In this episode I am speaking with Dr. Andrew Hill is the founder of Peak Brain Institute and a leading neurofeedback practitioner and biohacking coach for clients worldwide. At Peak Brain, Dr. Hill provides individualized training programs to help you optimize your brain across goals of stress, sleep, attention, brain fog, creativity, and athletic performance. We will talk about how using neurofeedback can boost brain performance.
Click here to learn more about how you can get started on neurofeedback, and how you can save $250 on your personal brain map.
Table of Contents
In this podcast, Dr. Hill and I discuss:
- What retesting after 20 sessions of biofeedback revealed about how Ari’s brain’s performance has changed – and what practical difference this has made to Ari’s life
- To what extent Dr. Hill’s research and experience can validate other (binaural) forms of brain training
- How does this kind of training differ from classic meditation?
- How fast can someone normally expect to see improvements with this technology?
- Other lifestyle factors that can make a massive contribution towards brain health
- Why neurofeedback is the #1 brain hack in existence
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Ari: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to podcast number two, with Dr. Andrew Hill. To understand the context for this, make sure you listen to podcast number one first. In that episode, we went over all my initial brain map results, kind of a functional EEG mapping of what’s going on in my brain, strengths, weaknesses, areas I need to work on, and how that connects to my subjective experience. We sat down, we did an analysis, we identified the target goals and areas that can be optimized and improved.
In this podcast, you get to hear all about the results and see the objective results from my second brain map, which was done about 20 sessions in. Check this out. Again, this is something has truly genuinely changed my own life. I strongly encourage you to do your own brain map and get started with this process. If you’re in the San Diego area, contact Brain Excel in Solana Beach, and you can do it at the very same clinic that I did mine at.
If you are not in the San Diego area, which, presumably, most of you are not, then you go through Peak Brain. You can do that by using the link and you can get $250 off your initial brain map by using the special discount that Peak Brain has graciously set up for Energy Blueprint listeners. You can get that at theenergyblueprint.com/neurofeedback. With no further ado, enjoy part two with Dr. Andrew Hill.
Dr. Hill: All right. Nice to see you again.
Ari’s results of neurofeedback
Ari: It’s great to see you, Dr. Hill. Thank you for doing this part too. For everybody listening, I just want to create a little context for this. This is unusual. I’ve never done this before. We are recording on two separate occasions, and we’re going to piece these two together because we recorded the last one when I was– I think maybe 18 sessions into neurofeedback. I’d only done my original brain map. Now, I think after session 20 or 22 or 24 or whatever it was, we did another brain map. Now, we have objective data comparing my brain pre-neurofeedback to my brain, 20-something sessions into neurofeedback. We can actually share that data and show people the results. I asked if you would graciously extend some more of your time to go over the new results and explain to people what they mean.
Dr. Hill: Sure. Yes, absolutely. I actually pulled up, I talked to your provider and I grabbed your training record from him. I was curious based on the changes we had seen exactly what– because I don’t follow the exact course when I’m advising other providers always, which is what happened here. I gave general advice and I was curious what we did and what changed in your brain. We have some interesting agreement, which is cool. Let’s look at some data here. What we’ve done is prepare some attention test data, which are the bar graphs, and some resting brain activity data, which are the circles.
We think about these things differently. The brain is just– how different you are than average and most people’s brains are different. We just want to look through the differences and model them. Say, “Here’s the difference from average.” “Here’s some plausible stuff that it might mean,” and then we’re good to go to generate ideas about what is plausible. We, of course, now have two sets of data. We also have the added luxury of doing contrast hypotheses, if you will. “Hey, this change to this way, this might be experienced this way.” “What do you think?”
Ari: You’ve got the owner of the brain here to comment on it.
Dr. Hill: Exactly. Often when I’m doing neurofeedback directly, our teams are at peak brain. We’re monitoring stuff day to day and I have a much better sense. In your case, I’m semi-blind because I have this occasional sense helping consult on data with you. We have again brain map data to help make hypotheses you can validate with us. Then performance data, which is these really boring ones and twos tests where you just get bored to tears for 20 minutes and we have you click on a one or not click on a two that pops up auditory or visual.
It’s relatively easy but so boring. There’s nothing to push back against and we rapidly unload your resources. There’s no practice effect. You can’t get better at this by trying it. It’s a little variable day to day, this performance test because it’s picking up how you’re performing. If you’re tired or stressed or over it or angry, you’ll see that on the performance. You won’t see it on the brain maps. Brain maps are the same day after day, picking up the traits of you at a high level, where we also have some states, if you will, performance in real-time.
The scoring on this stuff is set up in a bell curve where a hundred is about average for an age match sample plus or minus about 15 points, two-thirds of people on a bell curve, roughly typical. You’re coming in roughly at roughly typical for some of the resources and not others. There’s two sides to this test. One’s called attention and one’s called response control. That’s clicking successfully on the one is attention or pumping the brakes and not clicking on the distractor, which is the two that’s called response control.
If we start with response control, what we call impulsivity or reactivity being automatic, that kind of stuff, you’re in the typical range in both test administrations around a hundred. There’s a little bit of a change in the visual system, dipped a little bit because you have reductions in this thing called stamina. You’re tiny a bit tired this day and you’re burning out a little bit. Your performance is a tiny bit down that day.
The visual, you a little more clicky on the two as it kept going. It fatigued you a little bit that day, but you’re still not letting it pinch up. The overall resources are roughly the same. You can see at a high level it’s a few points difference. There’s about a five-point variability on the raw resources here day to day. It’s about the same but some tiredness perhaps dragging you down.
We also, of course, have this thing on the left. This is the interesting one for you, and this is called attention. How well can you activate and grab stuff? There were some difficulty initially, you were coming in about one and a half standard deviations off the mean for how on you could be for one boring stuff. The transient resource activation. We dig in a little bit gets more interesting because we see the visual systems fine right in the middle of the bell curve. Nothing’s in the way, you aren’t fatiguing out. The auditory though was now showing two and a half standard deviations off the mean. That’s probably a bottle neck.
We dig down further, we see this really specific little narrow thing, the thing called vigilance, which is the moment of catching stuff as it changes, the novel dynamic information flow. We also have focus, which is the boring background. The computer might say 1, 1, 1, four or five times and those repetitive trials are a focus check but the first one of those, as things change gears were a vigilance check. You see how alert you are.
Again, this is really quite fine in the visual system. The stuff on the screen, the ones and twos when they were changing or persisting are just fine but up here, the moment of grabbing the auditory when things were changing gears extra hard, you also burned out a little bit when they got boring. That’s in the way. As you look here now, you’ve not only eliminated the bottleneck and brought it up to above-average levels. The vigilance went from 58 to 105. That’s 47 points more than three standard deviations change. We usually have about one standard deviation change, by the way, every 20, 25 sessions, that’s what I consider a round or a dose of neurofeedback 20, 25 sessions. It’s enough to create a big change. A couple of rounds of that usually is what is needed though, to create this much change. We were–
Ari: Just for people not super familiar with statistics, three standard deviations is an enormous change to see over 20 sessions.
Dr. Hill: Yes. You went from this stuff really getting in the way probably at times, at least when tired, not able to maintain it, to you being above average at the top edge of average. Now at one 13 for the gross auditory, bringing the bottleneck itself from 56 up to 105. So from the corner of the bell curve in some ways all the way up to typical. The bottleneck itself got great focus. The boringness, the running out thing went from 79 to 97, zip right to the middle of the curve, and speed went from 89 to 123. Folks understand what speed is. Same thing in visual. Didn’t need to bring it up, but you did. You’re speeding up a little bit. You’re vigilant state of rock solid in the visual.
Your focus is down a little bit because of fatigue. Focus and stamina both dip sometimes when you’re tired. These little U shapes here, you’re seeing in the attention system with your above-average nice and rock solid. Now, attention, the overall gross attention score went from 79 to 107. That’s basically two standard deviations grossly of how alert and on you can be at a high level because of the specific bottleneck that was eased. That’s great. The U shapes that still exist suggest we have a new perspective on your attention resources.
Now, you are quick and you’re alert, but you’re using those things a little bit more than average. This speed 123, it’s a nice fast speed. The alertness is great too, above average, but you’re being quick and alert to catch the stuff you’re about to miss is a compensatory strategy a little bit inefficient use of powerful but not quite efficient. We took some resources that were a little pinged up and flagging, cramping up and not performing well, brought them up to typical, and now you’re not efficient yet, not perfectly strong at even though everything’s out of the way in function, so to speak.
Ari: This is the story of my life. This is like a microcosm, powerful but not efficient. [chuckles]
Dr. Hill: Well, now, you’re more efficient, which is cool, and the auditory system especially, which used to be in the way, but even the visual got a little better. Once this test picks up your fatigue that day. Once you’re not tired, the focus will actually probably be a little better. The impulsivity side, again, was pretty fine. It didn’t change that much, but your stamina is both dipped, which means you were a little tired. We also have sustained scores. What are the sustained auditory? Look at that. The trend across time for sustained scores in the auditory was a 69, which is for mathematicians in the audience, two standard deviations off the main, off the middle.
You went to 110, which is pushing one above average. That’s a nice solid change. You also flag the positive attention factor initially means you’re ADD in your performance. At least auditorily is the driver here, and that is now negative. You changed so much. You went from inattentive in performance at a high level to it not showing up in a pattern, which is great. Any reaction time differences?
Ari: There was impulsivity there that was positive on the first one as well.
Dr. Hill: Let’s see. Right, so the ability to not click on the two is called impulsivity, hyperactivity. You freeze up or release your behavior and that now is negative. You also change the– what did you change enough interesting? Everything leveled out just enough to make– you were barely positive on the impulsivity before is what was happening and you’re barely negative now, but it’s crossed that threshold. Essentially, whatever’s in the way, be it sleep or fatigue, or stress or concussions or whatever it is, or his historical inefficiencies.
It’s in the way when I first met your brain data, at least, as much as like ADHD stuff, it’s at that level. I don’t know what causes, it doesn’t look like ADHD in your brain maps exactly. Whatever’s in the way, it looks a little like that if from the outside and it gets in the way that much. Now you’ve brought all these things up so it does not get in the way. Let’s see, this was 9:29. At 9:29 you’ve had done 24 sessions before this session you did after the map. Done a few since. Interesting.
This is a very large change. You’re changing about twice as fast as we usually get, which is great. Our man in Havana or San Diego as the case may be is wonderful and very careful and has been doing some good work with you apparently. Now, part of the reason we’re able to get this done this way, and this is nice in the data but check ourselves for a second. You’re experiencing something, you’re feeling a little different.
Ari: Absolutely. Yes, I’m noticing big changes in resilience specifically, focus and extended concentration. The other thing actually, I just noticed really in the last two weeks or three weeks, my mood has really improved. Not that it was terrible by any means before, but I really feel like I’m in probably the best place as far as mood and motivation, that I’ve been in in years.
Dr. Hill: I find that interesting because we did this map at the end of September and Elia and I consulted about your map and stuff and I gave him some more directions that might make sense to consult with you and say here’s some menu items I think might be good to go after. Ever since then, the past two weeks, well, at least, yes, two weeks he’s been focusing on a different area for you that tends to bring up a little bit of flow. We did some alpha theta with you. The eyes closed. Water sounds one.
Ari: Yes. I want to ask you about that. I actually just did a session alpha-theta session a couple hours ago.
Dr. Hill: That’s a protocol that brings up immune function, creativity dramatically. It reregulates cravings for alcohol dramatically. It has some really interesting impact across domains. I’ll talk about it in a moment. Let’s show some brain data. Because that’s the sexy stuff visually at least. We have a map here early on and a map that is more recent on the right. Again, these are about 20, 24 sessions and there’s some consistency, but there also are some changes. Now, one of the first things, we’re looking at eyes closed data here, you can tell because we have your rapper name here, DJ [unintelligible 00:12:47]. Then your album Eyes Closed is right there. Your first album.
We had two recording sessions, two albums each day, Eyes Closed and Eyes Open. It’ll either say EC or EO on these pages, folks, but you want to look at EC data more carefully because I joke that Eyes Closed is the first album and Eyes Open is the jazz album or the Christmas album or the techno project. It’s a little specific when you open your eyes. It’s also noisier like jazz. Nothing against jazz, but the forehead gets tight when you open the eyes. The visual system for obvious reasons gets loaded when you open your eyes.
It’s hard to predict what’s true across people when there’s more stuff going on. You cool the brain down a little bit with the eyes closed and you can look at some of the differences and wonder if they’re true. We were seeing some interesting stuff here next year ears. The reason to focus on that is because that’s where the auditory system lives. We actually had this as a goal to work on a couple areas involved with focus and sleep regulation. Those areas are actually right here on the left side of the head.
Generally, the way that I work, you get a lot of sleep maintenance and increased sustained output when you brain train beta up in the left side of the head generally. You had this odd phenomenon on the left, right where I’ve done some training where you weren’t making much delta, which suggests your brain was having trouble like shutting off there. We had no chill like always on, but that would’ve meant like poor deep rest and not feeling really clear, inspite being activated would’ve been non-efficient in how you felt focused without any chill mode there.
We also see other frequencies, alphas and neutral frequency. It’s a little higher now because you’re tired and beta is an activated frequency. You’re seeing some of the same phenomena now. The big delta change is why we’re getting probably some huge change in your performance. You basically can put the brain asleep or wake it up now. This is auditory tissue. We have two of them and they’re used together. The big issue is not so much that you have low delta, you can’t turn off this tissue, you can’t sleep it. The issues that only one side is in this mode, it’s like driving your car with a plastic tire and one of the front wheels for a spare and you tap the gas and it spins for a second because it didn’t have the same traction.
When one side and not the other is activated, the auditory systems wants to activate together, like your legs usually do, let’s say, these bilateral paired systems. When it’s asked to activate one side and not the other. This for you probably produced a little tiny hitch, a lag in auditory alerting, which is the thing called vigilance on that test we just looked at. This is very plausibly a big outlier statistically that tracked initially when I was talking to your provider, this tracked the initial phenomenon. Okay, he’s got an auditory thing, this is very plausible. Here’s some strategies, top of his goals, et cetera, and dig into it.
As you can see, it was this dark blue, medium blue color about two standard deviations off the average. Here’s the bell curve again, for folks that are watching. When things are greenish, they’re typical. When they’re unusual, they get blue or red. Out here, two and a half is what this sucker is. It means this tissue is having trouble making delta or compared to the average person making less is a more precise way to phrase it.
Then you would guess in hypotheses, auditory function things are cramped up, not relaxing, and we saw something there. Great. Now what I found really interesting, I grabbed your chart earlier today. Those are sites called T or temporal lobe sites. There’s the mid ones called three and four, and there’s the lateral ones called five and six, T3, T4, T5, T6. We have a protocol we use, where we measure them relative to each other. Put wires on both sides. You can see a protocol called T3, T4.
There’s the date, it’s a recent one, but look at early on. We did some work on that left side called C3. That’s that blue spot right here. A bunch of it actually, a whole bunch of work at C3. That helps with sleep maintenance and focus like I was describing. A bit on the right side in the same session. Same C4 for executive function control. Just pretty basic good like you’d never been to the gym before, which runs you through some basics and see how you respond. Some of it matches your data. Then here we started getting into tailored stuff or specials. Things were designed based on very plausibly unique to your needs, goals, stuff to change.
You can see from the beginning of August, all the way through again the T, all these temporal load protocols and then a central protocol following it for sleep and executive function. We tend to work this way. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, move a little more forward as the numbers get lower. Center of the head, three. That was it, basically, for that chunk about 10. Then we did some work in the back of the head, a little more work on the executive function you mapped and now we’re shifting into alpha-theta. We did about a good solid 10 sessions targeting an outlier as well as the rest of your two dozen sessions targeting some of the specifics in beta and alphas, but really about the regulatory features of sleep, stress, and attention broadly and bringing in the target.
You can see the change. It’s really lifted beautifully. It’s still there. This almost reassures me your performance lifted so much. This is what I expect to see. A nice little shift about a standard deviation, maybe two if we’re lucky. Okay, cool. This is clearly the same brain. This is the thumbprint or the fingerprint of you. It would’ve looked the same without neurofeedback. That’s the interesting thing. Two months later or whatever, it would’ve been the same brain map here looks like 10 weeks, otherwise. There’s still some stuff to work on. We still see your alphas a bit low in those same tissues, so it’s hard to relax some in terms of neutral.
We still see some beta probably still could bring up your sleep quality and focus a lot more. It went from behind the ear to just this other feature. It’s changing as we work things out. You can also see some stuff happening down here. The blue means things are low and the second row is called relative power where stuff takes over for what’s low. We’re looking at beta waves and fast beta waves called high beta here.
You can see these little structures of the little hotspot sticking out that probably represent structures in the brain called the singulates. On the front, the back midline, the anterior and posterior singulate are involved with switching our focus around. The front midline helps us remember what we’re thinking about, and the back midline helps us orient ourself, everything from watch the road to grab the Frisbee, heads up, kind of stuff.
Your singulates appeared to be a little bit hot, so to speak, a little cramped up and high gear before. Not much alpha, couldn’t make neutral, couldn’t make delta in sleep, a little bit in the beta. Like spasming because they couldn’t relax, essentially. The one in the front and the one in the back tend to produce common complaints when they cramp up. One in the front, anterior singulate produces a stuckness in the mind. I call this perseveration. Songs play in the head, you kind of OCD, maybe bite your nails or tick or picket stuff. It’s that stuck cognitive state. Then the back midline is a similar thing, but visceral. Stuck in the gut where you’re threat sensitive, you’re worried, you’re ruminating. Perseverating and ruminating, stuck in the head, stuck in the gut. I looked at this data with your provider and was like, “Oh, okay. He’s probably stuck in his head and stuck in his gut, perseverating and ruminating. If those are goals, let’s do some midline protocols.
Those are FZ minus PZ, or FZ in the front, PZ in the back over these spots, and for fun, looking at your history. We look at the protocols we used and wouldn’t you know that we didn’t start early on, but starting about three weeks before we mapped you here, we did a whole chunk of PZ protocols trying to relax those extra fast betas and really bring up some like neutral alpha and let those circuits unclench so you can bring some beta down. Naturally, we didn’t train it down aggressively, we just brought up some neutral so you could learn to shut it off. We don’t want to tranquilize you. Then a little more executive function, we go back and forth. This is cross-training. You can’t do one workout every day.
Looking good overall, and then a little more FC, PZ when we mapped you the last couple of sessions as you were mapping. Those are the midline structures, the FC, PZs, and gosh if they didn’t change by about one to two standard deviations. I would expect, here’s the check, data’s beautiful but it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel some change. I would expect from the front kind of letting go that you’re more flexible. You’re less stuck in your head, essentially, and from the back letting go, back in your heels, you’re less evaluating for danger. You’re less ruminating, you’re less worried. More flexible.
Ari: The biggest thing for me I think was that the posterior singulate hypervigilance evaluating for danger.
Dr. Hill: Okay.
Ari: That’s the thing that, that resonates the most. That’s the thing that– well, I’ll put it this way, I’m very good about assessing for danger and keeping my family, and my children safe, for example. I also pay a big price for it. My brain is always perceiving the world through that lens, and it makes it difficult to relax and not be in that state where I’m trying to make sure they don’t hurt themselves or get injured by going into the street or whatever. I’ve been living in Costa Rica the last couple of years, and there are many, many sources of lack of safety or things you have to watch out for down there, different from living in the States that I think has really exacerbated this for me.
Theft is a huge issue. Home break-ins are extremely common in the area that I’m living in. Sometimes violent home break-ins. Car thefts, leaving your stuff on the beach, potentially might not be there when you get back. Every night, that’s a concern that’s in my head when I go to bed setting the alarm system. Sometimes there’s false alarms, which set that off in the middle of the night. Then I’ve got to go out of my room with the potential for someone to be in my home. Those are all things I don’t worry about in the States at all. Even more so than that. Simple things that you would never– to an American, these will seem totally trivial and they would’ve seemed that way to me prior to being in Costa Rica.
It’s made me realize that inventions like sidewalks and bike lanes are amazing, brilliant inventions because when you don’t have them, walking and biking on the side of a road can be extremely dangerous, particularly in a place where people drive horrifically bad. I’ve been nearly killed riding my bicycle multiple times in the last couple years. We’ve had just in the couple miles stretch near our house, we’ve seen dozens of accidents and many, many fatalities of people riding motorcycles and ATVs.
The danger is very real. I’m also surfing almost every day in big waves and strong rip currents. That’s also a very real danger. If your leash breaks, you can–almost every surfer down there has a near-death experience to tell. This is to say that part of the reason my brain has been trained this way is actually due to real dangers. I pay a price for it to be in that state of hypervigilance all the time. That’s one of the things I really came to neurofeedback wanting to work on.
Dr. Hill: Your brain learned the world was not especially safe or predictable and over-resourced you in these things that were already strong, probably cramped up and spasm and got hard to shift out of the complaint. Do you feel less stuck in those modes?
Ari: Yes. Thank you for allowing me to complete that. 100%, I’ve noticed a big difference in my overall relaxation. I went surfing this morning here in San Diego in crowded conditions and good size waves. I went rock climbing this morning with my family. Both of those, I’ve always had a fear of heights. Part of why I enjoy rock climbing is because I enjoy kind of challenging that. I’m so much calmer and more relaxed as I’m doing these things now. I don’t have that adrenaline surge that would normally accompany this. I could do it before, I would still do those activities. It’s just now it’s a matter of, it doesn’t stress me or cause a lot of tension and anxiety. I can stay in a relaxed, playful space while I go do these kinds of activities.
Dr. Hill: I think we’ll take that. That’s great.
Ari: [laughs] Me too.
Dr. Hill: That’s great. I’m glad that you’re experiencing some of this stuff. That’s wonderful. Now also brain maps are the same all the time. The degree to which you experience reflects change. I don’t know what you’re experiencing, that’s always real, but I have hypotheses, and my blind hypotheses kind of match your experience. You’ve changed your brain, which is cool. You’re seeing the new resting states.
Typically, I would guess people would need another chunk of training to really push them where they want. I think that might be true for you. We still see those low-power beta areas. We still see some residual tendencies to get stuck. One of the things that I wanted, folks have an experience in our feedback, you’re not changed like personality-wise. If you had to deal with danger that was significant or you do deal with danger, rock climbing, and surfing. You’re not dulled or like a zen monk or tranquilized the slightest, I would assume. There’s a different relationship with stress, right?
Ari: Yes, absolutely. I’m still aware of the danger that’s present. I’m just not responding to it so aggressively. I’ll give you an example. Actually this morning, something a bit scary happened, which was my wife was surfing with me. She’s pretty new to surfing. I taught her to surf just almost exactly a year ago. She’s one year into it. She’s very good for only being a year into it. This morning she had her first experience with nearly getting run over by somebody. As she was paddling out, there was a guy who did something he shouldn’t have. He dropped in on a big wave very late and basically was going right at her. His board didn’t– the fins didn’t basically grip the wave. He was out of control and basically going right at her. She dove off her board and went underwater to avoid him running into her head.
was just to the side of it. I was also paddling out. I witnessed it and, actually, I remarked at how calm I was. I was trusting what I’ve taught her as to how to protect herself in that situation. I stayed calm throughout the whole thing. They came up, the two of them, sort of had a collision. He fell off his board. Then, it was actually remarkable to me to observe myself at how calm I stayed during the whole thing. That, for sure, is a big difference.
Dr. Hill: Right afterward, still calm?
Ari: Yes, 100%. I just went over to her. I made sure she was okay. She was fine. Then we paddled back out and smiled and she caught a wave five seconds later and had a good one.
Dr. Hill: Great. That’s wonderful. I’m so glad to hear that. Let’s dig in a little more, one or two things to show you more. We have speeds of brainwaves here, which track a bunch of things like how fast you think and also how tired you are generally. We see alpha waves, it’s the speed of processing and this tracks a bunch of subjective experiences. It actually correlates pretty highly with things like IQ once it’s like in your natural range. Yours is still pinched by fatigue pretty hard, but it used to be a lot worse.
The alpha here is running negative numbers from -2 roughly down to like -7 or -8. It’s like 0.2 and 0.7. It’s not hugely slow, +1 or -1 is considered problematic or unusual, at least, statistically, but it’s spreading out. which means the gears aren’t meshing fully subjectively. The neutral modes between different parts of the brain aren’t always lining up and synchronizing well when they relax for a moment, which makes it hard for them to coordinate.
So the experience from having the alpha spreading out like this and slowing down like this has a couple of complaints that usually come along with it. The most common one is going to be for someone who’s an adult, is going to be things like word-finding issues, and delayed recall. This is literally your speed of processing, handing off, “Hey, brain, give me the idea, the thing I just heard, or the person’s name.” “Here it is.” Great. When you’re running draggy, you reach slowly and the information decays. There’s a timing mismatch and you’re tip of the tongue with stuff. I would guess that used to be in the way a fair amount and has lifted a fair amount now, is that true?
Ari: You mentioned this to me in the first podcast that we did. I might struggle with word finding or–
Dr. Hill: That wasn’t a valid–
Ari: Something to that effect. I don’t resonate with that. I’ve always felt that I’ve struggled with that since I was a young kid. I felt I’ve had difficulty with that. I actually feel at this point in my life that I’m probably the best that I’ve ever been in that regard. I’m often told by people that I’m a very good speaker. I told somebody, some family friends, the other day that I personally perceived myself to not be a great speaker and they started laughing at my face because they thought that was absurd that I would suggest something like that. Anyway, now I’m just struggling. Now I’m on the spot struggling to find words. The hypervigilance of the posterior singulate activity, that, certainly, resonates very strongly. This one doesn’t resonate that well, but–
Dr. Hill: Great. What I was doing was a cold hypothesis, not a history-based symptom-matching thing. I was saying, here’s a hypothesis and we just– like we did once before, I’d forgotten that conversation. That difficulty with word finding was a thing and diction was the thing you’d work through and now you’re above average. You don’t feel it as a problem. I’d forgotten that explanation. Still invalid, but the other thing that comes with alpha being draggy is you get motivated and your mood gets low and it’s hard to find joy, hard to summon the, “Yes, I want some of that. Let me check it out.” “Cool.” “What’s that? Let me play.” As you see the alphas all come up– I’m wondering, I would assume a little bit of this alpha speed goes along with feeling more fluid, feeling more joy, feeling more engaged and motivated.
Ari: That part resonates for sure. As I mentioned before, the last couple of weeks, I’ve certainly been feeling the most joyful, playful, motivated that I have in years.
Dr. Hill: I would guess this is related to the stuff you’ve been doing in your life. That’s not neurofeedback plus some of the neurofeedback you’ve been doing because the stuff you’ve been doing is focused on access consciousness. Honestly, the protocols recently that we thought those might be good points for you. “Oh, he still want to do some flow state work. Let’s give him the flow state work.” It seems like that’s real unlock something for you, which is great.
Earlier on when I first talked, I wasn’t totally sure this was like– I wouldn’t have guessed the mood thing necessarily, but the change, you’re coming in half a standard deviation above average when you’re rested. You’re still dragging here and there, but you can see that you went from negative 0.5 roughly up to positive 0.5 roughly. You’re moving your internal speeds up a lot. Not a hundred percent. Some of the stuff that drags alpha down is your delta. The delta being negative here, which is in both maps suggests the quality of deep sleep is still not great.
There’s still a sleep architecture thing that’s not great. It’s also related to some of your stress. You’re conscious is still on. Your brain doesn’t let go all the way and you bounce off deep sleep a little bit. Your sleep tracker’s going to lie to you and say, “Oh, two hours deep sleep,” but it was light deep sleep if that makes any sense.
Ari: Actually, this room that I’m in right now is in an Airbnb and this is my bedroom. As you can see here to my right, there’s a whole bunch of big glass doors. On this side of me, it’s all glass doors. On the other side, there’s a whole bunch of windows, and none of them have blackout curtains. I’ve actually been sleeping quite poorly in this home. I have a beautiful ocean view, but I do not sleep well in this bedroom at all.
Dr. Hill: I encourage you to think about other sleep hacks, especially the one about fasting before bed to let your insulin drop, which allows more growth hormone release once you are asleep, i.e., deeper sleep. The one way you don’t worry about your bedtime, is you lock in your wake time nice and release seven days a week and you get up and be active in a low-key way for a bit.
Ari: The biggest thing is the light. I got a new eye mask that blocks the light completely. The one I was using before didn’t, light was getting in there and disturbing me. This one does block it, but the other aspect of that is I hate sleeping with an eye mask. The eye mask now disturbs me. So the best I can do for the time being.
Dr. Hill: That’s all we can ever do. You’ve made some nice changes though. I bet your brain’s more resilient against disruption. Now this is eyes-open data now and again it’s your jazz album which I’m being careful interpreting it as like how you always are, but you see all the stuff next to the right ear now. We had low power delta behind the left with eyes closed. Brain couldn’t shut off all the way. You had to open the brain, sorry, open the eyes and wake the brain up a little bit with sensory stuff. It can’t activate all the way on the right-hand side, the other side for some reason, I’m not sure why.
That was high in the amount of like theta, which is like lubrication. You can’t stop tissue from doing its job with theta or alpha, which is neutral on the right and then beta was still low on the left or initially and all of that– not all of it, but a lot of it’s lifted. You’re still seeing that same phenomena because that’s like a fatigue phenomena for you. These are the areas, T3, T4, and FCPZ that we trained. We also worked on some of the connectivity between those areas. This is hyperconnectivity and theta which you have here.
This is usually not comfortable, doesn’t always get in the way. It can be just like a bit of giftedness where your mind’s a bit of a steel trap, but usually, this theta hyper coupling front to back between the singlets. The part of the brain deciding what to think about and the part of the brain evaluating the world around you are playing ping pong with stuff that bothers you. “Did you hear, I heard. Did you worry? I heard you–” Not letting things settle. Once they get up there, they’re like volleying for a minute.
Then the alpha phase lag, low phase lag means high– sorry, it’s coherent, so it’s low coherent, it’s chaotic. The neutral frequencies is rather chaotic. It’s unable to quell and settle things. The lubrication is very like letting things bounce back and forth. These are usually uncomfortable stuff.
Ari: Just to be clear for people listening, this is in reference to the original brain map I did pre-neurofeedback.
Dr. Hill: Yes. The first one we’re looking at now has thick lines, red or blue lines that suggest, again, about three standard deviations on the bell curve or more, really big outliers, very stuck brainwaves that aren’t differentiating or changing as much as they typically do.
Now, in the current brain maps, we do see little tiny hints of the same regions having tiny little hints of the same connectivity. There’s been multiple standard deviations of change in a bunch of places where you just let go of all the hyper coupling and you’ve rested the brain so it can wake up. Your brain’s still not resting super well. Gosh, so much better, honestly, than I would guess at the beginning. What I heard a minute ago was that your recent sleep’s been disrupted and maybe disrupted more, some of the delta suggests that, but this suggests the consequence of that is not as extreme somehow.
Ari: I actually feel great. I have great energy levels. I’m doing tons of exercise every day. The complaint I have from those who live with me, my wife and my nanny, is that I have too much energy and want to do too much stuff. I wear everybody else out because I’m always trying to go out and take my kids on adventures and go have fun.
Dr. Hill: Great. That’s wonderful.
Ari: I took it as a compliment when my 26-year-old nanny was– She asked me, she’s like, “How do you have so much energy to do all this stuff?” I guess, despite not great sleep, I’m still functioning like that.
Dr. Hill: We see here sleep eroding in quality and architecture across the past few weeks a little bit, but we also see somehow all the things that normally come from not being rested, like hyper-focusing, feeling hollow, feeling chaotic, feeling burnt out, those have lifted as your sleep erodes. It’s a pretty nice, interesting combination effect. You’re seeing things to work on, which is quality deep sleep. You’re seeing that a lot of the stuff that was probably more acute, more in the way, more specific has actually mostly changed towards typical.
At this stage, you’ve done a little more neurofeedback since this map about five, six sessions, and mostly what you’ve done, you can see here before I explain what you’ve done recently, this is theta and alpha initially.
Theta’s high, Alpha’s high with your eyes open initially, so that’s too much lubrication, too much spaciness. You can’t get out of neutral or out of reactive mode sometimes with beta or alpha or high. Those can be ADHD things or brittleness and fatigue and reactivity, they are not usually good self-control stuff. Now you don’t show any outliers. Little fatigue here and there. Low power, but no giant stock amounts in the raw brainwaves.
Now without extra theta and alpha, we’ve switched to a technique for you more recently called alpha-theta. Alpha-theta is eyes-closed hypnagogic state training. It brings you right to the edge of asleep and awake, and it lets the monkey mind drop away, and let’s the theta, the insight awareness-release stuff bubbling up, it let’s start that surge. What happens is you end up doing insight work, visualisation, awareness. It tends to drop away some deep stress from people somehow, sometimes, not always. It can maybe exacerbate stress sometimes. Had you began there earlier on, you would not have enjoyed it, you would have been less spacy and stressed.
Ari: I have to say, I’m really enjoying it now. I enjoy it more than regular neurofeedback. In fact, it scares me that Elia, who runs the clinic that I go to in San Diego in Solana Beach. He’s saying, “Oh, we’re only going to do six or nine sessions of it.” I’m like, “Oh, I really want to keep doing this.”
Dr. Hill: Yes, you can do more. He would probably check with me if you want to do a whole bunch, but yes, you can do more. You can absolutely do more. Let me see. You joined in with the one-channel variant right in the back midline. There’s a couple of other variants we can do which are– There’s one I want to do with you which is inside of the head. That will not just bring you into the state of being aware, busy mind drop away and your aware mind surge, and the insight stuff surge, it’ll also then make both hemispheres talk to each other at the same time which creates this literally internal communication kind of experience.
Not always in language, often not in language, but it’s a deeper level. Not always a better level, but it’s worth trying given how your brain looks. A little bit of a low power theta back there, and alpha too. Definitely worth playing with. I’ll talk to Elia and give him a few more things to play with for you. What I would suggest though is you don’t do alpha-theta every session. You wouldn’t do deadlifts every day at the gym.
Dr. Hill: Pretty aggressive, alpha-theta. It can be. This time we mixed it in the past couple– actually, one of these times you mixed it with SMR, but I like pushing hard in one direction and then letting it settle. What I’d recommend is doing two sessions or three in a row, and then shifting. You can plan and say, “Hey, about this week we do alpha-theta? How about next week we do something else?” You can plan based on your goals with Elia, and I’ll crank up a higher-level version of alpha-theta for you.
Dr. Hill: I will also help build another protocol which I think is more temporal lobe training. Well, let me ask you. Do you need more support with executive function and drive and motivation, or do you need more support with relaxing and dropping into that still point and being more even keeled, less stressed?
Ari: Oh, can I choose both?
Dr. Hill: You can, but alpha-theta is going to get you some of that last one, anyway. It’s going to keep massaging your ability to downshift deeply.
Ari: I’m really enjoying the motivation aspect. I feel like I’m on fire with business right now. I’m super creative, I’m accomplishing a ton of work, I’m very excited about a new project I’m working on, and I’m really enjoying being in that space. I feel the most motivated to work on business that I felt in years, so if I can crank that up even more, that’d be amazing, and then–
Dr. Hill: Yes, a little more, sure, and deepen your sleep at the same time.
Ari: Yes, and then I do struggle to sometimes turn off my brain and go into relaxation mode. I’m fine prioritizing one, and then we can work on the next one.
Dr. Hill: Well, you can prioritize the deep flow state alpha-theta creativity deep relaxation stuff, and something else in cross-train.
Dr. Hill: Then choose two, three in a row to build an effect, switch gears, two, three in a row. That’s how you would go deeper at this stage, is you would pick, “Hey, I want to be in this mode for a minute,” but you’ve done four already in a row in that direction, probably should shift into a non-alpha-theta. One useful perspective on neurofeedback is it’s personal training for the brain, not medicine.
It’s not like a solution for you or a fix. It’s exercise, and you get an effect, you get some shift in the resources afterward and we have to evaluate that, validate that, think about training the whole system, not push too hard. There’s a bunch of factors that go in, but I’ll talk to Elia later this week and we’ll get a little bit of an extra plan for you for some more things to play with.
Ari: Great. I do have a few other questions for you that I was hoping you’d answer.
Dr. Hill: Sure.
Dr. Hill’s take on binaural beats and isochronic tones
Ari: Not specific to me, but in general. I was listening to an interview you did I think a few years ago with my good friend Ben Pakulski. There were a few things that you said in that interview that I really liked and would love to get you to talk about here. One of them is you talked about alpha training. I think there’s these ideas out there, there’s different brain entrainment types of things out there even for free on YouTube that will say things like these are binaural beats, or these are isochronic tones, or something like that that entrain more alpha or entrain more theta, or these are delta trainings. What do you think of those, and what do you think of the idea that everybody needs to train to be better at let’s say alpha or theta?
Dr. Hill: There’s a couple of things in there. One is we’re making all brainwaves all the time, so you don’t want to be in a mode, particularly, run out of control over your modes. You don’t want to just have big clenched biceps, you want to be able to pick up heavy stuff whenever you need, and then relax after that. Resource management and resilience and staying in a range of resilience and sustained output no matter what kind of challenges are coming at you, that’s really what you’re trying to do with the whole system.
There’s a bunch of resources that I think about lending to build neurofeedback, but people also think about the idea that you’re in theta, you’re in alpha, and they often misattribute the particular state that is a little more dominant with the brainwave, first of all. You don’t want to be in that brainwave, you’ll become psychotic. No, no, no, don’t do that. The other problem here is that a lot of the tools consumer tools out there that claim to do stuff don’t at all.
Since I did that podcast, there are some recent work looking at light-sensitive neurons, and some special things that can be done that don’t have to be engineered in in mammals to be present, but for the most part, the ability to drive the system with beats of light or sound require that something exist called the frequency following response. The brain picks it up, it starts to resonate it, it doesn’t exist in humans as far as we can tell. In my grad school at UCLA when I was getting my PhD as a side project because everyone was talking about binaural beats, all my TAs are like, “Hey, I’m using this software, it’s really cool,” and I’m like, “Okay. Sounds a little suspicious.”
I had used binaural beats in clinics before and found them very wanting in terms of what they actually did, watching brains change under them or not change under them, being a little concerned about what’s going on here or not. It always seemed like a bit of a waste of time. I took some time and did a double-blind placebo-controlled study on several different binaural beats where I matched the audio characteristics, but dropped them into a mono to lose the binaural things. I didn’t make them isochronic, but I made them monos, I lost the magic.
I did double-blind stuff compared to binaural vs placebo binaurals, and looked at attention testing, looked at resting brain, looked at evoked potentials, looked at every possible cognitive neural science measure that would be done normally to see some resource shifts, not a darn thing. Wasted a whole 10-week research project to get some– what had my data processing chops which was the reason for the project.
Ari: Well, not necessarily a waste if you’re determining that it doesn’t work. It’s important to know if it doesn’t work since given the prevalence of how widespread those things are being sold and marketed.
Dr. Hill: There’s a lot of stuff in the biohacking world on that end of the pool that’s a bit more [unintelligible 00:50:01] spectrum. I tend to be very forthcoming with my disdain for certain things out there. I would say folks should be very careful of anything making claims because it tends to be a little bit bunk.
Also, I want to encourage anyone who’s biohacking with any sophistication or risk, think about the fact that you might want to use true nootropics, things that don’t have any downsides, not research chemicals, not some random biohack you heard about on a forum, but true nootropics, well tested, years and years of human experience that show adaptogenic properties, boosting certain neurotransmitter sensitivities as a way to dial up long-term performance and/or help your aging, make yourself resistant to cancer or injuries or whatever.
There’s enough out there you can do that if you’re already performing adequately to well, you don’t want to risk any of this random side effect nonsense that happens when you’re out there in the bleeding edge. The blood’s got to come from somewhere. Don’t do it yourself.
Dr. Hill’s favorite nootropics
Ari: With that in mind, what are some of your favorite nootropics?
Dr. Hill Racetams are harder to get now worldwide and in the US, and they’re also–
Ari: Wouldn’t racetams be in that category that you were just referring to though?
Dr. Hill: They are. They are the true nootropic, essentially. The first real nootropic.
Ari: No, in the category of more research chemicals that– they’re not FDA approved.
Dr. Hill: They’re not FDA approved, but they are the first nootropic, and they are approved drugs in most countries.
Ari: Okay, got it.
Dr. Hill: They’re an orphan drug. They’re not FDA approved, but they’re an orphan drug in the US. They’re unregulated and gray market and you shouldn’t use them.
When designing my mom’s stack or my friend’s stack or whatever, I tend to, unless there’s a big need, not go after a racetam anymore, something else like that.
I tend to find a choline source that supports them, either CDP-choline or alpha-GPC, usually the former because it’s less pushy on mood and fatigue and stuff, less cholinergic flooding, if you will, or dominance when you do GPC versions. Then I like to throw in omega-3 fatty acids, ideally DHA to some decent quantity build up to, I like to focus on– in these days, I tend to tell folks I’m coaching to take a lot of D3 because of the pandemic and the background levels. If it doesn’t screw with your stomach, also zinc for the same reasons.
It has some nootropic or some adaptogenic properties, but it’s really more about keeping the cilia in your lungs beating much, much faster. Zinc levels are positive correlated with the cilia clearance rate for bacteria and viruses in your lungs as you breathe them in. Hey, we’re in a respiratory pandemic, maybe we should keep our little cilia fluttering at their best. That’s zinc levels. Both zinc and D take weeks to build up appropriately. You can’t just take them when you get sick.
I like to recommend those as background things, and then depending on your goals, there might be other nootropic strategies, but magnesium tends to be the only other big category one I think we probably should all take. Most people, most westerners are deficient relatively in magnesium, and it’s participatory in so many body structures and processes that it’s a thing that if you add more to it, you’ll figure out if you overdo it, but it will support most people better with cognitive health, with brain health, with aging health, that kind of stuff.
Hoe meditation may affect brain wavesw
Ari: Got it. Can you briefly just reopen the brain map, just any image of the ones that are showing coherence with the zigzag. I want to ask you something. A couple days ago I was at an event in Arizona health conference and Joe Dispenza was a speaker, I’m curious to get your thoughts on him, and he was showing actually these exact images of– He showed a few slides from a few individuals of this exact brain map, and he showed the coherence one as just– the whole area was just lit up with red everywhere and then he said, this is 150, 250, 400 standard deviations above normal.
Dr. Hill: Like this guy here. It’s locked up everywhere.
Ari: I think he showed a couple images of even greater than that.
Dr. Hill: Solid. It definitely gets more solid than this. Sometimes that’s just noise in the data, by the way, but if it’s not, it’s a hyper-coherence, it’s overactivation over arousal, anxiety, fatigue, stress.
Ari: This is interesting because he was presenting this as this is 150, 250 standard deviations above normal. For people listening, this whole discussion that we had was 3 to -3 standard deviation.
Dr. Hill: Which is a massive change subjectively for you at this level of change.
Ari: Just forgetting about me for a second, so he was presenting this data-
Dr. Hill: As a higher level of change.
Ari: -as basically saying this is 150, 300 standard deviations above normal for coherence, and therefore this is this amazing brain state that has all these benefits.
Dr. Hill: The latter statement is not true, and I would have to look at the data, but my hunch is if he’s saying hyper-coherence everywhere in beta, the best way to create that is to clench your jaw and cause muscle tension to flood in and look the same everywhere on the dataset. Having a head that’s flooded in beta does not suggest a relaxed brain or a high performance brain.
Ari: I don’t know if it was beta or theta or delta, I don’t remember, but I know that–
Dr. Hill: Any of the brainwaves hyper coupled everywhere is an unhealthy adaptation to something extreme, generally, or it’s noise in your data. Never high performance.
Ari: I think he was presenting it as if it’s like some highly unusual, highly beneficial, meditative state of consciousness.
Dr. Hill: He may have been looking at the real-time change while meditating, and he may have been looking at things like gamma coherence, maybe it was gamma coherence he was looking at.
Ari: It might have been.
Dr. Hill: Meditators, especially long-term meditators, can produce increased gamma coherence. It’s not hundreds of standard deviations, but it’s a thing that happens over time. Also, gamma is extremely hard to measure outside of million dollar research labs. Joe Dispenza may have access to something like that. He does a lot of sophisticated neurofeedback, he does brain mapping, so he may know what he is doing. We’ve conversed about neuro feedback here and there as well. I’m familiar with what he does. My perspective on him initially was more as a meditation teacher and a wellness and spiritualist thing.
I don’t have as much expertise, let’s say, in those areas as he may, but there’s good research showing that you get hyper-coherence in places in long-term meditators across decades, but you also get dramatically altered coherence in gamma in schizophrenics, so it’s not necessarily always a good thing. Also, state, shifting a state in real time and showing a change in the brain map is not something you can say it means X. Even you at rest is not X. It’s like, “Here’s some plausible ideas.” You couldn’t do a conclusion like that from one person, first of all, you’d need a lot of people, you’d need a lot of sophisticated–
I’m going to hold my judgment at bay, but part of my chosen role here as one of the few neuroscientists in the biohacker world is to be a little bit of a suspicious curmudgeon and to poke holes in ideas. As much as I respect what Dr. Dispenza is doing with regards to meditation teaching and informing and huge transformations across huge amounts of people, and I do believe he does good neurofeedback as well, from what I understand, in his centers. In spite of all that, I’m a little suspicious of somebody making conclusions like that without me getting a lot closer to the data, because hyper anything in a brain generally means things are falling over.
It’s almost never exceptionally good when brains are that far out of range. You can be gifted and look average on a brain map. Nothing sticks up, means you can regulate how you need to in real time. This is not the brain in real time. This is the brain at rest [unintelligible 00:59:05] the traits. I’m a little suspicious, but that’s just me being claim adverse a little bit, because I want to sell people agency, not a solution.
Ari: It made me suspicious too, because he presented it without any context.
Dr. Hill: See that’s what I’m saying, you have to–
Ari: He presented it as if the implication was that the most extreme deviation in that represented the most beneficial changes possible.
Dr. Hill: Which is something we would typically assume against. It’s dramatically more likely that an extreme outlier compared to human average is getting in the way, almost always, extreme outliers– being weird is not a problem. Stuff that gets in the way is usually weird.
Dr. Hill: Not always. You can have problems and have nothing show up on a brain map. It’s rare, really rare. Usually, you see quirky stuff that doesn’t matter, but you understand the person a tiny bit, and often you see quirky stuff that does matter, does get in the way. We saw some of that for you, but we took two data points. We threw physiology and performance at it [unintelligible 01:00:19] auditory win. Auditory is a real feature on your EEG, and then talked about your phenomena with it and you validated some hypotheses, gave us stuff to go after. We’re being scientific and iterative and testing stuff. We’re not saying here’s the answer. Hopefully, you felt asked about the changes, not told your changes today.
Ari: Yes, absolutely. Okay, I have another question. This is an important question that’s been on my mind for a while. I would love to get a good explanation for this. I think you’re the man to do it. The very simple version of the question is, how does neurofeedback differ from, let’s say, meditation. Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate my thinking around this. Let’s say I spend half an hour in a state of meditation, let’s say I’m doing insight, Vipassana meditation, or let’s say I’m doing loving-kindness, Buddhist meditation.
Maybe I’ll give one more example, let’s say with Alpha-Theta training, it feels quite similar to me, subjectively, to Yoga Nidra session, if you know what that is, it’s sometimes called a state of non-sleep deep rest. It feels like it’s putting me into that very deep state of relaxation. That’s almost bordering sleep, it almost feels deeper to me, more relaxing than sleep, but you’re still awake. If I spend half an hour doing Yoga Nidra session, versus if I spend half an hour doing Alpha-Theta training, am I accomplishing the same things in my brain, or are they different?
Dr. Hill: They are a little different. In that case, where the technique may elicit similar effects, some of the similarities may be your practice of Yoga Nidra historically allows you to go to that place with this tool. You could be unconscious and trying nothing, and the Alpha-Theta would still push your brain around.
Ari: Oh, Interesting.
Dr. Hill: Meditation of all sorts is, to quote Jack Kornfield, or paraphrase probably, paying attention in a particular way on purpose to the present moment. Ideally, you replace things like judgment with curiosity and evaluation with observation, noting, and stuff like that, that’s the Vipassana approach, right?
Dr. Hill: With that, a bit of it, you’re selecting an anchor. It’s an executive function training, it’s not relaxation training. That’s what people get wrong often about classic meditation. All the forms of classic Vipassana is present-time awareness, and [unintelligible 01:03:14] is heart-mind awareness, and Samatha, Mahayana style Buddhism is concentration, single point awareness.
You’re starting how to attend, and then you’re choosing it, and of course, you get distracted and then you re-attend to the anchor, that’s the rep of meditation, but it’s an executive function chosen type of anchor. All the forms of meditation have this executive function thing and they tend to work a little bit on different aspects of the brain. The dorsolateral PFC, the prefrontal cortex is really impacted, the insulin is impacted a lot. Good work by Lazar, she did some work as a grad student, then as a lab runner, Ph.D. she did some great work showing changes in brains lifelong with aging that basically lets you sidestep the brain aging in a lot of ways, it’s really cool.
Ari: With a particular type of meditation?
Dr. Hill: With meditation. Now it seems to be the act of anchoring is what matters, not so much the flavor you do. It is like working out, the flavor you exercise is the flavor that matters, not the best flavor, honestly. Yes, there’s differences, but a lot works, a lot of different flavors work. The idea is 20 minutes a day is enough essentially for a lot of these classic effects, and you have to learn to anchor your resources, anchor your attention. That’s a great thing to do, and you can build certain specific circuits, but you, A, can build those same circuits involuntarily, no anchor, no trying, no meditation required.
Just in Alpha-Theta, you’re in that nearly dissociative hypnagogic edge of consciousness state, basically, but you’re not falling asleep for some reason because there’s other things you’re doing. That’s keeping you– like Wile E. Coyote painting a little door on the thing, and then Road Runner comes up and actually opens the door. You’re opening that little– “Wait there’s a door there,” kind of thing, and we’re giving you some flow. It’s an interesting thing, the neurofeedback is involuntary exercise in one of the directions you can go in, but it’s also plotting your brain for having gone there, as opposed to you trying to go there. What this does over several sessions is it teaches your brain to go there.
Ari: Okay, that seems to be the critical distinction. That’s what I came up with. To some extent, I was asking myself the question, is the benefit of this purely based on Hebbian law, neurons that fire together, wire together, and all I’m doing is practicing a certain state, and therefore by practicing it more, it’s getting stronger in the same way if I lift a weight and use a muscle, it gets stronger, and does it really matter that I have electrodes hooked up to my brain measuring it, or I don’t, is it the same effect?
Dr. Hill: It’s not the same because, A, the loop is different, you’re being applauded for stuff you did versus trying to do stuff. It’s a bit of a leading, if you will. B, you can train a billion things you can’t feel or try. Executive function, relaxing heart-rate variability, stuff you can feel, you can train with some other techniques that humans do with their minds that train stuff. The billions of things you can’t feel, which is most of your [chuckles] experience in your brain, you can still train those, your concussion, your migraines, your PTSD, from the cingulate being cramped up in high gear, your whatever it is.
While you might be able to meditate your way out of ADHD over many years, thetas and alphas being brought down systematically through meditating, through anchor and attention, you can do it in 20 or 30 or 40 sessions with neurofeedback involuntarily, when the kid doesn’t want to sit still and can’t focus and doesn’t want to meditate, as an alternative strategy. It gives you a different toolset to go after some of the same stuff, and then it gives you the ability to do–
The Alpha-Theta technique you’re doing, and the guy I showed you briefly on the screen with a super high coherence, that’s an alcoholic who had been drinking for 25 years, and was 45 days medically chaperoned in that brain map. He was clean, a month and a half, but a bottle and a half of wine a day, Ambien, and an Ativan, and more wine at night for 25 years means he was hyper-coherent in beta. It tends to be a big problem when you’re that locked up.
We did a bunch of SMR training, other stuff, and then a bunch of Alpha-Theta training, and within 10 weeks, he could fall asleep at will, no meds, no drugs, felt super chill. Just to give any of the people that are actually watching this, I’ll give you a little visual. I had that dataset open. I’ll open it up again. This is a few pre-posts, but the one I wanted to show you is this guy who is a serious drinker. Let me just do this, let me open it. Here it is.
This gentleman at the top, for 25 years, was drinking heavily. This is him 45 days sober on the left. Hyper-coherent in beta, making tons of beta. This is the amount of beta basically, and could not make delta, his brain had no chill, basically at all. This is shaking, nervous, can’t relax, can’t fall asleep. We saw him 45 days medically chaperoned here, driven to our office from the hospital where he had been cleaned up, and still over-activated in a month and a half sober basically.
This is him on the right, and for folks that are watching, we took red beta and hyper-coherent beta and made it typical. 3 plus standard deviations out of range, locked up, anxious brain. The delta is still a bit low here 10 weeks in, but we were getting there. Around the time of the second map. I walked into our office and he was asleep on the couch. “Oh, is he here for a visit?” “No, no, no, he discovered he could nap at will and wanted to prove it to you when you walked in.”
Dr. Hill: “Let him sleep.” This is a lot of Alpha-Theta. About three-quarters, maybe half to three-quarters of his protocols were Alpha-Theta. It gives people that have robbed themselves of GABA, have been drinking too much, releasing GABA and can’t produce it. The [unintelligible 01:09:12] absence they’re shaky basically. You can do Alpha-Theta and re-educate the brain’s ability to downshift deeply and produce this kind of settling, chronic burnt-out damage, if you will, or classic phenomenon. Anyway, it’s just to give you a little visual taste of fun things you can do.
Ari: Yes, thank you for that.
Dr. Hill: Of course.
Ari: Going back to the meditation versus neurofeedback question or the conscious brain training, how would you quantify the difference, the magnitude of the effect size of neurofeedback versus some of the more conscious brain trainings like meditation or Yoga Nidra?
Dr. Hill: I don’t know. I do know that neurofeedback causes major plasticity changes across the whole brain for a period of time after every session. I tend to not be focused on finding out the answer to discrete science problems the past decade, I tend to be focusing on combining the most stuff elegantly to get the person changed as fast and as large as possible. If someone’s interested or willing to meditate, or has a practice, what I have noticed, I would say pretty clearly, is if you meditate, do neurofeedback, or do both, when you do both, there’s a multiplicative effect. It’s pretty magical. It’s at least three times as good as both.
There’s some literature on this. In human transformation, when you stack interventions, as you hit three and above, the chance of discontinuous insight and change and major lifestyle stuff, it just goes off the chart. [unintelligible 01:10:52] It’s hard to do too much transformation without disrupting yourself if you can. Neurofeedback helps in other transformation, because it boosts plasticity at a background level while you’re doing it. I get physical therapists calling me saying, “Why is my client walking in without a cane,” or whatever, or the speech and language stuff starts to work better in autism centers sometimes because you work out the plasticity, just generally.
The exercise they’re doing on that circuit starts to land better. It’s a broad tool in that way, you can also focus on stuff you can’t feel, stuff that’s not part of the thinking structures of the brain. You can work on deeper things, even subcortical stuff, sometimes Parkinsonian tremor or wear and tear from concussions that are below the brain and stuff can be somehow ameliorated. We’re working a systems approach here, this is really a personal training thing. Since the brain is so good at learning, if you put it through functional paces, it tends to–
This is the secret of neurofeedback, we’re mostly not going in very precisely and going, “Hello, brain, you should do this little tiny thing out of a billion things. We know what you should do.” We’re saying, “Hey, regulate this way,” and it organizes itself to go, “Okay, I’ll regulate whatever way makes the car on the screen move more.” That’s cool. After several sessions, it’s going, “Hey, I’m liking regulating this way.” All right. There’s some stability of the phenomenon, and then it regulates differently. You can, as the conscious person, decide, oh, yes, more of that one, or, I don’t know [unintelligible 01:12:22] as well, or whatever.
That’s the phenomenon, is this more voluntary, but systematic, like, let me build a workout, let me let it land, let me evaluate it, and it’s not so momentary. Most meditation has a single point and present-time awareness phenomenon, where you’re trying not to do much more beyond the present moment. Most neurofeedback has very little to do with the conscious mind and the present moment. It was discovered on cats, something like 60 years ago. Cats are not very good instruction followers. It works on people who are unconscious, or kids who don’t want to be there, or people in comas.
One of the greats in the field, Margaret Ayers, who died 5, 10 years ago, a lot of her practice was doing neurofeedback in people who were in coma beds, and producing brain changes and consciousness changes sometimes. It’s this really bizarre involuntary basic learning phenomenon that all brains know how to do, all neurons know how to do. It is Hebbian plasticity, wiring together, firing together. It does work a little bit like Hebbian plasticity. As you do this reinforcement thing, the brain learns from it and then associates new states, but it’s not voluntary.
If you’re a little baby flopping around, you suddenly do the unique association of neurons that makes you stand up a little more with your arms and you can see 6 feet instead of 2 feet, you’re like, “Whoa, that’s interesting. That’s rewarding.” The brain goes, “Okay, remember these neurons.” Then later on the baby is crawling, not thinking about left arm, right arm. Is it right arm, left arm? They’re just doing the thing, and the thing works out. That’s what neurofeedback is. If you applaud little micro things the brain’s already doing, and ignore the other billion things it’s doing, it goes, “Wait, what? Why is my theta making the world change right now? Okay, I’ll drop my theta because it’s doing stuff.”
The big trick is we move the goalposts, it’s operant conditioning. We adjust what we’re rewarding based on what your brain is doing and applaud the trends it’s engaging in. You end up with this almost involuntary exercise phenomenon going on.
Ari: Got it. Okay. I would love to keep you longer and ask you a bunch more questions, but I’m sensitive to your time.
Dr. Hill: I’m having fun to chatting here, I appreciate it but probably should wrap up. Any other questions I can answer for you today?
Why Dr. Hill focuses on performance over therapy
Ari: I’ve heard you say that you don’t look at this as a therapist. There are a lot of people out there doing neurofeedback for specific medical problems, and one of the things that drew me to you is you are looking at this from the perspective of fitness and from the lens of optimization, and looking at things on a spectrum. It’s not just, “Okay, you either have ADD or you’re normal.” You’re on a spectrum of your ability to focus and concentrate. Even if you’re in normal, you can train that up further, or the spectrum of mood, or a spectrum of executive performance, or a spectrum of many other aspects of brain performance.
You’re not just trying to fix problems, you’re trying to also optimize and improve fitness. Can you talk about that and can you talk about just some of the key conditions that you would say neurofeedback gets amazing results for, the key aspects of performance?
Dr. Hill: Sure. Yes, performance-focused, but the way that I do that is through science first. Science, and then coaching combined. We take this personal trainer approach for your brainwaves or your blood flow in your brain. It’s a fairly straightforward process, if you take the label and drop below it to the physiology, you’re talking about real things without pathologizing it. We all have natural resources for anxiety, attention, sleep, stress. There’s a line between, as you’re saying, a spectrum between what’s typical, or what’s really in the way.
The line might be important if things are acute or really extreme. If not, or even if you tried other stuff, then maybe it’s more about the resources. We teach you to think about how your executive function works, how your stress works, the cingulates, the sleep structures, executive function, pumping the brakes, whatever’s going on for you, and teach you about brain mapping, and reading your brain, your attention testing. Then people know what they want to do. They know what they want to work on. They know what they want to optimize.
I’m not a doctor saying, “Oh, I have the optimal plan. I’ll make you Captain America.” It’s not that, it’s me saying, “Hey, let me show you how your brain works and teach you some of the quirks and peculiarities of your performance and then let’s establish some goals.” Goals can be performance goals, they can be suffering goals to ameliorate, or whatever. If there’s a goal we can Marco Polo our way towards, then I can– I say this the day after Christopher Columbus, I should be careful. I’m in California, I grew up in Massachusetts, where it’s observed, I feel better now in California where it’s not.
You can be iterative, you have to be iterative because brains are so different. If I took two of you, similar brain, similar complaints, similar map, similar goals, the same workout will be a little different how it landed. We have to listen to that and believe that. We start off with the physiology and lose the labels to some extent and measure the performance, measure the stress, the sleep, the attention, the gross stuff, the big stuff at a high level, we can’t see subtle things.
Wasn’t a clear like, “Hey, wait, that’s a high-level human thing you’re experiencing.” There’s no motivation thermostat I was looking at. I could see you were stuck in your head and stuck in your gut, because you have little circuits whose job it is to switch, and they were cramped. The anxiety stuff has brain circuits, the attention stuff has brain circuits, the sleep stuff has brain signatures, you can see those, those are foundational. If you take the label of the thing you’re suffering from, the goal you have, and you drop it down to a resource, because I talked to you about your resources and a brain map.
The next step is, “Oh, wait a minute. Yes, I want to do some of this.” This is analogous to looking at your lipid panel and knowing that you should probably cut your Ben & Jerry’s down for a few weeks, and get these triglycerides under control, and then still know that you can still have some because you know what your body does. In this case, you can look at your alpha speed, let’s say, and know that your sleep hacking is not yet working, because the alpha speed isn’t yet coming all the way out. The delta speed isn’t yet coming up to zero.
This is like dragging the phenomenon bring a hint of you know it’s true, you told me you weren’t sleeping great the past month or two. You can produce models you can then yourself validate against what you know to be true. It doesn’t tell you things you don’t know, it’s not diagnostic in that way, but it tends to pick up the stuff we care about in sleep, stress, attention, brain fog, speed of processing, and that can encompass a lot of things that we give diagnostic labels to. All of those gross resources are the things we change really reliably by usually about a standard deviation on a bell curve every other month, and you’re an overachiever. You just doubled that, apparently.
That means that we work on things with labels. We’re not diagnosticians, we’re not therapists, but people come to us a lot with diagnoses of lots of flavors of anxiety, lots of flavors of ADHD, lots of flavors of brain fog, including the post-COVID stuff, post-concussions, autistic Spectrum complaints, social and sensory issues in that area and landscape respond very well, migraines, seizures. This was discovered because it reduces seizures. Discovered by mistake, because it reduces seizures. We tend to work on a broad range of things.
Peak Brain’s weird in that we’re not a therapist shop, we don’t have a population of interest. We don’t just work on eating disorders or autism or whatever, we work on brains, what do you want to do with your brain perspective. A third of our clients have that classic complaint structure in neurofeedback field of autism, ADHD, seizures, migraines, addiction, trauma, very impactful for PTSD, usually it’s really lovely to be able to offer that.
How neurofeedback works for ADHD and PTSD
Ari: You gave a good list there of things. There’s also this element of optimization for performance. Just can you maybe complete the thought that you’re on by saying how fast or how much improvement would someone expect if they have ADHD or PTSD or sleep difficulties or anxiety or things like that. How big of an improvement can you actually get and how quickly?
Dr. Hill: How quickly it can happen. You’re a good case of, doesn’t usually happen quite this quickly, but this is usually more like a 10-week program, the kind of change you had, or 12 weeks or something, or 16 weeks. It’s in that neighborhood. You went from performing like somebody with pretty significant ADHD, whatever the cause of it… to somebody who’s actually above average in those attention resources, that’s how much you changed in two months of neurofeedback.
That’s about how fast it can happen. Tends to happen on average about half that fast, which is still really fast. Generally, severe ADHD, severe PTSD major difficulties with brain fog. These things tend to change on the data by about two standard deviations, maybe more in three months. What that means is we take significant suffering and typically make it hard to diagnose, so to speak, at the end of that timeframe. Relatively stable. If you train your attention, sleep, and stress circuits, they are now practicing those modes every day, they stay relatively stable.
For those big resources, all the things that underpin anxiety, be it obsession or trauma or social or sensory stuff or emotional instability and temporal lobes, those things train and change, or executive function areas, motivation areas, those things all train, so to speak, and love to change. The brain, here’s a secret too. Brain changes faster than the body. You experienced that. For folks that haven’t done a lot of neurofeedback, think about what you could do in three months in the gym with the right trainer.
This is usually more in terms of how it feels, the impact, the regulation of your sleep, your stress, your attention, being short with your wife, your being angry with your husband, your drinking too much, your falling over into low resilience and issues with reactivity and fatigue and having word-finding issues in the afternoon. These are not diseases. These are what happens with the organ system we’re carrying around, and we call some of them flavors of anxiety or ADHD or whatever. Some of them have big labels attached to them and they’re really severe, and we should get big help. A lot of it is not a disease. ADHD is not a disease. It’s a natural set of circuits. Anxiety is like resources that have spasmed, not a disease. They stretch back out almost always.
Ari: Does one need to do this forever to maintain that, or if one has ADHD or PTSD, do those benefits go away, if let’s say they do three months, four months of training, get a huge effect, and then they stop, is it okay for them to stop at that point or do they have to keep going forever.
Dr. Hill: It is, yes. Especially for ADHD, there’s usually a fairly permanent change as you get 40 sessions and above. For PTSD and stuff, it’s very complicated. The individual is more than their suffering. We usually pull the teeth of the cingulate being overactivated fairly permanently in that timeframe. It doesn’t mean that you’ve dealt with your PTSD 100%, it just means you’re not activated the same way and you’re sleeping well and you moved back to home with your wife. For years, I did a lot of work with veterans who were coming back from war zones, fairly traumatized. We would want them to do full 40-session programs, which were three-month programs. They were often taking a bus to the office or managing logistics to get there.
Usually, six or seven weeks in, the first 20 session brain map that we did a repeat on, they’re like, “Hey, Doc, I’m great. I’m done.” This feels amazing. They’re ready. They’re moving back home with their wives, they’re getting jobs again, they’re integrating back with a less activated mode of life. Their brain maps didn’t look done to me, but it felt like we pulled the teeth of it so far down, they could suck it up and drive on. They had the skills then, at least to be tough guys sometimes. Not all men. Especially the past two, three years, I’ve done a lot of work with people that are traumatized through primary care or urgent care, or emergent care.
I have people that are fairly high-level running emergency departments and major crisis centers and things like that, and they have to deal with an awful lot. It’s been unending at the top of their game, top of their output, understaffed, under-resourced for years now, and that was before the pandemic, where everything just fell over in terms of resource management. It looks like PTSD when you’re at that high-level output and your brain knows the world is not safe, it cramps up the cingulates.
Of course it does, because the cost of missing danger is so high, you don’t want to miss it twice, but humans can make anything dangerous. We have plenty of resources with which to catastrophize, but no, generally, you get about a solid color shade or standard deviation in the data every other month, every 20, 25 sessions, two rounds of that will usually make a relatively long-lasting change.
People often do neurofeedback for four months, six months, a year, couple of years. Those people generally are in two categories with ongoing neurofeedback or a lot of neurofeedback, peak performers who are squeezing out every little bit of juice and continuing to make gains. It’s not a zero-sum game, your brain keeps moving, and people that have very large difficulties, developmental issues, autism, seizures, whatever, a lot of things at once. Then you’re often gradually moving things over time and working with them for more years.
Ari: Great. Is there any final message you want to leave people who are maybe struggling with brain-related issues and who are on the fence about trying neurofeedback?
Dr. Hill: Yes. Neurofeedback is a great tool. I would love if you tried it. It’d be great, but I would rather everyone listening just understand the fact that your brain’s a changeable thing. Even if neurofeedback isn’t your tool of choice or you have access to it, and we can get you access to it, we can send you equipment and work with you remotely, but even without that, or you can go see [unintelligible 01:26:59] guy in San Diego, runs a great little practice named Elia at Brain Excel. All that being said, there’s lots of ways to change our brains, and I think that there’s lots of accessible things we should and could be and maybe want to be doing, including some sleep regulation, sleep hacking.
I’m a big fan of doing macronutrient hacking through partitioning time, calories or macros systematically to create stressor signals to cause changes. That’s, again, in line with the circadian stuff as well. That’s stuff we can all do. We can all play with better food quality, and we can all play with when we get up in the morning and that kind of stuff. It’s not all going to fix major difficulties. That’s maybe when you want to bring in the big guns, or you’ve exhausted the foundation and now you’re ready to level up, that’s when you want to bring in something like neurofeedback, I think.
Unless you’re somebody who loves to throw great resources at all your problems. It’s hard to move the brain faster and more thoroughly than with neurofeedback to get this massive change in just a few months.
Ari: Is this in your opinion the most powerful brain hack in existence?
Dr. Hill: It is, yes. For stuff that works, it is, but it’s not the most used or the most powerful, I would say it’s probably meditation historically, millions or thousands of years, but humans have been both meditating and altering our brains since before we’ve had them really, I’m sure. We co-evolved with psychedelics, co-evolved with the ability to meditate, the ability to anchor probably came before language, language probably came before movement. There’s a bunch of interesting ways that the anchoring of our executive function was the first human thing in some ways, even before language.
[unintelligible 01:28:46] ties to the anchoring of executive function, because you have to anchor it to the tool, you then map it to your brain so it’s part of you. That’s a thing humans and other tool users do in a really weird way, but it requires sustained focus, frontal lobes, that kind of stuff. I think meditation probably happened before we had language because we had the sustained attention, we dropped into the zone, we felt it, we enjoyed it. Some of us got really deep into it, got more mates and then had more babies who meditated more. Eventually, language came up, dance came up through language maybe, the embodied language thing. That’s where we talk with our hands.
Anyways, there’s lots of things you can do. Sleep hacking, very important. Managing sugar, managing insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, especially today in this world we’re in, I see a huge amount of post-COVID brain, huge amount of it. It is a big deal. It looks like a concussion, it feels like a concussion, a bad one for most people eventually. It happens, I think, half the time essentially, even in low symptomatic COVID, which is concerning. It seems to happen correlated with a few phenomena around inflammation and oxidation of the tissues. One of the biggest ones is hyperinsulinemia or high blood sugar or high glucose, high insulin.
If you’re somebody who’s insulin resistant, I would actually rather you focus on that, hack your sleep to get seven hours of quality sleep, focus on some low-key activity, those will make a bigger difference than dropping 4 or 5, 10k in a bunch of brain training over a year or something. If you have big– if you want to try to reduce your seizures by half or get rid of the ADHD or get control of your drinking problem, or quickly remediate some trauma in combination with a therapist you love, who’s going to help you navigate the path through change, neurofeedback can work, but it’s just a tool. The perspective of using tools, whatever they are, is what I want people to take away.
Ari: Beautiful. Dr. Hill, thank you so much for all of your time. You’re a brilliant guy. I really enjoyed having this conversation with you. I would love to talk to you for five more hours. The last thing is just mention again your company and where people can reach out to you.
Dr. Hill: Sure. I’m Peak Brain Institute. That’s our large company. We have physical offices in New York City, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. We have a partner in San Diego, which is Brain Excel, and we all do peak brain neurofeedback, but we also do neurofeedback. About three-quarters of our clients work from home and we send them hardware and software, and give them live coaches to teach them how to do stuff and support them and bug them to fill their sleep surveys. Peak Brain Institute is a place you can come check us out. Peak Brain LA is most of our socials because that is the first branch.
We started off in Los Angeles, and if you want to look at lots of baked goods and like seared roasts and meats and things, you can look at my socials, but they’re less exciting. It’s mostly cooking, and occasionally guitar is showing up. My marketing guy wants me to consolidate the channels, but no, I’m going to keep the Peak Brain one as the brain one and just keep posting random cooking stuff whenever I want on mine.
Ari: One more last thing, before you go. I hope you enjoyed this. I hope you have been thoroughly impressed, intrigued, and excited at the prospect of improving your brain with neurofeedback technology. Again, this is something that has been truly life transformative for me, personally, and I strongly encourage you to get started with this. You can do this wherever you are. You can do it at home, you can get set up with at-home neurofeedback.
They will guide you expertly, in real time, how to actually do this. They will train you, how to get set up. They will analyze your individual brain map and custom design a protocol, a training protocol, for brain fitness, to train your brain, to optimize it, to enhance areas that you need to work on further, or that you want to work on further. Maybe you don’t even need to, maybe you want to go from normal to extraordinary performance in certain areas of brain function.
I highly encourage you to do this, again, regardless of whether you’re looking to correct dysfunction, problems, brain-related issues, or non-optimal brain function weaknesses in certain areas of your brain capacity, or you’re looking to go from normal, healthy brain function, to extraordinary levels of brain function and performance. Check it out. This is seriously something that I think can change millions of lives. I strongly encourage you to do your own brain map and figure out what’s going on in your brain.
If there are opportunities to improve, to optimize, to correct weaknesses, get started. I think that this truly can change a lot of lives, and probably, yours. If it’s changed mine, I really believe that it can change almost everybody’s life. Everybody’s got opportunities to train brain fitness and enhance their brain capacities. Get started with this. Again, you can do that with a $250 discount on your initial brain map, by going to theenergyblueprint.com/neurofeedback. Hope you enjoyed these two episodes and I will talk to you again very soon.
Ari’s results of neurofeedback (01:48)
Dr. Hill’s take on binaural beats and isochronic tones (45:15)
Dr. Hill’s favorite nootropics (49:50)
Hoe meditation may affect brain waves (52:17)
Why Dr. Hill focuses on performance over therapy (1:13:13)
How neurofeedback works for ADHD and PTSD (1:19:00)