The Raw Biohacker’s Tool Belt
I write now about knowledge that has become near and dear to my variably-beating heart: Biohacking.
It is the practice of “hacking” your own brain-mind-body system towards wellness and performance. I caught wind of it only when I moved to California, led there by my fascination in human potential. My formal introduction to the concept came at the 2014 Bulletproof Biohacking Conference.
Because the body is a set of networks, in a basic sense it can be thought of operating like a computer. In other words, you can get educated and start programming its functions. Techniques and tools that do this are called hacks: in the sense that they are accessing and manipulating our psyches and/or bodies to increase their capabilities. They are also hacks in the sense that we are aiming for impactful benefits compared with the minimal amount of effort we are applying. We are bootstrapping, backdooring, up/down-regulating, and indirectly affecting other body systems beyond the one we are targeting. For the code-savvy, you can see the rough analog to a hacker bypassing a computer system.
Image Credit: https://makerspacenanaimo.org/author/nick/
So why is hacking our own humanity a good idea then?
It’s all about taking control of your life, about reaching your potential.
Forget that genetic determinism rap. How you perform is in your hands. You have your givens: your body, mind, and your environment, but how much systems thinking are you applying to how they cohere?
Thinking in systems means taking in the whole picture. You then pick and choose your efforts to be the most holistically efficacious. This notion has gone so far as approaching the human brain-mind-body as a form of biological wetware. You can apply and leverage the same principles that a hacker would when gaining better control of your nervous system.
The data provided by the last 20 years of scientific inquiry into these realms is rich indeed. By discovering connections, quantifying them, and then qualitatively applying the conclusions, we are able to harness our biology. There are many approaches to doing this, and much of the new class of entrepreneurial thought-leaders have really taken off with the movement. Tim Ferris, Dave Asprey, Daniel Vitalis, and Ben Greenfield are some of my favorites.
The real issue with many of the tools is the price of entry: some of these biohacking modalities require extensive courses, programs, technologies, gadgets, or even gatekeepers to access. In my own experience, having played with the toys as well, you don’t actually need an EEG head sensor, an accelerometer, or any other fancy biometric gear to step up your existential game. Luckily, the most effective hacks are low-tech & battle-tested.
1. Sun Exposure
Get out and into the sun more often, and with more of your body.
This one wasn’t an issue for our ancestors, but in the modern environment, it has become crucial for optimal health. Getting at least 15 minutes of UVB radiation each day, preferably before solar noon, will have powerful effects on your whole system. You can expect improved mood, increased hormonal function, better-synchronized biorhythm (which means better sleep), prevention of a plethora of disease, antibacterial action on the skin, and a bolstering of your muscular-skeletal integrity.
Our skin evolved in the light of day, and before we covered up with clothes. If you want maximum benefits you have to get naked! All of our cells require the Sun’s radiation, and Vitamin D fortified 2% milk ain’t going to cut it. Daniel Vitalis’ podcast with Nadine Artemis is a great place to start if you want to learn about aspects of sun exposure that you won’t hear about in the mainstream media.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing
First become conscious of your breathing, then breathe deep into your belly.
Image Credit: i.ytimg.com
Next up, you probably need to change your breathing patterns. The tendency is for most of us to actually breathe very shallowly, only into our necks and chests. Bytaking air into your belly, using your diaphragm consciously, you get a much more nourishing breath of air. Additionally, becoming aware of our breathing, you unlock your body and mind at the same time. You are establishing a real-time feedback loop between your breath and your neurological state.
The benefits include: lowering blood pressure, balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, lowering stress, increasing energy, and improving mental mood & clarity. You have likely encountered diaphragmatic breathing techniques if you practice any form of meditation or yoga. The name of the game with this controlled breathing is to increase heart rate variability, or the variation between heartbeats (a whole biohacking concept in its own right). This is one of the most important factors governing your overall resiliency. Combined with these ancient practices, this one technique alone takes biohacking to a whole ‘notha level.
3. Cold Water Immersion
Jump into an ice-cold shower in the morning.
I know we all love hot showers in the morning or after a long day’s work, but we evolved to bear the cold waters. Turn the dial to ice cold in the shower next time you wake up; I guarantee you may not even need the coffee that morning. It is called the mammalian dive reflex, and is responsible for that giant inhale we take upon entering chilly water for the first time.
The cold water activates a nervous response that can increase circulation, increase oxygenation of tissues, elevate mood, promote alert attention, increase recovery after exercise, and reduce muscle inflammation. It’s all about that full “wakeup” response, I really do love this one. All it takes is cold water hitting your face to stimulate the response on the basest level.
4. A High-Fat Diet with Intermittent Fasting
Eat a local, organic diet high in quality fats and limit your eating window to ~12PM – 8PM each day.
Image Credit: petra8paleo.com
The inputs into your body are one of the hugest areas in the biohacker’s repertoire. Above all, you want to increase the energetic quality (buying from local farmer’s markets, always opting for organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, etc.) of the nutrition you are getting. This can mean re-writing a lot of the FDA-sanctioned, “common wisdom” out there regarding diet. Majors ones involve the importance of breakfast, the need to eat several large meals each day, and a dietary system based on carbs, sugars, & grains. First off you need to increase good fats in your diet while eliminating as many of those processed and low-quality carbs as possible.
Fat is not the dietary enemy. Its linguistic label and association with body fat are unfortunate because good fats are essential for our brain functions. Getting a lot of high-grade fats (such as those found in coconut oil, avocados, wild salmon, and fresh nuts) can increase memory, learning, skin & hair quality, boost the immune system, and keep hormones balanced. This also helps our bodies enter ketosis, an alternate metabolic pathway where we no longer look to the glucose in our bloodstreams or the glycogen in our muscles for energy. Instead, the brain and body can be trained to pull from incoming and existing fat reserves. This not only keeps you mentally sharp and physically energized, it is also excellent for losing weight.
The other half is intermittent fasting: limiting your eating window to around 8 to 9 hours each day. Fasting resets the body and activates its restorative functions in powerful ways. The health benefits of regular fasting intervals are numerous, such as re-charging the immune system, assisting weight loss, lowering blood pressure & cholesterol, resensitizing insulin receptors, and lowering risk of diabetes & cancer.
5. Hack Your Sleep Routine
Set a regular sleep biorhythm, sleep in a dark & cold room, limit your exposure to blue light after sunset, and turn off all WiFi & electronics before bed.
Image Credit: i.huffpost.com
Probably the most impactful bio-tweak from a hacker’s point of view is sleep. It is a master system for health that impacts all of the rest of our well-being: body, diet, mood, physical activity, etc. We need to be getting about 7-8 hrs of proper sleep each night, depending of course on your age and energy needs. Keep in mind that oversleeping can be as adverse as undersleeping in the long term. The biggest factor in your sleep game is getting your relationship to your circadian biorhythms back into balance.
Our waking and sleeping cycles are regulated by the pineal hormone melatonin. Its production is directly linked to the blue light spectrum that hits our eyes each day. This is adaptive for daylight waking hours, as it keeps us alert and awake. But in an overly-saturated world of electronic technology and glowing screens, our bodies have become confused. Two solutions for this are: wearing blue light blocking glasses after sunset and/orinstalling the amazing f.lux on your devices.
Your sleeping environment is as big of factor affecting sleep as your routines beforehand. The brain is the most sensitive organ we know of, and its rest patterns can be affected by electromagnetic radiation. Turn your devices on Airplane mode when you bed down and see if you can’t feel the difference after a few days. Better yet, unplug all of your power strips in the bedroom and really power down. Additionally, you want your bedroom to be kept cold, dark, and free from all activities that aren’t sawing logs or knocking boots. You have to really associate the bed with rejuvenation and rest. The best thing I’ve found is to just read before bed, as part of a winding down routine.
I find biohacking to be a very humanist and democratic practice. It shouldn’t be only for those with monetary credits. This is something the human race sorely needs: a head-on approach to individual empowerment.
Image Credit: www.jasondemakis.com
This is between YOUR body and YOUR mind. How do they function currently, and where do you want them to be?
Thanks to science and the proliferation of information, we are re-living the Greco-Roman era renaissance dream: that of perfecting the human form, its abilities, and its destiny.
We still don’t know what the full capabilities of a human being even are. In our efforts to collect data about the human body with high-tech recorders, I feel as though we have just breached the surface. Biohacking should be available to everyone to sculpt their mind and body into the shape they want it to be in. We have lost much of our connection to our bodies and to Nature.
These hacks all require no special wealth or knowledge, just a commitment to re-activating that which makes you most human!
Below I have linked a presentation I gave covering a quick crash course in biohacking. I gave the talk to a small group at the conclusion of my trilogy of intentional-community-learning-gatherings (or Learning Bazaars) in 2014-15. It appears on a friend’s podcast here.
Resources and Further Reading: