December 3, 2020
From podcast: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/lifestyle-podcasts/shayamal-vallabhjee/
[00:01:15] Podcast Sponsors
[00:04:44] Guest Introduction
[00:09:33] Journey to Becoming a High-Performance Coach
[00:14:23] Analyzation of the Biomechanics of Athletes to Strengthen Team and Exploit Weaknesses of the Opposition
[00:18:20] A Victim of Blatant Racism and Reorganizing Life's Priorities
[00:22:43] How Systemic Failure in the Indian Athletic Scene Led to Shayamal's First Entrepreneurial Endeavor
[00:28:36] Hesitattion to be Called a “Biohacker”
[00:33:47] Podcast Sponsors
[00:36:32] cont. Hesitattion to be Called a “Biohacker”
[00:46:30] Analyze, Then Optimize, Your Personal Environment
[00:58:42] Testing Blood and Internal Biomarkers
[01:02:09] Optimizing Circadian Rhythmicity and Beating Jet Lag While Traveling
[01:05:22] The Importance of Relationships When Optimizing the Environment of a High Performer
[01:11:31] What New Technologies and Practices Shayamal is Excited About Right Now
[01:16:43] Final Comments
[01:20:03] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Shayamal: I realized that if I stood any chance in this apartheid system, I needed to be academically very, very sound.
Ben: I'm still shocked more personal trainers, more performance coaches, aren't finding out what's going on on the home front.
Shayamal: What we can do right now is really change the face of professional sport and how we analyze, and not just professional sport, but actually professional training.
Ben: Yeah, but that's not fun. Most people want to find out what kind of superfood smoothie they're supposed to drink, all the different magical supplements they can consume.
Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Well, many of you who may have been following me for the past couple of years may know that I went on a media tour of India last year. And while there, met a super smart guy, who I finally finagled into recording a podcast with me. And he is just a wealth of knowledge on like sports performance, and biohacking, and really just like peak optimization of body and brain. So, good dude.
And I think you'll really enjoy today's show. Speaking of peak optimization of body and brain, probably one of the most well-researched supplements in existence besides, I would say maybe creatine, is omega-3 fatty acids, particularly fish oil. In the '70s, it was commonly felt that high-fat diets were the cause of heart disease. And then, they found this population, the Inuits. They had a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease than westerners and they attributed this to the fatty acids that they got from fish and seafood. They enjoyed robust health. And they were getting like 4,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet per day.
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Hey, everybody. You may recall, if you've been listening to the podcast for any longer than a year, that last year, I did a kind of a tour of India, went to all these amazing places, and met a lot of really, really cool folks. But when I was having a dinner there, I wound up sitting across from a guy who really, really intrigues me. He delved into what he does, which is essentially working with extremely high performers with athletes, with teams, and with a host of people who are not only like extreme exercise enthusiasts, but also professional athletes, executives, et cetera. And he specializes in using a unique flavor of biohacking, and biomechanics, and physiology, and breathwork, and alteration to one's personal and professional environment to enhance performance in some really cool ways that I hadn't heard of before.
Anyways, after I wound up having dinner with him, actually, we hung out a little bit. We went to lunch, I think, a couple days later, and I found out that he was in the process of releasing a book, which he just sent to me a few weeks ago and I read. It's called “Breathe, Believe, Balance.” It's actually available on Amazon. And the book is wonderful. The stuff we talked about was so cool and I just think he's a diamond in the rough, and I had to get him on the show. He has served as a consultant to a ton, like too many to name in terms of the athletic teams and Olympic associations, and Davis Cup teams, and Asian games participants, and Olympic participants. He's worked on the ATP tennis store for six years with grand slam champions and just a ton of professional tennis players. And he also runs an institute in Mumbai called the HEAL Institute, or ran that institute, which was a sports science and rehab practice. And now, he works in digital content, and then as a private consultant for a lot of these different companies. So, he's a wealth of knowledge and we're super lucky to be able to listen to him today. Calling in from–Shayamal, you're over in Mumbai right now?
Shayamal: Hi, Ben. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I am in Mumbai at the moment, yes.
Ben: Alright, cool. So, Shayamal, we've talked before, but you have to pronounce your entire name for me just so people can get it straight because I don't want to butcher it.
Shayamal: No worries. It's Shayamal Vallabhjeei. So, I'm not going to even spell your last name, but Shayamal, for those of you listening in, because this is where you're going to find the shownotes for everything we talked about, Shayamal is S-H-A-Y-A, like Shaya, and then MAL, M-A-L, Shayamal. It sounds like it should be Shayamal. Does anybody ever call you that, man?
Shayamal: A lot of people do, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, because when I saw your name, I was like, “Oh, he said Shamal, but I said Shayamal.” So, BenGreenfieldFitness.com/S-H-A-Y-A M-A-L, Shayamal, is where you can access the shownotes for everything that we talk about. Shayamal, remember when we met at that dinner? I forget where we were with Jag, and that was in Mumbai, wasn't it where we met?
Shayamal: We were. We were in Mumbai in BKC.
Shayamal: Bandra Kurla Complex. We walked around to–we actually had lunch at a place called O Pedro.
Ben: Yeah. You showed me that mall. Apparently, they're building like the biggest mall in the world, like puts the mall of America and any of the malls in Dubai to shame. That was quite impressive when we walked by that place on the way to lunch. You remember that?
Shayamal: I absolutely do. It's massive. I think it should be close to completion and opening now. It would have opened, actually, if we weren't in lockdown. It was scheduled for October this year. But it's going to be–yeah. It's called a Reliance Mall. It's probably going to be one of the biggest in the world.
Ben: Massive. I'd be probably more excited if I was a mall guy, but I'm sure somebody will be salivating over the idea of yet another giant mall. And then, that place that we went to lunch, and I realized I might be boring all of our listeners, but it was actually a really amazing style of cuisine. What was that style of cuisine, do you recall?
Shayamal: So, yeah, I do. It's a famous restaurant in Mumbai called O Pedro, and it specializes in Goan food. So, Goa is a little beach town, which is in the–it's in its own state. It's about a 40-minute flight from Maharashtra, Mumbai, and it specializes in a lot of this seafood and sea cuisine. So, Goan, G-O-A-N.
Ben: G-O-A-N. Cool. I'll link to that in the shownotes. It was actually really good food. It was like just fresh, amazing. I've never eaten that cuisine before. It was fantastic. So, thank you for jogging my memory because I may have to get a Goan food cookbook at some point.
Anyways, let's talk about you because I talk to a lot of people who specialize in things like performance-enhancing, biohacking, applying things that have the flavor of functional medicine, for example, to sports, or to exercise, or to high-performing executives. But you have your own unique flavor that I know we're going to get a chance to delve into on today's show, but I'd love to hear a little bit of your background, like how you actually came to do what it is that you do now. And we have time. So, feel free to take your time, but walk us through how you actually came to be the sports scientist, psychologist, high-performance coach that you are now.
Shayamal: Ben, it's an interesting question. It started off, I grew up in South Africa, and I grew up during what was the apartheid era. So, the apartheid for our listeners is an institutionalized segregation of people of color. And in South Africa, people of color was generally those of African descent coloreds and Indians. So, everyone of that descendancy was classified as a person of color. And in the apartheid, there are those restricted opportunities. So, you couldn't play sport for the country, you couldn't go to certain universities, you had no access to certain beaches and parks, you could only study in certain careers, you could only live in certain areas, and a whole host of things that went on there.
And I started wanting to play cricket for the country, and I was very keen as a young boy pursuing it. I played at a lot of state levels, at national levels when I was way under 15, under 14. And what happened was when I turned 18, I realized that I now fall in what's called the open category. And the open category meant that I now was competing with everyone else and I was competing in the ecosystem where people of color were not given opportunities to represent their country. It was quite disheartening at the time because everything that I've known, everything that I had worked and sacrificed for was there. And when I was as young as 17 years old, I had to really make a hard decision, and that decision was, do I stay as an athlete trying to pursue a career in the sport, or do I try to deviate? And I was so passionate about sport that I really didn't want to leave it completely, so I went and studied sports science because I was pretty decent cricketer.
So, the cricket union gave me a scholarship where they paid for all my studies. I went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which was one of those universities where it was really the bedrock of all movements that started in that apartheid time. Our lecturers were really activists of some sort. So, anything that was bubbling under the political radar started there. So, it was also quite a life at that university. So, I studied sports science. I was quite fortunate, Ben, that from the day I started studying, I was given the opportunity to work as a coach in a high-performance system with athlete. So, I literally went from a one day being a pure athlete or a pure team member from the cricket team to the next day being on that coaching staff. And that was a mind-blowing transition because one day, everyone's your friends, and the next day, you have to give them direction on what to do, and that's–
Ben: That's got to be a little awkward.
Shayamal: It was extremely difficult because a lot of them were my heroes, a lot of people I aspire to and are looking to me for guidance, and they're judging me in a completely different lens. So, I had to fast track my learning, fast track my growth. And I did that, and I realized very early on that if I stood any chance in this apartheid system to rise up in the coaching ranks, I needed to be academically very, very sound. So, I've put my mind into really studying. I've got into post-graduates. I studied multiple different areas of expertise. I tried to really peel away and understand human physiology because I realized that that was what was going to give me an advantage. And I stayed with the team. The teams that I worked with did pretty well. I kept given the same excuse saying that, “You know what, you're not good enough. You don't have enough experience to work right at the highest level, which was the national level.” So, I was currently working probably one level below that. So, I was with the South African high-performance squad, the South African National Academy, just one rung away from being with that national team. But I kept hitting a stone wall every time it came to that. In 2003, Ben, I got called up to be the technical analyst of the Indian cricket team going to the 2003 Cricket World Cup.
Ben: I'm not quite sure what a technical analyst means. Does that mean that you're like analyzing biomechanics or something different?
Shayamal: Exactly. That's exactly what I was doing. I was analyzing biomechanics of our current players. I was analyzing biomechanics of the opposition. And based on biomechanics, I was trying to understand who should be the best team that we should play and how could we counteract those weaknesses. Like for example, if you have a fast bowler who's coming in, if he has a biomechanical flow, based on his biomechanics, he could only do certain things with the ball. The ball can only swing in certain areas.
Ben: That's pretty high end. One quick question for you. Sorry to interrupt. When I was an intern at Duke University, I did a lot of digital and biomechanical analysis as part of my practicum there with a mentor of mine, Dr. Rafael Escamilla, and he invited me to the Olympics. I wasn't able to go for that year, frankly, because I was getting married to my lover, Jessa, who I'm still married to, and that would have disrupted quite a bit of that. But one of the things that he did at the Olympics was he put patches on each joint of the player and then used high-speed video cameras to do basically digital biomechanics and see exactly how joints were moving in space. Is that similar to something you were doing, like using high-speed digital cameras and patches placed on joints?
Shayamal: Absolutely. We don't have the luxury of doing that for our opposition, but with our players in research, we're definitely doing that. And what we do with using those patches on joints is when we're really looking for something with respect to changing a player's technique or with respect to managing injury. So, if an athlete has come out from a severe injury, perhaps he's got a stress fracture in the lumbar back. Now, a stress fracture is a chronic injury, which means that there's a certain load in a certain movement pattern. That's where that digitized version of his movement pattern would give us an idea to quantify exactly where that load is and we'd work on that. When I was working with the cricket team, it was quite complex because we had to take video footage of TV from the cameras that were filming it, and we had to digitize that footage ourselves.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Like by hand, I remember doing this. And then, for those of you listening in, picture that someone puts it like a little dot that the camera is picking up on each of your joints, and then whoever's the biomechanist actually has to go in and frame by frame click on each of those and create almost like a stick figure of each frame of the movement that you're going through. I would imagine, Shayamal, that technology has come quite a ways. I'm a little bit disconnected from biomechanics laboratories these days, but I would imagine that there's a little bit more efficient way to do things now.
Shayamal: Oh, yeah. Ben, we've moved–I mean, this is 2003. What we can do right now, it's really changed the face of professional sport and how we analyze. And not just professional sport, but actually professional training because it's the data that comes out of these movement patterns that allows us to really quantify and design programs and understand even the fueling because based on how much of distance and speeds and turns that they're covering. So, everything's coming. It's been extrapolated out of this data here. And we use companies now like–they're different companies. We have a company like Siliconcoach, which still does these digitized versions of it. But we have a company like Prozone, which would set up 13 to 15 cameras that's catching every single movement of an athlete. So, you're getting 13 views of an athlete moving and you're then digitizing that. You're looking at speeds. Then you have a company like Catapult, which is tracking GPS movement, accelerations, decelerations, turns. And as a sports scientist, I'm taking all of this data, putting it together, and then breaking it down to see how I could use this in training methodology.
Ben: Right. Okay. So, that's what you were doing back in 2003. And what happened from there?
Shayamal: Yeah. So, this is what happened in 2003. I went to the World Cup. India lost in the final to Australia. It was an absolute cracker of the game. I come back to South Africa and I get interviewed for the job at the highest national level and I get shortlisted to the last two people. And then, I'm going for an interview, and that interview lasted an hour and a half. They asked me every single thing that was possible from biomechanics to physiology, to injury, to management, everything. And then, the next candidate goes in, and five minutes later, he comes out. My coffee was still hot in my hand and he says, “They've offered me the job.”
And I realized right there and then that I was really the person of color candidate. I was a quota system in that apartheid-era so that they could say that, “You know what, we interviewed someone of color,” and that's what I was. And I was so disappointed. I came back. I worked for a couple of months, but I realized that I was getting very–this toxicity was building up in me. I was not happy and I didn't want to–I was becoming a person I was really not happy with. So, I moved into a temple. I moved into a Hare Krishna temple for a while. I didn't plan to stay there for as long as I did. I eventually ended up staying there for about three and a half years. It was just supposed to be a weekend or a week, but I realized when I went in there that I needed to spend some time to really calm down, calm my nervous system down, understand myself, understand the source of this anger. I went there to really understand how to love someone who's treating you badly. That was the aim of being there.
But throughout that entire process, then it was a mind-blowing experience because I learned some of my greatest learnings in there, which I use with every single athlete up to today. And I'll give you one such lesson. When you live in the temple, you've got to wake up at 3:00 a.m. every single day. And to wake up at 3:00 a.m., you got to be in bed by 8:30, 9:00 latest. Otherwise, you're not going to get enough rest. And you don't have the luxury of missing that 3:00 a.m. because you are sleeping in a dormitory-style room with all the other monks and they wake you up to take you to the temple. So, for the first three or four months, I was in the ashram and I was practically falling asleep because I wasn't sleeping early enough. I was sleeping close to midnight, if not after that. So, I was getting barely an hour to sleep. I was dozing off in there.
And that process went on for about four or five months. And then, one day, a penny just dropped and a realization hit me that, “You know what, if I'm going to be here and I have to be, and as long as I want to stay in this temple, I have to wake up, which means I should get to bed early.” And that realization shifted everything for me because the next day, I started getting to bed early, I started being a lot more disciplined in the meditation. And the lesson there is that discipline is sticking to something long enough for it to break you before it actually makes you.
Ben: One question that I have about that waking at 3:00 a.m. and establishing that habit, and that sticking with you, did you find–because I found that when I go on a hunting trip or when I'm in some situation where I'm sleeping far less and get on this schedule where I'm waking up far earlier than what I'm accustomed to, the body becomes so accustomed to it that you almost reset what you're able to tolerate when it comes to, for example, the amount of sleep that you can get. So, I'm curious for you, like these days, or do you still get up at 3:00 a.m., or do you find you can get by on less sleep than you were able to prior to that experience?
Shayamal: Well, I definitely get by in less sleep. I'm not waking up at 3:00, I'm up by about 6:00 every day. But I work generally quite late at night because I'm doing a lot of writing. And as a writer, there's so much of I needed to be pin-drop silent. So, all my writing happens late at night, early hours of the morning. So, that's the only reason that it happens. But generally, now, I'm up by 6:00 and my routine goes on from there. But I find that I can operate on a little bit less sleep even though we know that there's really only one gene type of modification on one gene. The DEC2 gene is a person who can operate on two hours less sleep than everyone else. For a prolonged period of time, I don't even have that gene, but somehow we seem to adapt, and I guess that's the resilience of the body.
Shayamal: What's the long-term ramifications of that? I guess we'll see over time.
Ben: Yeah. We'll get back into your personal routines because I know you have some pretty cool habits, and then pretty cool hacks that you work into your own life. But back to your monastic life, how long were you at the temple doing that with the monks?
Shayamal: So, I was there for about three and a half years. And at the end of three and a half years, I got a call. Someone just dropped me an email from India saying, “Would you like to come over to India, work with the Indian Davis Cup team and prepare some of the athletes of the Beijing Olympics?” So, I thought it was very cool opportunity. I was very fascinated with India because I worked with them during the 2003 World Cup. And so, I jumped back. I mean, I didn't really have much positions or wasn't doing anything, so it was an easy decision to make. And yeah, I jumped on the plane, came to India. I worked with the Indian Davis Cup team for about six months, helped prepare them.
We went to the Beijing Olympics. I went as one of the head sports scientists working with quite a few athletes. And that was quite a journey because we went to India, had 89 athletes in 2008. We had probably about 39 accreditations for support staff of which about 25 went to administrators from the Olympic Association. So, we had like three physiotherapists to look after 89 athletes. So, everyone was running [00:24:02] _____, treating athletes, boxers were going into fights without physios. There was no nutrition, there was no dietitian, the doctor was not qualified. It was a whole host of problems. And I haven't come out of an apartheid system. The reason I studied sports sciences was I felt that I had to stay in the system to change the system. And I came to India, and I thought that this is a completely different level of discrimination, but it is discrimination. When you're taking an athlete and giving him absolutely no resources and you bring him on the same platform where his another country is spending a million pounds on an athlete, it's discrimination on some level.
So, I stayed and I worked in India for another five or six years, traveled on the ATP tour with these athletes, consulted, worked with them, went to the London Olympics hoping that something would have changed. And honestly, nothing changed. India performed worse in the London Olympics than it did in actually Beijing. And the exact same story repeated. I mean, 24 hours before we left India for the Olympics, certain athletes were appointed new coaches by the federations, people who they've never seen, who they've never worked with. They've just sent. And that was what gave birth to me becoming an entrepreneur in India. That's what I set up the HEAL Institute, which was really a sports science institute that was dedicated to training physiotherapists, physical trainers, and doctors on the understanding of how to work with an athlete, with a professional athlete. And in between this entire journey here, the time in the temple to India really highlighted to me the importance of the mind and everything, and that's where I really deviated a little bit from sports science to psychology, understanding that the mind can control the body. And later on, we learned that if you're familiar with the work of Professor Tim Noakes from the University of Cape Town.
Ben: Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, he's been on the podcast a few times, particularly related to some of his controversial thoughts regarding electrolyte intake, Gatorade, and then also way back before ketosis and low carbohydrate intake was popular amongst exercise enthusiasts and athletes. I had him on and he was one of the first voices in that sector. So, yeah. He's an old friend and he's been on the podcast a few times.
Shayamal: He is an absolutely amazing person, know really a path-breaking research. And his book “Lore of Running,” the amount of research that's in the running ecosystem and the running world that was there was phenomenal. So, Professor Tim Noakes and I did some work together. He was my prof when I was with the high-performance cricket academy in Cape Town for two years. And he came up with what's called the central governor theory, where he shows that it's the brain that really tells the body to slow down. So, when you're pushing yourself and you're unable to push yourself beyond a certain limit, it's not that you're physiologically tapped out, it's that your muscles have felt something uncomfortable. They've sent a sign to your brain or signal to your brain, and it's your brain that's told you to slow down.
Ben: That's right.
Shayamal: And that's his central governor theory. And that central governor theory really grounded for me the importance of actually understanding that if the mind is controlling a lot more, we need to spend a lot more time understanding the mind. And back in 2000, psychology or sport psychology was really not spoken of too much. And when you did talk of sports psychology, everyone was only talking about visualization and imagery. So, being able to clearly visualize this. And I thought to myself, that is what mindfulness is, that's what meditation is, that's what they're teaching you in the temple. They're teaching you to still the mind so that you can have clarity of thought and perspective and you can look at things from multiple perspectives.
So, I thought instead of throwing a lot of jargon in here, why don't I start blending mindfulness and meditation as a training technique to help athletes come to grips with this situation, understand anxiety, perceive things through multiple situations? And then, hopefully, in a high pressure situation, that would give them a better clarity about the options available to them. And that's where I came. So, that's what I currently do, and that brought me to India. I set up HEAL. I exited HEAL in 2018. We opened 10 centers. We used to treat about 100,000 patients a year out of those 10 centers. And yeah, that's my journey.
Ben: Okay. So, I know that there's some pretty cool things that you do with the athletes and the high performers that you work with. But even before we delve into that, I'm just curious, with your own journey, and as much as you've learned being immersed in this unique flavor of both psychology, meditation, living in a monastery, et cetera, but then you're also very steeped in the whole technology and biohacking side of things. Can you walk the audience and me through what a typical day in your life looks like in terms of some outside the box, or interesting, or particularly meaningful things that you're doing to optimize your own body, or brain, or performance? What are some must-haves for you in your daily routine that you want to share with folks?
Shayamal: Ben, the few things that are really non-negotiable for me, one is I take a lot of time for myself in a day. So, for example, the meditation and mindfulness practices, the mindfulness in the form of breathwork every single morning for about an hour is a non-negotiable intermittent fasting for me. I wouldn't eat anything before 1:00 p.m. Okay. These are non-negotiables. My main training methodology is really running. Now, during COVID, I'm averaging about 50 to 60 kilometers a week. But if I'm training for a marathon, it will go up to about anywhere between 80 to 100k a week in training distance. I used to use a lot of supplements. And over the last two years, because I've been delving a lot into very big sciences, I've been trying to understand the body through the use of the five elements, which is water, air, space, fire, and earth.
And Ben, I know this is maybe a little controversial because I've used the word biohack myself quite a bit. I've called myself a biohacker. And I thought to myself one day, this realization dawned on me. Hacking is finding an optimized way, finding a shortcut to do something. And I thought to myself, “How can my little prefrontal cortex even think that I can hack the intelligence of something that's existed for such a long period of time with reference to our cell biology, with reference to the functionality of this human body?” It's so intricate. How can I even hack it? So, I now say that I'm not trying to hack anything. All I'm trying to do is understand the best way to work with it. I'm finding the best way to respect what it wants. And how can I work in alignment with that as opposed to hack it?
Ben: Yeah. Well, hacking is an interesting word. I mean, if you look it up in the Oxford English dictionary, it means to cut with heavy blows in an irregular or random fashion. And apparently, that came from the word hackney, which was somebody who was like a person who does undistinguished work, like a horse for hire or a car for hire. But then in the more modern era, it progressed from just being somebody who just fusses around with machines and takes stuff apart to somebody who will explore the intricate details of a programmable or a complex system and figure out how to stretch the capabilities of that system using some kind of a novel method. And of course with reference to biology, that would be biohacking. And so, yeah. If you look at the root word, it's a very, very rough and almost vulgar and callous word, and sometimes inappropriate in my opinion for what we're actually doing, which is really much more refined with subtle nuances in a far more informed and educated manner when it comes to toying with our biology, so to speak. But one thing that you just said piqued my interest, you said you're using, as you've veered away from reliance upon supplementation these ayurvedic principles, you mentioned the use of the five elements, earth, fire, space, air, and water, I would love to hear a little bit more about that.
Shayamal: Yeah. Ben, I'll explain that, and I agree with you that what we do is far more nuanced, then the term actually refers to by its definition. And I felt that was where actually the problem came. So, that was actually why I started using the word respect the body because for people like us, we may understand the nuance of peeling away the layers of understanding it. But for the person who's listening to us, hack is still used as a shortcut. They're still thinking, “Oh, this is a shortcut to get to a place.” And so, I thought, I said, “How can I teach them?” The first level is respect your body. When you respect your body, a lot of things will fall in line.
But with respect to the five elements, like I told you, it's water, air, space, fire, and earth. And Vedic sciences speaks of some interesting things. So, they're saying water. The first one is the amount of water that you're taking to your body doesn't always have to be drunk. In fact, they recommend that 40% to 50% of the water is eaten. So, they say, “Eat your water through water-rich foods.” So, foods that release water, and they cooked, should be a part of your daily diet.
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Great book about this. And I interviewed the author. The book is called “Quench,” and it gets into the idea that when you look at even a lot of indigenous populations and hunter-gatherer tribes, you're actually not seeing a large amount of the hydration being dependent upon water, instead it's hydrating and nutrient-packed plants, it's electrolyte intake, it's even the inclusion of gel-based plants like cactus and aloe vera. Yeah. It's very interesting, this idea that hydrating the body comes down to a lot more than just there's water.
Shayamal: Exactly. So, that was the water. When it comes to air, air is really your breathwork. It's the balance between how your inhalation and exhalation stimulates that parasympathetic sympathetic nervous system. So, really bringing your balance in Vedic sciences. We also have that breathing technique where you're breathing in through a nose and exhaling through the other to counterbalance your energies. We call them your [00:37:28] _____. Okay. So, we use air is your breathwork, space is fasting. And incidentally, fasting is probably one of the only principles that is completely uniform in every single religious or faith across the world, irrespective of what it is. You'll find that every single one of them promotes fasting.
And really, the reason why they promote fasting is because it's a principle of detoxification. And where Vedic sciences differs from modern physiology is that modern physiology says that if you're sick, you need energy to heal the body. Right. So, that's why we eat food. When you're eating food, it will metabolize, it will make energy available to heal the body. Vedic sciences says that when you're sick, all energy needs to be diverted to that. And any food that you put into the body is using energy to actually metabolize that food. So, you're using energy to metabolize that food. So, it says that the body in itself, if you redirect all its resources towards healing that, it would recover itself. So, it speaks of fasting as the primary form of cleansing and detoxification.
Ben: Yeah, but that's not fun. Most people want to want to find out what kind of superfood smoothie they're supposed to drink when they're sick and all the different magical supplements they can consume. And I believe it was a Hippocrates who first used fasting as a form of therapy. I believe he was the first to actually write pretty extensively about it. Of course, it's been a staple of religious cultures for a long time. But then Benjamin Franklin, he's well-known for saying that the best of all medicines is rest and fasting. And I think my wife is the person who first made me familiar with that idea, which she'd get sick and she just wouldn't eat for 48 hours, clean up the body, detox, rest, lay in bed, read, and it works, but I think a lot of people in western culture were just conditioned to want to run out to Walgreens and CVS and buy the five things that are supposed to fix us up fast when in fact, just not eating can have some pretty profound effects.
Shayamal: You're right. There's so much of data and there's so much of research. It's just unfortunately not mainstream. And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to just read about it, peel about it, peel away the layers and try to bring it a little bit more mainstream. When we come to the fire element, Ben, it says that you can draw energy from the sun, and it's interesting. Vedic sciences says that every single life form on Earth pretty much needs that energy from the sun to grow. So, what it's saying is that you also can draw energy from the sun. And the way to draw energy from the sun is there's certain yogis who practice what's called sun gazing. So, early in the morning or before this, when the sun's rising, when the sun's setting, you'd stare at the sun for about 15 to 20 minutes. And you've got to be very careful with this to make sure you don't get any retinal damage, and it needs to be practiced. But that's a science, sun gazing. Also, eating a lot of sun-ripened food. That's very, very important. So, sun-ripened food is you can take whatever you have, just leave it out in the sun, your vegetables, your beans, they'll absorb energy. And if you don't overcook it, that's how you can absorb that energy from the sun into your body.
And the third is really cooking the food in an earthen pot. So, using clay or mud-based vessels as opposed to these Teflon things as opposed to using this cast iron and Teflon cooking earth because that also helps retain a lot of that fire in the food and energy in the food. And then, the fifth element is earth, and earth would reference to really eating plant-based foods, foods that are growing from the earth. And if you stick to these five elements, it's said that the body will really be in balance. But also with this, I also look at something very interesting. I look at the potential renal acid load of everything. So, I'm constantly studying that. So, the body needs to maintain what's called an acid-base balance. And everything that you consume would either break down into an acid or it will break down into a base. There's excessive acid in the body the kidney has to really flush it out, but its capacity to flush out so much of acid in a day is quite limited.
So, it's really important to understand what you're taking in, and how is it converting into your body, and how much of that will put a stress on the kidneys, for example. So, your plant-based foods where you don't put too much of stress. For example, something like parmesan cheese releases a lot of acid in the body and make–the kidneys have to work exceptionally hard. In Vedic sciences, they're saying the kidney's capacity to flush acid in the body is actually more in alignment with 0.5 to 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight as opposed to what most [00:42:37] _____ would say one gram, one and a half grams, which is really excessive.
Ben: Yeah. Part of that, I should note, that acid-base homeostasis is also dependent upon mineral status because the body actually is pretty efficient at maintaining proper acid-alkaline status even if you're eating a highly acidic diet. But the problem is long-term, the minerals that must be leached from, for example, bone in order to achieve that or the excess strain on the kidney long term, especially with excess protein intake in an environment of a largely acidic diet of high intake of alcohol, dairy, red meat, et cetera, dictates that long term, it's stressful in the kidneys, and even short term can be stressful in overall mineral balance. A lot of people say, “Oh, there's nothing to the acid-alkaline diet.” But there actually is in terms of the long-term stress on the body, especially when it comes to maintaining alkalinity in a relatively acidic state.
Shayamal: Absolutely. So, this is what I'm really doing with diet. And then, recently, a cool hack that I figured out is when we've been talking about sleep so much of the time, we speak about blackout blinds and we speak about the covering those LEDs, and we talk so much about light. But I've been doing a lot of work and I've been trying to get my athletes to understand the impact of sound on sleep, which is very, very interesting. So, every single room would have a certain ambient sound. And generally, if a room is silent, that ambient sound in there, if it's just an air conditioner on or device on, would be anywhere from about 35 to 45 decibels. And this is what sleep research is super interesting because it's saying that if some sound is consistent, your brain will eventually block it out. It's the fluctuations of sound that actually disturbs sleep.
So, what I've started doing is I started–there's a beautiful app called NIOSH, N-O-I-S-H, which is a free app. So, I'm going to a room and I just check what the ambient sound is. And then, I use a white noise machine. And actually, they use it for babies a lot. So, what I do is I put that white noise machine on at a few decibels above that noise that is ambient in there. So, that becomes the consistent noise. And I've noticed that my sleep metrics have changed completely because of that, because there's no more fluctuation. So, every time your generators or anytime some sound goes off in those AC or some disturbance, you're going to keep waking up.
Ben: Now, what was the name of that app that you said you're using to evaluate the ambient noise in a room?
Shayamal: It's called NIOSH. N-O-I-S-H.
Ben: Huh, never heard of it. Okay. Cool. I'll link to that one in the shownotes.
Shayamal: So, that's really, really interesting. And I do this with all my athletes as well. So, standard thing is I get them to have a white noise machine in their rooms. Whenever we're traveling, I get them, I show them how to use this app, and we do this. So, over and above blocking the LEDs with black tapes, over and above analyzing your pillows, and your sleep, and the room temperature. This has made a massive difference to the quality of sleep that they're having. So, everyone's going in really sound right now.
So, that's what I'm trying to do, Ben. And right now, I'm trying to see, I've been looking at the body through this Vedic science methodology and seeing how it will stack up against my performance as a runner and have a look at what was the quantifiable difference between me going with all of these supplements and things. Even with supplements, I used to–I read an interesting piece of research that said that if you really want to understand the impact of a supplement on your body, you should take one at a time. And about seven to eight hours after you take that, you should check the pH of your urea to understand what it's actually doing to your body as opposed to just looking at the benefit of it. How is it actually breaking and how is it actually shifting that pH? Which is very interesting.
Ben: It sounds like really what you're doing is taking a lot of what you're doing to optimize your own personal environment, sleep habits, et cetera. And then, using those are some of the high performers that you're working with. And in your book, you really do focus on environment quite a bit, not only optimizing environment when it comes to physical environment, but also relationships, spirituality, et cetera. But I'm curious if we could talk a little bit more about this whole piece of optimizing the environment, like if–let's say I were an Olympic competitor, and my performance is very important to me, my sleep is very important, my recovery is very important. How would you go about kind of detailing a little bit more what you were already starting to delve into, analyzing my environment, and then optimizing my environment? And I realize that's a big question, but we have time.
Shayamal: Ben, for me, the environment is really broken up into two, which I actually described in the book. I said the external environment is made up of everything that you can see, smell, touch, taste, and hear. And then, it's your internal environment which is your mind. And the reason why are classified in two environments, is actually from a lens of spirituality because there's a beautiful book called “Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras, ” where the Saint Patañjali speaks about the relationship between your state of mind and your environment. And I'll take you through this and then I'll break it down for you and how I work with it. So, what he says is that they fight states of mind. And in the first two states of mind, a person is a direct byproduct of the environment. If you change the environment, they will mimic that environment in whatever shape and form.
Okay. The third environment is a person–or the third state of mind is when a person is aware of the environment, but they're also aware that they can transition above that environment. For example, someone is working in a highly toxic or a highly stressed environment. They're aware that, you know what, if I spend 20 minutes a day just meditating, then for those 20 minutes, I am devoid of any stress. I can rise above that stress. I'm not impacted with it. The problem with the third environment is that a person cannot sustain that for a prolonged period of time. The fourth environment is where a person can sustain that new enlightened state for a prolonged period of time. It could be hours, it could be days, it could be weeks. And then, the first state of mind is where a person is so enlightened that they change the environment around them.
Now, the reason why this is so important, and the reason why I'm talking about it, and I refer to two different environments, is because you'll always see two environments at play. One environment is external with the sound, with the noise, with the food that you're eating, whatever you're doing, and that's providing a certain amount of stimulus. But there comes a time when that environment stops providing any stimulus for you. And if you're relying only on the external environment, then what happens is it's pretty much the end of the road for you. But if you understand that your mental strength, your ability to still your mind, your ability to calm yourself down, your ability to rise above the trappings of that environment, is a completely different option that's available to you, and it's an option that's in your control.
And we've seen this in the book I gave the beautiful example of Roger Federer playing Novak Djokovic in the 2019 Wimbledon Final. And that final, I said, was special for three reasons. It was the first final that was settled by a match tiebreaker. It was the longest final in the history of the Wimbledon competition, and it was the first time that a male competitor came back from two match points down to win the championship. And what was really remarkable was in Novak Djokovic's post-match statement, he made a comment. He said there was a moment in the game when the crowd were chanting Roger Federer's name. And if I had any chance of winning, I had to remove myself from that environment. And he, there, in that statement, explained exactly what I'm saying, is that there will always be a time when the environment is supporting you, but there will come a time when the environment is not. And if you have not cultivated the ability to pull yourself out of it, then you're at the mercy of that environment.
So, when I talk about these two, I work on it like this. And when I'm talking about the external environment, I break it up into two, especially with my athletes. There is a work environment, which is the playing field or the gym, and then there's the home environment. And at the home environment, I think probably one of the most important things, or where they're resting, one of the most important things that I look at is I look at making sure that we're standardizing the pillow that they're traveling with because that is one of the biggest disruptors I'll speak.
Ben: The pillow really? What kind of pillow are you having people travel with, or how are you even analyzing that?
Shayamal: We get these analyze the beautiful companies out there. One is called Pillow[ology]. There's another called Pluto Pillow where there's been a phenomenal amount of research done on different types of pillows and how it suits a person. And if you think about it, your clothes change at night, your bedding changes, your bed changes. But for eight hours or six hours, however long you're sleeping, your head is always on this one thing. And if that is changing, if the temperature of it is changing, if the density of it is changing, the texture of this change is going to completely disrupt your sleep. So, what we try to do is we try to keep that consistent. So, we've noticed that things like the temperature of the pillow is exceptionally important. The thickness and the softness and the density of the pillow is exactly the same. So, what we try to do is with our professional athletes is we get a pillow analysis done for them. And then we order two or three pillows and it's mandatory for them to travel with the pillow.
Ben: Wow. By the way, I'm a little bit of a pillow princess myself and I have all these fancy pillows at home that I sleep with. Like the Neck Nest is one that I really like for back sleeping. I always like 650 Down pillows on my bed that I can cradle around my neck or between my legs during sleep. I have some other special pillow that's literally designed to go between your knees for side sleepers. I forget the brand on that one. But my problem is pillows are so bulky to travel with. That's the problem is they take up so much space.
Shayamal: Yeah, and you're absolutely right. The pillows, for example, if you have a look, the reason we travel with one, we travel the main one that the heads resting on because the other ones you can still hack it, you can still use what's available to get it between your knees, you can get it to support you on the side, all of those are still–you can hack them, but the one on the sleep, the one that your head's on, if it's too soft, you're going to be tossing, turning, turning. You're going to be trying to punch it together to get some support the entire night. So, we found that just getting this standardized is one of the best ways to start. If you're not going to get that standardized, you're going to be tossing around thinking it's everything else, but it's not. So, I work on that. I get obviously, like I said, the noise shaft and a white noise machine, and they have every single athlete that they're working and traveling would get a portable Game Ready machine with them?
Ben: Oh, the game. It's similar to the NormaTec boots. Those are the ones that I own. They do gradated compression to milk a lot of inflammatory byproducts out of the legs. But the Game Ready also has like ice water that circulates through it, right?
Shayamal: Yeah. So, we're using icing and compression at the same time with the athletes. I think the one that you're talking about just does compression only.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, correct. It's like a gradated compression, and I like it, but those game-ready units, they combine that with ice water, which is pretty impressive.
Shayamal: I's mind-blowing. It's a lighting machine. All of them have that in the room. And the reason why we get it into this space is that they can ice their joints in the comfort of their own home. Previously, we used to have one or two of these units in a change room, so everyone was rushing for it, and the last person was spending two hours longer in the change room than he needed to be. So, it was a small investment. We make sure everyone gets it in there. And then, with respect to athletes, every single athlete, there's something really interesting you should know is that with most codes of sport, we have this little internal app which every athlete has. And on that app, we can send footage to him of the games going back to every single game he's played or every opponent he's played against. So, for example, if you're taking a football game, every time a guy touches a ball, we have a software that would record 10 seconds before that and 10 seconds after that touch. And all of that footage is available to him on an app to study in his room whenever he wants to. And we encourage them to do this because this is where we flag things, we get them to look at their performances, all of that. So, that's actually also a part of the environment.
As much as we'd like to standardize air quality, getting air filters, all of those things, some things are beyond our control because we're moving literally from hotel room to hotel room every single night. But as a standard rule of thumb in every single hotel, we try to take a single floor for all our team. We try to make sure that the players are nowhere close to any exits or any lifts. So, we try to get them right at the ends of the room where it's a lot quieter. These are simple things that we're doing with respect to just their home environments or where they're sleeping.
Ben: Right, right. So, even selecting the hotel room that's not near the elevator. That's actually a big one and that's something I'll actually ask now when I check into a hotel room is if I can get a room that's farther away from the lift as you call it or the elevator as we normal people say, Shayamal.
Ben: Yeah. That's actually pretty significant, too, because all those elevators, they're noise generators.
Shayamal: It's crazy. And even if the lift, even if the elevator is not making noise, it's where people are congregating whilst they're waiting for it, if they chat. And when are you going to get the most noise? You're going to get the most noise at 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m. when people are coming back from a body. That's when the volume really goes up. That's when you're most likely to be disturbed. So, as a standard rule of thumb, we try to look at what are the things within our control and really take care of that. And then, when we're looking at the work environment, Ben, that's where it gets super exciting. So, this is where we start tracking all sorts of data. So, when an athlete would get into a field, we will get a catapult GPS tracker on him, for example. So, we're looking at every single step he takes, every movement he's taking, we're getting that movement on there.
We have a lot of hydration kits. So, we're testing pH, we're testing hydration pre-practice and post-practice. You'll find that the environments are always–most new change rooms and locker rooms now have multiple ice box. Every single environment would have timing gates set up where people can do the short 30-, 50-meter sprints and we can get timings against them. When we're training an athlete, for example, and we're giving him 10 runs, sometimes we want him to do 10, but the idea is that we want them to not have more than a 5% discrepancy in timings between the first and last. That's why the timing gates are there so that we're getting real-time feedback on that.
Obviously, everyone has heart rate monitors where we're monitoring that. It's very important the heart rate monitors that we're using for them. I use a company called Suunto and a company called Firstbeat. Firstbeat and Suunto create heart rate variability and heart rate monitors for team analysis. So, they would give me a digital radar of at least 100 to 150 meters. If the player goes 150 meters away, I can still get his real-time heart rate in there. And all of these devices are digitally coded through Bluetooth, which means that I can see exactly which athlete I'm looking at. And the reason we use digital Bluetooth coding is because when you use an analog coding, if two athletes are running close to each other, you're getting interference. So, you actually don't know whose heart rate data you're looking at. So, we're looking at digital heart rate data as we use that. We always, in the environment, we have a video analysis team room set up where athletes can review practice footage, they can review match footage. This is all set up. Then obviously, the nutrition is taken care of, the diet is taken care of. But that's where we start getting really excited. Most of these tools is to really make sure the athletes don't have any excuses whatsoever.
Ben: Yeah. It's super fascinating. Now, what about anything like blood or biomarker tests, or things that you found to be quite helpful in terms of internal biology? Are you looking at any of those parameters?
Shayamal: Yes. We do look at it, but it's not done on a day-to-day basis for the simple reason that you can't keep poking professional athletes. In fact, you're mentioning such an interesting thing. Up until a few years ago, a lot of the data that we got was not on elite athletes because you can't do muscle biopsies on elite athletes. So, we're taking college students or we're taking amateur athletes that were really good and we're running tests on them. So, we really always had a discrepancy in the data. With respect to some of the data where I'm doing, I'm not poking about. One thing that I am doing, and it's not done very often, it's done probably once a month, is lactic acid testing. So, I'm getting an athlete either on a treadmill, on a bicycle. I'm looking at his heart rate variability, I'm looking at his heart rate training zones, and then I'm testing lactic acid to look at where his turn point is. So, I'm trying to quantify his intensity against his turn point.
Ben: You mean where the anaerobic threshold is. That's a test that I used to do quite a bit when I worked with a lot of triathletes and marathoners was–and actually, Dr. Peter Attia is still very into this concept of lactic acid threshold testing. He's one guy who I know still does this quite a bit with his patients and his clients. And essentially, it's a way of addressing or analyzing metabolic efficiency by looking at the point at which the body shifts into preferential carbohydrate utilization or begins to reach a state of lactic acid accumulation that's occurring more quickly. Then the lactic acid can actually be buffered or removed or converted back to glucose via something called a Cori cycle. And yeah, I used to do this test on myself all the time, typically a four-minute graded test and you measure lactate levels throughout. It can actually give you a really, really good insight into, for example, your training threshold for something like a time trial or a hard effort. It can give you insight into how well you're doing and improving your metabolic efficiency. It's a test not a lot of people talk about, but I think those lactate analyzers are still like 300, 400 bucks and it's like a blood glucose monitor except it's tracking lactate instead of glucose or, say, ketones.
Shayamal: Absolutely. You're right. It's not spoken about enough. It's not done enough. But the secret, I mean, the data it's going to give you is absolutely incredible. And that's what we're trying to do at. We're ultimately trying to quantify where the guy's physiological ceiling is. And that's what it's going to let us know. How hard can we push this guy? And beyond the physiological ceiling is really where psychology kicks in. So, we need to understand from that physiological upper threshold, from when his body is kicking into that anaerobic zone, we know from there he's just going to be slowing down after that.
So, we look at that particular point of intensity and effort against the end result of what is needed, and we can then quantify how big that gap is, and that's where science comes in. What can we do now? Are we going to push this for training? Are we going to push this with equipment? Is it psychology that's going to get in to close that gap? What's going to get you to close that gap? So, we need to understand where the ceiling is versus where the gold metal is, and what I'm going to close the gap with.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. It's fascinating. Now, I also know that in terms of circadian rhythmicity, that tends to be whether a team is traveling east to west, which is less problematic, or west to east, which appears to be more of an issue. That's always an uphill battle for not only executives, but also high performers, for athletes, for teams, et cetera. And you mentioned things like the pillow and some of the things you're doing in the hotel room, but anything you're doing regarding playing with light or other strategies in terms of circadian rhythmicity?
Shayamal: So, yeah. When it comes to really traveling, for the longest time, our hands were tied, we couldn't really do anything, isn't it? And especially like if you take a tennis player, for example, removing 40 weeks a year on the ATP Tour. So, every single week, we're on a plane. And sometimes you don't have the luxury of when you're going to book it. But there's this beautiful piece of technology which we're trying to explore right now, which is called Lumos, LumosTech, which is a sleeping mask that uses flashing light. And it's quite an interesting piece of research that's come out from the University of Stanford where they said that you can flashlight at hundredths of a second whilst the person is sleeping and it'll send a neurological signal to the brain, which really gets it to wake up at that time even though the person's sleeping. So, the Lumos sleep mask is really flashing light and you set the time that it's flashlight based on where you want to wake up and the time zone that you want to wake up.
So, we are definitely trying things like that. We're using things like that. We use a lot of compression garments when we're traveling to try to make sure that [01:03:49] _____, but I think with respect to circadian rhythm as a rule of thumb, I try to get my athletes to fast on planes because I found that, and just our experience, it's actually a digestion that knocks you out of sync more than anything else. And on a plane, what time zone are you eating it. They would serve your meal an hour after the plane takes off, irrespective of what time that plane takes off. And your big part of circadian rhythm is actually when your digestion starts and when it stops. So, it's the meals on the plane that really knock you out of sync more than anything else. So, I try to ask athletes to fast on planes. We do a lot of hydration, but this is the tech that we're really using to try to beat jet lag in some shape and form.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I'm a huge fan of liquid ketone esters now for flying just because sometimes you do get hungry when you're just sitting there on a plane. Especially if you're not sleeping, you have nothing else to do, sometimes the first thing that comes to mind is to either, A, watch a movie, or B, eat, or both. And I've found a couple bottles of like the HVMN or the KetoneAid ketone esters though, I mean, those keep me from eating on the flight, but then they also seem to shut down some of the Nrf2 based inflammatory pathways that occur in response to airline radiation and things along those lines. So, you kill two birds with one stone, but I'm a huge fan of traveling now with ketones. Anytime I hop onto a plane, typically, I'll slam a bottle for a long-haul flight. I'll slam a bottle every couple hours and then drink another bottle when I get in, and those things are a game-changer for me when it comes to flights.
We're getting a little long in the tooth here, but I do have some other questions I wanted to ask you. You have a big focus in the book, kind of outside the realm of a lot of the physical and the biological things we've been talking about on relationships. You really delve into like friends, families, relationships. I mean, your book “Breathe, Believe, Balance,” you walked through some of these questions that you ask the people that you're working with, but why do you have such a focus on relationships when it comes to optimizing the environment of a high performer?
Shayamal: So, the reason I focus on relationships is because experience has taught me that it's the relationship between the athlete and the coach, or the athlete and the trainer that actually makes all the difference. Why is it? And I'll give you a few reasons. One is that I am the person the athlete is seeing last before he goes into competition, and the person he sees first, irrespective of how that result has happened. So, he's one all good. If he's lost, I'm the person seeing first. So, that relationship is super important. I also learned something really interesting. I've learned that the better an athlete is, the harder it is to push him out of his comfort zone because he could be sitting in his comfort zone and still be performing so well that he would beat others. But the point is that that is not sustainable for a prolonged period of time. We need to get him out of that comfort zone.
So, more important than knowing who you are, it's important to know the type of person that can actually push you out of your comfort zone. So, that is something that's very, very important. So, I focus a lot on getting people to understand who they are, but I also get them to understand the type of person that's needed in their system to help them get the best of who they are. And Tim Noakes talks of the central governor theory. He talks of the brain can actually slow the body down. Now, if your brain is telling your body to slow down, what is the external factor that's getting you to reset that entire wiring? That's that relationship with the coach. It's somebody who's there, who's telling you, “Listen, you know what.” Something is telling you to slow down and you're very, very far from performing at your physiological limits. It's the coach's ability to really push you at that point.
So, I spent a lot of time really understanding relationships because for me, the relationships are the secret to everything. If you're looking at team sports, the dynamic in a change room is everything. It's the respect, the integrity, the dignity, is all established in there. If you're looking at an Olympic sport, then you're sitting across from your opponent 10 minutes before you can go and compete, understanding the dynamic in there, understanding the psychology, having somebody sitting next to you who can help you carve away and cutaway that tension, makes all the difference. So, understanding relationships is critical and I spend a lot of time in peeling away these layers because–and you've seen it so many times. When an athlete and a professional athlete goes through something really disastrous or traumatic in their life, their performance drops quite drastically. Look at what happened to Roger Federer. Not even traumatic, but the birth of his children shifts his psychology. You look at Tiger Woods, what happens. If you look at any athlete, it's something big happens.
Ben: It's something that I never really appreciated. And for, I mean, gosh, over a decade, I coached and worked with clients and I felt as though I was being intrusive by asking questions about family life, relationship with spouse, relationship with children, even relationship with self and spiritual habits. It was a few years ago when actually, for my intake questionnaires, for a lot of the execs and the clients that I work with, I actually began to ask those probing questions and I would find that really, the people who did not have optimized relationships and personal environments when it came to their wife or their husband, their children, friendships in the local community, et cetera, these were often the people who seem to have the most struggles with things like gut issues, sleep issues, performance issues.
And when I began asking those questions, not only did people not push back, but a lot of times, it wound up opening up some interesting discussions when I begin to work with clients in terms of just getting to know what's going on on the home front, or with relationships, or with co-workers, and it's something that–I'm still shocked more personal trainers, more physicians, more performance coaches, aren't finding out what's going on on the home front, so to speak. You know what I'm saying?
Shayamal: I absolutely agree with you, Ben. And I'll tell you two things. One is that when you work with a professional athlete, I keep explaining to this. I said an athlete works in two mental states. One mental state is he's going to be so confident, is actually bordering on ads, isn't it? Because if he has anything but that, the chances of him winning is slim to none. You can't expect him to walk onto a field thinking anything but he's the best, if he's got any chance of winning. But then, the next mental state is a state of humility because humility is the foundation of learning. He needs to realize that I'm only as good as my last performance. What can I learn from there? What can I learn from everyone in my ecosystem?
Now, who is the person that's moving that athlete between that state of arrogance and that state of humility? That's the coach. And that's entirely dependent on that relationship. And what you said is so important and that reminded me of something that comes out of Vedic science. Vedic literature talks of chronic diseases can enter the body through one of two ways, either through your mouth, which is by the food you eat or what you drink, or the second is chronic disease can enter the body through the brain, and they refer to that by the quality of your thoughts, what are you thinking. And the brain and the quality of thoughts is stemming from unhealthy relationships. So, exactly what you're saying. It's that you're ruminating on an unhealthy relationship, you're ruminating on a potential area of conflict with a certain relationship. And now, that has entered the body through the brain and is going to manifest in a certain organ in your body. And that science is called German New Medicine where they study the psychic route of diseases that enter the body through the brain.
Ben: Yeah. It's absolutely fascinating and it's something that I think more people should take into account. Now, with as much on the cutting edge as you are of a lot of these things, is there anything that you're excited about when it comes to the future of either technology, or supplementation, or diet, or biology, or biomechanics, or any other development when it comes to particularly enhancing one's performance and one's recovery, whether in the realm of athletics or optimization for executive function, et cetera? You've talked about some things on the show before that I think a lot of people might not have been familiar with, like doing sound level meter apps and something like these smart sleep masks that emit certain amounts of light, et cetera. But is there anything else that you have your eye on as far as exciting up and coming things?
Shayamal: Ben, I'm super excited about the next decade or the next two decades. The reason I'm excited about it is because we're going to see massive shifts in human physiology. And the reason I'm saying this is because if you look at sport over the last 100 years, most of the advancements we've really seen, obviously, we've seen great athletes, but we've seen a lot of advancement in technology. It's better apps, it's better training surfaces, it's deeper pools, it's better equipment. All of those things have moved sport forward quite considerably. And the reason that happened was because we didn't have the possibility of understanding human physiology in a non-invasive way. We couldn't. But now, we're moving into a realm into an area where we can start understanding, for example, simple thing like muscle fiber type. There's a technology which is called a Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer, which looks at muscle [01:13:19] _____, and that will literally tell us what our muscle fiber type is like. This was unavailable to us. So, I'm super excited about how we can start testing human physiology and how we can start moving physiology forward.
Ben: By the way, is that muscle fiber typing a genetic test?
Shayamal: No, it's not a genetic test because you can do a gene test, and a gene test will tell you what you're predisposed to. So, it will tell your [01:13:46] _____ and your ACE, whatever you predisposed to. There is some modulation between these two types. And remember, it's your training that you're going to create the ecosystem for this to be active. So, even though you may be predisposed to have a certain type of fiber, it's going to be the certain type of training that's actually going to create the ecosystem to allow that gene to express. But whether that gene is expressed or not comes in through this non-invasive testing that we now have because if you look at genes only, what you're looking at is innate potential. We have no idea whether that innate potential is tapped. This is why we need testing.
And in the world of sport, we're trying to take testing from what was predominantly in the lab to now being on the field. And that's why I'm super excited. If you're having a look at the physiology of athletes–there's an interesting statistic. The difference between the first and fourth position in an Olympic event is about 0.5%. And if you look at the 100-meter final, that's two or three hundredths of a second, which is probably the blink of an eye. And we know that top athletes are really physiologically similar, and we always thought that the difference is going to be psychological, and we operated on that. So, for the next two decades, I think we can challenge that. We can challenge whether that difference is only psychological in them, whether it's just the ability to perceive pressure or absorb pressure in a high-pressure situation, or is it actually physiologically different, and how can we tap that.
So, I'm super excited about that. And with respect to certain technologies that we use, I think we move forward quite nicely. What I encourage people to do is look at sweat analysis. I do a lot of things with sweat analysis. We're moving to an exciting era of customized, personalized supplementation, personalized nutrition, personalized understanding of the body, whether it's through your gut microbiome, whether it's through your sweat analysis. I even use a beautiful test called a dermatoglyphics test, which incidentally maps your fingerprints to the cortexes of your brain, because when a child is in the womb, the fingerprints and the brain develop at the same rate and they found an interesting way in which they can do that. So, when you do a dermatoglyphics test, you can understand which cortex of your brain has got the fastest processes. So, you'll understand that information is traveling through there in the best possible or you're going to process it through that. Once you have all of this information in place, it's really the canvas gets thrown out wide in terms of how you talk to athletes, how you understand them, how you push them psychologically, what they're able to interpret, all of these things. So, I'm very excited about where physiology is going to move in the next decade or two.
Ben: Wow. That dermatoglyphics, multiple intelligence test using the fingertip analysis that you just referred to is something I've thought about in the past just because I've been exposed to iridology at a certain point in which I've had my irises analyzed with a very high-resolution camera. And there's actually quite a bit of science behind the analysis of the iris and its correlation to different organ functions. And I've always thought, I'm like, “What is it that we can be told by our fingerprints and our fingertips similar to our genetics that we just haven't even tapped into?” So, that's interesting. I've never actually taken a deep dive into that myself, but A, I'll hunt down some information on dermatoglyphics and put that into the shownotes for those of you who are interested.
And then, also, you listed off a lot of stuff there, Shayamal, and if you would like, I would invite you to, if you have a chance at some point, maybe in the next week or so before this podcast is released, if you want to write me an email with links to anything that you have listed as things that you find exciting, or different resources that you found to be helpful, I will definitely include those in the shownotes because sometimes I can't write fast enough to keep up with what my guests are saying. But if you shoot me an email, I can certainly add all of this. And of course, for those of you listening in, I've been taking lots of notes, and I'll add as many as I can. Those are going to all be at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/shayamal, S-H-A-Y-A-M-A-L. What are the chances you might be able to email a few links for folks though, Shayamal?
Shayamal: I'll definitely send across. I'll send it across. I have a lot of my notes here and I'll send you links, and we'll definitely get across all the listeners.
Ben: Oh, amazing, amazing. Well, we've only scratched the surface of what you talk about in your book, which I'm glad for because obviously, people can read your book. But then, everything we've just talked about includes things not in the book. And so, get the book if you enjoyed a little insight into the mind of Shayamal. And you may see more of Shayamal and I together because we're talking about a few different projects, and I'm going to eventually, once all these COVID restrictions are removed, get back over there to India because I met so many interesting people. But when it comes to high-end performance, gosh, you were just a wealth of knowledge and I really enjoyed meeting you and hanging out with you, Shayamal. So, thanks for doing what you do and for being willing to come on the show and share all of this stuff with us.
Shayamal: Thank you so much for having me. It's always exciting. I remember, we had some fascinating chats in Mumbai, and we're looking forward to hosting you again.
Ben: Yes. Yet another trip out to have some Goan cuisine. I would totally be game to punish some more Indian West Coast food. So, anytime we're pulling up and building up to the bar to talk shop over seafood, and coconuts, and vegetables, I'm game. So, yeah, we'll make it happen. And so, anyways, for those of you listening in, BenGreenfieldFitness.com/shayamal, S-H-A-Y-A-M-A-L, is where you can access all the shownotes. His book “Breathe, Believe, Balance” is available on Amazon or wherever fine books are found. And thank you for listening in. Until next time. I'm Ben Greenfield and Shayamal signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
I first met my guest on today's show, Shayamal Vallabhjee, in India and immediately became intrigued with him when he sat down to dinner with me and a friend and began to delve into unlocking flow states in athletes through breathwork.
It turns out he has over two decades of experience in coaching professional athletes towards not only cultivating a winning mindset, but also customizing their training loads to their biomechanics and physiology—then optimizing their bodies, minds, relationships, and personal environments to skyrocket their careers.
Shayamal describes his new book, Breathe, Believe, Balance: A Guide to Self-discovery and Healing, as an “out-of-the-box approach” to performance enhancement. It is one part memoir and one part guide to self-discovery—an intimate account of the lessons he learned while growing up during South Africa's apartheid era, from living the life of a monk to traveling the globe with professional athletes. Using his knowledge and experience from the worlds of science, spirituality, and psychology, in this book, Shayamal takes you through an introspective and self-healing journey. From understanding the importance of self-love to decoding the science of healthy relationships to learning to be emotionally present in every conversation to engineering your environment for success, Breathe, Believe, Balance helps you take a deeper look at your life. Offering a scientific analysis of the human psyche and packed with useful questionnaires, his book is your guide to self-transformation and personal mastery.
Shayamal is a South African born sports scientist, psychologist, and high-performance coach. He holds two master's degrees in clinical and organizational psychology. Shayamal's dream of wanting to play sports for the country he grew up in faced an insurmountable opponent in institutionalized segregation in apartheid South Africa. Not quite ready to quit sports, he studied sports & exercise science. After returning from the Cricket World Cup in 2003 (technical analyst of Indian Cricket Team), he realized that, irrespective of one’s academic qualifications and experience, racism was going to be a barrier to growth for people of color. To escape the pain of discrimination, he lived a monastic life for just under four years at the Hare Krsna Temple in South Africa. During that time, he discovered the close parallels between modern psychology and ancient Vedic philosophy. Shayamal has since studied various spiritual philosophies and worked to bridge the gap between spirituality and psychology in an attempt to guide his clients: the world's best athletes and CEOs.
Shayamal is a 4x TEDx speaker, a recipient of the INK Fellowship, the Australia India Youth Fellowship, Men’s Health Trainer of the Year, and Wellness Guru of the Year 2019. He serves on the Global Advisory Board of Herbalife Nutrition, Adidas Running, and the UK Risk Management Forum. He has authored various books on Sports Science and Motivation and lectured at academic institutes globally for more than a decade. As a motivational speaker, Shayamal has delivered more than 350 keynote addresses.
Shayamal has served as a consultant to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, Kenyan Athletics Team, Indian Olympic Association, United Nations Youth Forums, and on the peer review board of numerous academic scientific journals. He has been a high-performance coach or sports scientist to the South Africa High Performance and Women’s Cricket Team, 2003 Indian World Cup Cricket Team, South Africa Davis Cup Team, Indian Davis Cup Team, Kings XI Punjab (IPL), Bengaluru FC (3x Winners of Premier League in India), Jaipur Pink Panthers (Inaugural Kabaddi Champions), and the St. Lucia Stars (Caribbean Premier League). He has been the sports scientist with the Indian contingent at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, London 2012 Olympics, Delhi Commonwealth Games, and 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. He has worked on the ATP Tennis Tour for six years with individuals like Mahesh Bhupathi (12x Grand Slam Champion), Sania Mirza, Max Mirnyi, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic (US Open Winner), and more.
In 2012, he founded the HEAL Institute, Mumbai’s first sports science and rehab practice. Currently, Shayamal is the founder of QSV Inspiration Media, a digital content startup, seed-funded by AR Rahman, Shekar Kapur, and Samir Bangara. Shayamal has been featured as an expert on four National Geographic Documentaries and has had his own shows on Star Sports and ESPN.
During our podcast, we explore many concepts in the book and beyond, including:
-Shayamal's journey to becoming a high-performance coach…09:55
- Grew up during apartheid era of South Africa
- Wanted to play cricket at the national level, but was unable to due to his race and public policy
- Cricket Union paid for scholarship in sports science
- Went from a cricket player to a member of the medical staff for the national team
- Being a person of authority on the team forced Shayamal to “fast-track” his learning and growth
- In 2003, he was hired as a technical analyst for the Indian national cricket team (analyzing biomechanics of team and opposing players)
-How Shayamal analyzed biomechanics of athletes to strengthen his team and exploit weaknesses of the opposition…14:22
- High-speed digital cameras and patches placed on joints to analyze movement
- Looking for changes in technique, managing chronic injury such as stress fractures
- This technology has changed professional sports, both competition and training
- Silicon Coach
- Prozone Camera System
-A victim of blatant racism, Shayamal reorganizes his life's priorities…18:20
- Was short-listed for a position on the South African national team, only to realize it was to fulfill a minority quota
- Bitter with life, Shayamal moved into a Hare Krishna temple where he stayed for 3.5 years
- Suffered lack of sleep due to the temple's 3 am wakeup, forcing him to adjust his sleep schedule
- “Discipline is sticking with something long enough to break you before it makes you”
-How systemic failure in the Indian athletic scene led to Shayamal's first entrepreneurial endeavor…22:43
- Received an invite to work with the Indian National Tennis Team in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
- Discovered indifference toward athletics
- Almost no resources were invested into the athletes' training, medical knowledge, etc.
- Poor decisions regarding logistics, coaching, etc.
- Shayamal views this as a more subtle, albeit real form of discrimination
- Founded the Heal Institute in 2012
- Professor Tim Noakesfrom the University of Cape Town
- Podcasts with Tim Noakes:
- Tim Noakes Tells You How You Can Use The “Central Governor” To Tap Into Your Muscle’s Hidden Potential.
- Double Interview Super-Special with Tim Noakes: How To Use Your “Central Governor” and Electrolytes During Exercise.
- The Death of Gatorade – Should You Stop Using Electrolytes During Exercise? with Tim Noakes.
- How You’re Being Manipulated By The Sports Drink Industry And What You Can Do About It with Tim Noakes.
- Lore of Runningby Tim Noakes
- Central Governor Theory: the brain tells the body to slow down
- Need to understand the power of the mind to understand peak athletic performance
- Lessons learned as a monk in the temple (meditation, visualization, etc.) became useful
- Heal Institute opened 10 centers around India; Shayamal left in 2018
Why Shayamal hesitates to call himself a “biohacker”…28:35
- The word “hack” has somewhat dubious origins
- Not trying to “hack” anything; trying to understand the best way to work with the body
- Respect the body, rather than “hack” the body
- “Hack” is thought of as a shortcut
- Understanding the Five Elements to keep the body in balance
- “Eat” your water through water-rich foods
- Quenchby Dr. Dana Cohen
- Quench: The Big “8 Glasses A Day” Water Myth, Why Water Isn’t The Best Way To Fully Hydrate & Much More! with Dr. Dana Cohen
- Stimulating parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems
- Space (fasting):
- Fastingis the primary form of detoxification and cleansing
- One of the only principles that are uniform in every religion and faith across the world
- If sick, food takes energy that could be used to heal the disease
- Hippocrates used fasting as a form of therapy
- Every life form on earth needs the sun to grow
- Draw energy from the sun via sun gazing early in the morning, or at sunset
- Sun-ripened foods absorb energy
- Cooking the food in earthen pots
- Eating plant-based foods
- Understand what you're taking in, and how it affects the acid-base balance
- Understand the impact of sound on sleep
- Each room has an ambient sound (35-45 dB)
- If sound is consistent, the brain will eventually block it out
- It's the fluctuations of sound that disrupt sleep
- NIOSH Sound Level Meter app
- White noise machinein the room, slightly louder than the ambient noise in the room
- To understand the impact of a supplement on the body, take one at a time; check pH of urine 7-8 hours after
-How to analyze, and then optimize, your personal environment…46:50
- Two environments:
- External: Everything you see, taste, touch, hear and smell
- Internal: Your mind
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjaliby Sri Swami Satchidananda
- 5 states of mind:
- First two are a direct result of one's environment (external and internal)
- Third, aware of environment, but awareness he can transcend it if he chooses to do so (cannot be sustained for long periods of time)
- Fourth, a person can sustain an enlightened state for a long period of time
- Fifth, so enlightened they change the environment around them
- Novak Djokovic on beating Federer at Wimbledon: “There was a moment in the game…where if I had any chance of winning, I had to remove myself from that environment.“
- There will always be a time when an environment supports what you are doing, but there will always come a time when the environment does not; if you do not cultivate the ability to pull-out of that environment, you are at the mercy of that environment
- The external environment of athletes can be broken into two:
- Work environment: The playing field or the gym
- Home environment: How they are resting
- Standardizing conditions while athletes are traveling
- Pluto Pillow
- Ben's pillows:
- Game Readymachine
- App that analyzes movement while athletes are performing
- Standardizing air quality is difficult
- Use a single floor for the team
- Stay away from exits or elevators
- Take away as many excuses from the athletes as possible
- Suuntoand Firstbeat for HRV and heartrate monitors for team analysis even from 150 m away using digital bluetooth coding to identify each athlete
-Testing blood and internal biomarkers…58:45
- Lactic acid testing once per month
- Anaerobic threshold
- Peter Attia
- Cori cycle
- Quantify the physiological ceiling
- Psychology kicks in once the physiological ceiling has been hit
-Optimizing circadian rhythmicity and beating jet lag while traveling…1:02:25
- LumosTech Smart Sleep Mask
- Compression socks and other garments
- Fast while on the plane; meals on a plane knock off circadian rhythm
- Liquid ketone esters
-The importance of relationships when optimizing the environment of a high performer…1:05:22
- Relationship between athlete and coach makes all the difference
- The better an athlete is, the harder it is to push him out of his comfort zone
- Help them understand who they are, then what it takes to get the most out of them
- Coach's job is to keep them pushing when the brain tells the body to slow down
- The environment inside a locker room is everything for a team's performance
- People who did not have optimized relationships were the ones who struggled with gut issues, sleep issues, performance issues
- Two mental states in which an athlete works: Confidence bordering on arrogance and humility
- The coach is crucial to finding the proper balance
- Vedic literature – Chronic disease enters the body in one of two ways:
- Through the mouth; in what you eat, what you drink
- Through the brain; the quality of your thoughts, stemming from unhealthy relationships
-What new technologies and practices Shayamal is excited about right now…1:11:36
- Next 1-2 decades will see massive shifts in human physiology not seen before
- Understanding human physiology in a non-invasive way
- Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer(tells muscle fiber types)
- Taking testing from the lab to the field
- Challenge whether the difference between 4th place and gold medal is purely psychological, or if there are physical elements to consider
- Sweat analyses
- Personalized nutrition, supplementation, understanding of the body
- Dermatoglyphics test
- Shayamal's supplemental information mentioned at the end of the podcast
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
– Shayamal Vallabhjee:
- Sports Scientist | Psychologist | Healer | Leadership Coach
- Breathe, Believe, Balance: A Guide to Self-discovery and Healing
- Other books by Shayamal Vallabhjee
- Tim Noakes Tells You How You Can Use The “Central Governor” To Tap Into Your Muscle’s Hidden Potential.
- Double Interview Super-Special with Tim Noakes: How To Use Your “Central Governor” and Electrolytes During Exercise.
- The Death of Gatorade – Should You Stop Using Electrolytes During Exercise? with Tim Noakes.
- How You’re Being Manipulated By The Sports Drink Industry And What You Can Do About It with Tim Noakes.
- Quench: The Big “8 Glasses A Day” Water Myth, Why Water Isn’t The Best Way To Fully Hydrate & Much More! with Dr. Dana Cohen.
- Lore of Runningby Tim Noakes
- Quenchby Dr. Dana Cohen
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjaliby Sri Swami Satchidananda
– Other resources:
- Professor Tim Noakes
- Peter Attia
- Silicon Coach
- Prozone Camera System
- NIOSH Sound Level Meter app
- White Noise Machine
- Pluto Pillow
- Neck Nest
- 650-down Pillows
- Game Ready Compression Machine
- NormaTec Boots
- Suunto Watches
- FirstBeat App
- LumosTech Smart Sleep Mask
- Compression Socks and Other Garments
- Ketone Aid(use code BEN to save $15)
- HVMN(use code BEN to save 10%)
- Dermatoglyphics Multiple Intelligence Test
- Goan Cuisine
- Goan Cookbooks
- Shayamal's supplemental information mentioned at the end of the podcast
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