Combining Vision and Breath to Alter Fear States: An Interview With Andrew Huberman, PhD and Brian Mackenzie

Combining Vision and Breath to Alter Fear States: An Interview With Andrew Huberman, PhD and Brian Mackenzie

What follows is a transcript for the podcast: Neuroscience - Dr. Andrew Huberman and Brian MacKenzie - Mind States.

Topics within the interview include the following:

  • The neural basis of visually evoked fear 
  • Science-backed protocols for evaluating fear
  • How to consciously change vision and breathing to affect sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system dynamics
  • The relationship between heart rate variability, breathwork, and our body's relaxation response
  • Why panoramic gazing or optic flow is a secret weapon to combating stress and anxiety
  • Why and how to measure CO2 tolerance
  • Actionable steps for incorporating breathwork and vision practices into daily routines
  • The link between confidence and state control
  • How to anchor ourselves in the present through quality sleep

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Okay, welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Collective Insights podcast. We are delighted to have Andrew Huberman back today. If you haven't listened to the podcast that we did with him a couple months ago, we'll link it in the show notes here. Andrew Huberman is a professor of neuroscience at Stanford, very well known in the neuroscience community for his work with vision, [00:01:00] which is actually neuroscience vision, which is going to come up today as well as the neuroscience fear and from fear, also non fear, courage and other kinds of state modification. We did a whole show on that and we wanted to do a follow up and be able to go deeper into some specific practices that people can implement, a little bit more of the practical understanding and practices that people can implement to work with fear and state change and Andrew has brought a partner with him, Brian Mackenzie who is new to the [00:01:30] Collective Insights podcast. 

I'm really delighted to have Brian. He's an internationally recognized coach and innovator in the movement, health, fitness space, helped create the kind of CrossFit endurance combination between the running and endurance sports and more CrossFit kind of training world and has been really an innovator in using breath and hypoxia training and [00:02:00] hyperthermia and hypothermia training in performance training, and so they have teamed up together to work on some performance enhancing and state enhancing techniques. They have a project coming out called State, which is rather than thinking about different states of mind from a meditation point of view, from a really grounded physiologic neuroscience point of view. They're here together. I'm excited to dive in, so guys, [00:02:30] thank you for being here.

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Thanks for having us. 

Brian Mackenzie: Thank you for having us.

Using Breath and Vision to Alter a Fear State

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Andrew, just kind of start off a little bit with what led you guys to decide to partner in this and what was the interest in being able to take insights from neuroscience and specifically, I mean it's kind of interesting because of your work in vision. Your work in breath is [00:03:00] a little bit more obvious. People are used to breath work being involved in performance and state but not necessarily work with vision. Your work in vision is directly related to this also, so kind of what got you moving from just studying these things and how to make scared mice not as scared and how to deal with certain kinds of vision disorders into the human performance place?

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Yeah, so I've always been interested in doing what we do in the laboratory to humans. [00:03:30] For instance, the work in our lab that focuses on visual repair, it's been carried out mainly in mouse models where you can do a lot of genetic manipulations and those kinds of things, things you could never do in humans or computer simulation. That's the reality. We do this in laboratory mice and a few years ago, we had a discovery that we could use patterns of neural activity to regenerate ourselves from the eye back to the brain restored vision in these animal models and so that led me to take the leap into human clinical trial [00:04:00] where now we have a clinical trial underway at Stanford for repairing visual pathways in humans using virtual reality.

The platform for moving from animal models to humans was set up and then my lab has also been exploring as  from the previous podcast and some other discussions, trying to understand the neural basis of visually evoked fear. These are the kinds of fears that people with phobias, PTSD and even in certain forms of addiction that people [00:04:30] are dealing with this or what you see impacts how you feel essentially. We were discovering and we continue to work on discovering brain areas that are involved in that, in these animal models and then a really talented postdoc in my lab, Melis Yilmaz came to me and said, I want to look at this stuff in human and I think virtual reality is the way to do it, so we built the equivalent of the mouse lab in for humans, just essentially a box where humans to go in and [inaudible 00:04:55] virtual space and look at how their physiology.

[00:05:00] For certain people, we can actually do brain recordings deep in the brain, because they have electrodes embedded in there by neurosurgeons. Most people typically come in and we're measuring things like sweating heart rate and whatnot so we can measure fear, which we'd like to move away from the more subjective description of what that is towards physiology. Okay, so then  through my own interest in state and just understanding how important one's own state of mind and state of body is for physical performance, emotional performance, cognitive performance. We've all had good days, bad days, terrible days, excellent [00:05:30] days, I've always been interested in figuring out what are the tools that are out there that allow people to adjust their state. That led into an exploration of who out there is at least public about being very good at controlling their state in ways that they can teach and show. 

I know that there are monks in the Himalayas that can move their people all independently and that's beautiful and wonderful, but I need a protocol and then evaluate that protocol in the laboratory. I started talking to various people and it was actually Scott Carney, [00:06:00] who wrote What Doesn't Kill Us, who told me about this guy Brian Mackenzie, who I knew about from reading some of Tim Ferriss' books. Actually, I had read those and I was never a serious runner but Brian has quite extensive accomplishments from the running world and Scott put us in touch. 

At that time, Brian was out in Virginia Beach and did some work with the military community there and we got on a phone call and it was immediately clear to me that we were going to work together [00:06:30] in one capacity or another because he was telling me about the various breathing tools that he was using that really could be quantified in terms of variables like inhale duration, exhale duration, hold duration and so we're suddenly, there was a common language that we could think about testing in the laboratory. 

Several discussions later and a face to face meeting, we realized that my other interests, which was to bring how vision can be used to adjust state and we can get into this more later in the podcast, [00:07:00] could be merged with the kind of breathing protocols that Brian was developing and cultivating with athletes and high performers and military and CEOs and typical people as well. Fast forward through many discussions and real interest in merging the message of controlling one state through breathing and the best of controlling one's state through the use of the visual system when we realized that we had on the potential to build a really valuable tool AKA a commercial product that we could [00:07:30] put out to people in either app form or other forms. That's what really cemented the partnership and the business partnership is really where we decided to move forward first.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Yeah, so this is the movement from science to Applied Science and then to tech where you recognize if someone's scared, their breathing changes, their vision changes, so then can we consciously change vision and breathing to be able to change their state and affect sympathetic parasympathetic type dynamics. One of the things that's so cool is there's really no drug interactions, there's [00:08:00] no liver toxicity. There's no risk like there would be with any kind of biochem and it is really kind of free or close to free once the information is there and directly relevant to everyone. Of course, if you're working on something like increasing parasympathetic tone, that's not a specific treatment for a disease, but it does happen to be health promoting across everything so I'm really excited about what you all are doing in the space. Brian, would you share with us a bit of how do you go from [00:08:30] kind of peak performance training and endurance and then crosstraining type world to studying state induction?

The Link Between Strength Training and State Induction 

Brian Mackenzie: Pay attention. It's interesting because my backgrounds began in movement and understanding movement to a large degree, namely within the running and endurance world and one of the critical components of that was dealing with people who are injured [00:09:00] a lot and that is something that comes up. In fact, it's between 50% and 70% at any given time in that industry where people are dealing with some sort of an injury to a large degree. Injury is nothing more than a movement fault that's been repeated over and over again.

I began the journey with that and understanding well, if you use strength and conditioning, you can actually make an athlete stronger. They start to move a little better and we start to see positive responses, [00:09:30] then stumble upon some breathing devices and people who are using breathing and looking back on experience in yoga world and what happens there and starting to connect thoughts that oh yeah, breathing patterns actually matter and the diaphragm actually working correctly, it actually helps enervate that parasympathetic tone. We start to see all these things start to shuttle and we see that they're all connected, [00:10:00] thus moves into oh, if I'm more parasympathetically engaged or I'm using a breathing pattern, it's doing that and I'm actually altering or offering that physiological response that could be happening if I were more sympathetic dominant and take an athlete who's obviously in an aerobic place but their mouth breathing heavy

We tend to see more that sympathetic [00:10:30] cascade gets set off and we start to see somebody who's in a compromised position to where when we can change that, bring them more in the nasal breathing and we develop that, it inevitably changes the entire state of the individual or if we're talking from a recovery standpoint, if I'm just huffing and puffing and trying to blow the house down in order to recover, I'm not actually doing the best I can at recovery and utilizing what's networked through my own biology to a large degree. 

[00:11:00] The physiological intercept is there with the breathing and then into in my work and coupling that now with vision, we're starting to get the visual stuff out there, just peppering it a little bit to where athletes and peak performance are now starting to really go like, so if I use this visual cue and this breathing cue, I've got to double it. You're using two sensory, you're using two ways of altering things through your own physiology with [00:11:30] things that don't need outside intervention.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: You found out that as you're working with very specific forms of breath pattern, you could not only get people to perform better but to recover faster and get injured less, which are all huge deals, as well as then you started to find that it also affected their anxiety, their other aspects of quality of life.

Brian Mackenzie: 100%. I mean, I've worked with a number of high level competitors, gold medalists, [00:12:00] top performers, they're dealing with a tremendous amount of anxiety and it's a no brainer. Oh yeah, you're going up in front of the world to compete and what do you do in that moment. Well, you can control your breathing, you can control your visual cuing. These are things that can actually help with all of that, but the interesting part's been it's not necessarily before or after. Those are the no brainers. It's what's happening in the moment, what's happening between footsteps, [00:12:30] what's happening between strikes, what's happening between reps. Are you actually keeping in more of that parasympathetic tone that allows you to actually rebound quicker and be more effective with that sympathetic calm.

Using Vision to Shift States: The Role of Panoramic Gazing

Daniel Schmachtenberger: It's really profound because as Andrew mentioned, there might be somebody in the Himalayas when you think about the yoga tradition, or the Dallas traditions or any of the traditions that studied longevity and human performance where they just, it didn't have what we call science, but they had smart people pay [00:13:00] attention over the course of a long period of time. You look at focus of the eyes and you look at breath work as like some of the very first things that happen in the yogic system, [inaudible 00:13:09] or some of the foundational things, but it's pretty absent in comparison to something like nutrition and modern performance. You think about okay, so how much do we dial in our nutrition, we look at a bodybuilder or an athlete making sure not only their macros, but their micros are precisely dialed in, and [00:13:30] all the blood tests we do to make sure that the endocrinology and all the biochem is dialed in.

Say okay well how long could I last without food and to just have some sense of how critical it is and then how long do they last without breath and how long would I perform without vision and to get a sense that all of the macros that come in, our oxygen rate limited in terms of what they can do in a cell and all of our performance is vision rate limited and that we just don't pay anywhere near as much attention to it. It's almost like as big a field as nutrition. This is comparably [00:14:00] big and even more fast acting field than you guys were really hoping to open that up.

Andrew Huberman, PhD:  Yeah I think I don't want to send us in the direction that perhaps you didn't want to go but interesting vision and as you mentioned, the yogic traditions and meditation traditions. It's all about vision and breathing. Are you going to concentrate on your so called Third Eye Center? Are you going to use a soft gaze? My interest in using vision as a tool to adjust arousal state really stemmed from [00:14:30] two sources. One is observation of animals and the different species of animals that have different levels of aggression or let's call it mellowness or placidity. If you look at the all the animals that are grazing type animals, we know based on the neuroscience of their anatomy and physiology that those animals generally have panoramic vision. They can see everywhere around them and their job is mainly to eat grass and observe for incoming predators.

One of them picked off on a predator. They're so placid at their core that the heart of their being is that their tendency is to be when they're awake that they're pretty relaxed, that they could pretty quickly go back to being relaxed. They'll do some shaking, which in itself is very interesting and they go back to being relaxed. They are basically a mellow animal. A hunter, most smart hunters like lions and tigers sit around all day pretty relaxed up in a hill and then when it's time for them to hunt, They go into a vergence eye movement [00:15:30] and they do this, calculate time and distance very carefully attack and kill and they eat.

Now humans have the capacity just like those large carnivores to move back and forth between both and so when you think about soft gaze, which is the kind of like relaxed gaze versus focused vergence eye movement that's verging, converge on a single point in order to judge time and distance very carefully. You look at the way I was paying attention to the way most people spend their days and it's looking at the phone, looking at the keyboard, looking at this, looking at that. Pretty much in sleep is the only [00:16:00] time that they were leaving their brain to be the doing these very intense [inaudible 00:16:04]. That was one interest with sort of the natural holistic understanding of comparative neurology really, comparative neuroscience.

Then the other one is that if you look into any of the martial arts traditions, there's also this idea about using, dialing out your focus in order and I don't even think martial arts necessarily really to know why this is but it turns out that the panoramic vision kind of paradoxically [00:16:30] has actually much faster reaction time. The cells and the neurons that carry that information are much thicker and it's just basic physics, that the bigger the cables, kind of like a thicker pipe, the faster the conduction velocity, so your reaction times are actually much faster when you're not focusing on one thing and ironically when you get stressed, you tend to focus on one thing. There's actually an adjustment. The pupil gets bigger that allows you to look at one thing in your immediate environment and you lose all the other information.

Now that's never really been put forward. That whole set of [00:17:00] concepts has never really been put forward. It's just a set of protocols and so when Brian and I start talking about his breathing protocols that could down regulate people into more relaxed parasympathetic states or more sympathetic and focused states, we came up with the idea to pair those two, really start pairing panoramic vision with the exhale emphasized nasal breathing to get people into more relaxed states and conversely, more vergence eye movements combined with more Pranayama [00:17:30] S type breathing, although here I'm using kind of broad strokes. We realized that now when you combine those two power tools, vision and breathing, you can really get into states really quickly and you start to be able to maneuver your states extremely well.

Very few people on this planet can move around their states very well in real time. It's one thing to do in a classroom or when you're getting tutorial. It's another thing when you're really stressed, when you're really exhausted, to be able to shift yourself under conditions of stress. The last point I'll make about that, I did listen to some [00:18:00] of the stuff that I know another person, maybe on here in a separate venue is Mark Devine and it's interesting. He's talked about some of this in the form of box breathing and soft gaze and accessing subconscious and so I want to just tip my hat to him and it's the first time I'd heard it independently through another source described in a kind of protocol format really cool stuff and I'd love to sit down and chat with him today.

Combining the Two Power Tools of Vision and Breathing

Daniel Schmachtenberger: I'll connect you guys with Mark because it makes sense. His program went from something like a 94% fail rate [00:18:30] for SEAL training to a 90 plus percent success rate of the people he had trained first, and if you think about like the pain and the cost of the failure like what a humongous thing that is and he said it all was state control, because he said everybody who failed had the physiologic capability. They just got their ego involved and overdid it so they lost their endurance or they got scared or something. It was almost all working the state control to be able to have their actual capacity really come on board when they needed it.

Brian Mackenzie: Yeah, I've known Mark [00:19:00] for quite some time. He's a good friend. We've talked several times about this and he's been on the breathing thing and understood this for quite some time and I think he's really dialed in on all this and really done a very good job at understanding how to move forward with the community where people were trying to get into a community that didn't really, they were looking at the physicality of things versus the actual state of going into these [00:19:30] things.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Something that you were mentioning Andrew that I think is just such a key insight that is obvious once you hear it, but I don't think it's obvious for everyone before they thought about it is psychological state is correlated with changes in physiology and the correlation actually has bidirectional causation, meaning if I get scared, my breath is going to get shallow, my focus is going to change, but that also means I can have conscious override of my breath and my vision and change state [00:20:00] and the fact that we actually have the ability to have conscious override of autonomic nervous system function is just awesome. I mean that, so that's the space that you guys are in and there's obviously going to be more things than just vision and breath, as you mentioned shaking, so that's the Polyvagal theory and the TRE work. Out of curiosity, have you guys looked at that work much to think about inclusion of it?

Andrew Huberman, PhD: We haven't put it into the state gap, which we can talk [00:20:30] about more yet. I actually went recently and took what they called neurogenic yoga, but it was really this neurogenic release stuff, where it basically involves activating, I never pronounce right the psoas muscles, you sort of get them into spasm, then lie back and you're going to move your knees at varying distances and get the shaking release. 

I found it incredibly relaxing afterwards and the logic that they spelled out in the beginning was really smart, that there are these natural postures that [00:21:00] embody defensive postures when you're covering your vital organs and so forth. Suddenly, my postdoc Melis Yilmaz showed the equivalent thing in animal models, that there are these natural responses to threats and now she's studying them in humans, so we're actually monitoring body posture. That's great. That's one half of the equation. What I like about the kind of neurogenic release stuff that other people have done is that it says, okay if there's a natural defensive posture, there's likely to be a natural release process. Animals do shaking to let out. Shaking [00:21:30] in human culture, at least the ones that most of us exist in is kind of considered strange and so most people kind of suppress, walk around doing this long shake off after a car accident or something but maybe we should start to rethink that.

I think the idea is wonderful because it means that their physical practices, just like breathing just engage the individual system differently. Maybe shaking are different thing as psoas engagement and then release, physical protocols that allow you to achieve different [00:22:00] neural states of mind is what we're all about. That's what Brian, that was the point of convergence. It shouldn't be mysterious. I want to get stronger, I know how to do that. There are protocols all over the web. If you want to get faster, if you want to run further, if you want to get flexible, there should be and in others, of course, not just us are creating protocols that don't rely on these murky spaces like mindfulness, which are very hard to quantify, very hard to measure progress and that's really been our goal. 

I know Brian can comment [00:22:30] more on this, some of what's come together in this state app technology is the ability to customize, regularly update your progress and actually measure how well you're buffering stress based on your use of protocols, the same whether you might be doing kind of one resting place analysis every once a while. I call it analysis. We might go in and see how much stronger you've gotten, how much more flexible you've gotten. You should be able to say, hey how much better am I now at buffering stress. [00:23:00] I don't know, maybe you want to talk about the carbon dioxide tolerance is a very interesting aspect of this but doesn't get enough air time in my opinion.

Brian Mackenzie: Yeah, you brought up a good point, and this is something we want to teach within the performance side of things on power, speed, endurance, but there's stimulus and there's response but in between those is choice and this is where that physiological intercept exists and this is where that like when we went shark diving [00:23:30] out on a cage with a shark, you're out there with a Great White and you realize very quickly that this is a very real situation and you have choices and you're actually trained to do something, which is not run from the shark and actually go at the shark if the shark comes towards you, which is very different but the only, not the only but one of the key things that we obviously were using was breathing and using a [00:24:00] rhythm of breathing versus a shallow short breath to control that, and I actually saw variable difference in that in my ability to not be stuck on one shark and look at others and this is in any situation. It doesn't need to be a shark dive. It could be getting off the couch and out of your house because you're terrified of going outside.

These are all the same types of things in essence, on a kind of physiological level for people, [00:24:30] they're just subjective to a large degree, so using that choice and getting people to skill development of actually using protocols in real time inevitably is nothing different than hey, I'm strength training and I'm squatting, well you squat every day anyway but all of a sudden you start getting up easier from the couch, you start moving better from, getting off of whatever, it's all the same type of concept and this is largely where we really want to get people integrated and so they have a tool that is real [00:25:00] time.

Correlations Between Psychological and Physiological States

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Brian, I want to ask you some questions about breath and just to frame it up, I mean, this is probably obvious to most people who exercise but if we just use the analogy that would be relevant for at least some people of if you're trying to augment a car to go faster, the first thing you do is pay attention to the air intake and whether it's a cold air intake or RAM charger supercharger that those are all different ways to get more oxygen and so you can combust more hydrocarbon and this is no different in human [00:25:30] cells, so paying attention to the ability to process more air effectively is obviously a big deal from just total cellular energy and metabolism point of view in addition to what it does neurologically, so we're looking at it affecting the bottom up systems in terms of the energy of the cells and the top down systems in terms of the neuroendocrine regulation though. 

That's what's so fucking fascinating is if you think about the human as a self organizing system that has both bottom up and top down regulation, breath is immediately affecting both simultaneously, [00:26:00] which is really fascinating from a kind of cybernetic point of view but talk to us a little bit about we're not just saying deep breathe. You're talking about very specific things where the length of the inhale, the length of the exhale, the length of the hold at the top and hold at the bottom all do different things. Share some about that. 

Brian Mackenzie: Yeah, so well the very interesting part of this is that dependent upon your own physiology, [00:26:30] we seem to have a very different reaction to specific patterns. If I were to take a box breathing set or just a typical Pranayama like we've done this with Andrew and I, where he did a one one two one cadence in the morning and I, which is something I use, it put him to sleep and with me, it kind of gets me in this very kind of alert but calm place ready to get about my day whereas on the flip side of that, he [00:27:00] does more of a hold or an inhale hold and an exhale and it's like a one three two combination and then it repeats itself. He gets up regulated from that. He gets into that alert calm feeling where I feel like I'm just going to calm down and go to sleep or take a nap, and so what we're looking at was a, inside performance. Let's just say we had somebody working out or riding a bike. We start to see breathing [00:27:30] patterns that are shifting regardless of telling anybody anything. 

Well, if you look at that, like you're going back to your intake levels, if my CO2 tolerance is relatively low, you're going to have somebody who's breathing quite rapidly, so you're going to have somebody who's over breathing to a large degree at an early stage, which means we're becoming more sympathetic or even we're using more glycogen quicker versus using mitochondria [00:28:00] and being oxidative and using fat as that primary source of fuel.

When we start to all play around with these breathing patterns, we start to see where we can check off where somebody really is no longer aerobic and they're becoming anaerobic and if we can start to control those things, it becomes a group like train those things, it becomes an incredible tool to show an athlete or an individual where they're either a move off with movement because if [00:28:30] I'm moving poorly, I'm going to default to a poor breathing position, which is dropping my jaw open and breathing through my mouth and I can just breathe through my, use my chest and I'm no longer needing to use my diaphragm as the primary vehicle for breathing. It will still work but probably isn't working to its effectiveness. 

What we see largely is that there's a lot of variance within people and CO2 tolerance but if I'm actively engaging in a program where I'm starting to develop [00:29:00] a higher level of CO2 tolerance, ironically I'm now utilizing oxygen more effectively and this is what we see in free diving communities where they develop high, high, high, high levels of CO2 tolerance and are able to hold their breath at extreme levels and they're highly specific and although we're not trying to get somebody that specific but we're trying to get them to utilize oxygen at higher levels in training, so we start to play around with that. Really, [00:29:30] it becomes an individualized process, which is kind of the key to what we're developing and really working on is what are those set points. What's your CO2 tolerance level look like, what does that look like and then what protocols work best with you in specific areas and then if we're actually training or working out or we're in a performance situation, what's idyllic there as well. Really it's a lot but it becomes how well are we actually using the oxygen. I'm somebody who's not very tolerant of CO2. I'm not using that oxygen real well. 

CO2 Tolerance and Efficient Use of Oxygen 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: I'm curious if either you guys can speak to this, if someone is training in endurance sports or they're training in free diving in particular, their CO2 tolerance is going up. Physiologically, what's happening that mediates that? Is that increasing hemoglobin? Is it mitochondrial biogenesis? Is it metabolic flexibility in terms of the cells? What's the physiology that's changing that increases [00:30:30] the CO2 tolerance capacity?

Brian Mackenzie: I would say all of it that you just talked. It's really getting that mitochondria and developing that aerobic capacity to a large degree, the ability to deal with more CO2 in the system, but I mean which is developing if you're working and so as the body starts to it or make those adaptations to the time recovering from these things, it starts to utilize that oxygen more effectively at [00:31:00] higher CO2 levels right to where when we hit that for those threshold markers, we become more, that there's just more work than the mitochondria can actually handle that point, so it switches over. 

Andrew Huberman, PhD: It's also that the data aren't totally in on this, but there are areas of the brain that send CO2 in the brainstem. That makes sense, and they trigger a breathing reflex and so and so free divers are very good at suppressing that reflects and so that's some neural plasticity without a question. 

Maybe just for [00:31:30] our listeners so that they notice that in terms of protocols, what Brian was referring to is what we're putting together something that is customized to the individual. Some people buffer CO2 better than others. That updates as you get better and that can, one of the moments where we realized that we had to work together was when it shouldn't be the case that you have a catch all breathing program or vision program or any state control program that just like you wouldn't get the same [00:32:00] dosage of a prescription drug to people to everybody, it has to be individualized but not only that but there ought to be a protocol that could get you into a specific desired state. 

A lot of what we've put together is something you could say, okay I want to be calmer. I want to be more energetic. I want to be more alert. There's also the more subjective stuff like I want to be more present, which is kind of interesting because it's not really clear exactly what that is neurologically but nonetheless, we put together protocols that really capture people's individuality, in terms of the ability to buffer CO2.

[00:32:30] Now okay, so in terms of CO2 tolerance, people often say, well what should I do? People always want immediate protocol and  Mark talks about this a little bit too. One of the best things you can do for yourself, provided that you're not peaking or swimming is do nasal breathing and so Brian's really been a big proponent of nasal breathing during endurance sports. At first, you sort of take some adjusting but then you find this enormous untapped capacity. It's also true if you're taking an exam or you're going into a [00:33:00] stressful circumstance or personal circumstance, whatever it is, shifting the nasal breathing we think can really help blow off more CO2 more rapidly.

Now so it tends to make you feel less stressed. Now it's interesting too because the CO2 tolerance is something that can be measured back of the envelope calculation of your ability to slowly let out carbon dioxide through your nose after a big inhale and how long and slowly you can release that tells you how I believe neurally is just a belief. [00:33:30] I don't have a direct data on this, but how neurally, you're able to to control and withstand different states of CO2 within the body and we see huge variation that doesn't seem to depend so much on fitness level. People have so called CO2 blow out times where they're exhaling over a minute. Other people in six seconds like, really, how could that possibly exist and how could that possibly be. 

There's huge variation, those represent starting points for different breathing protocols to get into different states and [00:34:00] so I look forward to a day, hopefully not too long from now when it's no longer the case that you say, Oh, I'm going to do this meditation or this breathing protocol but really it's tailored to you in the moment right and the other wonderful thing about breathing and vision protocols is I'm not trying to knock on meditation, but unlike what I call depart and sit meditation where you're like, okay everybody, I'm going to go meditate for an hour or something like that or for half an hour or even five minutes, breathing and vision are available to you in [00:34:30] real time. 

It's not so important that you completely avoid stress. It's what happens when you're already stressed. I think we would all love to never get triggered, never launched into these chronic stress states but that's not realistic. If you're a normal human being, pursuing life goals, you're going to reasonable life goals, you're going to encounter stress and so breathing and vision allow you to do that in real time, and that I think is one of the enormous powers of these [00:35:00] sorts of protocols that it's not like, okay see you later. I'm going to go on retreat, which is wonderful. I'm sure it has really utility but what about in the real world, when suddenly you get a text message that something you thought was going to happen isn't going to happen and you happen to hit the car in front of you while that happens. It's how you handle those circumstances and you can't prepare for those but you can learn, you can prepare to react a little better. That's where breathing and vision really come in handy.

Confidence and State Control

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Okay, you guys both just said so many really fascinating things. I will see which ones to respond to [00:35:30] first. Regarding personalization, it's fascinating because like so with Neurohacker, we're working on the infrastructure to personalize nutrient delivery and it's amazingly fucking difficult for nutrients because how people use a particular nutrient depends on their genetics but it's not one snip. It's looking at common networks across lots of snips to be able to understand that and it depends upon how [00:36:00] much they're already getting in their diet and then so many things and when you look at the total number of nutrients and then the common networks across all those, like say a handful of them all have [inaudible 00:36:11] donors and then how do they affect each other. 

Then being able to do like even the compounding pharmacy of the delivery of that is really tricky, so we're working on a platform where people can upload bio data and we can customize formulations and have a robotically automated compounding pharmacy, but think about what a bitch that is [00:36:30] but then with regard to breath, just because there's so many variables and the delivery mechanism of it's tricky. With regard to breath and vision, it's like, okay how long is my inhale, how long is my exhale, how long is the hold of the top and bottom. I've got four variables and if I fuck it up, the worst thing that happens is I feel kind of shady for a second and then I do it differently

The same with vision, like I'm focusing a far way away or I'm focusing close. The number of variables are not that many and people can get the real time feedback and play with it, so the common network space really [00:37:00] does allow personalization without the need for external diagnostics safely, which is awesome. 

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Yeah, I mean you made a really interesting point. I don't want to make everything about the state op, but the whole purpose of that state op, it should be out in June or July of 2018. The whole purpose of that was to incorporate something where it would be up, it would be personalized and update you in real time. I can tell you right now, I got to travel yesterday in this, so my capacity to buffer [00:37:30] stress is different than when I've been home for a few days, sleeping regularly maybe it's jet lag, et cetera, so the ideal stage shift should be okay, let's have to do some focus group this afternoon and I'm feeling tired and I want to be alert and focused and then tonight, I want a good night's sleep.

The protocol that that it spits back to me to do takes into account my carbon dioxide almost real time and then I get to also tell it, that was kind of difficult or that was too easy or that was just right and then it updates, so it should be dynamic. [00:38:00] Again, not to knock on meditation, but I think it's rare for anyone to come around during meditation, tap on your shoulder and say hey how mindful are you feeling right now. Well, my thoughts are kind of drifting to your feet or I'm feeling really focused or whatever it is, good to have the ability to move into the spaces that we want to move.

In fact, I would define a really powerful human being as somebody that can control their state very well. A puppy and a child can't do that so they have to outsource it to adult animals in their [00:38:30] pack and humans, and when we reach adulthood, we're supposed to be able to control our state. Now these days, one of the main interests in developing these tools wasn't just for athletes and high performers. I'm in the academic community, if you will, the elite academic community just by virtue of the people I'm surrounded by and they're some of the most stressed out people on the planet and they study the brain and some of them are exceptionally good at buffering stress. 

I'm always impressed at colleagues that can just move to those spaces and nothing bothers them but then when you start talking to students of all [00:39:00] kinds, athletes at all times, the high performers of all time, they'll reveal to you and this is what Brian and I get into a lot is that they tend to be very good at high performing in a narrow trench, meaning a limited set of activities and you take them out of that and they kind of fall to pieces. 

I don't get any amusement out of that. What we're really seeing is that their neurology, just like the guy we can all see, the guy that just bench presses all day, doesn't do anything else so you see him walking around, you're like okay, that guy's done a lot of bench pressing, he clearly needs to hit the squat rack, maybe [00:39:30] do something else in addition to that. A lot of us have become like that intellectually, cognitively and emotionally too. What do we do? We start limiting our behavior and so a really effective human being can tolerate a number of different circumstances. It doesn't have to be high dangerous circumstances. It can just function well and know they can function well. 

You could even define confidence as the ability to know that you're going to function well regardless of circumstance. Brian was telling me these stories when we travel together. We're talking about things and talking science [00:40:00] and talking performance. He's telling me about these athletes and people I've looked up to for so long, many of whom are exceptional in their sport or exceptional in their craft but then they fall apart in a different domain. You see the same thing in any community where you're looking at high performance. To become a more well rounded human being I would argue, one of the best things you can learn to do is control your state.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: This is very interesting. I know Brian's work coming into this was saying all right, you have great weightlifting capacity, [00:40:30] can you run, and looking at adaptive capacity in the physiologic domain but when you talk about adaptive capacity at large, we do train people to be specialists and in the age of, in rapidly increasing AI, which is very good at specialism and not great right now at generalism, that's actually the stupidest thing to keep doing, our ability to do not just hill climbing algorithms, but valley crossing algorithms, how do we identify totally new capacities we haven't trained in at all and quickly adapt to be able to do that is probably [00:41:00] the most adaptive capacity that we need right now.

Now of course, there's skill development but you're not going to get that quickly. If I know how to do math, it doesn't automatically mean that I should know about biology, but if I know math and I'm not terrified of going up in front of the chalkboard and then I'm in a biology class and I'm terrified of it, even the biology sense in me, I would normally have to ask good questions is going to be gone because I'm terrified. The state control doesn't give me new specific domain capacity but it keeps me from being incapacitated, [00:41:30] and if you look at how much, whether it's public speaking or a startup or dating or whatever it is, how much people don't do that they could actually learn to do just because they're afraid, I mean that's tremendous and it is true that breath and vision and physiology are involved in whatever it is that someone's doing so that's fun to think about state control as something that increases people's adaptive capacity in any domain.

How Meditation and Breathwork Elevate our Behavioral Baseline

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Yeah, easygoing [00:42:00] and high performer don't tend to go hand in hand. Yeah, easygoing people tend to try more things and more adventurous. I'm going to actually just borrow something I learned from you, Daniel, which is that there are behaviors that lower the baseline on our life. There are behaviors that keep the baseline stable and there are behaviors that elevate the baseline and by obeying the baseline means it opens up new opportunities, makes you more adaptive and functional and state control, whether or not breathing, whether or not through vision or a combination of the two, I would argue regular [00:42:30] breath work, again I really learned this from Brian, regular breath work or vision practice, it improves the baseline in your life. 

I think the great success of meditation in recent years, apps like Headspace and Calm and Oak and things like that are wonderful tools because they tend to improve the baseline in one's life. We're trying to develop tools. We've been developing tools that will allow you to do that and really feel the shift almost instantaneously. I think that also speaks to why if you hang out with Wim [00:43:00] Hof or you attend one of his seminars or you do Wim Hof breathing, I mean you feel something right away. You can feel your state shifting. I've got these levers, how long I breathe, how long I hold and where I look and where I don't look and when I close my eyes are going to panoramic vision. These are the tools of not self control but self regulation that's really powerful.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: I have some practical questions I want to come to, but I want to ask a couple or 10 gentle ones first because I know a lot of our listeners are people who used various [00:43:30] call it biohacking type methodologies and Brian, you actually said a couple things that relate to this. The State app obviously doesn't need additional hardware, but I have some hardware questions, so hypoxia training, when you're talking about increase CO2 tolerance and being able to up regulate things like oxygen utilization and autophagy of senescent cells and things like that. Have you played with, do you recommend hypoxia training?

Three of the Best Breathing Exercises for Shifting One's State

Brian Mackenzie: Yeah, it's not going to be, I mean to some degree, it's incorporated into the app. This isn't a robust function like this is not a free diving app. It's mildly using these things based off of your own CO2 tolerance to help you A, adapt a specific pattern, excuse me. It's a slow breathing pattern, so any sort of slowed breathing pattern from your normal respiration [00:44:30] rate is going to help that, thus if I spend a block of time working on that to a large degree, to create an adaptation and then make a change and within the app, it customizes. Did that feel easy? Did that feel worse? Then all of a sudden, it starts to ramp up a little bit and then it becomes easier there. It's like a training protocol to develop this whole notion behind CO2 tolerance and what we've seen inside free diving world to a large [00:45:00] degree and even within the yoga world where it's like slow this breathing down, and all of a sudden, you become calmer, you start to process things a little bit better because if your stress goes up, as Andrew was talking about earlier, like traveling and stuff, his CO2 tolerance was probably off quite some bit.

We've seen that across the board, especially with myself, and the interesting thing is emotional stress or things that we're doing to ourselves throughout our day without the physicality of it is actually having more of an [00:45:30] impact on that CO2 tolerance than physical stress where after a workout, my CO2 tolerance probably isn't very high, but if I can get, the sooner I can get that back to baseline, which it's not really hard to do within a one hour period where if I'm cooked emotionally and psychologically, that is going to be a long term thing you're going to see, like we're talking days on end until we can get that back to normal base.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Obviously, slow breathing is kind of hypoxic and so, we have fun machines like the LiBO2 systems that do the hypoxic, hyperoxic training and I'm sure you guys have played with those. I particularly think it's fun to be able to alternate between those for the autophagy, and then the ramp up the ATP production, but I think something that's fun is to [00:46:30] recognize how much of that can be done just by changing breathing.

Brian Mackenzie: Exactly, yes and I have played with all of that. I've played with all the altitude machines all I've got to, and the interesting thing is you go and look at, put a pulse oximeter on and you get in one of those or you start using one and you see those O2 saturations drop below 94% and you're working and at first, it really sucks but then you start to make the adaptations and things start to change.  Well, if you go and use, hold [00:47:00] your breath for a specific amount of time. Give yourself one or two breaths, go right back to it, you can start to lower that. You can get below that for some time and you can start to create a lot of the same effects that are happening.

The Role of HRV Training

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Another hardware based tech that people engage in breath training is HRV, heart rate variability training and typically and at least very simplistic HRV, now obviously we have biofeedback there to customize it but there is some thought about being more dominant on inhale or more dominant on exhale and more dominant on [00:47:30] top bottom holds. Have you guys done kind of HRV training with the type of breath work you're doing to gain to have the insight about what's happening parasympathetically?

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Yeah, a little bit. We wanted to put together a technology that relied on the minimum of hardware, an app or even and from that experience with the app, something that you could actually incorporate in your moments of life, even if you couldn't take out the app [00:48:00] and do a session. We've done a little bit of that and we've worked with colleagues that are also using those tools. I think it's very interesting. I think that in real time, snapping on a device is a real time stress event [inaudible 00:48:19] here, a regular practice, if you can do a morning session or evening session which I would hope everyone without these days by state control practice of the usual [00:48:30] meditation or something like reading vision, but we haven't moved things into heart rate variability too much.

My laboratory on the other hand, is evaluating all the, everything from sweating heart rate to people size to if we can, what do you do below the skull, and so that's where I think in time data are going to come out that are going to tell us what the new protocols. I mean ultimately, the reason I'm maintaining the laboratory is for scientists who are deeply interested in what we don't know yet, which are the, [00:49:00] what are the aspects of our physiology that we can tap into through different practices and what are some of the underlying molecular mechanisms that I think we want to evolve new practices but science takes time and in the meantime, they're already these valuable, valuable tools. 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: As we as we wrap up here today, can you guys share some things that would be already applicable for our listeners that are useful either in breath or in vision or both, and then when the State app comes out, we will update everybody [00:49:30] and send an email out so that people can get it because it's something we're excited about and support but if someone wants to start and obviously, it doesn't have the feedback for personalization and full training but if someone wants to start some breath work and some vision practice, what can they start with?

Brian Mackenzie: Yeah, on power, speed and endurance, we actually have a CO2 tolerance calculator, where it's a time to exhale test. This isn't anything we created. This is an old school [00:50:00] free diving application that they use to set tables for doing actual hypoxic courses through tolerance building sets and this test, we found really helps with understanding A, mechanics, B, your CO2 tolerance and C, your psychological reaction as CO2 builds and what's happening is you're having to slowly exhale. 

If I have to dump air really quick, we've got, we may have a mechanical issue. We may have a CO2 tolerance issue and psychologically, you [00:50:30] may be not very comfortable with high CO2 in the body and in your lungs, and that said, getting a baseline with that is really critical. It will help you understand where you're at when you have a baseline, so when you understand how long you can really do it after doing it a number of times, then when you start to see that increase, you know you're making these jumps, so from a protocol standpoint, I think it's really simple as using something [00:51:00] like a box breathing set or even a Pranayama like a one one two one breathing protocol. 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: As you're giving the numbers, everyone doesn't necessarily know the number so you explain that. 

Brian Mackenzie: I'll explain that. A one one two one would be an inhale, a breath hold, an exhale and a breath hold or pause on the end. If I was inhaling for six seconds, one one two one would be six, six, 12, six. My exhale would be double time, so we're working on more of a parasympathetic or longer exhale. A box breathing [00:51:30] set on a one one one one would be six, six, six, six. 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Inhale for six, hold for six, exhale for six and then pause for six.

Brian Mackenzie: Find the apnea protocol, something very easy would be like a one two two so it's an inhale, so if it was six seconds, then it would be 12 second breath hold, then it would be a 12 second exhale, so I'm just an apnea only is going to refer to holding your breath longer than you inhale. Play around with those three and see [00:52:00] what, like take some time, go through 10 sets of one but don't do them all together. I mean, you may, you can if you want but go through each of them and write down how you felt after that. Did it actually give me a calm feeling? Did I feel down? Did I feel like I needed to take a nap? Whatever's happening then you can start the set where you're at and based on your CO2 tolerance off at the power, speed, endurance, we actually calculate out protocols for you to play with, [00:52:30] so that you don't have to do all the math on it but it's roughly taking a little bit more than 50% of that CO2 tolerance and putting it into a protocol.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: It's and then the measurement will be obvious where to find it?

Brian Mackenzie: Yeah. What's that under, James?

James: Learn.

Brian Mackenzie: Learn, it's under the Learn tab. It's in there for people to go screw around with and they can really find a baseline and so this baseline, once you've established a breathing protocol that works for you, [00:53:00] if I go, like if Andrew had it like, let's say he was using a 6, 12, 12 and he woke up this morning and 6, 12, 12 was really difficult after three breaths, but he could normally do 10, we know that his [inaudible 00:53:16] is off and we know that he needs to back off a little so maybe he goes to 5, 10, 10. If that continues in that fashion, if he's at 5, 10, 10 or even drops to 4, 8, 8, we know there could be a problem probably occurring physiologically, [00:53:30] getting sick immune systems like that is happening underneath the hood that I need to be aware of. What do I need to do in order to make those changes? It's not more stress, I can tell you that. It's probably destressing to some degree, so using some tools and using that understanding to actually pivot and make some reasonable choices, whether it's nutritionally, whether it's physically, whether it's more rest, et cetera.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: People can explore these three different breathing protocols and [00:54:00] they can look to see if their CO2 tolerance goes up and then also just pay attention to their state and see how meaningful it feels for them?

Brian Mackenzie: Exactly. 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Andrew, what about vision? Is there something basic you can tell people to play with?

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Yeah, I mean the simplest thing, if I were to just think 10 seconds, I would encourage people to start a practice in which they close their eyes and pay attention to their internal state. I would [00:54:30] hope they would keep breathing. That would be a good thing to do generally, nasal breathing ideally, and then the other one is to learn how to go into panoramic vision, to look out ideally outside but this you can also do this and start to absorb the entire visual scene, meaning often the periphery, so defocus the eyes. Okay, so the first one really teaches you to focus on yourself and your internal state. The panoramic vision, we know based on [00:55:00] evolution tends to put the visual system and the organism into more relaxed parasympathetic state.

I like to suggest and people might get different results. This isn't hard and fast but the next time you have an event where you're sort of you're feeling triggered or you're feeling kind of ramped up, go into panoramic vision,  try and go into that soft case where you're absorbing the whole visual field. Now there's an intermediate one as well, which is focused on a vergence point. This is great for increasing powers of concentration. Looking at it at [00:55:30] something that can be your hand, it can be something a short distance away or even across the street at a tree or something out the window and trying to hold your focus on that while also thinking about your internal state and your vision, I would argue that as humans, we can concentrate on two locations, our internal location and our inner self in and out at the same time, but probably not more than two. It's hard to think about three things. They were just toggling back and forth really fast, who knows. 

The practice I think that's really powerful is what where [00:56:00] people learn to step through these different let's call them locations or time references and I'll mention why this is similar, if you were to take a few moments each day, it doesn't matter when morning, evening, afternoon and close your eyes and focus on your internal state, your breathing, kind of keeping track your breathing as a second hand on your experience, you're becoming ultra present. You're in the here and now. When you look out onto a visual scene and you let your visual field expanding going to panoramic vision, [00:56:30] you're not focusing on the here and now. You're focusing on the everything that exists now, in that moment of course.

There's something mystical about that statement. I would argue you're actually expanding your time reference. Things are happening at a distance that are over a period of time and the way the brain works is it tends to use the visual system to calculate time. It's why a hunter sits there, calculating where's the prey. Where's the prey now. Where's it going to be in a moment. It's making, it's doing math. It's anticipating where it's going to be so by going from internal [00:57:00] state to kind of panoramic vision, you move through these different so called space time domains. 

An intermediate one I'm looking at here, put simply, spend a couple minutes each day thinking about your internal state with your eyes closed and open your eyes and focus on something in your immediate environment. Focus on that while also paying attention to your internal state and then try and take in the whole visual scene ideally outside and kind of let your vision just go everywhere and maybe also pay attention to your internal state and then we can go back into your yourself. When you do that, what you're doing is you're [00:57:30] training the brain to step between different space time reference frames, extremely powerful tool, only free, totally easy. I think as long as you're not closing your eyes while you're driving, then it seems safe enough so I  think that that practice alone embodies a lot of the different kind of meditative practices kind of shorthand and can teach you to control where your brain is focusing and then just as a point of reference, if you think about your typical day when you're not being [inaudible 00:58:00] [00:58:00] so to speak, you're moving along through space and you you get your space time reference moved into the text, then it's back on your email, then it's in the conversation that you're having. 

No wonder, we're all becoming slightly ADD is a friend with this kind of space time leaping and as a final point, Brian and I like to talk about this. What if I told you that for eight hours every 24 hour cycle, we're going to be completely insane. Your dead grandmother could walk in the room and serve you cookies. The cookies [00:58:30] turn into a dog. The dog turns into poison, walks out the roof caves in. You'd say no way that's crazy. That sounds like a horrible experience but that's what happens when you go to sleep. You completely give up all space time control and I believe that a period of sleep every 24 hours is the way that we reset our capacity to anchor ourselves in space and time. If you've ever been sleep deprived, if you want to really get someone to fall apart, be sleep deprived and what falls apart is your ability to kind of stay present in the moment. [00:59:00] You start, you kind of are sliding all over the place. I would say the number one thing you can do is get a really good night's sleep. Sleep is so key. I know you guys are developing tools for better sleep and then the other one would be just focusing internally, focusing externally and then focusing on everything and then back again.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Yeah, I don't know how much research there is to back this up, but the two tools that you're talking about together, I would argue [00:59:30] there's a very strong case for it being a life extension technology because when you think about increased stress, increased sympathetic overtone, increasing probability for all types of disease, from autoimmune to RDGEN to neurocognitive to cancers, like we know that well, then being able to come out of sympathetic overtone and actually activate the parasympathetic system that does immune and digestive and respiratory and all kinds of physiologic repair, as well [01:00:00] as in the hypoxic training, being able to actually increase autophagy of senescent cells and then increased biogenesis of mitochondria, as well as increased regulation of the neurologic system like if you just think about it from what causes the breakdown of the regulatory systems that leads to disease, these are things that are actually very high in the flow, it would be relevant to them. 

Yeah, I mean besides helping people not feel anxious and [01:00:30] be able to perform better, I think that's very meaningful from a what is the future of healthcare that prevents a need for sick care is tools like this. It was a delight to have you both on the show. I'm super excited about the app. I know June is the target date. I also know that it's a tech startup and so it will come out when it comes out and whenever it does, we will share it with people and do you know what the URL is going to be [01:01:00] yet?

Brian Mackenzie: Optimized state.

Daniel Schmachtenberger:

Brian Mackenzie: No D. Optimize state.

Daniel Schmachtenberger:

Brian Mackenzie: They can go there right now and put their email and to get notification when it's going to be coming out.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Great and

Brian Mackenzie: Powerspeedendurance.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Excuse me,, they can find some information on the CO2 test. Guys thank you so much. This was a blast. I look forward to [01:01:30] playing with the app when it comes out and we'll talk more soon. 

Brian Mackenzie: Thanks so much.

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Thanks so much, Daniel. 

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