Apple for the Brain: Workshops offer guidance in uncertain times


Every month, former journalist Ellen Verellen invites experts and the public to a discussion on serious themes in a relaxed atmosphere

Free your mind

When Ellen Verellen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012, her life as she knew it came to an abrupt halt.

Four years later, having quite her busy job as a journalist, the 33-year-old from Brasschaat, Antwerp province, created Apple for the Brain, an organisation that hosts evenings where like-minded people can come together to talk, discuss and feed their minds.

“Apple for the Brain is for people who want to develop themselves, who are busy with the future of the planet and with what that future entails for their children,” says Verellen (pictured right). Topics range, she says, and include “health, the planet, a holistic way of living, current affairs, philosophy, psychology and trends”.

After a miscarriage, Verellen realised that she had to slow down and reduce the stress in her life. But it was during her second pregnancy, when she suddenly lost sight in her left eye, that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

Starting over

Following the two pregnancies and self-injecting MS treatments, but also paralysis of her limbs, sleepless nights and excruciating pain, Verellen decided it was time to look at other options. She made an appointment with a holistic practitioner and acupuncturist.

After a while, she began to feel better. “After the second pregnancy, my body just crashed; I couldn’t move my legs, I couldn’t move my arms, I didn’t have enough energy to carry my own baby,” she says. “I’ve been completely stable for three years now, and I have more energy than before my diagnosis, but I’ve also changed my lifestyle completely.”

We live in times that are full of fear and anxiety, and people need the time to be together. Let’s get information, let’s feed our minds

- Ellen Verellen

Verellen founded Apple for the Brain while trying to decide what to do with her new-found energy. She had flirted with teaching, but it wasn’t until she took part in a TV programme on holistic medicine that she came up with the idea of inviting positive, like-minded speakers to present their ideas to people in a relaxed atmosphere, culminating in conversations and networking.

Last October, Apple for the Brain hosted its first speaker: well-known Flemish journalist and VRT’s US correspondent, Björn Soenens. His presentation was attended by 270 people and focused on how the post-9/11 social and economic climate in the US has led to Donald Trump’s rising popularity.

Since then, speakers have included columnist and author Guillaume van Der Stighelen, physician and holistic practitioner Evelyne Vanderschueren, and the psychiatrist and best-selling author Dirk De Wachter.

The first presentation in English will be held on 28 March, with British author and master hypnotist Matt Hudson explaining how the brain and the mind are two separate entities. Verellen plans to invite other well-known English speakers, but “we have to get the fundamentals right first,” she says.

Apple for your business

Verellen runs two other related series, Apple for your Business and Apple for the Young Spirit, which she calls Apple for the Brain’s “brothers and sisters”. The first Apple for your Business event, scheduled for next month, “will be about everything to do with health and your business”, while the Apple for the Young Spirit, Verellen says, is specifically aimed at reawakening “the creative part of our children’s brains”. 

The monthly events, which take place at Antwerp’s Felix Pakhuis, are accompanied by organic food and wine, and the format, she says, is comfortable. “Instead of standing in front of a white board, the speaker moves around, and the people are seated on couches.”

Think of them as evenings out, she continues, with like-minded people discussing topics in a cosy atmosphere. “I believe that we live in times that are full of fear and anxiety and people need the time to be together. Let’s get information, let’s feed our minds.”

Photo: Ellen Verellen with the famous Flemish psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter