[Transcript] – Best Of Mental Health And Happiness Hacking: How To Reduce Anxiety And Depression, Elevate Your Sense Of Calm And Focus, Become The Master Of Your Thoughts & Much More.

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From podcast: https://bengreenfieldlife.com/podcast/best-mental-health-podcast/

[00:00:00] Introduction

[00:00:24] The best of mental health and brain performance

[00:01:13] Best things to improve mental function

[00:08:27] Vagal nerve activation with Andrew Triana

[00:15:03] How to manage anxiety and panic attacks?

[00:17:36] Is visualization useful for improving performance?

[00:25:12] The impact of music on the brain

[00:37:56] The effects of stress on our bodies

[00:56:37] The impact of meditation on your brain

[01:11:29] Music FM technology

[01:16:58] End of Podcast

[01:17:59] Legal Disclaimer

Ben:  Fitness, nutrition, biohacking, longevity, life optimization, spirituality, and a whole lot more. Welcome to the Ben Greenfield life show. Are you ready to hack your life? Let's do this.

Welcome to a very special episode, “The Best of Mental Health and Brain Performance.” If you're feeling a little foggy or if you want to upgrade your memory, cognition, focus and the like or just get a little bit more smoke to come out your ears, this episode is for you. We are going to delve into everything from different types of nootropics and smart drugs to ways to address anxiety both naturally and using biohacks, the impact of music and how to use that properly, balancing sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system function, different types of meditation and neuro-feedback back and a whole lot more.

First of all, if you want to access the shownotes for this episode, go to BenGreenfieldLife.com/MentalPodcast. That's BenGreenfieldLife.com/MentalPodcast.

In this first snippet, you're going to learn how to stack paraxanthine with a special brain-boosting peptide, how to increase your dopamine and motivation using a very simple tactic, microdosing with psilocybin or a variant of LSD for creativity and focus. Yes, you heard me right. Here we go.

Tero:  Honestly, do it as long as it's fun. And, if the moment you start to tense up and worry about it, you're probably have gone too far for that level or you need to switch something. And, while routine when you're experimenting with something is really helpful for the first time, so if you've never woken up to see the sunrise, it's good to do maybe a 30-day challenge. But, I really recommend not having a routine and the routine is not having the routine, and that variation actually gives you a lot of physical, mental, and spiritual capacity.

So, initially recommend doing routine, challenge, whatever with your neighbor, friend, online. And then, after that, try to get away from having a routine. But, the habit stacking and making it fun, making it playful makes you able to incorporate more things into your day and maintain them a lot easier.

Joseph:  Yeah. So, the routine to create the habit and then switch to intuition kind of as soon as possible. Yeah, I love that.

Now, let's switch in, I guess, back to the kava a little bit. As it relates to substances that can help keep us in the mental state or bring us into the desired mental state if we're out of it, I'd love to know some of your favorites to use both on a daily basis and on an occasional basis. And, start with John. Yeah.

John:  I find breathwork to be one of the best things to really clear my mind and connect me with the present moment. And, some of the biggest challenge I've had with breathwork is maintaining the motivation to actually sit down and do it. And so, this is where I think anchoring the joy with that. and, sometimes you have to force yourself to just sit down and do it. 

With breathwork, because your breath is controlled by both your autonomic and your volitional control, and that autonomic nervous system is everything. And, if you take care of that, you're going to be extremely healthy. You live a long life, and it's something that's neglected. And so, it kind of ties into this whole circadian rhythm with sleep-wake because the part of the autonomic nervous system that's not supported is the parasympathetic. And, the most powerful activator of the parasympathetic is melatonin, just like cortisol activates the sympathetic, it gets you up in the morning. Melatonin is really important to be powerful. And so, we get and build melatonin by light going in the eyes.

And then, there's a lot of subtle rhythms that play into that where the amber light for sunrise and sunset because think about this little guy in a cave, and all he has is a two-way radio and he's down there, and you've got your radio and you're outside and you're seeing what's going on, and you're letting your little guy know in the cave what's going on. And, this guy's got all the levers to control all these different aspects of health. And, you say, “Alright, the sun's coming up,” and he's like, “Okay, I got that, sun's coming up.” And then, the sun going down. And so, all these different points really create a reference point for your body to entrain to the sleep-wake where you're going to get that really powerful parasympathetic activation and that deep rest. And, I think that this is more important than diet or exercise or anything else because it's foundational. Once you have that in place, then you're going to have the vitality to go and do all these other things. You got to have the motivation, the neurotransmitters, feeding dopamine, where you're going to be like, “Okay, I can do this.”

Ben:  I think John just admitted that he hears voices inside of his head. You need to get that checked out.

John:  Absolutely.

Ben:  I'll get all practical with your question Joe because it depends when you ask me what kind of things I like for enhancing mental function or the smart drugs and the nootropics, et cetera. I would say top three for me right now just to cut straight to the chase, there's a caffeine-like molecule that's pretty blissful called paraxanthine, P-A-R-A-X-A-N-T-H-I-N-E. I have had a great deal of success in terms of mental energy, thermogenesis, fasting, and appetite control, et cetera stacking that with a peptide called tesofensine. Paraxanthine, tesofensine stack, I don't think a lot of people are talking about it right now, but you can crush a day on that. It's a very, very similar feeling to what you'd get from something like Modafinil A.K.A Provigil, without it keeping you up for 24 hours. That's a good stack, paraxanthine with tesofensine. Tesofensine is a peptide. Paraxanthine, you could buy off Amazon.

Second would be there's a company called Nootopia that's making some interesting stuff right now. I just interviewed them this week. They have one called Dopa Drops. They're like dopaminergic compounds. And, you take one, you take the next about 20 minutes later. And, dopamine is very motivating. It makes you just want to go crush your workout or crush your day or do something you might not otherwise be motivated to do. This company does a online questionnaire for your neurotransmitter balance. And then, it's not cheap, it's like $400.00 for month-long box of all their smart drugs and nootropics. But, that one, I've been impressed with. I think they're doing a good job. It's really interesting.

I'm intentionally leaving Chris and Quicksilver Scientific out just because everybody knows about that right now, so I'm going to talk about something people don't already know about even though his stuff is absolutely fantastic. And, you can go ask them too because they got some great cognitive pick-me-ups as well.

And then, I would say the last one would be microdosing with plant medicines. I think plant medicines are overused and I think they're dangerous. I think there's a lot of people using too much of them or using the wrong set and setting, but I think microdosing with psilocybin or microdosing with LSA primarily for creativity, for focus, et cetera, it's safe, it's effective. Obviously, the only risk is if you're microdosing, you have the stuff around, you can obviously take too much of it if you don't have self-control and wind up, I think, in a dangerous place spiritually. 

But, I would say microdosing has a time and place as well. And, those would be three things that at this point in my life would probably be the top three things that I'm using to just upgrade my brain during any given day if we're actually talking about things that you would consume. And, I guess I'm leaving Tero's mushrooms out of the equation, but my wife and I are mushroom junkies and do those almost every morning in our coffee or tea or whatever. So, yeah. So don't feel bad, Tero, we are using mushrooms too.

Joseph:  Yeah. And, I don't want to open it up to Tero, and I also want to mention that this group really loves Four Sigmatic coffee. We went through 120 cups in like 2.5 hours today. It's really, really impressive.

Ben:  Next up, your vagus nerve. It's important, snakes through your whole body, innervates a lot of organs, is really impactful for nervous system performance when it comes to how to use it to manage anxiety, to stimulate it and to improve performance based on your vagus nerve and a whole lot more. We're going to delve in with Go Super Brain‘s Andy Triana.

Andrew:  They just do intense oscillation to one of these fascial landmarks like your sternum. For example, we have a two torpedoes of fascia in our thorax, one on each side and then obviously a larger one where the actual skeleton superficially lies. But, the left and right have a little bit of their own fascial dynamics and they kind of meet in certain areas like the sternum where you can release both sides from the center. And, that's what they're looking to do there.

Ben:  Okay, that's super interesting. RPR is just a manual therapy type of form. It's an acronym for some form of manual therapy.

What about the rib–are you saying rib-tac?

Andrew:  Yes. What is that? That's the name of the technique from the Czech Republic.

Ben:  Oh, okay. Are there videos that one could find online if they were to google “rib tack” of what some of those techniques look like?

Andrew:  Probably not videos, but you could still find the research papers. This comes from the Czech Republic in the '90s. Just look for manual changes to the diaphragm. I think Google Scholar is the best thing on the planet. Growing up coming through school, I'm sure it was the same everyone was all big on bibliographies, but just the lemon problem kind of dissipates with the internet. The more research and publications get out into the world, the less validity you have to things like that. So, you could have a conversation where you tell someone exactly what to research, the key terms and you use key things like parentheses or plus and minuses in your Google search box. And, you can actually find the paper faster almost than sorting through anyone's bibliography nowadays.

Ben:  Yeah. And, it is rib-tac, R-I-B T-A-C?

Andrew:  I believe so. Yeah. Czech Republic 1990s. I'm not sure if that term will come up in your search engine because I don't know how search engines work with sorting through the paper. That's the term in the paper, but the title of the paper has to do with the manual restoration of the diaphragm.

Ben:  Okay, cool. I'm starting to note to myself. I'll hunt down some links and put them in the shownotes for people.

I got to ask you, by the way, I'm going to disappear here for a second and reach down by my office. I was standing on these this morning while I was working and this kind of reminds me what you're talking about as far as vagal nerve activation and potential downregulation, some of the sympathetic activity. These things arrived at my house last night. It's this nail bed that you stand on that you would use is almost kind of an ice bath for the feet, for vagal nerve activation and it's a proprioceptive input. And, you've no doubt seen a lot of these acupressure mats and things like that the folks will lie on. What do you think about using that as a tactic to kind of downregulate sympathetic whether a nail bed or an acupressure mat or something like that?

Andrew:  Mark had something similar to that when we did the podcast recently. I think it's essentially the modern-day grounding indoors. I just had a conversation and a consultation with someone earlier today who had vision problems where we talked about grounding and doing some vision training outside is a massive return on ROI for something that you could just do inside. These types of things, it's really the increase in afferent and efferent signaling through our hands and feet. That's the nature's way of ameliorating anxiety. 

You can view anxiety as spilling over electrical input into brain areas that don't need to be active right now. And, mindfulness is using the five senses to quiet those. So, when you get outside and ground, obviously you're doing more than just getting afferent, efferent signaling from your feet, but additionally, you're getting light in all this stuff. But, let's say you're just at the desk or doing whatever, bringing something like that inside, I think, is honestly better than doing a whole stretching routine when you talk about return on investment per minute.

Ben:  Yeah. You ever mess around the vagal nerve stimulators that they use as electrical input to the size of the neck or sometimes back behind the ears? They're typically these wearable devices that will vibrate or produce almost–very similar to almost like a TENS unit like a mild electrical sensation over the vagal nerve area.

Andrew:  I haven't personally, but one of my best friends in the UK, Shane Jermaine has with tons of success, I've seen his biometrics and know his routines in life really well. He loves it. I've experimented with the PEMF monitors that go through actual vibrational frequencies that resonate but very similar concepts.

Ben:  Yeah, yeah. Those things are super interesting. They seem to relax you pretty well.

Now, related to anxiety that you mentioned. For you, how would you define where anxiety actually comes from? And, I think about this honestly because one thing that I talked with a guy named Dr. Peter Martone about several podcasts ago was he said that he'll relax himself and fall asleep a lot faster if he avoids future processing and thinks instead back to things that have happened in the past as almost the way to kind of shift a lot of activity in the frontal cortex, I suppose, away from that and away from dwelling upon the future making me kind of wonder your whole take on anxiety and future processing. Have you ever thought about that?

Andrew:  100%. So, we don't have a center in our brain for the future. The most sophisticated anticipatory center we have is probably the hypothalamus with anticipatory insulin secretion and stuff like that. And, we're looking at minutes to hours tops. You know what I mean? It's funny. When we talk about the best coaches that are just known, they're planning one to two, maybe three, four years tops in advance. Our ability as a human brain to go into the future is frankly trash, but our ability to be present is quite good. 

So, if you look at anxiety from a philosophical perspective, a psychology-first perspective, I would say it's putting too much blood flow to future processing using centers that we don't have available for that. And, if I was to look at it from a neurological perspective, I would describe it electrically like I just did a few minutes ago being surplus electricity into unnecessary places in your brain. But, we're always coming back to the concept of white noise or sacrificing electricity and blood flow to the key brain areas for it being turned on in appropriate ones. 

Ben:  So, what do you do about that? Obviously, golfing has a great deal of potential for anxiety or panic to cause issues. I do a lot of bow hunting and shooting in archery. They talk a lot about the target panic issue where you're anxious right before you do a high-risk or very important activity.

What are your thoughts on management of anxiety and panic based on what you just described?

Andrew:  The first thing I would tell anybody is recognize it's never going away, it's a good thing. And, even the best athletes on the planet, the best businessmen on the planet signing the biggest deals still experience it. And, just being at peace with that sometimes, sometimes because people a lot of support because it's easy to believe that, oh, the Walter Payton's of the world, they were never anxious. They just did what they did and they're tough blah, blah, blah. And, that's an appropriate mindset to have, but I promise you every single great athlete and businessman ever felt just as nervous, if not more nervous than you did. The difference was they had strategies and what I call buoys of objectivity to hang on to when they're in the ocean of anxiety drowning and they were just able to survive. So, when you have these anxious moments, the first thing you need to do is re-engage with the world around you from your five senses. Anxiety often has to do with losing touch especially that like term I just mentioned, is a golf term. It's losing touch of how hard these fine motor skills things are happening or we talk about it in wrestling too. Did you push someone so far that it actually negated the setup of what you were trying to do? The concept of touch goes a long way in every single sport across everything.

So, if you lose mindfulness, your five senses, your ability to interact with the world around you, you're inherently going to lose vision. Peripheral vision and behavioral decisions and the five senses are a little triangle, if you will, in their ability to function. So, being aware and accepting, being mindful and present are the two easiest concepts to chase after. If you want to do something, maybe pull out a few arm hairs or just lightly and gently stroke your hand and give yourself a light sensation. I talk about the world's smallest violin. Rubbing your thumbnail over the little fingerprint ridges of your index finger and force yourself to feel that. It's going to bring you to present because that future-driven perception is certainly what's driven in anxiety.

Ben:  How do you tackle the idea of visualization and motor imagery? And, I've come across a ton of really interesting research lately on kind of those old, was it the psychosomatic books, the inner game of golf or the inner game of tennis where you could actually improve your stroke or improve your performance by using mental imagery, and as we all know probably most notably with the story of Michael Phelps, a swimmer, get visualized like the individual drops of water coming off his goggles. You say that we have a very difficult time future processing or imagining what would happen in the future. I imagine that's a little bit different than visualizing what it is that you want to accomplish or an ideal performance metric. So, how do you deal with visualization? Is that something that you think is actually useful?

Andrew:  100% of the research proves it is and there's a balance between spatial ability that's the skill to participate in visualizations and the quality of the visualization drill itself. You need to be skillful enough. So, when we look at what that is, on simplest terms, it's like Rubik's Cubes. Can you do it in your head? Do you know what to do next? Can you see in 3D if we go from white to red or whatever's on the other side? That spatial abilities as a skill and it's the most rudimentary sense. It's how can you manipulate these things in 3D in your head.

Now, when you add that to Michael Phelps's visualization drill that we just talked about, you're actually decreasing the need to anticipate in the future because you're seeing right here in the present what you believe is about to happen because we understand that faith and belief are inherently actually tied to reality. You would love to believe that there's no research behind faith, prayer, and hugs, but there is very legitimate research behind all three of those things we've seen. So, not only are you using an actual tangible skill, you're actually able to process something that's about to happen better and get ready for it better because you have inherent belief that it's about to happen.

Ben:  So, from a practical standpoint, how do you use visualization or use it with your athletes or your clients?

Andrew:  So. right away, 100% no matter what, you're starting a spatial skill training regime. And, that's separate from visualization. In my head, I think of visualization as being your sport-specific training and spatial skills are your GPP. So, every single day no matter what, you're going to do some type of spatial game that challenges your ability to manipulate scenes in 3D in your head. Then, we're going to do some sports psychology work, conversing, getting to know your athlete self, and create specific visualizations that help you deal with the negative performance-related things that can pop up on the field. 

So, it's maybe you realize that you just get fast and aggressive in periods of time where you don't need to be. We're going to practice a visualization drill that involves speeding up and slowing down time. So, maybe you see the drop of water come really slowly off Michael Phelps's goggle. And then, once it leaves the goggle, back to real-time. So, there's a dual training modality that I kind of bring to the table when we talk about training an athlete's brain.

Ben:  You ever use visualization, I guess, for a non-high-performance athlete? Let's say the average person going to the gym, hitting the weights, just pursuing better health and fitness in general from preventive standpoint. Anything that you would use with visualization when it comes to those type of folks who might think this is just for the pro athletes?

Andrew:  Yeah. I use a drill that I call the chalk outline drill and I force you to be able to manipulate your brain's face related to what you're doing. So, maybe you have a real issue with lower back on deadlifts but literally nothing else in your back never hurts. We could approach that from a neurology perspective and look, you've had so many hippocampal memories associated with this part of your sensory motor cortex that we have substance P just kind of slip into this motor pattern now because it's happened so many times. So, what I want you to do is make this chalk outline and envision the lower back portion of your chalk outline in a calming purple or blue and allow yourself to disengage feelings of vigilance, aggression, pain, or whatever negative. You have pent up in that low back. Then, open your eyes, get ready, and perform a successful deadlift and then do it again back and forth until that pain degrades.

Ben:  Interesting. Part of the performance piece that you hear thrown around a lot that I'm sure you've come across is this idea of getting into the flow state. Do you work with that much as far as practical ways to increase someone's ability to be able to get into flow state?

Andrew:  Yeah. It's fun for me because you have to reverse-engineer it. Where the research ends on flow state is the different flow state for different people and different sports. I've kind of come to my own categorization of we have dopamine- and norepinephrine-driven flow states for individuals. Some rare people do both, but people are usually one or the other. The type of person where it's having your best friend there, the euphoria of your friends and I made it, that ignites the ultimate performances in you. And, we see these people are anticipatory in nature just like dopamine tends to be. 

But, we also see people that function under the “I need to get punched in the face first and then I'm amazing” mindset. These are the norepinephrine people because when we look at Adderall drug studies, we see norepinephrine always comes to the party late. And, that's because it's a constituent of dopaminergic activation. So, what we're really looking at is some people slip into flow state because “slip into” is actually the terminology they use in the research because that's what happens. Some people slip into flow state as things are beginning. And, the environment related to it causes it to them. And, some people attain flow state after that's already begun and they've stabilized. And, norepinephrine as neurotransmitter has to do with focus. These tend to be your somewhat aggressive, stoic face, very kind of goal-oriented individuals where the dopamine people tend to be the types of carefree fun-loving flow state individuals.

Ben:  Yeah. Oh, I'm totally norepinephrine. For me to get into the flow state, I got to be in a lot of pain, under a lot of pressure or having been engaged in the activity for at least 15 to 20 minutes before I really get into that alpha state where everything's starting to feel easy. Is that pretty typical for a norepi?

Andrew:  100%. You see this whether it's baseball, football, or golf, this is the guy that needs to strike out once to hit a home run, the guy that needs to bogey the first hole, the guy that needs to have a shit first half so that he can bounce back and have a killer second, third and fourth half. There's pros and cons to everything, right? So, we see the norepinephrine people tend to have less control over their flow state because they're typically responding to something that needs to happen; whereas, we see dopamine people oftentimes have work capacity and behavior efficiency issues like, oh that could have been a layup but you went in for a slam dunk from 8 feet out when you just didn't need to. You needed to take a bunch of caffeine and get all hyped up and get crazy sweaty just to actually ignite what you need to do. All these different things play into the strategies that you nutritionally training-wise and psychologically need to employ, even supplement-wise.

Ben:  It's no secret, I don't think, that music has a pretty significant impact on your brain. Today, you're going to learn how it can lower cortisol, release endorphins, reduce stress levels, different hurts frequencies that are most appropriate and a whole lot more. Michael Tyrrell who you'll learn more about in this snippet has sadly since passed. So, may he rest in peace. His legacy lives on. Here we go.

When I got to some of the high-pitched parts of this song, Chad and I were sometimes working close to 10:00 p.m. My voice was cracking. I was tired after a week of recording, but I barely hit these notes. You'll hear in the song which I wrote as an inspiration for you to be fully present to what the world is telling you right now. Eyes wide open, a fearless and hopeful spirit, and a knowledge deep down inside that God has a great purpose for your life. That's all woven into this song. So, it's called “Made For.” This is what you're made for. Check it out.

“Made For” playing

Alright, so now that you've heard that track, I want to delve into music for stress. I remember when I read this passage of the Bible about how when King Saul was super stressed, he had David come play music for him. And, it turns out that listening to music can have really therapeutic effects. I actually did an interview with this composer, may he rest in peace, he since passed away. His name is Michael Tyrell, and he has these fantastic tracks called Wholetones, which he tunes to specific frequencies for sound healing and for decreased stress. What's also interesting is if you listen to that podcast I mentioned in the introduction with Blurry Creatures on the frequency of music, Michael actually reset the frequency Hertz of the A note, I believe it is, in his music to be closer to 444 Hertz. And, there's a whole controversial story behind why that would be that you can listen to my podcast with Michael to learn more about. But, it turns out that music, especially music that's tuned to the frequency, has significant power to help reduce stress and anxiety and relieve pain, and even improve focus.

So, there was a 2020 overview of research in the music and stress and it showed that listening to music can lower your heart rate, it can lower the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands, it can release painkilling endorphins, which is why it can be useful even if you've had surgery that you're recovering from, cancer-related pain, injury-related pain, et cetera. It can distract you from stress thus reducing your physical and emotional stress levels. And, they found in clinically meaningful ways it can reduce a variety of stress-related symptoms. So, when music sounds move through your ears as vibrations and your inner ear translates those vibrations into electrical signals and then neurons transmit those signals to certain areas of what's called the cerebral cortex in your brain, dedicated regions of the brain can then detect the different elements of those signals like the tone and the pitch and the rhythm of the music. 

When areas of the brain get activated by the music, especially if it's positive uplifting music, even though I had a fascinating dinner conversation just a couple of weeks ago with the lead guitarist of a band called Five Fingers Death Punch, I don't necessarily think that Five Finger Death Punch, hard metal or death metal, is going to be the best for stress. I don't think I'm revealing a news flash there, but the investigation into the right kind of music's health effects on its ability to calm us down and relieve stress is undeniable.

So, there was a 2021 study that showed that people who listen to personal selections of music, both at home and in a laboratory environment, again, the importance of self-selection here not having someone else select the music but you select the tracks you want to listen to had significantly reduced cortisol levels. There was another overview of 349 different studies that occurred on music's usefulness as a mental health treatment for schizophrenia, for bipolar, and for major depression. 68.5% of music-based interventions had positive results. Music therapy has also shown a significant benefit in preventing burnout in workers. There was one study that showed that having access to 30-minute music-listening sessions during a break reduce stress and less emotional exhaustion was a result of that. 

And, this is interesting because I try to duck out after lunch every day and do about 20 to 40 minutes of meditation. And, two of the ways that I do that involve music. One is an app called NuCalm, N-U-Calm that plays these tracks that just lull you into this positive or relaxed or focused state depending on how you select the music. The other is a light sound stimulation machine that has musical tracks. It's called the BrainTap. What I really like about the BrainTap is some of my favorite sessions are indeed tracks that are from that composer that I talked about, Michael Tyrell, but they're specifically selected to have light and sound stimulation that shifts your brain in different directions for alpha brain wave, delta brain wave or theta brain wave production depending on the level of relaxation that you want.

Another 2018 survey revealed that 62% of people were responsive to music for relaxation, for sleep, and for insomnia. This is also interesting because I mean just this morning is a perfect example, I woke up at about 3:45 a.m. I didn't quite feel like getting up and crushing the day right then, call me crazy, but I put on a 100-minute NuCalm track and kept my lazy butt in bed listening to that NuCalm track and it's incredibly relaxing and restorative and often will lull me back to sleep. They've shown that music listening or music therapy reduces depression levels, increases confidence, increases motivation. In children, they looked at all the studies in a 2021 review from 2009 up to 2019, they showed that music significantly reduces anxiety for children leading up to enduring medical procedures. So, once again, there's the medical stress-reducing painkilling effective music.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a survey of over 5,600 people from 11 countries that showed that music helped people cope during lockdown and to basically get through the pandemic, the loss of work, the being shut down at home with your whole family driving you crazy and getting cabin fever. It turns out that music helps out quite a bit with that as well or helped out quite a bit with that. They've also shown improved quality of life for people with Alzheimer's disease showing that music interventions can have positive effects on behavior and cognition of people with Alzheimer's disease. Music can of course assist with meditation which decreases stress. And again, my two favorite ways to do that are the NuCalm app and the BrainTap light sound stimulation device. They've also shown that music therapy with a therapist can really help enhance the efficacy of a therapy session if they have good music playing in the background like good, relaxing, stress-relieving music. They've also shown that music can relieve pain. So, postsurgical pain, physical pain, joint pain, you name it, especially if you're recovering or doing a recovery session, it turns out that music could help lower the amount of pain that you feel or the amount of soreness that you feel, whether it's a workout or a surgery or an injury or anything else.

Now, are there some types of music that are better for reducing stress? Well, historically certain genres of lyricless music like classical music and ambient music have been studied. And, no surprises there, there's a great deal of evidence that those forms of music can reduce stress and anxiety. But, that doesn't mean they're better than other genres of music. For example, rap music, despite my hesitations about recommending that because sometimes the lyrics of rap music are not that uplifting, but it turns out that in rap music that actually is not chockfull of violence and dirty language, it can be inspiring and motivating when people are in a low mood or dealing with difficult life circumstances. Even heavy metal music, which I know I threw into the bush earlier, it appears to help, in one study, enhance what's called identity development. I am not quite sure I can fully define why that is or what it means, but they found that heavy metal enthusiasts did often experience traumatic and risky sex, drug, and rock and roll-oriented lives. But, that identity that they had with that seemed to serve as a protective factor against negative outcomes like chronic disease or suicide.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is it's being able to identify with a strong form of music seems to help to reduce stress. 

This next snippet includes the link between the natural need to feel safe and stress, and how psychedelics are used to reverse trauma, and a little bit more including the power of breath, how trauma manifest in different people, children, and anti-depressants and more with Dave Rabin of Apollo Neuro.

I'm studying some books on how to teach your children the spiritual disciplines, like meditation and studying and fasting and prayer and things like this. And in that book, it talked about how preschoolers are now the number one growing demographic as far as needing targeted use of antidepressants or, at least, they're being set up for that, based on everything from school start times to homework to social media, to all these things that preschoolers are now being exposed to. So, even young children now, in an environment where you think that safety would be the ultimate priority, no longer feel safe.

David: Exactly. And that's exactly right. I haven't actually seen that specific information, but it sounds consistent with and very interesting in terms of the way that we do see as clinicians. We see that these medicines like antidepressants and amphetamines get prescribed at a younger and younger age every generation. And, part of that, I think, is because, similar to what we were just talking about, our bodies were not meant for the way that we work. The demands of modernity and the stresses that we're put on every day because of the responsibilities that we have in this current lifestyle in society that we subscribe to is extremely stressful and it takes a toll on the body.

And so, I think the important part of this, coming back to the original question of safety, is that by practicing techniques or strategies like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, positive thinking skills that we teach in psychotherapy, all of these different techniques, float tanks, there's lots of different ones, which all tend to improve heart rate variability as the best known current biometric that is a measure of our ability to recover or how recovered we are, our resilience and the effects of stress on the body over time, which we never had the opportunity to measure before. By practicing safety techniques like the ones I just mentioned, you can increase that and increase your recovery and your ability to recover from stress and decrease some of these issues that we're seeing that result from chronic stress or chronic perceived threat responses, which ultimately leads to depression, anxiety, PTSD, even some metabolic disorder, diabetes, injuries, if you're somebody who plays sports or in the military. There's sleep insomnia, chronic pain. All of these things are related to imbalances in the autonomic nervous system and low heart rate variability. Safety boosting techniques, like Apollo being one of those tech strategies to make it accessible to the public. They all improve balance in the nervous system, which helps retrain the brain to know that it's not actually running from a lion in that moment. When you feel that calm, that pause, and you're able to regulate and perform at your best and recover at your best.

Ben:  Right, yeah. And we'll eventually get to Apollo, but I have a couple of thoughts. The first is the big picture here, really, the takeaway from me the more I think about this, is that I live in a comfortable house. I was even talking to my son. I took him out on a dinner date the other night and I was telling him, “Dude, mom and I used to go check the checking account before we would go out to dinner to see if we had enough money and when we might be able to buy off that list and if we could get a cocktail. And, we also used to go over all of our bills at the end of the month to see how we were going to be able to scrape together rent and if we could afford to stay in the home that we were currently in, et cetera, et cetera.

And now, it's like I don't have to think that much about buying an organic grass-fed ribeye. I don't have to think that much about my bed being comfortable at night, me having a roof over my head, me being able to take my son to dinner at a fancy restaurant and be able to just take out the credit card and know that there's money in the account.” But yet, I can still, at the same time, be doing things to my body to make it feel as though it's not safe. The way that I approach my email inbox, the way that I interact with my employees, the way that I manage stress throughout the day, the way that I respond when I'm in traffic. What my body does that I'm not even in control of from a subconscious or an evolutionary standpoint when I step onto an airplane or walk through the airport, or I'm in a big crowd of people. We live these seemingly comfortable post-industrial westernized lifestyles, but yet, our bodies are constantly under a message, most of us, that they're not safe, even though we might feel as though we have houses and money and cars, etc. So, I think that's a big thing for people is, even though you might feel safe, your body is technically under a lot of nervous system stress.

And then, the other thing I wanted to mention before I ask you a little bit about trauma, because I want to get into trauma and what this has to do with trauma. The other thing is that I said that about elite athletes but I don't want to make people think that exercise is bad because, as a matter of fact, research study after research study shows that regular, consistent, smart exercise actually lowers HRV in the long run and increases parasympathetic nervous system activity. And I suspect that part of that might be that you feel more equipped to take care of yourself. You feel more confident. I mean, I posted on Instagram this morning photo of me flexing with my shirt off. And I commented that muscles aren't just for show but that one of the benefits of having a fit body is that you just approach life with more confidence. And I would suspect that you also, even if it's, again, subconscious, you feel safer when you're fit. You feel like you can take care of yourself. So, I don't want to discourage people from exercising. What I'm saying is don't overtrain and, also, know that if you choose to be an elite, hard-charging athlete, that might fly in the face of taking absolute care of your nervous system. Your performance is not synonymous with health and longevity.

So now, I've prepared myself to step off my soapbox. I want to ask you about trauma because I know you've studied it a lot. I know it has to do a little bit with what you just described about feeling safe. But, I was guilty until, probably, I mean, dude, I would say even six months ago, I was guilty of kind of snickering when I hear people say they'd been traumatized unless, A, they've been to war and actually been serving in the Armed Forces and been subjected to some kind of an explosion or horrific war accident; or, B, if they'd had a horrific childhood or an event that occurred in childhood or in adulthood that was just brutal, like seeing someone in your family get murdered or being beaten by your parents, or being raped, or undergoing some horrific occurrence. I always thought that that's what it took to truly say that you had trauma or to say that you had PTSD. And I've personally kind of come around it and realized that trauma is a little bit different than my narrow-minded view of what it could be. And, I'm curious if you could get into trauma and what you studied on trauma, what you found trauma to truly be, and what trauma has to do with feeling safe.

David:  Well, I think what you said earlier was a great segue into trauma, because what you're talking about before you ask me this question is you're talking about building up physical endurance and physical stamina, constitution for a sense of improved and heightened physical safety. And safety, what we like to think of it is mostly physical. And I think, ultimately, to really understand what we mean when we say safety is to take a step back and look at a holistic picture of safety, which includes physical, of course. But, it equally includes emotional, mental, and spiritual safety. And part of physical safety and mental safety is, of course, financial safety in our society. And so, focusing on all those things, physical safety being a very important one that you can contribute positively with good, smart exercise is a really great idea. You can also overtrain, which lowers heart rate variability in the long run. And so, obviously everything with moderation.

But, I think, the way that leads into trauma is that trauma is effectively one or many meaningful and intense negative or unsafe experiences over time. And, that is a subjective experience for the person experiencing the trauma. So, trauma can be something as little as you're crying when you're little, when you're young and you need something and your parents ignore you. And, they do it multiple times over and over and over again. That could be a trauma, an emotional trauma. It's a trauma that we see a lot as therapists when we talk to people who have perceptions that they are unlovable or that they can't love others. And, that's a very, very common thing we see with lots of people, not just people who have a mental health diagnosis. So, trauma can be anything from that to not having enough food growing up or to having to, as you said earlier, have to worry about finances all the time, to the point where you're making all these decisions in your life directly related to the understanding of exactly how many resources you have. Whereas, now, you don't have to think about that. But, for a lot of people, that can be somewhat traumatizing because it's a very negative or many negative meaningful experiences over time. And, those create little stresses, sometimes big stresses, that ultimately result in a reflective response in your autonomic nervous system.

So, at every time you experience one of those events, every time your mom ignores you when you're crying and you're in pain or you're not feeling good and you feel helpless, or your parent ignores you, what happens is that your sympathetic nervous system goes up, inflammation goes up in your body, and your parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for all the good stuff, like digestion and rest and energy recovery, and creativity, all these things starts to decrease in activity and energy because you're perceiving threat. Again, like we said earlier, continuous perceived threat over time, particularly when there's a strong emotional part of the experience, ends up resulting in what we now call trauma, which is something that's not just the western word, it's being used by tribal plant medicine cultures for thousands of years to describe very similar experiences.

Ben:  Do you think that when it comes to trauma, that something as brief as a single high dose MDMA session or, I believe that an MDMA protocol full-on is several sessions of 90 minutes than a longer session of four to eight hours, do you think that that's enough for many people to resolve a lot of this trauma?

David:  So, I think there's multiple things there. Number one, the way that you do have to access MDMA and psilocybin right now is through clinical trials only, just to make sure that everybody understands that. 

Ben:  You can say that. But, I can say, as many folks are well aware, these days psilocybin and MDMA are becoming increasingly available if you ask the right people, just like being in your high school parking lot back in the day. There's a lot of this stuff happening behind the scenes and you just want to connect with someone trustworthy. And, you can often. I mean, my wife and I, for example, we now do couples therapy with MDMA and psilocybin and some other similar analogs. And, it's been absolutely transformative for our relationship. So, I will tell people, although I know you as a responsible M.D. Ph.D., David, cannot that even if you aren't in a clinical trial, per se, that if these are the type of issues that concern you, you may want to look into hunting down a responsible facilitator for something like MDMA or psilocybin, because I do think that it can be transformative. And, this is, by the way, coming from a conservative-libertarian, Christian homeschooled kid from North Idaho.

I'm about the least burning man type of person you'd ever run into but have indeed found this stuff to be highly transformative. So, that being said–

David:  Yeah. Sorry.

Ben:  I interrupt the thought pattern that you were on. So, did I totally derail you again?

David:  No, we're good. We can just jump right back in.

Ben:  Okay.

David:  I think that, again, legally speaking, it is important for everybody to be as safe when they have these experiences. And so, ketamine is a great first step for people and I'm really glad that you talked about that experience that you had. And, because of ketamine, interestingly going to the timing of the experience, it only lasts a half-hour to an hour of your time. And so, it's not a huge investment and you can do it and know you're getting medical-grade ketamine and know that it's pure and know that you're getting a safe experience. And then, follow up with your therapist afterwards who understands what you're doing and why you're doing it, what you want to work on, intentionally, what intention you're putting in to heal, what you'd like to get out of the experience. And then, you can have a very powerful, again, transformative experience with that. And, I think that psilocybin and MDMA are right around the corner. They both have breakthrough status with the FDA. And so, they will be available probably by 2021 into 2022.

I think, going back to your question about whether or not short experiences like this are able to cure or treat trauma that is deep-seated, and I think it's first off that everyone has trauma. Every single person on the face of the earth has traumatic experiences. They're just manifesting in different ways. They look different on the surface. Sometimes, trauma looks like depression because of extremely low self-esteem or fractured sense of self. And sometimes, your sense of self is so fractured that you become psychotic or dissociated in schizophrenia. Other times, it becomes anxious or looks like anxiety or it looks like OCD or it looks like PTSD or physical illness. And, there's all these different manifestations of trauma that we don't necessarily know about yet because we haven't had the opportunity to study them in this way through looking at epigenetics.

And, now that we're able to look at epigenetics, what I think we're going to find is that there are very specific characterizations of trauma. For example, people with PTSD-induced trauma may be somewhat different epigenetically than people with depression-related trauma, or diabetes-related trauma, like in the case of that great study you brought up, the Dutch crisis, which is fascinating.

And so, what we're aiming to do with our study with these different groups is to look at the epigenetic markings before their psychedelic experiences, whether that's MDMA or traditional ayahuasca ceremony or psilocybin at Hopkins or Yale, or what-have-you, or ketamine; and then, compare that to their epigenetic profile afterwards. And then, over time, six months, 12 months, 18 months, two years. And Apollo, now, we're working on a protocol with MAPS to actually introduce it into the MDMA protocol after MDMA has been administered. Because what's really interesting is that when you, and I think this will really answer your question, is ultimately, people are getting better from these treatments, not because they're reliant on the medicine to heal them. What the medicine is doing is it's empowering us to remember our own internal innate ability that we're born with to heal ourselves.

And, the reason we know that is because after the phase two trial with MDMA, I mean, the reason we know that, to start, is because people who use these medicines, they use them just one to three times oftentimes and they have persistent and consistent improvements in symptoms over time. And, this was tracked in the MAPS MDMA phase two trial with 100 subjects where two months after the last therapy session, and these therapy sessions, the MDMA, are eight hours long. So, it's an eight-hour-long therapy session with two therapists. There's three of them spread out over 12 weeks. And, two months after, 52% of them are symptom-free, are no longer meeting symptom criteria for PTSD. However, five years out, 67% are now not meeting symptom criteria for PTSD. And, there's been no subsequent treatment.

So, that is probably one of the most paradigm-shifting things for us, because when you're that much better at two months out, but then, you see continuous improvements where more people are more better at five years out, that means that the subjects, the patients, are learning from their experience so much from just this 12-week experience, which includes a lot of integration of what they've learned during the medicine experiences that they take with them. And they use that to continually make themselves better when they leave. So, yes. What we are seeing is that just three doses of medicine can be completely life-changing for people. But again, it's not always accessible to everyone. These can take 100 hours or 80 hours of time and they can take something like $12,000 to $15,000 and they won't be reimbursed by insurance right away.

And so, we created Apollo as a way to help tap into the nervous system's fundamental safety pathway through the skin, through the sense of touch, that could make these benefits of MDMA therapy. This radical safety experience and this flow state experience is something you could take with you on the go and make it accessible and scalable to a much larger population.

Ben:  So, what does meditation really do? What's the impact of meditation on key areas of your brain like the hippocampus, which my experience with transcendental meditation and where does something called the Peak Brain Institute fit in? You're about to find out.

Back to the moving meditation piece, the second part of that question. Is that a thing? Does that count when my friends tell me that they go to the gym or go on a run and therefore they meditate?

Ariel:  So, it depends what your mind is doing during the practice. So, meditation is not about your mind going blank, meditation is about being able to observe your mental space or observe one task very wholly and very fully, be able to be really absorbed into it. So, if you're going for a run and you're daydreaming–

Ben:  Wait, wait, wait, it's not about your mind being blank? Because so many people have told me like, “Empty your head.” Wait, okay, I got to ask you this. Let's say some thought comes into my head like a discussion that I want to have with my wife during a meditation session about us trying to figure out a way to where we don't each drink all the coffee in the morning and get mad at each other because somebody drank a cup and a half and then the other person because they woke up late only gets a half cup of coffee. Let's say that that enters my mind during a meditation session and I just start focusing on that and finding a solution to that and dwelling on that for the next 20 minutes. Are you suggesting that that would actually be a form of meditation focusing on that one single specific thing for 20 minutes?

Ariel:  So, let me clarify a little bit.

Ben:  Okay.

Ariel:  So, meditation is not simply having no thoughts, it's very difficult to have no thoughts. There are many different forms of meditation. The one I'm going to describe is focused attention meditation, which encompasses mantra meditation focused attention on the breath even walking meditations where you are fully engaged in one thing but that thing is not your thoughts but that thing could be the observation of your thoughts.

So, in the situation that you just described, you're sitting there meditating, your mind wanders off onto a thought, at that moment, this is the real work of the meditation that is called the attentional loop. You notice that your mind has wandered onto a thought, the thought of your wife, and you have the opportunity at that moment to either let your attention move away from the thought and back to the object of your attention which could be a mantra, which is just some words; a mantra, a light, a feeling, a sound, something tangible and concrete or continue on and think about your wife. If you continue on and think about your wife, you're no longer meditating. If you've noticed you had the thought and then move your mind away from it and back to your breath, you have just done a stellar meditation. That is the thing that strengthens your attention. That's the bench press rep at the gym, the noticing and returning because it's unrealistic to have no thoughts. Our brains don't do that. What we're doing is we're building our metacognition, the awareness that our mind wanders, and then the choice to move your attention elsewhere.

Ben:  That's kind of TM because I actually took a whole transcendental meditation course. I did a whole podcast on it. I'll hunt it down and link to this one. Again, the shownotes are at BenGreenfieldLife.com/MusePodcast. And, there were certain elements of TM that I thought were kind of woo like having to offer gifts to the flowers and some shrine or whatever before you go meditate, and certain things that just felt a little bit weird to me. But then, the idea of being given a mantra that's your special mantra that you return to whenever your mind begins to wander during the TM session wound up being something that made a lot of sense. And, it was the first time I personally had been able to sit twice a day for 20 minutes and not have my head explode with flames because I had this little thing I could keep going back to that was my special little place during meditation, that mantra. So, is that kind of why TM seems to be so effective or at least one of the reasons?

Ariel:  Totally. And, that is just another version of focused attention meditation. And so, that mantra, that special little thing in meditation speak, we call it the object of your attention. And, the object of your attention could be on your breath for breath-focused meditation. It could be on a candle. It could be on a mantra. It is the thing that you return back to to anchor your attention on. And, it's going back to the gym analogy, you are working so hard to just stay on this thing to just keep the bike moving, keep the bike moving, keep the bike moving, which is staring at your candle or listening to your mantra in your head. And, sometimes you go off the rails a little bit and then you just have to, know this, gather yourself in return.

Now, this is a very, very simple activity, simply focusing on one thing, paying attention to one thing and it leads to incredible transformation. And, I want to kind of just walk you through the steps a little bit if that's okay.

Ben:  Yeah, sure, go ahead.

Ariel:  Okay. So, when you focus your attention on your breath, the object of your meditation, and then your mind wanders off into thought and you notice that your mind is wandered into thought and you choose to instead bring your attention back to your breath, that little action leads to tremendous transformation. So, most of us just go through our life on autopilot like the title of the book, your mind just wanders away, you have thoughts in your mind and they're there so you assume you're supposed to think them. My brain's filled with stuff, I think that's how it works, isn't it? But, as soon as you make the action of noticing your mind is wandered onto a thought and then choosing to bring it elsewhere, that is the moment when you have changed your relationship with your thinking. That is the moment where you have liberated yourself from this endless stream of thought controlling your life. That is the moment when you have become the master of your thinking rather than subject to it. And, it is building what we call metacognition. You can see your thoughts.

And now, when you go into the real world, you can–

Ben:  That's what metacognition means, you can see your thoughts?

Ariel:  Yup. The awareness of your thinking.

Ben:  I've never understood that term but that makes perfect sense. So, I'm just aware of what I'm thinking and observing it and actually able to identify it so to speak as a skill.

Ariel:  Exactly. You're not caught up in the thought, you're seeing that you're having the thought. You're one level up. And, when you do that, you can then start to make choices about your thoughts. Do I want to be thinking this thought or not? And, the answer much of the time is actually no. And, it may be a lovely thought that you want to have or a problem you want to work on or it may be that this problem has returned to you seven times and you don't have a solution and you're just going to say no, I want to move my mind onto something that's more important for me. I want to get my work done. I want to pay attention to the person in front of me. I want to have choice and agency over my life and my mind.

And so, that is why meditation is so key. And then, once you do that, you move your mind out of thoughts that are stressful. It ends up downregulating all of your anxiety and fear systems because you don't have to think about these stressful thoughts, you eventually create the same mastery over your body as you had over your mind. You have tons of strong emotions that come up. You can simply label them a sensation and make better choices around them. And, you are now the master of your own domain rather than just subject to the whims and vagaries of your mind and body.

Ben:  Okay, that makes really good sense. I'm curious what you do, Ariel, when a thought enters your head, you observe it, you identify it, you're in that state of metacognition and then you move on and return to your mantra, your breath, et cetera. But, if that thought is something that you know is a total breakthrough, you're all of a sudden, the genius and you thought of something that you've solved a solution to the world's problems or at least perhaps some business issue related to copy on a website or something like that. You know you want to remember it, but if you don't somehow get that out of your head, it's going to drive you nuts for the rest of the meditation.

Now, I'm curious what you do about this. What I do is for longer periods of meditation and I use massage, for example, as an example, I'll often meditate during a massage and I'll just be in and on my breath the whole time. I have a digital voice recorder under the table and I'll literally speak that thought that I know I don't want to dwell upon or ruminate on for the rest of the session and then I play or upload that into Otter AI transcription afterwards, so I've got any of those thoughts that I can return to so I don't have to worry about remembering them later. For shorter sessions, I use something very similar to the memory palace technique where if I remember during a meditation session that I forgot to ask my wife to pick up bananas on our way home from the grocery store, I will picture at my desk my wife's sitting there holding a banana sitting atop my keyboard. And so, I generally remember those really insane visualizations when I come back to the world. I walk into my office, I'm like, “Oh, my wife's sitting there holding bananas on my keyboard. I got to remember to text her about grabbing bananas.”

And so, those are two examples for me of how I handle those thoughts that seem kind of important when you're meditating that you don't want to forget to address later. Do you have any solutions that you use for scenarios like that?

Ariel:  I'm laughing because I use basically the same ones. So, sometimes I'll have a piece of paper next to me and I'll just jot down if something comes up just one word that's really hard for me to read afterwards but enough to kind of trigger what I was thinking or I'll give it a number. So, if I have a thought that comes up that seems important, I will number it. And, during a session, I might have two or three of them and then all I have to do at the end is remember that there were three things and then that was enough of a cue to get me to go back into my memory.

A lot of the time though, I just don't worry about it–

Ben:  So, you trust yourself to get back into the memory and you're like, “Hey, my brain is totally capable of remembering this. All I need to do is give it a number.”

Ariel:  Yeah. And, it's something that I use in my life as well. If I'm going somewhere and I need to remember the things I need to bring or–even things that don't have steps, if I put numbers to them, I know that I'll remember. Right, there were four things and then I recall them. And, if I only get to three, I have to search really hard for the fourth. But, I've also noticed, so I used to really do the writing it down on paper, and what I realized was most of the things that I wrote down really weren't that profound. And so, I'm now much more able to just be like, I'll let it go and if it was really important, it'll come back to me later or doesn't really matter.

Ben:  I developed a voice recorder idea back when I don't really do this anymore but I got into journeying with plant medicines for a while and you'd be deep in Ayahuasca or psilocybin or something like that and you know that you're not going to remember that or it's not going to make any sense later on so you just have a digital voice recorder there for the whole session and you speak it. And so, that became something that I would use during massage sessions. I developed the Memory Palace one when I used to be an open water swimmer and I'd have these long forays in the open water staring at blackness and thoughts would come into my head. And, I obviously couldn't write them down so I had to figure something other than writing to remember these later. And, that's where I developed the Memory Palace technique where I'd come up to the beach, I'd dry myself off with a towel and they're sitting next to, who would be, my assistant reminding me to set up that functional movement screen assessment for a client. And, then, of course, maybe the bananas or the oranges or the grapes or if you're ketogenic, the coconut oil. But anyways, that was how I kind of developed that.

Now, I started asking about the moving meditation and to put a bow on that, Ariel, it sounds to me it could count if you're having one singular thing such as your breath or your steps or something like that that you're focusing on.

Ariel:  Precisely. So, in a traditional walking meditation, for example, and walking meditation is a real thing, you are feeling the sensation of your foot on the ground. So, every step you take, very mindful and very aware of the foot on the ground. So, this is actually a good point to bring in the idea of mindfulness. People are always like, “What's mindfulness? What's meditation?” So, meditation is the practice that you do, the sitting, the going to the gym that builds the skill of mindfulness. And, mindfulness is the present-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, environment in a intentional and non-judgmental manner.

So, a moving meditation is a great mindfulness meditation if you're doing it mindfully, that is paying very close attention, pouring all your attention into the sensation of your foot moving, or pouring all of your attention into the beauty of the world around you and intentionally staying with that experience. But, if your mind is just wandering and dreaming, you're not meditating anymore.

Ben:  Okay, okay, got it.

Now, before I asked you a couple of derailing questions and that led us to end us delving into the neuroscience of meditation, amygdala, fear-based responses, then moving meditation and mantras and metacognition, you had explained point number one and then you were about to delve into point number two. Remind the listeners in case they can't track what that point number one was and then what that point number two is that you were about to delve into.

So, point number one was about the prefrontal cortex and its ability to downregulate the amygdala and how in a long-term meditation practice you can maintain the thickness of your prefrontal cortex. Point number two, we hadn't started it yet, was going to be the impact of meditation on the hippocampus. This is very ironic that I can actually remember what you were trying to get me to talk about, what point number two was, because meditation can help your prefrontal. Sorry, meditation can help your hippocampus. So, hippocampus the part of your brain associated with learning and memory. As you age, it also shrinks and it shrinks in large part because the hippocampus is highly sensitive to cortisol. And, cortisol can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus. A long-term meditation practice, however, can significantly reduce your cortisol levels, and in doing so, preserve the function and the form, the meat of your hippocampus. So, that's also work that's been demonstrated by Sara Lazar and others.

So, meditation also has impact on your corpus callosum, which is the part of your brain that connects your left and right hemisphere. Meditation can improve the density of your gray matter. So, the gray matter is the number of neural connections that you have in your brain. Dr. Lazar demonstrated that simply eight weeks of meditation, so a short-term meditation intervention, was able to improve the density and the volume of the gray matter of average novice everyday individuals. So, just a little bit of meditation goes a long way to strengthening your brain. 

Ben:  You probably are aware there's a lot of apps out there to increase focus, lie to relax, even sleep better. I'm going to talk about one of them that's very unique in this next snippet. You're going to learn how focus mode can combat ADHD, how wandering mind leads to fatigue and mistakes, something called the sustained attention to response task or the SART, and a lot more.

What have you found regarding focus?

Kevin:  First off, we got a grant from the National Science Foundation to do this work. In particular, was a remit was to look into how to make music to support people with ADHD and attentional challenges. And so, we took this money, we teamed up with an excellent academic team at Northeastern University here. They have access to the scanners, fMRI, EEG. And, what we did is we did a series of studies with brain and behavior.

Let me first describe the task that we used. Okay. So, we used something called the Sustained Attention to Responses Task, response times task, and it takes the form of a very simple video game. So, imagine you're sitting there in front of a screen, numbers are flashing up on the screen one by one; 0, 3, 5, 9, and you hit the Space Bar on every single number except one of them. Let's imagine the special number is 3. So, 90% of the time, you're hitting the space bar, but only when you see a 3, withhold your response. Now, that sounds the most boring video game in the world because it's meant to be. And so, this is a task that is basically mind-numbing, people say you're doing it for 10, 20 minutes is about the length of our experiment while we play them different background music conditions.

And, I'll talk about what the music is in a second.

But, the idea is that when your mind wanders, you get fatigued, you sustain the tension, you lose your motivation to the task, you start making errors. You start hitting the space bar when you're not supposed to or not hitting space bar when you are supposed to. And, that's just it. So, it's just a very simple well-controlled video game for doing this kind of thing. And, by the way, it's a gold standard test in psychology. This is used all over the place to test to sustained attention in particular.

And so, what music do we play in the background? Well, we've done it a couple different ways. One that we do is just our competition. Spotify music. We'll go on Spotify, we'll go on YouTube, we'll look at what's the best-focused music to listen to and use that in comparison to Brain.fm. That's fine. But, an even better task that I'm proud of having done is the super-controlled version of taking Brain.fm's underlying music without our science layer versus Brain.fm music with our science layer. So, you're purely just testing that added amplitude modulation and we find that test works as well. And so, in behavior, obviously we find improvement in the SART task over time over the course of the block with Brain.fm versus the other things, either no Brain.fm technology or Spotify. But, perhaps more interestingly, we find these effects in the brain that really jump out at you.

So, the first thing is in EEG, you find much stronger entrainment with Brain.fm music versus other music even though all music is rhythmic. So, to be clear, any rhythmic stimulus will entrain the brain, all music, vast majority of music is rhythmic. Also in trans brain, the question is, how strong can you get that entrainment to be? And, can you get it to be useful entrainment as in in the right regime of rates? And, it's important to point out that the beta rate of things, 12 to 20 hertz or even alpha-like 13 hertz, that's a weird speed of things to happen in the world. If you think about what 13 hertz actually sounds like, it kind of sounds like a helicopter, or a pulsing, or a thrumming like [vibrating sound].

And, in normal music, that rate of stuff doesn't really happen. In normal music, you have things that are drum beats or singing that are much slower, generally under 8 hertz, 5, 6, 7 hertz. And then, you have really fast things are like distortion, roughness, fuzziness, fizziness. But, there's very little stuff in natural music that's at a helicoptery sort of speed. So, it's a really unique thing that we're doing. And, it turns out that when you create music that is dominated by that stuff, the brain does respond really strongly to it. So, that's partially a sanity check but also partially a really cool result. So, that's EEG. You're looking at the brain's response over time to these stimuli.

And then, importantly you look at fMRI. So, you're looking now at the functional networks in the brain. What is the attention network doing? What is the salience network doing? And, basically what you find is that there's a much stronger response in the people getting Brain.fm obviously. But then, in the people particularly the half of the population with attentional challenges, or the half that would need this product most, they have particular greater activity in exactly the regions that you would expect to be less functional in ADHD. And, if it matters to anyone, this is the inferior cingulate gyrus and some parts of the insula. It's a really cool thing to see that direct correspondence between brain regions–

Ben:  Right. Directly reducing the, hey, look a squirrel mentality. And, you use the placebo control like comparing what happens if you just use the music versus the music with the Brain.fm technology applied to it.

Kevin:  Exactly right. And, that's the contrast in fMRI that's being set up is between the control and the Brain.fm test condition.

Do you want free access to comprehensive shownotes, my weekly roundup newsletter, cutting edge research and articles, top recommendations from me for everything that you need to hack your life and a whole lot more? Check out BenGreenfieldLife.com. It's all there. BenGreenfieldLife.com. See you over there. 

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When your mind is shrouded in a fog caused by chronic stress, anxiety, and unease, it can feel as though everything in your life is unraveling. From struggling to think clearly to feeling overwhelmed constantly and experiencing sleepless nights, the downward spiral can seem never-ending.

In this special “Best of Mental Health and Happiness Hacking” episode, embark on a journey to restore clarity and peace to your mind by delving into a curated collection of insights from leading experts in mental health and happiness. 

First up, dive into the world of biohacks and smart drugs for mental upgrades with me, Tero Isokauppila from Four Sigmatic, Joseph Anew from the Intuitive Warrior podcast (and the creator of RUNGA), and my friend Dr. John Lieurance of MitoZen, as we unveil natural and free ways to alter your state of mind with a focus on enhancing mental function. You'll also explore the power of breathwork, the importance of maintaining motivation, and tips for taking care of your autonomic nervous system.

Next, Andy Triana from Go Super Brain and I uncover vagal nerve activation, visualization strategies for stress management, and simple tricks to banish anxiety and panic, along with tips for better sleep and the science behind nootropic and smart drug stacks. You'll also discover modern-day grounding techniques and how they can help you overcome anxiety and live a more balanced life.

Moving on, I expose the impact of music on the brain and how it can be used for exercise, stress reduction, anxiety relief, and more. You'll unlock the science behind music's ability to reduce cortisol levels and improve focus, and also gain insights into how music can be a powerful tool for improving your quality of life.

Later, I'm joined by Dr. Dave Rabin, as he and I delve into stress, trauma, and PTSD, discussing innovative therapies and treatments like high-dose MDMA sessions and the benefits of ketamine and psilocybin therapy. Additionally, you'll explore the impact of meditation on the brain with insights from Ariel Garten, where she and I discuss different forms of meditation and how it can improve brain health and reduce cortisol levels.

Lastly, I investigate music FM technology with Dan Clark and Dr. Kevin Woods, and how it can help you instantly shift your state of consciousness from anxiety to relaxation, wakefulness to sleep, or brain fogginess to focus.

If you feel like you're currently struggling with your mental health and general happiness — hang in there — it can and will get better. With this show, you'll walk away with a toolkit of practical strategies and wisdom that can help guide you out of the haze and into a state of profound mental well-being.

-Biohacks and Smart Drugs for Mental Upgrades…06:31 


Natural & Free Ways To Alter Your State Of Mind, Biohacks & Smart Drugs For Mental Upgrades, Biohacking A Healthy Home, Ben’s Top Productivity Tips & Much More!



  • Make a routine and then try to get away from having a routine
    • Routine to create a habit and then switch to intuition
  • The best things to clear the mind
  • Breathwork – clears the mind and connects with the present moment
    • Biggest challenge — maintaining the motivation
  • Taking care of the autonomic nervous system
    • Leads to a healthy and long life
  • The most powerful activator of the parasympathetic nervous system is melatonin
  • Cortisol activates the sympathetic nervous system
  • You build melatonin by light going into the eyes
  • Ben’s top 3 things for enhancing mental function:
    1. Paraxanthine stacked with tesofensine
      • Similar to Modafinil — except it doesn't keep you up for 24 hours
    2. Nootopia Dopa Drops
      • Dopaminergic compounds
    3. Quicksilver Scientific (use code GREENFIELD15 to save 15%)
  • Microdosing with plant medicines
    • Psilocybin or LSD for creativity and focus
  • Four Sigmatic Coffee

Vagal nerve activation and visualization for stress with Andy Triana…13:27


Simple Tricks To Banish Anxiety & Panic, Rib Adjustments For Better Sleep, Nootropic & Smart Drug Stacks, The Science Of Getting Better In Bed, LSD For Performance & Much More With Go SuperBrain’s Andy Triana.


Managing anxiety and improving performance

  • Manual restoration of the diaphragm
  • Nail beds and acupressure mats for vagal nerve activation
    • Modern-day grounding for indoor spaces
  • Anxiety is like electrical input that spills into the brain
    • Mindfulness is using the five senses to quiet down anxiety
  • Increase in afferent (sensory input) and efferent (motor output) signaling through our hands and feet
  • Wearable devices that vibrate or produce a mild electrical sensation over the vagal nerve
    • Vagal nerve stimulators similar to a TENS (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation) unit
    • PowerDot
  • Dr. Peter Martone
    • He would relax and fall asleep faster if he avoided thinking about the future
  • Podcast with Dr. Peter Martone:
  • Anxiety and future processing
    • You don't have a center in your brain for the future
  • The most sophisticated anticipatory center – the hypothalamus
  • Our ability to be present is good; our ability to plan the future is limited
  • Anxiety is putting too much blood flow into future processing

How to manage anxiety and panic attacks…20:03

  • Recognize it's never going away — and it's a good thing
  • Coping with “buoys of objectivity”
  • Every single great athlete and businessman has felt nervousness
  • They have strategies to survive in the ocean of anxiety to keep them from drowning
  • In anxious moments, you should
    • Reengage with the world around you from your 5 senses
    • Be aware and mindful — the two easiest concepts to chase after
    • Give yourself a light sensation to bring you back to the present
  • If you lose mindfulness, your five senses, and your ability to interact with the world around you 
    • You lose vision, peripheral vision, and behavioral decisions

Visualization for improving performance…22:36

  • Research proves that visualization is useful
  • Visualization skills
    • Seeing in the present what you believe is going to happen
  • How to use visualization?
    • Spatial skill training regimen
    • Manipulating 3D scenes in your head
  • Visualization to deal with negative performance-related things
    • Speeding up and slowing down time
  • Visualization for the average person
    • Chalk outline drill
  • Flow state
    • Dopamine and norepinephrine-driven flow states for individuals
  • Ben is norepinephrine-driven
    • Has to be in a lot of pain and under a lot of pressure to get into an alpha state
  • Norepinephrine people tend to have less control over their flow state because they're typically responding to something that needs to happen
  • Dopamine people oftentimes have work capacity and behavior efficiency issues

The impact of music on the brain…33:07 


Everything You Need To Know About How To Use Music For Exercise, Stress, Anxiety, Pain, Sleep, Immunity, Intelligence-Building & More!



The effects of stress on our bodies…45:40  


A Whole New Way To Deal With Stress, Trauma & PTSD In Just Seconds: The First Clinically Validated Wearable That Helps You De-Stress, Focus, Sleep, Stay Energized & Remain Calm.



  • Preschoolers are now the number one growing demographic as far as needing targeted use of antidepressants
    • Children no longer feel safe
  • Practicing techniques or strategies like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and positive thinking all tend to improve HRV
  • Your resilience depends on the effects of stress on the body and the ability to recover from stress
  • Sleep, insomnia, and chronic pain are related to imbalances in the autonomic nervous system and low HRV
  • Apollo improves balance in the nervous system and helps retrain the brain to know that it's not actually running from a lion
  • When you feel that calm, that pause, you're able to regulate, perform, and recover at your best
  • Your body is constantly under a message that it's not safe
  • A study shows that regular, consistent, smart exercise lowers HRV and increases parasympathetic nervous system activity
    • Might be that you feel more equipped to take care of yourself
    • You feel safer when you are fit

-Trauma, feeling safe, and PTSD…52:12

  • Safety includes physical but equally includes emotional, mental, and spiritual safety
  • For physical safety, you can contribute with good exercise
  • Trauma is one or many meaningful and intense negative or unsafe experiences over time
  • Every time you feel a threat, your parasympathetic nervous system starts to decrease
  • If the threat continues, it will result in trauma
  • Can a high-dose MDMA session help with trauma?
    • Psilocybin and MDMA can be transformative
    • It’s important to be safe
    • Ketamine is a great first step for people
    • Psilocybin and MDMA have breakthrough status with the FDA
  • Trauma can manifest in different ways
    • Depression, psychosis, dissociation
  • Looking at epigenetics
    • Look at the epigenetic markings before psychedelic experiences
    • Then compare that to their epigenetic profile afterward
    • And then, over time, 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months
  • People are getting better from these treatments, not because of the medicine
    • What medicine is doing is empowering you to remember your innate ability to heal yourself
  • Just 3 doses of medicine can be completely life-changing for people
  • Apollo could give the benefits of MDMA therapy

The impact of meditation on your brain…1:04:32


Fearproof Your Brain, Stress-Inoculation Tips, The Marriage Of Meditation & Technology, Digital Sleeping Pills & Much More With Ariel Garten.



  • Meditation is not about your mind going blank
    • It is about being able to observe your mental space or observe one task very wholly
    • It's very difficult to have no thoughts
  • There are many different forms of meditation
  • Attention meditation
    • You are fully engaged in one thing, but that thing is not your thoughts
    • Mind wandering off and bringing it back
  • What you're doing is building your metacognition
    • The awareness that your mind wanders, and then the choice to move your attention elsewhere
  • Ben’s experience with Transcendental Meditation (TM)
  • Podcast with Philip Land:
  • TM mantra is a version of focused attention meditation
  • Paying attention to one thing leads to incredible transformation
  • Most people just go through their lives on autopilot
  • Changing your relationship with your thinking
    • You become the master of your thinking rather than a subject to it
  • Building metacognition — the ability to see your thoughts
    • Choosing to think a thought
  • An important thought during meditation
    • Recording and using the memory palace technique
    • Writing down or giving it a number
  • Walking meditation
    • You are feeling the sensation of your feet on the ground
  • The impact of meditation on the hippocampus
  • The hippocampus is the part of your brain associated with learning and memory
  • Cortisol can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus
  • Meditation practice can significantly reduce your cortisol levels
  • Meditation also has an impact on your corpus callosum, which is the part of your brain that connects your left and right hemisphere
  • Meditation can improve the density of your gray matter

Music FM technology…1:19:24


How To Instantly Shift Your State Of Consciousness From Anxiety To Relaxation, Wakefulness To Sleep, Or Brain Fogginess to Focus With Brain.fm.



  • A grant from the National Science Foundation
  • May help to combat ADHD
  • Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART)
    • A wandering mind leads to fatigue and mistakes
  • How to make music support people with ADHD and attentional challenges
  • The sustained attention to the response test
    • Very boring video game
    • Played music in the background
  • EEG — looking at the brain's response over time to the stimuli
  • Much stronger entrainment with Brain.fm music versus other music
  • Music with the Brain.fm technology is applied to ADHD

-And much more…

Upcoming Events:

  • Health Optimization Summit — London: June 15–16, 2024

The Health Optimization Summit is the ultimate gathering for anyone passionate about biohacking, wellness, and living their best life. Dubbed a must-do event, it promises a transformative weekend filled with the opportunity to meet and learn from over 35 world-class speakers (including yours truly) in nutrition, longevity, mental health, relationships, and more. Learn best-kept secrets, try out the latest high-tech health gadgets, and discover the cleanest supplements and foods on the market. Don't miss this life-changing weekend — grab your tickets before they're gone here.

Resources from this episode:

– Podcasts and Articles:

– Other Resources:

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