s2 e14: a brain based approach to healing with alyssa chang

In this episode we are going to dive into what it means to have a brain based approach to healing with Alyssa Chang. Alyssa is a brain-based health coach for women seeking a different approach to health and healing, so you can learn how to live a life designed with listening, attuning and trusting your body’s unique needs.
With the health industry currently saturating the market with “quick fix” and “cookie cutter” approaches, Alyssa aims to challenge these norms. With over 10 years studying neuroscience, she works with clients on improving their connection between their brain and body, so they can heal their metabolism, rewire their mindset and move pain free.
Through partnerships with her clients, Alyssa develops programs that create sustainable lifestyle shifts and interrupt seemingly never-ending searches for new solutions. She trusts you as the expert, and serves as your guide on this journey back home to your body.
Follow Alyssa on IG
Visit Alyssa’s website
Brain map post
Nervous System Fawn response
Nervous System Freeze response
Nervous System Flight response
Nervous System Fight response

Amanda Montalvo 0:00
Hey, this is Amanda Women’s Health dietitian.

Emily 0:03
And I’m Emily nutritional therapy practitioner.

Amanda Montalvo 0:05
And this is the RU menstrual podcast where we help you navigate the confusing world of women’s hormones in teach you how to have healthy periods.

Emily 0:12
Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women’s health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, email physiology and metabolic health.

Amanda Montalvo 0:20
Our goal is to help you wade through conflicting health information and empower you on your healing journey.

Emily 0:25
We hope you enjoy it.

Amanda Montalvo 0:37
In this episode, we’re gonna dive into what it means to have a brain based approach to healing with Alyssa Chang. Alyssa is a brain based health coach for women seeking a different approach to health and healing. So you can learn how to live a life designed with listening, attuning and trusting your body’s unique needs. With the health industry. Currently saturating the market with quick fix and cookie cutter approaches Alyssa aims to challenge these norms with over 10 years studying neuroscience. She works with clients on improving their connection between their brain and bodies so they can heal their metabolism, rewire their mindset and move pain free. Through partnerships with her clients, Alyssa develops programs that create sustainable lifestyle shifts, and interrupt seemingly never ending searches for new solutions. She trusts you as the expert and serves as your guide on this journey back home to your body, which I’m like, oh, even just reading your bio, Alyssa just gives me all the feels. So I’m so happy that you’re here with me today. And I’m excited to share you with my community and my audience. I’m so honored. So do you want to go into your own kind of like healing journey? And I think a lot of people are gonna relate to it. And then how that kind of morphed into focusing on a brain based approach to healing.

Alyssa 1:52
Yeah, definitely. So you know, I grew up as an athlete, so I played volleyball trained very intensely to perform really well. I played volleyball, and I’m only five, four. So it meant that I had to train myself to be very fast and agile, because I lacked the height. So I was that person that would you know, stay at the gym later after practice the really early to practice and, you know, kind of this innate desire and drive to just do really well. And after I graduated and finished playing, there was this big void. And if I’m not training to be an athlete, like, what am I training for? And in that space, I kind of had this weird identity crisis of like, oh my god, if I’m not an athlete, like who am I, and I had a friend that recommended or just kind of asked if I heard about figure competitions. And I didn’t know what fair competitions were. So I went home, and I Googled it, and you know, your screen populates with all these like, you know, very fit, lean perceivably very happy competitors. And I was like, wow, like, that is something that would definitely challenge me, right, meet kind of that athlete mentality of like pushing and performing and all of that. So I ended up training to for these bigger competitions. And fair competitions really are this perfection of, you know, how you’re eating, how you’re training, sleeping, it was very, very intense. And after a year of competing, I ended up ended up damaging, quote, unquote, damaging my metabolism. And it’s something that’s very common, a lot of your competitors experience because of the, you know, prolonged calorie deficit, the extreme intense exercise. So I exited that you’re competing with a host of ailments, depression, anxiety, binge eating leaky gut syndrome, I had rapid weight gain of roughly about 65 pounds in the six months post competing, lost my period, I was very withdrawn and had a lot of pain. And so I kept trying to step back into healing my body through traditional methods of eat less, do more the mentality I had yet I kept getting sicker. So that’s where like the neuroscience approach kind of fell into my lap through a mentor. And as I started to learn more about the neuroscience approach to really trusting your body and yourself as the guide, it really helped dismantle the ways that we’re led to believe that we should train our bodies or feed our bodies. And so neuroscience really helped pave a much more sustainable path towards like, being in that trusting intuitive relationship with yourself.

Amanda Montalvo 4:36
That must have been really hard going from like this state of like a perfect physique, basically, that you achieve through like training for figure and then like, and feeling like, you know, I’m the epitome of health, right? Like, when we when we look like that in the outside you can like you think you’re healthy and that’s what we in society associate with health, like weight loss looking a certain way, and then having that extreme You have like, I mean, 60 plus pounds. That’s a That’s a lot. And you’re like a petite person. So I’m sure that that was like really traumatic mentally. Were you just Was it hard when you found the neuroscience stuff? Or were you like, this? Is it like, this is definitely for me.

Alyssa 5:16
Um, you know, I think I was just like, hopeful because at that point, I was exhausting a lot of again, that the traditional approaches of like, okay, if I, if I wanted to get out of pain, well, they’ll do the foam rolling, I’ll do the acupuncture, I’ll do like all the things and I was just like, my pain would just move somewhere else. And then when I was trying to restrict my calories, my body would rebel and I would just gain more weight. So I think when I started to learn about neuroscience, and this brain based approach, I was like, Okay, this is kind of like my last hopeful, you know, effort in making sense of everything I’m going through, and it just made sense. And so I was willing to like, step into it and learn more about it, I was very cautious. And I think a lot of the students that work with me are also in a very similar position where they are in a place of like hopefulness, but then also so much field experiments, they’re, you know, really unsure if this is actually going to work

Amanda Montalvo 6:10
out. I think that I because I can imagine so many people listening to this and feeling in a similar situation, especially if they’ve tried different approaches to working on whatever those like main health concerns are probably something to do with hormones. So just like curious, because like, that’s like, that’s rough. That’s a lot like mentally and physically to be dealing with that once. I do feel like the brain based stuff does make sense. I feel like it I could, like totally see that like resonating, like once you learn a little bit, you’re like, oh, okay, like, this totally makes sense. And like kind of clicks. But when you say, like, brain based approach to healing, what does it mean? Like, what do you do?

Alyssa 6:46
What do I do? As you shared, I’ve been studying neuroscience for 10 years. So I was introduced to this certification that basically unpacks the different structures of the nervous system and their independent responsibilities of what makes us feel safe in the world, the subsequent behaviors, we create, the way that your brain is hardwired to basically work for you. So as I learned more about these different structures, again, it helped make sense of like these unique symptoms I was manifesting, what I utilize is looking at everything from this nervous system perspective, with the understanding that our brain and body are always trying to orient us more towards safety and survival. So as I was rebounding, and like struggling with everything that I was experiencing some symptom wise, I had to kind of take this bird’s eye view and ask myself a very simple question of like, where is it that I might be feeling unsafe? You know, why is my body rebelling against any type of weight loss protocol? Why was I feeling so tired? What was my anxiety trying to teach me and so all of my symptoms were really windows into much deeper needs by my nervous system, and what I actually needed to heal protocols that I needed to heal, were going to be very, very different from the protocols that may be set. And I think that that’s something that in my work, a lot of my students are learning how to dismantle like, traditional fitness and health culture beliefs around, you know, no pain, no gain, just push through, grind, you know, whereas this kind of brain based approach is looking at, well, what if we just do less than that actually equals more? You know, what if we find a more effective path that doesn’t occupy hours at the gym? What if we utilize pain as a redirect to help us better understand what your needs might be? So it’s a very, it’s a much more compassionate approach that’s rooted in science, that allows people to feel more normalized in their bodies after spending probably months, if not years, really feeling very confused, reaching a lot of dead ends and feeling very alone and how they exist in their body.

Amanda Montalvo 8:47
I love that. And I love how you talk about, like, using that communication and signs from your body to kind of go through like, what what could this be giving you some insight to, that you might possibly need? Instead of, I just think it’s really easy to look at things as symptoms and be like, as a negative thing, and almost like be trying to fix it, you know, like, whereas it’s like, okay, but what if these behaviors or whatever symptoms or whatever, it’s kind of however, it’s manifesting for you? What if that’s actually your body trying to say like, Hey, I actually need a little bit more of this or that and I’m sure is that that’s something I believe that you you’ve talked about, I know you have some great Instagram posts on it. But with your clients as well, and like, What things do you see for them that they might look at and want to like, fix it or maybe see it as an issue? And how could that show up? Like I think of like weight gain, right is like a huge one for someone like what could that maybe be telling them?

Alyssa 9:50
Yeah, you know, like weight gain. What you know, from my personal story, what I’ve often seen with a lot of my students is that weight is merely like your brain’s best option to help keep you safe. And as I mentioned, the nervous system’s main goal is keeping us safe and alive. So if I was in during like a year plus of extreme calorie restriction, I was basically in a place of starvation mode, which is your body is just in high conservation, it perceives a ton of threat, a ton of stress. So your brain is basically saying, well, there’s something super stressful happening around Alyssa. And my best option right now is to create as much insulation around all of her vital organs to protect her. So we often will notice that we gain weight in certain areas of our body that might be high, what I call threat zones, meaning, you know, some people may be carrying more weight around their midsection, around their hips, around their arms, wherever it may be. And then again, that’s a useful little tidbit of information to be like, Oh, this is something I want to put a pin in and explore with more depth at some point. So weight gain is really a highly protective response by the brain to get insulate, insulate our internal vital organs. And simply put our brain is like, let’s create some sort of barrier between what’s what elicit needs to stay alive between something externally that I’m perceiving is very threatening. So in many cases, when we are struggling to quote unquote, lose weight, number one, the brain is highly resistant to weight loss. If anything, it actually likes to insulate it likes that external body fat to kind of regulate body tone to have our metabolism functioning to have as you know, being in a space of reproductive beauty. So the installation is actually very, very much so a survival tool. It’s just hard because I think sometimes it leads many people to feel at fault. Like why is this diet not working for me? Why am I not losing the weight. And I often say that if safety is not threaded through your entire experience and your journey, you could be doing all the right things, and your body will rebel and resist it. So if we’re pursuing weight loss, we want to pursue it in a way where you are actively making the best informed choices for your nervous system for your lifestyle for, you know, your community and your support system. So that it allows you to move through each phase of a potential weight loss journey. With you feeling safe, and calorie restriction can feel very unsafe for a lot of people. It can spark anxiety, food obsession, thoughts, it can make our digestive system kind of go a little haywire. So if we can approach weight loss from that perception of how can I do this in a safer way, that’s going to be much more sustainable. And

Amanda Montalvo 12:36
one of the other ones I’ve heard you talk about before is fatigue, too, because I like when I think of like the things that the most common like main health concerns, outside of like maybe PMS like period problems, fertility, that sort of thing. But like the ones that always creep in for people are Wait, either weight loss resistance, or weight gain, and fatigue. And what could fatigue be telling us about our bodies.

Alyssa 13:04
I just recently talked about this on Instagram, the, the nervous system has four different kind of trauma survival responses. So we have like the fight response, flight, freeze, and fun. And so the freeze response is this, again, highly protective response by the nervous system to disassociate and numb when we perceive something that’s really stressful or threatening around us. So I have a lot of clients that are big dis associators, meaning they kind of go off on what we call like a spaceship to disconnect from something that makes them feel really unsafe, whether or not that is an emotional feeling of like guilt or insecurity or judgment that they detach. So if we’re navigating a lot of these freeze responses, that is actually a very highly activated state by the nervous system, because you are appearing very shut down on the surface. But internally, there’s a lot of activation, a lot of arousal. So over time, being in that kind of trauma response is very depleting. And so again, it’s very fascinating, because fatigue is often an invitation by your brain to be like, hey, we need to kind of rest right now like this might be a season of rest. We don’t need to pursue goals, we don’t need to like track our calories, what might be actually more supportive of our healing is being very smart and very, very smart from the standpoint of honoring that rest is also a very vital, vital, like part of healing, like learning how to authentically rust some people might might want to slow down but their nervous system is uneasy with that change in how they’ve been orienting in the world where stress has become something that they feel more attached to. Fatigue, again, a very common thread because a lot of us have navigate with a lot not navigate the world with a lot of stress in general.

Amanda Montalvo 14:52
And it’s just like I feel like like you said in the beginning like a brain based approach is so compassionate. Right and it’s when you hear It said that way, it’s like, okay, well, maybe it’s okay. If I’m feeling tired versus thinking like, automatically that, Oh, I did something wrong, something is off inside my body because I don’t have any energy. And like, yes, you know, if we’re not eating enough and not getting enough sleep, of course, that’s going to impact things. But I also think I see many women that feel like they’re doing all the things, right. And they’re working on all these areas, and they’re still dealing with fatigue. And like this could be a season of rest, even though that can be really hard. Taking a step back from different things in your life, especially if you enjoy a lot of what you have going on. It can be really difficult. But it’s I think it’s important to notice, like, that could be like a nervous system response, and your body’s trying to protect you and preserve.

Alyssa 15:48
Yeah, and a lot of people like you mentioned, I think will often feel bad because they attribute it to feeling or not succeeding when they are feeling tired and need to take quote, unquote, days off. But you know, again, such a important and essential component of healing is implementing rest periods, for your nervous system to decompress to even integrate new information to just step outside of a healing process so that you can, again, decompress and allow your brain to kind of adapt to all the changes that you’ve been proactively working on.

Amanda Montalvo 16:24
That’s a good point. Like, it’s like maybe this is part of all the work that you’ve already been doing. And in response to that, it’s a kind of letting like everything catch up. So that so that’s technically the freeze, because I know you’d have like the four trauma responses. So that’s freeze. Like if you’re more like conserving energy. What are the other ones? I know? There’s like fun.

Alyssa 16:45
Yeah, so the fawn response is like the tendency to people, please, when you feel again, stress and then environment, so you self abandon and step into being the peacekeeper. Because at an early age, you probably identify that let’s say for instance, your caretakers, were in an argument, if you jumped in, and we’re like, throughout a joke and or played the mediator, it diffused the situation and therefore you were able to access more safety. So as adults, we might find that we constantly are self abandoning. We’re constantly focusing on making sure everyone’s okay, like, let’s say, at a party or something, you’re like, How’s everyone doing? You know, and you’re constantly bumping around the room making sure everyone’s okay. Meanwhile, you’re like, I haven’t used the bathroom, I haven’t ate anything, right. And like, you have self abandoned so much of your core needs that over time. What ends up happening with a lot of my fond responders is that they arrive at a place in their healing journey where they don’t know themselves, they don’t know what they need, they don’t trust that they have an intuition. They often and frequently second guess themselves. When I do my check ins with them, I’m like, Hey, how are you feeling? Today? A very normal response will be I don’t know. And so part of their journey is holding a lot of compassionate space for them to be validated. And this is a very normal, you know, introductory phase into them relearning themselves, and to provide them like the steps of like, how do we create embodiment? How do we create you know, body connection in a way where you can start to attune to those symptoms like pain, like anxiety and, and recognize patterns as a pathway towards relearning who you are and what you need.

Amanda Montalvo 18:18
I love that you have some great graphics on your Instagram for this, that go through each one. When I read that, when he first posted, I was like, I’m the fun like, when if I get anxious, that’s like, my immediate, like, first, I’m a middle child. So I feel like that’s kind of like normal. But I was like, are you Oh, it’s like it, but it’s only like, it’s more than like, I don’t know, if it could be like a control thing. But it’s like, yeah, if I get anxious, I’m in that state. Like, that’s like my automatic because I feel comfortable there. And one thing that I’ve learned from you that I really appreciate, is to not necessarily feel bad for like, what soothes you what Sousou, especially like, on your healing journey, but that’s, that’s very interesting. And then I know there’s like a flight, a flight one, what is that one, I feel like a lot of people are gonna, this is like the type a people.

Alyssa 19:12
So just to piggyback on what you just shared, you know, nothing can be inherently wrong or bad if it has a track record of really helping you be safe and keep you alive. And so while we have all these quote unquote bad habits that we’re actively trying to change in a healing process, right, like I don’t want people pleasing and not attuned to myself and all these things, it’s like, well, we have to also honor the fact that it served a purpose so if we can hold compassionate space for this quote, unquote, habit we’re trying to break and utilize that as data to help move us in the direction of like, oh, not self abandoning, acknowledging what we need, like that’s like a much more right sustainable kind of trajectory. For us. The flight response is definitely something I relate to as well. It is when we are moving like our stress and energy towards being productive. So When the pandemic hit, I’ll just share a personal story, I built out a program. When I was now getting a lot of unease with the uncertainty of the world, it was like, Well, I’m just going to move all of that stressful energy into like producing a program. And many of the flight responders are busy bees, you’ll find that you’ll be like randomly organizing your inbox at like, 10pm. When you’re like, logically, you’re like, I should be sleeping, but you feel some sort of unease and your self soothing, by becoming overly productive, like responders will have a hard time being still. So like meditation can often feel more anxiety provoking. And they may walk away from a meditation or yoga class like thinking like, I’m not good at it. I’m, you know, I don’t like it. And when I would rather kind of the perspective be is like, Oh, actually, you just didn’t meet me in this season of being like, that floater right that I need to move my energy. And sometimes that comes from like a walking meditation, right? You listen to maybe you’re walking meditation, but you are your meditation, but you take yourself on a walk. So there’s better ways that we can meet our nervous systems needs. By understanding that we have these natural defaults, it doesn’t make us wrong, it just makes us be better at identifying what’s going to better support us. And I think

Amanda Montalvo 21:17
that’s like the big takeaway. It’s like, I don’t there’s no, like best category. It’s just kind of like, wherever you’re currently at, right? Now. What about the fight one?

Alyssa 21:26
Okay, so my fight responders are those that like, often seek control, there may be a little bit more combative. And this really all stems from again, we’re looking at it from the perspective of like, it keeps you safe. It’s a very protective mechanism. When we think about control, a very common symptom I noticed with given the pandemic is, you know, the brain relies on predictability as a means to allow us to feel at ease. And when the pandemic hit, there was like a lot of uncertainty in the world. And then, you know, 2020, in general, was just a very, very unsafe kind of year for many of us that I solve old habits and clients start to resurface, they began to default to, you know, restricting calories, because they were trying to control their body because they could not control things outside of their body. So my fight responders are the control seeking this could come up in like, like a calendar, this could come up in like, needing to know all the details before you make a decision, this could come off as needing to, quote unquote, be right. And the need to be right is definitely the self protective tool of like, if I’m wrong, then that feels very threatening and scary to my nervous system. So

Amanda Montalvo 22:43
I feel like people, I feel like I could probably relate to like, multiple, like, I can see myself and a few of these. But I’ll be curious. So if you guys are listening, tag us and let us know which one you relate to. I’ll put the link to the Instagram post in the resources. So if you want to, like swipe through and get the visual, I’m a very visual person. So I love when you make those. I’m always like, Oh, this, like I can digest this information very easily. But let us know which one, because I’m curious. It’s, I just think it’s helpful to understand like, oh, so that is like self soothing to me. So if I see myself doing that, then it’s just recognizing, like, maybe I need a little bit of support right now. One other concept that I love the way that you like phrase, it is your nervous system and how you had a great post that was it was just like your nervous system serves as your personal security system. And I was like, what a nice way to like, think about it. And to have a better understanding of it. I just, I was like, oh, okay, like, That makes so much sense. Because again, it’s like, we’re kind of always trying to change everything and like change the habits. Whereas I really like how you encourage people to lean into it, as well. So what do you mean by that, that our nervous system is our own personal security system?

Alyssa 24:03
Yeah, so you know, the nervous system is constantly scanning our environment to answer that one question, how safe am I and so when the nervous system is hardwired to look for, you know, danger and things that may be threatening to our survival, it’s going to alert us and so that surveillance system is that scanning, that constant scanning, we walk into a grocery store, we’re scanning for danger, we walk into like a crowded mall, we’re scanning for danger. So it is just so reflexive and so intuitive by the brain. If we carry trauma experienced trauma, what ends up happening is we become very vigilant of this scanning mechanism. So it’s almost like we’re so focused on like, scanning for something that is threatening that may not be threatening. That part of our work is going to be learning the tools of the nervous system so that we can relearn that we no longer have to only look for danger, we can actually look for safety. So we can look for safety in a In a grocery store, right? Like, oh, I’m going to take that path down that aisle because there’s less people and, you know, so we can start to orient and gently shift that hyper vigilance of like, oh my god, this is threatening, this is dangerous to do that towards like, wow, okay, like, let’s orient towards like that comfort, that safety and that ease. But again, trauma kind of like changes our lens in a way where it makes us feel more preoccupied or more on alert, I should say. So we can utilize that lens as a very, very helpful supportive tool. And as you mentioned, right, it’s like, how is our body and brain really working for us versus the narrative of like, I always feel my body’s rebelling against me or working against me. It’s like, well, what if we flip that and ask like, Oh, what is she trying to tell me right now?

Amanda Montalvo 25:51
Hey, Amanda, here, just giving you a quick break, hopefully a break for your brain in the middle of this podcast episode, to remind you that if you haven’t gone through our free training, optimizing hormone health through mineral balance, we really do recommend starting there. And the main reason for that is because you’re going to hear us say things like mineral foundation, having a solid foundation, are you putting the foundations in place, especially what was we get deeper and deeper into different hormonal topics and specific imbalances in the body, the, the mineral foundation is always going to be so essential. So if you haven’t watched the free training, you can find it in our show notes. Or you can go to hormone healing rd.com. And it’s going to be right on that front page there. But we really recommend starting there. So you can understand how is your current mineral status? How do you assess this, and how to get started with all that just you can get as much as you possibly can out of the rest of the podcast episodes. But that’s it. I hope you enjoy the rest of this episode.

And I think one of the concepts that really helped me understand this, and just like how we kind of get here in the first place, is the threat bucket analogy that you use. So and I know we have a freebie I believe for people that they can download. So I’m going to link that so they can get the nice visual of the threat bucket go through the exercise themselves. But can you talk about like, what is our threat bucket? And you know, how is that helpful when you’re on that healing journey?

Alyssa 27:22
threat is basically the neurological word for stress. What I would like for everyone to kind of envision is that every day you start off the day with your own personal threat bucket. So you’re either the bucket itself, or you’re kind of carrying a bucket. And throughout the day, this bucket basically fills with different threats. And when we look at what options threat could be, it could be your own personal health history. So maybe you sprained your ankle in the past, you have had surgery sites, you have tattoos, any type of trauma that you carry in your own personal health history that already adds into your bucket. So when we add a threat into the bucket, it makes the bucket a little bit heavier. So you can picture you’re adding either like sand or rocks or water into your bucket. And then as you move through the day, again, your your brain is doing that internal like that surveillance system of scanning your environment for threats and danger. Let’s say for instance, you had a really tough interaction with your partner, and you had a difficult conversation and you left feeling like not connected a little activated and uneasy. So you’re then adding more threat into this bucket as you move through your day. Then let’s say you had something for lunch that major made your own body have an inflammatory response. Again, there’s so many nuances to nutrition, we want to honor that all of us digest and process things very uniquely. So you ate something that did not that your body basically did not enjoy. And so it added more weight to your threat bucket. So throughout the day, we’re picking up all these threats. And when our threat bucket gets too full, based off of again, all these perceptions by our own nervous system. The common output when our bucket gets too heavy is going to be pain. So if you envision that you’re carrying this threat bucket, there’s a little spigot and the spigot outputs pain. What I when we think about utilizing this lens, the nervous systems, main behavior change tool is going to be pain. It’s the loudest output, it’s the biggest thing that will get us to pause and at least ask ourselves or I should say it’s going to make us pause and change some sort of behavior. So when arthropoda gets really heavy, we’ll come in we’ll commonly have pain pain is also very personal. So someone might have a headache, someone might have lower back pain. Someone might get digestive discomfort, someone might have anxiety. So we all have our unique pain expression. And what it helps people conceptualize is that, you know, pain lives in the brain and When we carry too many threats, our brain will try to grab our attention. And it will signal some sort of pain symptom. And our goal is to stay curious and explore what about our threat bucket might have contributed to this pain pattern? It then gives us a lot of different options to help address the one symptom. So if it was like a difficult conversation with a partner, could you call them and you know, have a conversation to hash things out? And does your headache go away? If it was the fact that you know, you sprained your ankle, and you know that has, as we’re going to probably talk about, it created the blurriness around your movement and sensory map, can you do some ankle mobility? Can you do some breathing mechanics that allows that to be less of a threat in your bucket? So it gives us a lot of these different dials to help us address one symptom. And I

Amanda Montalvo 30:50
feel like it’s so helpful to just think about even to just conceptualize in a day, right, like, like this, the idea of thinking about filling your threat bucket in a day is a lot less overwhelming than thinking about, ooh, how much is this threat bucket been filled my whole life? Right? So yes, you have that like portion of it that’s filled from your health history. But also even just having that like, Okay, but what can I do in this moment, and right now, to help relieve some of this pain, however, that might be showing up for someone? I feel like it makes it just seem more doable?

Alyssa 31:27
Yeah, totally. And I think that, you know, to start appealing process can feel very overwhelming, especially if you’re filling out an intake form. And it’s asking you like, what have you experienced? What have you tried already? That it’s like, well, wow, where do I start anything? Just asking yourself the question of like, oh, what’s in my throat bucket today gives us a much more authentic answer. Because it can often make us pause and think about, like, all the other areas in our life that are registering that our brain is registering as stressful, and how our body and brain are communicating to us like, hey, Alyssa, like you need to, like slow down and rest, like, you know, don’t move into your flight response. And like frantically clean your plays, maybe you need to lay down and like do some deep breathing.

Amanda Montalvo 32:09
And I like the word threat too. Because I feel like stress is so heavy. And also it’s just used so much. You know, we’re I feel like we’re constantly bombarded with the idea of stress with how we need to minimize our stress, how stress leads to solve health issues, you know, so I like the idea of the using the word threat instead. And it’s a nice little reminder of like, it is a threat, because that’s how our body’s perceiving it. And that’s we again, we have this nervous system that’s constantly scanning and trying to protect us.

Alyssa 32:42
And I think it’s like helps people understand that like, my own threat bucket will look very different than your threat bucket, how your brain perceives threat will be different than how my brain perceives threat. And so it allows us to really honor like how unique each of us show up every single day, and how unique our own perception of safety and threat and danger are from one person to the next. So as we are moving through a healing process, it helps us honor like, yeah, like our programming will probably look very different person to person, because my brain is just perceiving things so differently than then the person next to me.

Amanda Montalvo 33:18
And you mentioned brain maps a little bit. I want to go into this and just kind of go through like, what is a brain map? How and you mentioned, like clear brain map versus like a little bit of a fuzzy one, what is a brain map? And like, how do you utilize those with your clients?

Alyssa 33:34
Yeah, so you’ll probably like I’ll maybe make sure that you have the infographic as well for like what I kind of described as like these blurry brain maps. So your nervous system has both a sensory and movement map, it also has a gut map. So you want to think about this as your own personal GPS system. And so we utilize this GPS system to help us feel safer in the world. As I mentioned, the nervous system relies heavily on predictability. So if our brain map is blurry due to trauma, injury, all of those aspects, it impacts our ability to predict how safe we are. So as a result, we might move slower, we might move with more caution, we might have more pain as a result of again, these these maps being very blurry. What I would like for you guys to visualize is if there was like a stencil drawing of your body, and it was drawn in pencil and you start to recall the things that you know have happened to you. So it’s like, oh, I sprained my left ankle, you get the eraser and you erase your left ankle. You’re like, oh, like, I’ll just start naming the things that happened to me. I slammed my left finger in the car door. So I started to erase my left pointer finger. I had a concussion. So I start to erase a portion of my my skull. And so over the years I’ve been I’ve experienced a ton of trauma and we also want to understand that trauma is also non binary. It’s very nuanced. So things like gaslighting, bypassing, bullying All of that can also factor into it impacting our map system. So when we take a look at our stencil drawing and explore, like, you know, our own trauma and our health history, we start to see like, wow, I’ve got a lot of blank spots in my body. And with the more blank spots we have, what ends up happening is again, we’ll probably carry more pain, we’ll probably have more anxiety as a result of not trusting or tuning to where our body parts are, we will probably feel uncoordinated, we probably won’t be as confident in going on adventures like hikes or trying out new sports, because we don’t know how to move these specific body parts because those movement maps and sensory maps are pretty blurry. So part of my work is helping each student understand that this is very normal a right we all carry trauma. And what are the specific brain based tools and therapies that we can do that help clarify clear up these blurry movement maps. So there’s a ton of like vision therapy that allows us to start to perceive the world a little bit more clearly, to repair these maps. There’s joint mechanics, there’s specific breathing tools, things like tattoos and scars are impacting our map system as well. So can we can we sense heat? Can we send cold can we send sharper or dull sensations because all of those sensations feed into our nervous system. And when we have a tattoo or scar, what we might notice is that we can’t feel that part of our body. So that part of our movement and sensory map is also very blurry. So again, it’s just a really great way for us to understand like how we’re showing up could be just attributed to all these things that have not been properly rehabbed. And

Amanda Montalvo 36:38
so you mentioned the the vision therapy, why does this brain based approach focus so much on like, you mentioned, like breath work and everything as well. But with specifically with our vision, how does that help?

Alyssa 36:52
Yeah, so you know, it’s what’s really, really interesting is like, you know, the fitness and health space, they often train everything from like, the neck down, right? So it’s like shoulders, hips, you know, core, and yet they ignore everything from the neck up. And yet everything from the neck up is so close to the brain. So it makes conceptual sense to be like, Well, why aren’t we like moving our tongue? Why aren’t we like, training our olfactory nerve, and like moving our eyes and our inner ear, because anything closer to the brain can have a much more profound impact on our healing. So our visual system is our Think about it this way. It’s our windows. It’s our brains first window into the world. So how we are utilizing our visual system? It’s not from the standpoint of acuity, right, I can see clearly, it’s also how well can my eyes move. When our visual system is working? Well, for us, it often has a drastic reduction in pain, it often has a drastic reduction in anxiety. And it often can improve things like performance, like posture is a great example. Because if we can utilize our visual system as what it’s designed to do, we will naturally feel safer in the world, we will naturally have a much more predictive map. And again, prediction, having a clear, predictive map automatically helps us feel safer in the world. So we can think about how we have two

Amanda Montalvo 38:16
eyes. But predictive nature helps with the nervous system response. Right,

Alyssa 38:20
right. So a lot of us, you know, because we’re on zoom so much and our eyes aren’t getting the proper exercise, what ends up happening is they’re basically getting really good at being in an isometric contraction. So we’re staring at our screens at the same distance at the same height, you want to think about that is almost similar to just holding an isometric bicep curl all day long, eight hours a day. So over time, though, the bicep muscle will get shortened, it’ll get more efficient at holding that contracted position. But what if you need to like reach down and pick up something from the ground, but your bicep is so contracted, you’d no longer have that range of motion, you’ll probably compensate, you might use your other arm, you might have pain developing that in that bicep as a result of holding that tension. And whenever we hold excessive tension, that automatically puts us more in that survival state. So we want to think about pain and tension and discomfort as again those windows by the or those symptoms by the nervous system to grab our attention to be like, hey, like, I’m not feeling that safe. Like can we do something that decompresses the bicep decompresses our visual input. So we can actually ground and relax from a place of relaxation is where we can actually access healing. So for a lot of the work I do, it’s teaching clients how to get out of that survival mode, getting out of those trauma responses so that they can access feelings of safety and then heal and rewire.

Amanda Montalvo 39:47
I love that and I think everyone can relate to that right now. Especially people that I mean. I don’t know a ton of people that don’t have jobs that require them to be behind a screen please for part of it. I mean, I know there’s plenty of people that maybe don’t relate to that. But I think a lot of us now, especially after the pandemic do, because we kind of had to switch to working behind a computer a lot more working from home, like, less breaks to kind of get up and walk around the office and, you know, socialize with people. And it’s, I remember, when you first I first heard you explain that, that it’s like holding that same position with your eyes. And it does create that like stress response. That’s why I know, like, when I’ve been on my computer for too long, you know, it’s like, it’s not just the work, it’s not just like, I need a work break. And like, I need like a whole brain break. So that you can like decompress, and relax. Because I think, like, obviously, we hear a lot about blue light now, and screens and stuff like that. And I’m sure that that there’s like a component with that as well. But even just holding that same visual kind of position all day, most days, I don’t think we realize how much that can impact our overall nervous system.

Alyssa 41:02
Totally. And, you know, when we start to learn, when I start to introduce vision therapy to my clients, it’s pretty, pretty remarkable, like, how much of a conversation that does start with the body, from the standpoint of, we just move our eyes off of our screen up, up to the right, we might feel like, wow, this feels like a stretch in my eyes. And those that’s actually you stretching your eye muscles, which when we think about it, well, every muscle, like you know, needs that kind of like elongation needs that stretching that mobility. So we don’t want to forget about our eyes, especially if that’s the first window into our ability to perceive safety. So when we are, you know, exercising our eyes, it is such a wonderful way for us to be like, Wow, that feels tight. And if I understand that tension correlates to survival mode, wow, if I can, you know, do my vision therapy, reduce the amount of tension I’m actually experiencing well, that have a wonderful domino effect on my anxiety or my digestion on my ability to be productive at work. And my ability to like think clearly, it’s like these wonderful side effects that happen from really us reducing the amount of tension we carry every single day.

Amanda Montalvo 42:15
And one thing I’m curious about is like, I’ll have people randomly start to develop like inner ear imbalances, and issues, what in like, and like they’ve never dealt with it their whole life, what can that be related to?

Alyssa 42:32
Okay, so the inner ear is so fascinating. I feel like in the last couple months, I’ve had way more clients develop inner ear disturbances, I would say we want to understand about the inner ear is that it is our primary balanced system. So a well integrated inner ear allows us to understand where is up, where is down, when we have an inner ear that’s not well integrated, we will often be someone that struggles with motion sickness, that easily gets nauseous, that frequently, maybe it’s like clumsy and or doesn’t have great balance. So you might hate lunges, you might hate certain yoga poses and feel like you’re not good at them, when really it’s just like a stability component of the inner ear frequently with someone with an inner ear also has a high pain threshold is usually that they can tolerate a high degree of pain. And that’s just the way that it feeds into different parts of the nervous system. Inner Ear clients are also there’s been research around how it’s correlated to gut health as well. So if I look at someone’s health history, and they’re talking a little bit more about, like, you know, I’ve done the food sensitivity tests, I’ve done all these kind of like fasted diets yet, I’m still chronically bloated. And as a result, I have anxiety, you know, what I want to help them entertain as those different dials of the nervous system of how we can address this one issue. So I may, instead of looking at analyzing their food, we can look at like, well, how is your balanced system working? How’s your inner ear working for you? Is it not working for you? And how do we create the adequate therapy to help you reintegrate it as you and I know a lot of people are have had some exposure to antibiotics. And antibiotics basically deteriorate the inner ear hair follicles, so post antibiotic usage, a lot of clients will end up feeling more unstable in their body. And when you think of feeling unstable in your own body, that is so threatening, right, that makes you feel very, very unsafe. So you may no longer want to again, you may start to remove movement options from your library because you start to feel unstable in your own system. The inner ear plays a huge role in so many different facets and when we can understand how integrated it really is, and then provide ourselves the right type of therapy tools, it provides us much more options to feel more connected to our body and to get more safe.

Amanda Montalvo 44:57
I had no idea about the antibiotics and The inner ear, like, I’ve never realized that that’s, that’s amazing. And it just, it shows you how connected everything is I asked about the inner ear thing, because I do feel like people view it as separate, like as a whole insane thing with like vision issues. Like it’s like a whole separate issue, when in reality, it’s it’s really not.

Alyssa 45:21
Yeah, you want to I mean, the biggest thing is like really thinking about your healing process as an entire ecosystem of like visual input vestibular input, and what we call proprioception, which is your awareness and space. So that often looks like you know, learning how to breathe, learning how to move your body. But if we have three circles of those, you know, modalities, and they all intersect in the middle, that’s what creates a very safe, grounded nervous system and a safe body that experiences the world. If we only had like visual input and vestibular input, or training, I should say we may lack feeling grounded in the world. Because we are lacking the proprioception, the movement map of our like how we orient in the world. If we only had proprioception and visual input, we may feel unbalanced, quick to nausea, motion sickness, we hate flying, we hate roller coasters. If we only had vestibular, you know, and proprioception, we may have a high level of pain, because again, visual input is correlated highly to, you know, reduction in pain. So these three systems are so so incremental and helping someone number one treat their whole healing process from a much more whole human approach and creating very sustainable changes in the process.

Amanda Montalvo 46:38
It’s such a cool way to think about the nervous system, too. I feel like now, people are learning a lot more about their nervous systems, naturally, it’s being talked about more, which is amazing. But sometimes it’s kind of it almost can feel like, you know how when you were describing, like different states like fawn freeze flight by like, it almost can feel like what do I do? You know, like, what can I actually do? If I’m, like stuck in age? How do I get out of it. So I just feel like understanding how the brain impacts it. And noting those like three main systems and components of healing that can be really helpful. It’s just cool. It’s, that’s why I think I just, I love the idea of the brain based approach. And like learning more about it is so interesting, because it’s like, okay, so maybe you just have these, like blurry brain maps, and we can kind of understand like, where your body’s coming from, cuz she’s been trying to protect you, and keeping you safe being your personal security system this whole time. And then just like slowly and gently addressing the different areas with actual like, like exercises that you can do. I don’t know, it’s someone that’s very, like, I like to have a plan and a specific approach and know why I’m doing something. To me. I’m like, oh, that’s like comforting. That’s like a comforting way to like, kind of approach that healing process.

Alyssa 47:57
Yes, especially when, again, if you’ve kind of exhausted a lot of other methods of like, trying to understand and connect to your body. It’s like, well, if we utilize, you know, our own intuition and nervous system as our guide, it actually provides us a lot of feedback, you know, we could sit down at our computer and be like, Wow, my back always is tight when I sit down at my computer. Well, that’s helpful information for us to then understand like, Okay, is it the fact that you’re staring at artificial blue light and your eyes aren’t moving? Is it the height of your chair, right, it gives us some sort of pathway to better understand what type of support and therapy you would need in order for you to not experience back pain and to honor the fact that pain is always again, that signal for us to push, pause and address something.

Amanda Montalvo 48:39
Yeah. And I feel like so many people are going to relate to that. And hopefully, I mean, even as your whenever you talk, I feel like I get so many like aha moments of like, Oh, yep, I can totally relate to that. This is definitely like the first thing that comes to mind when I think of like pain for myself, especially if people don’t necessarily feel like they have pain. They’re like, No, I don’t haven’t dealt with like chronic pain. But then, when you mentioned those, like little examples, like even like how your back hurts when you sit down, like to work or something, I think we can all kind of relate to that, or even like having like your balance and stuff, be off. Like, they’re just like little signs from your body that something is out of balance. And you could support it in specific ways. I’m hoping that’s really comforting for people. And that instead of them feeling like they need to, like, fix and rebalance our nervous system, it’s more of like understanding where your body is right now. Evaluating, looking at your threat bucket on a regular, hopefully daily basis to better understand what, what can you do based off the response that your body’s giving you. I’m very excited to hear everyone’s feedback from this episode and what they learned. And I really appreciate you being here and sharing all your knowledge in your brain wisdom with us. Is there anything that you want to leave with?

Alyssa 49:53
I think just to piggyback off of what you shared, I think by understanding like, how the nervous system does work work, it allows us to remove a lot of those judgmental thoughts like, you know, what’s wrong with me, this is my fault. I am defective, you know, like some of those narratives that come would naturally come up when we’re trying to fit into different health programs or different, you know, kind of like methodologies. When we can like approach it from that neuroscience lens of like, wow, like, I am innately very wise and very smart. And my brain is always trying to protect me, it provides you much more compassion to like be validated in the way that you are surviving, and the way that you are self soothing. Just because you’re cleaning your apartment late at night doesn’t mean that there’s anything quote unquote, wrong, it just means that wow, you’re feeling uneasy, and your brain has determined this is the best solution to self soothe. And in that point, we can make the honest decision of like, I’m going to keep cleaning and or Okay, I’m going to stop cleaning, and maybe I’ll do something different. But it’s really empowering, you know, to understand that, like, we do have all of these tools inside of our body, whether it’s visual input, whether it’s training the inner ear, whether it is understanding that emotional stress has the same impact of on our threat bucket, as you know, lack of sleep, it’s such a wonderful journey of exploring yourself, and getting really in conversation with your body that at the end of this, you’re going to be like so much more in tuned. And you’ll finally embody what intuition really feels like. Because you have allowed yourself to guide to guide yourself back to what your body can feel like, which is like a very safe home to be in.

Amanda Montalvo 51:40
I love that. And isn’t that the goal of the healing journey to like, feel safe in your body and to feel like you have the tools. You know, we’re always looking at outside sources to tell us like what to do and what’s the best approach. And obviously, like we have to gather the tools and the knowledge and the exercises to be able to address it. But I think just having that really nice reminder that hey, you already have all those tools now. It’s just learning how to use them. I love that it’s so beautiful. So if you guys are not following Alyssa, follow her on Instagram at coach Alyssa Chang. I’m going to link everything her Instagram her website in that threat bucket. In the show notes, I will get like that brain map visual from you so we can have that as well. And yeah, I just can’t thank you enough for being here. And I hope everyone enjoyed this

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Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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