Breath Work and James Nestor’s “Breath”

“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe better.” — Dr. Andrew Weil

Noticing your breath is the foundational skill of every meditation practice I’ve been exposed to. No matter the ultimate instruction — body scans, mantras, visualizations, etc. — almost every meditation session begins with noticing the inhale and the exhale. For therapeutic benefit, breath awareness serves as an effective way to simply calm down. For more a more transformative mental experience, the breath is a powerful object of concentration that can settle the mind and prepare it for deeper explorations.

At my first long meditation retreat, we spent several days learning about anapana breathing, and the instruction was to notice your inhale as the breath crosses your upper lip and into the inner nostril, and to notice exhale over those same places. Noticing the breath in this way, breath after the breath, served to quickly ground you in the present moment, and that presence was the gateway to the broader vipassana practice. I remember at the end of the retreat, chatting with a couple of the other guys (after the silence had lifted), and one of them telling me, “I struggled with the body scan instructions, but I’ll always have the breath practice when I need it.”

Later on, in a long concentration retreat, breath was my first and last object of concentration during the whole retreat (outside of a smattering of metta practices). This meant close to 100 hours engaging in microscopic analysis of breath. It started with awareness of the belly as the breath begins through the inhale, and then choosing a point on the body to rest your attention during the “pause” between inhale and exhale, and then noticing the full exhale.

So, I have a fair amount of experience with all things breath — in a meditation context.

But it turns out I knew next to nothing about “breath work” as a broader field. I began hearing about breath work a year or two ago, and it was only in my research into sauna and cold plunge that I discovered the sort of sister field of breath work practices that are often implemented with cold plungers.

(I’m probably especially ignorant here because I don’t do yoga and even casual practitioners of yoga know about pranayama breathing, one type of breath work.)

Breath work is a new piece of the puzzle of wellness and spirituality for me. I currently have three types of breath work I employ. First, when I’m seeking relaxation, I’ll do 3-4 seconds each of inhales, hold (full lungs), exhale, hold (empty lungs). “Navy SEALs use this technique to stay calm and focused in tense situations.” Second, before some meditation sits, I’ll do the pranayama type technique of rapid exhales and passive inhales. Third, in cold plunge, I do a version of Wim Hof of relatively quick inhales and exhales roughly 30 times, with a breath hold at the end. I’m still learning, to be clear — on the BOLT test to measure your current management of breath and carbon dioxide, I landed in the “average” zone.

I’m stunned that these types of breath work exercises are not discussed in more detail on Buddhist meditation retreats. At the Buddhist retreats I’ve been on, adjacent fields like qi gong and yoga are referenced or taught (as optional afternoon

 activities, say) but more elaborate ways of managing your breath are not addressed. A huge opportunity awaits someone who can synthesize the knowledge of these fields.

James Nestor’s book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art is a splendid introduction to the research and practices of breath work. I learned a ton. The single most important lesson was about the benefit — the really amazing health benefit — of nose breathing over mouth breathing. And of taking fewer, slower, deeper breaths over many fast, shallow breaths. But there’s a bunch more beyond that’s pretty interesting. I recommend it. Below are my highlights from Nestor’s book.

Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult. Mouthbreathing begets more mouthbreathing.

During the deepest, most restful stages of sleep, the pituitary gland, a pea-size ball at the base of the brain, secretes hormones that control the release of adrenaline, endorphins, growth hormone, and other substances, including vasopressin, which communicates with cells to store more water. This is how animals can sleep through the night without feeling thirsty or needing to relieve themselves.
But if the body has inadequate time in deep sleep, as it does when it experiences chronic sleep apnea, vasopressin won’t be secreted normally. The kidneys will release water, which triggers the need to urinate and signals to our brains that we should consume more liquid. We get thirsty, and we need to pee more. A lack of vasopressin explains not only my own irritable bladder but the constant, seemingly unquenchable thirst I have every night.

The interior of the nose, it turned out, is blanketed with erectile tissue, the same flesh that covers the penis, clitoris, and nipples. Noses get erections. Within seconds, they too can engorge with blood and become large and stiff. This happens because the nose is more intimately connected to the genitals than any other organ; when one gets aroused, the other responds.

What our bodies really want, what they require to function properly, isn’t faster or deeper breaths. It’s not more air. What we need is more carbon dioxide.
In other words, the pure oxygen a quarterback might huff between plays, or that a jet-lagged traveler might shell out 50 dollars for at an airport “oxygen bar,” are of no benefit.

It turns out that when breathing at a normal rate, our lungs will absorb only about a quarter of the available oxygen in the air. The majority of that oxygen is exhaled back out. By taking longer breaths, we allow our lungs to soak up more in fewer breaths.I realized then that breathing was like rowing a boat: taking a zillion short and stilted strokes will get you where you’re going, but they pale in comparison to the efficiency and speed of fewer, longer strokes.

Gerbarg and Brown would write books and publish several scientific articles about the restorative power of the slow breathing, which would become known as “resonant breathing” or Coherent Breathing. The technique required no real effort, time, or thoughtfulness. And we could do it anywhere, at any time. “It’s totally private,” wrote Gerbarg. “Nobody knows you’re doing it.”

One thing that every medical or freelance pulmonaut I’ve talked to over the past several years has agreed on is that, just as we’ve become a culture of overeaters, we’ve also become a culture of overbreathers. Most of us breathe too much, and up to a quarter of the modern population suffers from more serious chronic overbreathing.

In Japan, legend has it that samurai would test a soldier’s readiness by placing a feather beneath his nostrils while he inhaled and exhaled. If the feather moved, the soldier would be dismissed. To

The key to optimum breathing, and all the health, endurance, and longevity benefits that come with it, is to practice fewer inhales and exhales in a smaller volume. To breathe, but to breathe less.

The takeaway is that hypoventilation works. It helps train the body to do more with less. But that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant.

They discovered that the optimum amount of air we should take in at rest per minute is 5.5 liters. The optimum breathing rate is about 5.5 breaths per minute. That’s 5.5-second inhales and 5.5-second exhales. This is the perfect breath.

“In ten years, nobody will be using traditional orthodontics,” Gelb told me. “We’ll look back at what we’ve done and be horrified.”

Breathing is a power switch to a vast network called the autonomic nervous system.

The stress-inducing breathing method that brought me to this roadside public park is called Inner Fire Meditation, and it’s been practiced by Tibetan Buddhists and their students for the past thousand years.

Here’s the information: To practice Wim Hof’s breathing method, start by finding a quiet place and lying flat on your back with a pillow under your head. Relax the shoulders, chest, and legs. Take a very deep breath into the pit of your stomach and let it back out just as quickly. Keep breathing this way for 30 cycles. If possible, breathe through the nose; if the nose feels obstructed, try pursed lips. Each breath should look like a wave, with the inhale inflating the stomach, then the chest. You should exhale all the air out in the same order. At the end of 30 breaths, exhale to the natural conclusion, leaving about a quarter of the air left in the lungs, then hold that breath for as long as possible. Once you’ve reached your breathhold limit, take one huge inhale and hold it another 15 seconds. Very gently, move that fresh breath of air around the chest and to the shoulders, then exhale and start the heavy breathing again. Repeat the whole pattern three or four rounds and add in some cold exposure (cold shower, ice bath, naked snow angels) a few times a week.
It can work wonders, but few of us will ever reap these rewards, because the vast majority of people who try to meditate will give up and move on. For those with chronic anxieties, the percentages are far worse. “Mindful meditation—as it is typically practiced—is just no longer conducive to the new world we live in,” Feinstein explains.

I increased my performance on the stationary bike by about 10 percent. (Olsson had more modest gains, about 5 percent.) These results paled in comparison to the gains reported by sports training expert John Douillard, but I couldn’t imagine any athlete who wouldn’t want a 10 percent—or even a 1 percent—advantage over a competitor.

Down the street from my house is a startup called Spire, which created a device that tracks breath rate and alerts users every time respiration becomes too fast or disjointed.

Any gum chewing can strengthen the jaw and stimulate stem cell growth, but harder textured varieties offer a more vigorous workout. Falim, a Turkish brand, is as tough as shoe leather and each piece lasts for about an hour. I’ve found the Sugarless Mint to be the most palatable. (Other flavors, such as Carbonate, Mint Grass, and sugar-filled varieties, tend to be softer and grosser.)

Setting Up a Home Sauna and Cold Plunge

The most consequential purchase in my life in 2020? Installing a Finnish barrel sauna in my backyard in the Bay Area.

Over the past few years, I’ve been enjoying sauna more and more: Relishing hotels that offered them. Luxuriating in the steam room at the local Equinox gym several times a week. And making special treks to public saunas such as the Archimedes Banya in San Francisco or the vast Munich facility I visited last Christmas or bath houses in Turkey and Japan.

There’s something about sweating and then cold plunging — the contrast between the two — that I find incredibly relaxing and energizing.

Not that I’ve exactly made a new discovery here. Sweat traditions have been around forever, from the Native American sweat lodges to the bathhouses of Russia, Turkey, Finland, Japan, and elsewhere. For hundreds of years, in every corner of the globe, people have purposively sweat in search of benefits such as basic relaxation, skin health, cardiovascular health, and more. Pick a desired health outcome and there’s certainly many anecdotes, maybe even a study, that supports sauna’s salutary effects. The timeless popularity of sauna has been complemented in most of these places by a recognition of the energizing power of contrast: high heat and then low cold. Sauna + jumping in a cold lake, for example.

So among the many unfortunate consequences of Covid-19, one that hit me especially hard: all the saunas and gyms are closed! It finally felt right to invest in getting my own sauna for my own backyard. After a bit of research, I purchased an outdoor barrel sauna from Almost Heaven Saunas.

The sauna arrived on a pallet, and a hired handyman assembled it in 5-6 hours. It’s a two-person sauna but it really just fits one person comfortably. An electrician had to run an upgraded power line out to connect to the Harvia heater inside the sauna — that took another half-day.

It’s beautiful:

In concert with the sauna, I bought a 150 gallon stock tank to serve as a cold plunge. I fill it up with garden hose water. No ice. It’s cold enough with simple hose water in the Bay Area. I put a little hydrogen peroxide in the water to keep it clean and empty it out every 10 days or so and re-fill with fresh water.  I haven’t done a DIY freezer set up yet; nor splurged on a super expensive dedicated cold plunge. For now, it does the trick.

In the two months I’ve had the sauna, I’ve used it about every other day. It’s glorious. Routine: 10-15 mins in the sauna at 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold plunge for 2-3 minutes while slowing inhaling and exhaling. Sit and rest for a few minutes and stare up at the enormous redwood tree in my backyard. Drink water. Then sauna again. The “stare up at the enormous redwood tree” is a real step in the process. I really hadn’t fully appreciated its majesty before the sauna routine. There’s something about warming back up after a plunge, sitting in the recliner chair, and staring up that produces a light spiritual experience:

As I was preparing to receive the sauna, I read a great book called The Wedge: Evolution, Consciousness, Stress and the Key to Human Resilience by Scott Carney. The wedge refers to the space between stimulus and response. For example, on the cold plunge experience: “At some point I told myself that it wasn’t cold that I was feeling on my skin; the muscle-tensing sensation caused by my environment was joy itself. This mental trick transmuted the entire experience. I consciously assigned a meaning to my sensations, and that alone made me more resilient.”

Scott takes a tour of different environments that produce stress and writes about their effect on the body. Among other things, Scott trained with Wim Hof.

Another excerpt from Scott:

“A person can choose a life path of muted sensations, avoiding pain and living indoors protected by a cocoon of technological comfort. That person can work a 40-hour work week, fully fund a retirement plan, carry acceptable insurance, dutifully pay taxes, have a few children and ultimately die comfortably in bed. This is the default life plan that many Americans follow.”

I also read Jesse Coomer’s e-book on cold exposure, which is a helpful overview of how to think about cold plunging and a cold practice in general.

If you’re getting interested in sauna, I’d recommend the Sauna Times, and the Sauna Talk podcast which is a delight to listen to for any sauna enthusiasts. If you’re interested in cold exposure, start by taking cold showers (do the last 1-2 minutes of your shower with just cold water) and focus on your breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Cold showers alone can be a tremendous boost to energy.

Some requests on my end:

  • I’m looking for tips on good sand timers (clocks) that won’t melt or get stuck inside the sauna. The one I bought has sand that’s jammed.
  • I’m interested in doing a sauna tour in Finland (or elsewhere). I.e. spend a week traveling and check out different saunas/bathhouses in the country. Any suggestions welcome.
  • If any entrepreneurs want to create a Soho House like business for sauna, let me know. Or a D2C business that involves sauna or cold plunges. Americans are slowly waking up to sauna and I bet there will be some interesting businesses built in the space.

Trying a Gut Cleanse Diet

I spent a week and a half on a gut cleanse diet — a strict diet to “reset” my gut and “rebalance” the bacteria in my digestive system. Methodology delivered food four times over a two week period. No sugar. No carbs. No starch really. All pure protein (e.g. chicken and salmon), and non-starchy vegetables (e.g. broccoli not squash). I didn’t eat out at restaurants during this time period; I only ate from the jars in the fridge.

Some intermittent fasting was prescribed, too. No eating for 16 hours — which means, after dinner, I wouldn’t eat till lunch the following day.

Six fish oil pills a day. A probiotic pill in the morning. A vitamin D pill at lunch.

How’d I feel? A bit cleaner, I suppose. Something really was happening internally because the one “cheat” meal I had along the way — 6 days in, I ate a bunch of bread and a breakfast burrito — made my stomach feel upset for 7-8 straight hours. I did sleep well during the cleanse. Knowing that my diet was pre-set did relieve some decision making burden of having to choose what to eat and where for every meal.

The primary challenge was hunger. Even if I ate tons of greens and proteins, it was hard to ever feel full with no carbs.

The science of nutrition is maddening. There truly is no consensus. Show me any study on diet and I’ll show you a counter-study. In this case, some of the gut cleanse program’s descriptions of why such-and-such a technique is good for your “gut” seemed a bit farfetched. Indeed, in researching the various microbiome tests available online, it seems the science is still pretty sketch at this point. I understand the cool factor of receiving a personalized report that says “this food is good for you, that food is bad for you” — but it isn’t based in much, apparently. I’ll wait a few years till the science improves before mailing in my stool sample.

I’m happy I did the gut cleanse. I’m still mostly trying to avoid sugars and carbs. Not religiously, but when I can. And I’m wondering whether I should keep up intermittent fasting on a regular basis…

Which Health Advice Is Actually True?

Spencer Greenberg, an extremely rational person and ultra synthesizer, posted the below as a public entry on Facebook. I found it interesting. What follows are Spencer’s words…

A query for you about human health: what are dietary/nutrition/health recommendations that are (essentially) universally agreed on by nutrition and health experts of all stripes and schools of thought? Given the incredibly high levels of disagreement in this area, and the poor quality of a lot of the studies, this depressingly short list (below) is all I can come up with. I’m hoping you can help me expand it!

Also, this list probably has some mistakes, so let me know what I’m getting wrong!

-Preliminary List of Universally Recommended Health Interventions-
(1) Don’t consume a lot of sugar (at best, it’s empty calories and probably causes tooth decay, but some claim it’s much worse than that).
(2) Exercise regularly (its best to rotate which type of exercise you do – be very careful to avoid injury, especially when you are getting into new forms of exercise – it’s also unclear what forms of exercise are best e.g. strength training vs. cardio, and how much exercise you should get – also, extremely high levels of exercise are believed to be associated with increasing some health risks).
(3) If you are going to eat a lot of carbohydrates, generally you should choose complex carbs over simple carbs (usually whole grains are also recommended over refined grains, but some argue that whole grains should be sprouted/soaked to remove parts of the seed that are designed to protect it from digestion [HT: Gary Basin]).
(4) Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least once per day (though perhaps it is not actually a good idea immediately after eating, especially if you’ve been eating acidic foods, the suggestion is to brush before breakfast, or wait an hour after eating – and beware of brushing too often or too vigorously – brushing twice per day may be better than brushing once – and also note that there do exist some very small segment of people in the health field that are against fluoride).
(5) Hydrate regularly throughout each day, especially as soon as you feel thirsty, but even if you don’t (doing so with water is the safest bet, though it’s not clear how much liquid you need in total, and it’s also not clear whether it’s important to do this with water or if other drinks like non-sugary tea are fine replacements. Also, the the 8 cups of water a day thing seems to be bullshit).
(6) Eat plenty of vegetables (preferably not deep fried ones though – note also that there do exist a very small number of people in the health field who advocate an essentially zero-carb or meat only diet).
(7) Don’t eat a lot of deep fried foods in general.
(8) Take Vitamin D3 supplements if you are >60 years old and don’t get a lot of outdoor time, and for the general population, take it if you get very little sunlight.
(9) Avoid frequently drinking large quantities of alcohol.
(10) Avoid frequently consuming tobacco products (but since many of them are addictive, that means it’s safest to avoid them altogether).
(11) If you have the ability to make yourself lose weight and keep it off, prioritize weight and fat loss if you have a very high body fat percentage or a lot of body fat around the gut area [HT: Julia June Bossmann, Ben Hoffman] (the extent to which mild to moderate obesity is bad per se is somewhat debated, as in some studies mild levels of obesity were sometimes even correlated with better outcomes – avoiding metabolic syndrome and poor blood sugar dis-regulation may be more on point than avoiding a very high body fat percentage though the two are significantly correlated [HT: Kara Loewentheil] – however lots of data suggests that three years after a diet most people have regained the weight they lost, and some say that regularly cycling your weight by losing then gaining then losing again could be unhealthy).
(12) If you are going to eat something sweet, fruit is a better bet than candy or sugary baked goods.
(13) Avoid consuming trans fats.
(14) Don’t consume excessive amounts of mercury (which is found in many fish – some say that tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, and swordfish are particularly worrisome).
(15) Don’t eat a lot of foods that are burned to the point of being blackened.
(16) Spend some time outdoors in the sun each week.
(17) Avoid getting frequently sunburned.
(18) If you are unusually low in any vitamin then you should consume more of it (but if you have normalish levels, there is not a consensus on whether you should have more of any vitamins as far as I can tell, except perhaps Vitamin D for the elderly which seems to be basically agreed upon – there is also disagreement about whether vitamin pills are as effective as vitamins from whole foods).
(19) If you are a strict vegan, take vitamin B12 supplements.
(20) Don’t get addicted to any drugs (prescription or non-prescription) other than possibly caffeine.
(21) Don’t run a constant sleep deficit (though the amount of sleep each person requires to not have a deficit seems to vary pretty considerably).
(22) Wash your hands with soap regularly [HT: Amy Willey] (though some claim that special anti-bacterial hand soap is not a good idea)
(23) Don’t regularly have non-negligible amounts of caffeine within a few hours of going to bed (though people’s sensitivity to this seems to vary a lot).
(24) Don’t spend your day in very long stretches of sitting without moving (i.e. take breaks where you move around) [HT: Eva Vivalt].
(25) When typing, avoid having your wrists bent at a significant angle for long periods, and avoid having to bend your neck substantially downward or upward to see your computer screen.
(26) Each week spend at least a bit of social time with people you get along well with.
(27) If you have very high levels of anxiety, depression or hopelessness you should seek treatment as soon as possible (e.g. you could try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a psychologist or go to a psychiatrist).
(28) Eating a diverse range of healthy foods is usually better than eating a narrow range of foods (of course a diverse range of unhealthy foods is still unhealthy [HT: Bryan Hobart]).
(29) Avoid very high doses of certain vitamin and mineral supplements (e.g. Iron supplements, vitamin A and vitamin B-6, where overdosing is known to happen – beware of mega-dose vitamins unless you know what you’re doing, as they are unlikely to be helpful and could be harmful).
(30) If you have a broken bone or reasonable sized cut or scrape that appears as if it could be infected, go to a doctor immediately (some broken bones require splinting to heal properly, infected wounds may require treatment).
(31) If you have a mole that violates enough of the ABCDE rule, get it checked out by a dermatologist, which means: Asymmetry (if one side of the mole doesn’t match the other), Border irregularity, Color is not uniform, Diameter more than 6 mm (which is about the size of a pencil eraser), and Evolving size, shape or color.
(32) Highly processed meats (e.g. hot dog or bologna) are worse than less processed ones [HT: Claire Zabel].
(33) Do things to keep your brain active, such as learning something new each week or doing something that is mentally taxing [HT: Chad Gracia]
(34) If you have high levels of stress, try to reduce them using whatever techniques you find effective [HT: Jujubee Kang] (high stress has been linked to various negative indicators in the body – techniques that some people find effective to reduce stress include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, walking in nature, and exercise that keeps your heart rate elevated for a reasonably long period).
(35) Keep your sleep cycles at least roughly in sync with the dark/light cycle of the planet (i.e. do most of your sleeping at night, and most of your waking hours during the day).
(36) Don’t regularly drink alcohol before going to bed.
(37) If you think you may be suicidal, or you have made plans for suicide, you should call a suicide hotline immediately, and afterward make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist for as soon as is possible.
(38) Keep your living environment at a comfortable temperature, generally in the 65-75°F (18-24°C) range.
(39) Go to a dentist for teeth cleaning and a checkup at least twice per year.

What else should be on this list that I missed? What am I mistaken about that I should remove from this list (because there is actually some disagreement among experts)?

Also, here are some other health and nutrition questions that didn’t make the list because, while many advocate strongly for one side, there still seems to be a reasonable amount of disagreement (rightly or wrongly):

-List of Important Health Questions Experts Don’t Agree On-
(a) How bad is saturated fat, if at all?
(b) How useful is omega 3 supplementation, if at all?
(c) How bad are carbs versus other macro nutrients?
(d) Is there any benefit (or harm) to getting more than the RDA of protein (0.36 grams per pound of body weight)?
(e) Is flossing effective? (If you like flossing, or at least don’t mind it, it may well be worth it, but the benefits are not as clearly established as one would ideally like, and there have been some claims, possibly false, that it can cause bacteria to escape from your mouth into your body in a way that could be bad)
(f) Does dietary cholesterol lead to high blood cholesterol? (apparently the FDA just released new guidelines on this that say “no” [HT: Romeo Stevens])
(g) Is blood cholesterol correlated enough with bad outcomes that we should care about it, per se?
(h) What types of preventative screening / testing should everyone routinely get?
(i) What dietary supplements (if any) should a healthy person take?
(j) Is there any harm from Aspartame or other artificial sweeteners? (all of the many randomized controlled trials on Aspartame on humans I’ve looked out found no negative effects except headaches in a small subset of people, but other studies in rats show weird effects that are hard to interpret, and a lot of people are anti-Aspartame without providing clear reasons)
(k) Is polyunsaturated fat good for you, bad, or neutral?
(l) How bad is meat for you as a broad category, or is it too broad a category to generalize?
(m) How much should you limit your salt intake?
(n) Which type of cooking oil (e.g. olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.) should you use or avoid?
(o) How much exercise is ideal, and of what forms?
(p) Is going into ketosis (by lowering your carb intake dramatically) a good or bad idea?
(q) Is intermittent fasting a good idea?
(r) Is it important to go to bed/wake up at the same time every day?
(s) Is there any real benefit to eating organic foods?
(t) Are “grass fed” animal products healthier than non-grass fed ones?
(u) Is there any real difference (in your body) between sugar and high fructose corn syrup? (common sense about chemical composition and some studies suggest the answer is that there is no difference, but many people think high fructose corn syrup is worse)
(v) What’s the optimal mix of macro nutrients?
(w) Does metformin increase lifespan for (basically) healthy individuals? [HT: Amy Willey]
(x) Are GMO foods actually risky, or are they fine?
(y ) Is the heuristic of eating “natural” or “whole” foods actually accurate, or does it exclude too much?
(z) Are probiotics (like acidophilus) useful to take for a generally healthy person?
(aa) How important is stretching, what type of stretching (static vs. active) is best, and when should you do it (just before you exercise, just after, or at other times)?
(ab) How bad are pesticides on our foods (which types are bad, and how much of them do we have to consume before problems begin)?
(ac) Should you take a multi-vitamin pill? (the tide has been turning against them as repeated studies fail to find a benefit in healthy people, but some experts still recommend them)
(ad) Are there vitamin/mineral deficiencies that a significant proportion of people in developed countries have? (e.g. possibly magnesium, potassium, choline, D3, K2 [HT: Romeo Stevens])
(ae) Is it helpful to wake up when the sun rises each morning?
(af) Do heavily calorie restricted diets improve longevity in humans (like they do in mice)?

RIP Seth Roberts

seth-roberts-headshot-colorNews came today that Seth Roberts, the UC Berkeley professor of psychology, collapsed during a hike near his home. I met Seth through our respective blogs and shared a few meals with him in the Bay Area over the years.

I’ve blogged about him several times. Seth taught me about self-experimentation and science. He taught me about nutrition and fish oil. He taught me about innovation and creative thinking.  Most importantly, he taught me the value of appreciative thinking, which I once summarized thusly:

School teaches us to be proactively skeptical and critical. We’re taught to immediately look for the flaws in experiments or theories. An appreciative approach, by contrast, simply asks, “What’s redeeming about this experiment or idea? What’s done right?”

Some VCs are naturally appreciative, others naturally critical. After an entrepreneur pitch their first feedback will either be, “OK, here’s what I like about what you’re doing” versus “Here’s where I think the problems are.”

I am trying to take a more appreciative approach to people. When I meet someone new at a cocktail party, I am trying to ask myself more regularly, “What’s cool / impressive / interesting about this person?” as opposed to dwelling on their imperfections.

Like many who knew him or read his stuff, I’ll miss Seth. He was a one-of-a-kind thinker. And a deeply compassionate person.