Join Lisa Wimberger for the live, interactive video webinar “Reprogram Yourself for Happiness: An Introduction to Neurosculpting” and learn how to apply the latest neuroscience and ancient meditation techniques to heal your mind and body. This 2-session course begins December 10. Learn more here.
Lisa Wimberger is the founder of Neurosculpting, a synthesis of meditation and modern neuroscience that reprograms the brain. We spoke about how neuroplasticity works in the brain, what inspired her to merge meditation with neuroplasticity, and her incredible stories of healing.
What is Neurosculpting?
Neurosculpting is a process of meditation infused with neuroscience. It’s a methodical mental entrainment practice that one can use to enhance neuroplasticity, heal trauma, and find great relief from stress.
How did you become interested in neuroplasticity?
I had a lifelong relationship with seizures, grand mal seizures, but I was not epileptic. I got diagnosed when I was 30, 15 years after my seizures started. There was nothing they could do for them, so I started researching the brain and the central nervous system to find a way to control my seizures. I discovered the gifts of repatterning my brain through self-directed neuroplasticity. From there I developed this process which ended up being the one I used to stop my seizures.
What is self-directed neuroplasticity?
We’re all neuroplastic. In each moment we are learning something new and adapting, or we’re relearning a pattern we’re already familiar with and reinforcing it. That’s what neuroplasticity is. If we’re not conscious about what we’re focusing on and learning, then it is not self-directed. It is automatic. But if we become conscious and intentional with our focus and each moment of learning, then we start directing our natural neuroplastic nature. We start directing the way in which the brain learns.
Where did you first encounter the idea that you could be conscious of that process, and have a self-directed practice around that?
My lifelong meditation practice led me to believe that it was possible on an emotional and spiritual level. But it wasn’t until I started studying the central nervous system, about a decade ago, that I learned it is neurologically possible. I dove into studies. I got certified in different sorts of neuroscientific modalities.
You hit the books.
I have 250 hours of medical neuroscience under my belt. That helped me understand the granular aspect of self-directed neuroplasticity: how it works, what we need to eat to support it, and some of the neuro-myths around neuroplasticity. It gave me a great base of knowledge.
Did you discover any programs for self-directed neuroplasticity programs that you could apply to yourself?
No. I wished I found a program. The Neuroleadership Institute was the closest thing – it gave me basic neuroscience, but not practices. I had to create my own. I knew what was happening in my own body and how I was healing, so I created Neurosculpting because I couldn’t find anything anywhere else.
How did that begin?
I started by retraining my trigger to my seizures. Before a seizure, there would be a few seconds of onset. That onset was triggered by a lot of fear. So I would have these mental scripts that were different reactions to the trigger, as though I were an actor in a play. I would rehearse them in a very methodical way. I rehearsed so much that my nervous system began to believe it. So when another onset came, I circumvented my seizure by following this script I had rehearsed, which was, “I’m not going to have a seizure.” I rehearsed not having a seizure.
Why do you think that worked? What actually took place that kept the seizures from happening?
The first thing I had to do was calm my fight or flight center, which is called the limbic brain. The limbic center is the hub of our fight or flight response, the hub of our fear trigger. It’s hard to do conscious remapping when you’re in a fight or flight response, because you’re very reactionary in that moment.
I prevented myself from slipping into that default mode by stimulating the right and left hemispheres of my brain in an alternating pattern. Default mode networks are where we go when we’re not paying attention. Some of us default to fear, some to analysis, some to an experiential perception of the world. I had to not default anywhere because I was trying to create a new pattern. I had to make sure I was going back and forth between a left brain perception and a right brain perception of the world; triggering that required that I be very methodical. From that place I had to tell and rehearse a new story, where my limbic mind was quiet, my prefrontal cortex was really, really engaged, and my left and right language centers and front of the brain were alternating in sequence.
Did you originally come to this practice intuitively, and understand the science after the fact? Or did the science lead you to this approach?
It was both. I had intuitive assumptions about what might work. but I didn’t have any way to put a method to it. I would go read up on these hunches. My healing was definitely sparked by my intuitive approach, but none of that was put into place until I found the science. I needed the right grammatical structure to express myself.
You spoke to professors and experts in the field about your hunches. What kind of reaction did you get?
At first I researched alone and applied it to myself. Once I found healing in myself, I went to consult with people. I befriended a bunch of neurologists and ran my ideas past them. My first book is endorsed by Dr. David Perlmutter, who’s a renowned neurologist. I got to study a little with him. I also invited trauma specialists like Dr. Robet Scaer to the institute to validate what we were doing. I audit the medical neuroscience programs at the medical center here in Colorado. I’m constantly running this information past those in the medical field, and I take a lot of classes.
Was self-directed neuroplasticity a new idea to them?
It’s not new to them. What’s new is the broad application I am using it for. Applying it for generic healing to any aspect of your life, that’s new. And it’s well-received. It’s not unlike cognitive behavioral therapy, except the self-practice is more methodical. It’s not unknown or completely foreign, but the way we are using it at the institute is new and well-received. I do have these doctors using these techniques and discussing their potential with me.
People rarely think of meditation as therapy. What led you to see it that way?
I started meditating at 12. My seizures started at 15. At age 30 they were getting worse, yet I was meditating more and more. Meditation wasn’t healing me. It gave me amazing coping skills, but I didn’t want to cope, I wanted to heal. I knew meditation could do that, but no one was telling me how. Then I discovered the neuroscience underneath it and used it to target what I needed to heal.
Through your work at the institute, what have you found that can be healed through applied meditation with an understanding of cognitive science?
At the institute, people are coming in to heal their stress. They are finding an ability to manage their pain and get off pain meds. I have people who have weaned themselves off anti-depressants, ADHD medication, and pain medication. I have students who’ve gotten off opiates. Most recently we’ve been experimenting with applying this to spinal cord injury. The results are astounding. We have a student who was a quadriplegic. After years of therapy, she gained her arm movement back but still had paralysis in her hands and lower body. With Neurosculpting she is moving her thumb, index finger, and pinky after 8 years of complete paralysis in a hand that was balled up in a fist.
What is actually happening to trigger that spinal chord healing?
This individual did not sever her spine, she crushed her spine, a critical difference. She has brain information that tells her body how to move, but that information does not make it past the injury site. The fact that she still had the hardwiring meant there might be a way to get that information from brain to body. Since her hardwire is intact, there is some sort of blockage that is possibly emotional, or the residual paralysis of the event. The first step with her was to start decoupling the traumatic response from the event that happened to her 8 years ago. We spent a bunch of sessions having her renegotiate the moment she was thrown from the horse, and have her uncouple her fear response from that.
Using meditation, you had her move the charge from the fight or flight part of her brain so that she could activate the neuro-cortex.
Yes, so she can move out of fight or flight and move out of literal contraction. By uncoupling her subconscious from her fear and calming her fight or flight center, we can move her resources to different parts of the brain.
We have maps in our brain that represent our body, in terms of our motor movement and our sensory conception. We have a map in the soma sensory cortex that is distinctly separated into 5 areas, each representing a finger. Given enough time with your hand in a balled position, our own neuroplasticity will take those 5 now unused maps and fuse them into the representation of the balled up hand. Nothing you can do is going to allow you to move your finger individually, because now your mind map is huge.
We had to start giving that mind map 5 distinct borders. We did a lot of meditation around her visioning of that part of her brain and 5 distinct fingers. I had her touch her fingers quite a bit during that process. We spent time identifying each individual finger with words, letters, smell, and touch, and through meditation. We had her imagine having the thumb in the mind map communicate to the thumb on her hand, and she moved her thumb.
Do you know of anybody who has done this kind of work before?
Not with meditation, but certainly with illusion. Dr. V.S. Rahamachandran pioneered phantom limb cure. Phantom limb is when people have a traumatic amputation, yet still feel the limb that is no longer there. The map in their somasensory cortex is still present and it’s still in an active potentiated state. The body still feels the arm because the mind is still perceiving it. He pioneered a way to cure that — there was no cure before him. By having patients look in a mirror and perceive the reflection of their limb as the missing second limb, they could convince the mind map that the limb was no longer in pain, and the pain went away. Based on V.S. Rahamachandran’s work, I knew renegotiating those somatic sensory maps was possible. He did it with mirrors and illusion, and I don’t view Neurosculpting as any different from that use of illusion, magic, and acting.
Through the Neuroscupting process, you target the fight or flight center to calm it down and find ways to activate the neocortex.
Absolutely. Everything is way easier from there. The fight and flight center is a very dominant voice, so it’s going to be very difficult to create a new pattern outside of a fear charge if that thing is not quiet.
Your book, Neuroscultpting, is coming out and you’re getting more attention. What’s it been like to get more attention for this work?
It’s a double-edged sword. Because neuroscience is becoming a household word, there are a lot of modalities popping up that imply scientific basis, but don’t put it at the forefront of their teaching. There are a lot of neuro-myths out there, and I have to be careful to distinguish myself from those modalities. The neurosurgeons and neurologists that I talk to that see the work I’m doing are completely on board. The ones who don’t know what we’re doing lump it in with a whole bunch of other brain games that are not scientifically grounded. I have to make sure people get the correct information. Those who have not researched Neurosculpting may lump it into empty promises. My real mission is to get people to know more about it so they can evaluate it from a real position.