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Is it possible to improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia by calming the brain and changing how we think? The answer is yes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
During the eight-week study, 41 women with fibromyalgia were assigned to participate in either:
- Mindfulness meditation plus amygdala and insula training (MAIR) (aka the “Gupta Program”) or
- Relaxation therapy (RT) (aka the “control group”).
Participants assigned to the MAIR group followed the Gupta Program, which combines mindfulness, visualization, brain retraining and other techniques to calm the brain’s limbic system. (More on this later!) The RT programming included different forms of visualization, autogenic relaxation, progressive relaxation and breathing techniques.
“The results found that after just an 8-week intervention, the MAIR group had significantly greater reductions in symptoms and pain, and increases in overall health, compared to the control group,” reads a press release from the Gupta Program.
“The MAIR group demonstrated significantly greater reductions in functional impairment, anxiety and depression, as well as significant decreases in pain catastrophizing with large effect sizes,” read the press release. “There were also significant improvements in clinical severity and health-related quality of life, again with large effect sizes.”
The group of women using the Gupta Program reported the following improvements:
- 37% reduction in scores on the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire compared to 0% in the control group
- 47% increase in perceived health compared to 16% in the control group
- 46% reduction in pain catastrophizing versus 9% in the control group
- 45% reduction in anxiety versus 15% in the control group
- 41% reduction in depression compared to 6% in the control group
“Finally we have a novel way of treating the underlying causes of illnesses such as fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, recognizing that these are neurological illnesses that can be reversed in the brain,” says Ashok Gupta, creator of the Gupta Program.
What is the Gupta Program?
Gupta suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, the sister condition to fibromyalgia, while attending college. He recovered using many of the techniques now found within the Gupta Program.
Fibromyalgia is often triggered by some sort of physical trauma such as a vehicle crash, surgery, giving birth or an infection, or a mental/emotional trauma like a death, divorce, losing a job, losing a home, etc.
According to Gupta’s theory, the brain, particularly the amygdala and insula in the limbic system, becomes stuck in a hyperreactive stress response, which causes an overstimulation of the nervous system and immune system. This defensive response ultimately triggers the symptoms of fibromyalgia including chronic widespread pain, fatigue, brain fog, sleep disturbances, digestive issues, migraines/headaches and others.
Watch this introductory video for a more thorough explanation of Gupta’s theory on the causes of conditions like fibromyalgia and ME/CFS.
(Gupta’s take on the cause of fibromyalgia is one of the best theories I’ve encountered over the years. Even if you don’t commit to doing the program, this video will help you to better understand what’s happening within your brain and body.)
The goal of the Gupta Program is to calm the brain and nervous system, which in turn leads to a reduction in symptoms. The Gupta Program has been used to aid in recovery from fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, multiple chemical sensitivities, chronic Lyme disease, mold illness, unexplained pain syndromes and similar conditions. With the emergence of COVID-19 earlier this year, the Gupta Program also shows promise in reversing “long-haul syndrome.”
My Gupta Program review…
I’ve used the Gupta Program on two occasions – once in 2017 and again in 2019 when the latest 5.0 version of the program was launched.
The main components of the program include:
- Fifteen video sessions that explain the how and why of the Gupta Program.
- A twice-a-day meditation and breathing practice – Gupta’s free Meaning of Life Experiment app includes 30 days of guided meditations to mix things up! (Anyone can download and use the app. You do not have to be a Gupta Program student.)
- Brain retraining – It’s recommended to practice the brain retraining technique several times in the morning after meditating and to use it throughout the day whenever negative thoughts or anxiety arise.
- Online weekly webinars – A 12-week series of live webinars with Gupta supplements the previously mentioned video lessons and also gives participants a chance to ask questions.
- A workbook – This written guide supports the information shared within the video sessions and weekly webinars.
I had a chance to check out the latest version, Gupta Program 5.0, last year when it was first released. The previous version used DVDs as part of the training. With 5.0, all of the video lessons are now accessible in a convenient online portal.
Gupta filmed new training videos for 5.0, and they are absolutely stunning, featuring gorgeous landscapes in Switzerland. (The videos included within the Meaning of Life Experiment app are also beautifully done.)
One of the first exercises within the Gupta Program is keeping a thought diary where you capture any negative thoughts you have about your illness as you have them. This was eye-opening for me! I’ve always thought that I was good about ignoring my condition and trying to live as normally as possible, but on day 1 of the exercise, I quickly realized I put way more attention on my symptoms than I realized.
The actual components of the Gupta Program haven’t changed much with the 5.0 upgrade. However, the online portal does streamline and simplify the program much more than the previous version that I used back in 2017.
My opinion of the Gupta Program 5.0 is much the same as it was in my original review. Bottom line: You get out of the program what you put into it! There are several components to the program, and it takes commitment to stick to it long term. I estimate the daily time commitment to be around 60-90 minutes to complete all of the elements of the program.
And that has been my failing. I have had a hard time adopting the Gupta Program as a daily habit, so I keep falling off the wagon. Throughout the webinar series, Ashok continually reminded everyone to “do your best and leave the rest.”
That’s easier said than done when you have a type A personality like I do. I kept wanting to do everything perfectly, and because of that, I got bogged down in the program and ultimately gave up.
When the Gupta Program study was announced last month, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Gupta’s theory about the mechanisms behind fibromyalgia and his overall teachings make complete sense to me! So even though I haven’t successfully completed the program (yet), I still recommend it as a way of calming the nervous system, which in turn should reduce overall symptoms. I definitely feel better when I’m on track and working the program.
There are a number of success stories on the Gupta Program’s website for those who are interested in reading about others’ experiences.
If you’re interested in trying the Gupta Program, you can sign up for a 28-day free trial.
So now it’s your turn: Have you tried the Gupta Program or any other brain retraining/neuroplasticity programs? If so, what were your results?