do it.
JG/JL: You’ve been through a lot. What are some of the things you had to give up in life during that time?
AH: I gave up my home, the comfort of living with my partner, my job, my friends, my identity, and my faith.
rather than what I was losing.
JG/JL: Losses we are both familiar with, as are most who develop this illness. How did you deal with all the stress from your physical symptoms, psychological separation from society, and loss of friends, work, family, and home?
AH: Anyone with severe MCS knows how difficult it is to survive this illness. At times I felt very hopeless and overwhelmed with the enormity of the illness and how it affected every area of my life. I grieved for the loss of my health, my friendships, the physical separation from my partner, my family, my job and the many friendships that I had lost along the way. I found comfort in long walks along the ocean shoreline with my dog Bella. I wrote about what I was feeling and what I was learning about myself and life throughout this time. I’m now in the process of publishing a book about my journey entitled “From Exile to Excellence: Healing Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Through Neuroplasticity“. It will include actual journal entries from my time while living on the houseboat. I also prayed a lot, and I spent as much time as I could in places where my body felt okay. I tried to focus on what I was learning rather than what I was losing.
JG/JL: You have recommended Norman Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself on your website. This book offers an inspiring collection of recovery stories all based on the concept of brain plasticity – the ability of the brain to rewire itself. As you know, neural pathways of the adult brain were previously thought to be fixed and hardwired by a certain age but recent scientific discoveries have proven the brain to be highly adaptive and flexible throughout one’s lifetime. Parts of the brain thought to be limited to specific functions are actually capable of taking over other unrelated functions. Through these discoveries, scientists have been able to use focused exercises to develop new neuronal pathways that help people recover from strokes and even some rare conditions such as phantom limb pain, or complete loss of balance. It was this fascinating book that jumpstarted your approach to healing your own MCS – how did you find your way to this book?
AH: A friend of mine suffering from depression recommended it.
JG/JL: Was there a defining moment that led you to your current understanding of what chemical sensitivity is and how principles pertaining to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) recovery seemed like a hopeful application for the problem—do you view MCS as a stroke-like or brain trauma condition?
AH: I view MCS as an acquired toxic brain injury that impairs limbic system function, affecting areas of the brain such as the hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate cortex. Although the initial injury may heal, the brain gets stuck in a repetitive trauma pattern.
Run-down houseboat that Annie lived on for four months.
JG/JL: Did you have help rewiring your brain or did you figure this out through your own personal research?
AH: I did have some help in this department for sure. The Dynamic Neural Retraining System was developed from a combination of what I had learned over the past 20 years while employed in the health and wellness industry, as well as from all of the information, treatments, therapies and research I experienced and studied during my MCS days.
JG/JL: Did you ever contact any of the neuroscientists mentioned in Doidge’s book or the other sources of research you found along the way?
AH: I’ve got some feelers out there but no bites yet. However, I am very hopeful that I will have the research that I need in due time. I recently trained a woman who is initially from Japan who has great contacts with doctors there who are interested in neuroplasticity as it relates to chemical sensitivity. Apparently MCS is so common in Japan that they have government-funded clinics that treat people with MCS. So, not only is it recognized as a legitimate illness there, but the government also pays for detoxification and nutritional supplements for patients.
However, they do not know how neuroplasticity ties in to all of it so I am very hopeful I will be going to Japan soon to teach the head environmental doctors there what I know. My hope is that they will have the funding available to do some functional MRI testing on people with MCS and be able to measure the effects of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System. My vision is that this research will validate several facts: 1) That the symptoms of MCS are caused from impaired limbic system function; 2) That through manually rewiring the brain we can repair limbic system function and alleviate symptoms of illness; 3) That we will have all the evidence we need in terms of chemical and EMF hazards to force the government to regulate these industries.
JG/JL: That would certainly be wonderful. How is the limbic system involved in your retraining work exactly?
AH: Through manually changing brain pathways we can decrease the brain’s “fight or flight” response that is regulated by the limbic system. In essence, we reprogram our limbic system. The first step of my Dynamic Neural Retraining System is to use practical exercises that interrupt brain trauma patterns. Then we promote new, healthy neuronal pathways that restore normal limbic system function using exercises taken from various methodologies I’ve studied over the past 20 years: cognitive behavior therapy, core belief counseling, life coaching, neuro-linguistic programming, self hypnosis, meditation, conscious restraint induced therapy, somatic exercises, and neuroplasticity exercises.
and huge shifts can happen sometimes in as little as two days.
JG/JL: Edward Taub’s work with stroke rehabilitation—which you are familiar with from Norman Doidge’s book—deals with motor function, so there is an objective way to assess progress as individuals become rehabilitated. How do Taub’s protocols intersect with yours and is there a way to measure objective improvement along the way?
AH: The only objective way to measure progress is through the resolution of symptoms. Part of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System involves consciously blocking old pathways in the brain while stimulating dormant or new pathways. I call it Conscious Restraint Induced Therapy. In order for this to be successful you must be able to focus and practice a lot. In fact, complete focus and practice are the keys to success in this training. The time it takes for symptoms to shift is individual, and huge shifts can happen sometimes in as little as two days. For others it takes longer. I recommend practicing every day for 6 months before you judge whether or not this has worked for you, although most people see great results fairly soon into their practice.
JG/JL: Going back to Taub, his work based on his “learned non-use” theory encourages the use of the non-functioning appendages by restricting use of the working hand or arm, etc. Taub has found that this forces the brain to build new neuronal pathways and eventually restores use of the incapacitated limb. How does this correlate with your work since we are talking about an illness with a different presentation than stroke, one that more likely involves damage to the limbic system vs. the motor system? Can you give us an example to help us make the conceptual leap?
AH: With MCS, we develop a conditioned abnormal fear response to chemicals due to impaired limbic system function resulting from the repetitive brain trauma pattern. Fear stimulates the amygdala, triggering the fight or flight response. In order to change our physiological response, we have to learn how to interrupt the trauma pattern and redirect the impulses that trigger this automatic fight or flight response. In doing so we are consequently reprogramming our limbic system to reduce the physiological symptoms of illness.
JG/JL: This sounds very similar to Ashok Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining Programme™. Are you familiar with it?
AH: No, I am not familiar with it so I cannot say if it is or not. From what I’ve viewed on the Internet it seems that he is focused solely on the amygdala portion of the limbic system. Although the amygdala is involved, with chemical sensitivity, other parts of the limbic system are also involved including the hypothalamus, hippocampus and cingulate cortex.
impaired limbic system function, not the cause
JG/JL: Does your work fly in the face of the “body burden” or “rain barrel” theories out there regarding MCS? That is to say, do you think the toxic overload theory is faulty as a basis for treating full-blown MCS?
AH: I think that toxic overload is a resulting symptom of impaired limbic system function, not the cause.
JG/JL: Where does the blood/brain barrier fit into all of this – can you rewire or repair it with this work?
AH: Yes. When limbic system function is repaired, your sense of smell will change as well and you will not be able to sense chemicals through your sense of smell or taste anymore. Now I can pick up a bottle of perfume and smell it and it smells the same as it did prior to becoming ill with MCS. Not that I would ever use it again – it’s just great to be able to function normally in a world that uses chemicals and electricity.
JG/JL: That’s hard for us to imagine. It is very uplifting to hear that you have healed yourself from this devastating illness. Have others with MCS been healed by your program and did they have severe life-altering MCS as well?
AH: Yes, the DNR System has helped to heal others who had severe life-altering MCS as well – even those who have had MCS for over 30 years.
Annie spent a lot of time in isolation, taking walks with her dog and sitting by the water’s edge.
JG/JL: Will your program benefit those with the often overlapping conditions of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue or myalgic encephalomyelitis?
AH: Yes, because they are all limbic system related.
JG/JL: Are there certain individuals with chemical sensitivity that might be better candidates for your program than others? For example, those with neurological symptoms vs. gut or respiratory symptoms?
AH: I believe that anyone who has the ability to focus and discipline themselves to practice daily would benefit.
JG/JL: Are there some people/conditions you think would not be helped at all by your program?
AH: Yes. It takes a certain amount of conscious awareness to be able to focus, monitor and control your thoughts, feelings and behavior for it to really work effectively. I also don’t think it would be great for anyone who does not believe that complete healing is possible or if they are closed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Remember that they once thought that the earth was flat.
JG/JL: True, but if it takes a certain amount of conscious awareness, then will this program work for problems that affect consciousness? In other words, if the person is reactive or symptomatic at the time of the workshop or the therapy – and having difficulty processing thoughts and emotions – will the exercises still be effective?
AH: My goal is to create a safe, healthy and productive environment for all course participants. Workshop venues are selected for hardwood floors, tall ceilings, healthy air flow and absence of use of any chemically based cleaning products. Class sizes are kept to a maximum of ten participants, allowing for lots of individual attention. Should a participant have any particular special requirement or concern, I will do my very best to accommodate their needs. That said, I give enough handouts and instructions for participants to be able to practice on their own after a workshop if they are unable to remember or retain what was covered.
to change the body’s physiology.
JG/JL: When you claim that your Dynamic Neural Retraining System will heal those with chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other related ailments, you are most likely talking about complex disease systems that involve multiple toxic exposures, not just one specific chemical brain injury. Some with MCS have had toxic mold exposure and have genetic susceptibility to biotoxin illness while also having a lyme infection with complicating co-infections, as well as pesticide poisoning, chronic viruses, mycoplasma, leaky gut, and organ damage. How can the brain reconditioning exercises heal all that?
AH: Through changing the brain we have the ability to change the body’s physiology.
JG/JL: Can you elaborate on that – once the brain is rewired, what happens with these infections – lyme, viruses, mycoplasma, etc. – does the body take care of them more easily or must one still go through the arduous process of using a combination of antibiotics, herbs, supplements and dietary changes to manage these parts?
AH: Of course each case is individual, but as I said in the above, the brain has the ability to change the body’s physiology.
JG/JL: That still seems a bit vague. Are you saying that it’s a sort of domino effect, so when the brain is reconditioned, the body will heal itself of secondary health conditions that arose from the primary brain injury?
AH: Yes. Very well said! Your brain will no longer send alert signals that activate survival mechanism messages to the rest of your body. Most participants with MCS who do the Dynamic Neural Retraining System report that they can be around chemicals now and that they do not notice the “bitter or caustic” quality of products anymore. They do not need to take as many nutritional supplements or any at all. Others have reported being able to eat foods that they have not been able to eat for years while some others report the ability to sleep well for the first time in ages. One participant had a severe skin condition in addition to MCS and has noticed that her skin has cleared up remarkably well. The results of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System speak directly to the domino effect that you are referring to.
JG/JL: Some in the MCS community are very much against using the word “cure” for any treatment promising full recovery. Many of these people will say that anyone who has been “cured” is actually just higher functioning but still has MCS and must avoid chemical exposure as much as possible to maintain their functionality. You chose to use the domain name “MCScure.com” for your website introducing this work, which might seem like a promise you can’t keep to many in the community. Can you define what you mean by “cure”?
AH: I would say that by “cured” I mean that you can resume a normal lifestyle and be over 85% recovered from symptoms. Although I do not react to chemicals anymore, I do not choose to use them in my life. I avoid using them but I do not avoid exposure. I know that it’s hard to wrap your brain around the idea that this debilitating illness can be cured and that you can resume a normal life again. I get it. It’s almost unbelievable. But this treatment protocol is completely different from anything else; it is based on repairing the brain, not the body. In some ways having MCS lifted a veil for me and I instantly became aware of the harmful effects of chemicals and how prevalent they are in our society. As a result, I now choose to live my life in an environmentally conscious way.
JG/JL: Are YOU cured – or is your lifestyle still limited or altered in any way in order to maintain your current level of functionality?
AH: I am cured. I travel to places, I fly on planes, I attend live theatre, I go out for dinner with friends, I attend public events with ease, I work, etc.
Annie dancing at a crowded night club, post-MCS.
JG/JL: Once you determined how to rewire your own brain, how long did it take you to regain your ability to function in the “real world”?
AH: Less than a week.
JG/JL: That’s so incredible, it’s hard to believe! Did you have any relapses during this initial experimental phase?
AH: Yes, at day 15 I experienced a complete shift back to full-on symptoms of MCS. If I ever needed proof that it was brain related – that experience did it for me. It was like a switch went off in my brain. I focused on my brain training exercises and the switch went off again.
JG/JL: Is your recovery permanent—or do you need to do daily exercises in order to maintain the level of recovery you have achieved?
AH: Yes, my recovery is permanent. I do not practice regularly anymore. I practiced daily for about the first 6 months.
JG/JL: How stable is your recovery now—do you ever have periods of increased reactivity where you have to repeat a course of the exercises?
AH: My recovery is stable and I do not have periods of increased reactivity. However I will use the brain training exercises if I am feeling anxious about anything.
JG/JL: How long have you been giving the Dynamic Neural Retraining System Workshops?
AH: I’ve been leading these workshops for almost a year now—since November 2008.
JG/JL: What kind of accommodations do you make in order for those with chemical sensitivity to attend your seminars? As you well know firsthand, one of the main problems with MCS is functioning in any public setting because of triggers that may be present and there is no universality to what those triggers can be.
AH: I make it very clear to all participants that the workshops are scent-free. I just finished teaching a workshop in Victoria strictly for people with MCS. Because they all had the same condition, they know the drill. The space was an older building with hardwood floors with 40 foot ceilings and lots of air flow. The air quality worked well for everyone there.
JG/JL: You mentioned that your seminars are 3 days long and 6 hours each day. Can you describe what kind of sustained activity an individual would have to be capable of to fully participate in the seminar sessions?
AH: First of all, there are many breaks during the day. Activity involves sitting, occasionally standing, and simply concentrating on the course instructions. There have been people who brought in their own cushions and lawn chairs so they could lie down because they are unable to sit for that long a period. Many with fatigue and concentration issues have reported how surprised they were to be able to attend the workshop for 3 days.
JG/JL: You have said that one must attend one of your workshops to do the work and that home study is just not realistic due to the sustained training needed for this work. We have friends who would seem to benefit greatly from this work but they are homebound due to severe sun sensitivity and/or other sensitivities and they could never attend one of your workshops. Many others with MCS could never travel to Canada or could never afford a workshop because they are living below poverty level. Are there any alternatives to doing your program for those who are unable to physically attend an actual seminar?
AH: You need a very disciplined regulatory system in place to prevent reinforcing the trauma-patterned networks in your brain. I provide a high degree of discipline, instruction and structure to encourage you to stay on track all the time. That’s why I believe that having an instructor present during the training is more effective. However, I realize that this option is not possible for some, so in time I will have a DVD version of the training that will be as highly interactive as possible.
I go out for dinner with friends, I attend public events with ease.
JG/JL: We are looking forward to viewing the DVD. Could a person who has attended one of your seminars in person teach the therapy to another person who is unable to attend because of severe limitations if they were able to mirror the training using the parameters you have instituted for in-person seminars?
AH: In time there will be a Dynamic Neural Retraining Practitioner Program.
JG/JL: What health conditions have the people who have attended your workshop had?
AH: There have been participants with chemical and electrical sensitivities, chronic fatigue syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndromes, and anxiety issues.
JG/JL: What percentage were successful with the treatment via your workshops?
AH: Approximately 80% of participants to date have experienced significant changes in their health. Most are still in their six month training period and are completely recovered while others continue to experience steady improvements. Please see the website at retrainingthebrain.com for workshop results and testimonials.
JG/JL: That’s a very high success rate – we hope you are able to get funding to backup those rates with scientific studies. Currently, your workshops are only offered In British Columbia. Do you ever travel to other areas to share this work? If not, are you open to it – what are the prerequisites, and how should people contact you to arrange a workshop in their area?
AH: Yes, I am open to traveling to other places but require a minimum of 10 participants per workshop. I am offering a workshop in San Francisco November 14-16, 2009. Those interested in bringing this workshop to their hometown should e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.
JG/JL: How can Planet Thrive members find out the particulars of participating in a seminar and find a current schedule and prices?
AH: Go to the website at retrainingthebrain.com. The price of the workshop is $895 US per participant for a 10-person workshop.
JG/JL: Although you will be offering a DVD and book in the future for those unable to come to a workshop, is it still preferable to learn this work in person?
AH: As I explained earlier, it’s preferable to learn this work in person, however I know the restrictions that most people have with MCS and I am making the DVD for that reason.
JG/JL: Ideally, how often must one do the exercises in order to optimize results?
AH: Approximately one hour a day for 6 months. It does not have to be all in one sitting, you can break up the hour into 10 minute segments.
JG/JL: Are there different exercises depending on the illness – or is the program a one-size-fits-all, offering the same approach whether you have chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue syndrome, or electrical sensitivities?
AH: All of the above illnesses are related to impaired limbic system function so therefore the program would be the same.
JG/JL: If, due to illness, one could not complete the program as detailed but instead did the exercises as often as they could, possibly every few months or even over several years, would that still be effective?
AH: No, I don’t think it would be as effective – repetition and concentrated practice are keys to success.
the stronger our unified voice is to make some much needed changes
in the way that we live and the way that we treat the planet
JG/JL: What is your vision with how this work can help others?
AH: I believe that this work will give people back their lives. My vision is to facilitate healing while promoting environmental awareness. The way I see it – the more people that heal from this illness, the stronger our unified voice is to make some much needed changes on a global level. Because remember, while the Dynamic Neural Retraining System repairs limbic sytem function, it doesn’t prevent illness. In order to protect our health, the planet and prevent MCS and related conditions from occurring, we need to mandate our governments to make changes in the way we live and treat the planet.
JG/JL: We definitely agree with that statement. How has getting severe chemical and electrical sensitivities – and then recovering from them – changed your life?
AH: Recovering gave me back my life. I am more grateful now for all of the things that I used to take for granted prior to getting sick with chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia and EMF sensitivities. I have more appreciation for what some people say are the ”simple things” like going shopping, out for dinner with friends, the ability to travel and visit my mom, the ability to work, etc. Every day I am grateful for my health and my ability to help others. I have a much deeper relationship with my body, the environment, the planet and Spirit. I am completely obsessed with work and trying to make this program available to all the people who so desperately need it. I feel a lot of pressure at times because I know the suffering involved in this illness and how great the need for healing is.
JG/JL: You were a core belief counselor prior to becoming disabled by severe chemical and electrical sensitivity. Now that you are essentially recovered, how has your experience with neural reconditioning affected your professional practice, if at all – were you able to incorporate any of these concepts into your approach?
AH: Yes, in some ways it has affected the way that I work with my clients and yet, in some cases it has not. I have decreased my practice substantially to focus on workshops, creating the DVD and writing my book.
JG/JL: Are you available for phone sessions as a core belief counselor for others with MCS? Do you offer one-on-one sessions for the neural reconditioning?
AH: No, I am not available for either of those services. I’m too busy teaching workshops, creating a DVD and writing.
JG/JL: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
AH: Don’t give up – there is a cure. You can totally recover from MCS.
JG/JL: Congratulations on your own healing and thanks so much for your promising research and making it available to others. If this program indeed delivers the high success rates you are claiming, the potential to transform people’s lives is huge. We encourage you to pursue funding for scientific studies that would allow you to reach a wider audience. Best of luck, and let us know when your DVD is available.
Find out more about Annie and her brain retraining program by visiting her website at retrainingthebrain.com. For those who have already attended Annie’s workshop and are looking for additional support, please join our DNR Support Group. For updates on Annie’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System and forthcoming book and DVD program, stay tuned to Planet Thrive. Those interested in attending her November 14-16, 2009 workshop in San Francisco should contact Annie as soon as possible, as space is limited.
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is for general information only, and is not meant to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. Neither Planet Thrive nor the interviewers are suggesting this is a cure for the illnesses mentioned above, as we have no direct knowledge of the exercises involved and have not spoken to any workshop participants; we are merely presenting Annie Hopper’s claims for the reader to explore further. We recommend reading The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD (required reading for all workshop participants!) if you are interested in learning more about brain plasticity, an area of research we believe holds great promise for those with toxic brain injuries.
Annie Hopper photos: © James Tozer, reprinted with permission.
Julie Genser and Julie Laffin are friends who have joined forces in their research to find people who have improved their functionality after suffering from severe chemical sensitivity. Julie Genser runs the websites PlanetThrive.com and limbicretraining.com. Julie Laffin is a Chicago-based performance artist currently working on transforming her work to embrace and transcend her health challenges. A big thank you to Steve Savitz for alerting us to AnnieHopper.com, which started us in our research on brain plasticity.