In this episode, I’m speaking with Rome Za, a movement specialist, Jiu-Jitsu athlete, father, and founder of the Rome Za method, a breathwork-based way to transform your nervous system.
Table of Contents
In this podcast, Rome and I discuss:
- His fascinating and sometimes very intense childhood, including an early brush with death
- The one factor we should focus on for nervous system healing before supplements or even diet
- Rome’s vast experience coaching people and the recurrent issue he’s seen in over 4,000 coaching clients
- 2 nervous system assaults you should be keenly aware of and how to address both for a calm, centered life
- The importance of non-traditional strength movements that lead to vitality, resilience, and longevity
- 3 core insights you can apply to your own life to support and steady your nervous
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Rome’s personal story
Ari: This is an interesting podcast because this is actually the first time you and I have had a conversation face-to-face, though I already feel like I know you. I’ve followed videos that you post on the work that you do, and it’s intrigued me a lot. I found a lot of value and a lot of wisdom in the ideas and the content that you share. I can see that you’re someone who is an original thinker who thinks outside of the box, who is a critical thinker, somebody who’s interested in exploring and thinking deeply about things in new ways and coming up with your own ideas and solutions for problems. That’s the kind of person in general who I’m most interested in having conversations with.
It’s unusual for me, on this podcast that’s about the topic of health science, to have someone who’s your criteria of person. I don’t mean that in any bad sense, but in the sense of you’re a Brazilian jiu-jitsu athlete, you’re a father, you’re a movement specialist, but you’re also someone who’s just a teacher of wisdom and original thinking. Not necessarily a trained expert in some particular aspect of health science or nutrition or functional medicine or something like that, but I felt like the wisdom that you were sharing was relevant enough to this topic that I could tie you in here and get you to share some of your wisdom with my audience.
With that said, I would love to start with this, with your personal story and your background so people can get a sense of who you are and how you came to do what you do.
Rome: First of all, likewise, I’m very grateful to be here. I’ve definitely been following a lot of your stuff, and I really enjoy your original perspective on a lot of things.
Ari: Thank you.
Rome: I was born in former Soviet nation of Chechnya. When I was born, I was supposed to die because I had a nervous system dysfunction. At two days old, I had a staph infection because they used to process a lot of oil and petroleum there.
Chechnya is very well known for their oil, and they were just dumping chemicals and not telling people. Hundreds of people got sick around the time that I was born. I wound up pulling through. Ironically, now I teach people how to heal their nervous system. The war started with the fall of the Iron Curtain. My family was involved in some government stuff there and they told my family that, “If you don’t leave, we’re going to kill your family.”
The same night, we just got as much stuff as we can together. We went to Ukraine for a few months to figure out if we’re going to go to Israel or the United States. We settled in New York City. I went through the allopathic medical system there. I got all of the vaccinations, I took all of the antibiotics, the antifungals, the heavy doses of vitamin A for skin problems. I suffered from all types of infections. At some point, I was getting four strep throat infections a year. Every season, I would get a strep throat infection. As you’re aware, those are pretty heavy doses of antibiotics every single time.
I started training jujitsu when I was like, 18, 19. I was finishing up pre-med and I was starting to study for my MCATs, and then I pivoted because I was like, “I don’t really want to be a doctor. I don’t really think that that’s my path,” so then I pivoted to go to nursing school. I did nursing school for a few years. I almost finished, I had two classes before graduating. I was working in a clinic in Brooklyn, which is the heaviest population density in the United States. It was in the ghetto.
I basically grew up on the streets in Brooklyn. Drugs, violence, crime, you name it, I’ve seen it, done it. I was a very critical thinker because I had to be. I had to ask questions like, “Is this person safe to be around? Is this person not safe to be around?” Because my survival depended on it. I didn’t have something or someone to fall back on that would save me. I didn’t have a safety net growing up.
I was in nursing school and I started to see this rotating door. I was like, “Why are they giving these people jello? Why are they giving these people the cheapest white bread or whatever?” Then around the same time, my grandmother, who raised me, was getting diagnosed constantly a new condition all the time. They kept telling her, “Oh, you have shingles or you have this or you have that.” Little did they know for three years, they misdiagnosed multiple myeloma, which is bone marrow cancer, and her bones were literally breaking.
At that point, I left nursing school, I opened up my own academy. That started to flourish, and I was like, “I’m going to save my grandma, I’m going to figure this out.” I went to Integrative Institute of Nutrition, then I was exposed to Gerson, and at that point, she got hospitalized. The doctors were like, “She’s not going to make it out of the hospital this weekend. She’s going to die in the hospital.” She didn’t speak English, so we didn’t tell her that. She didn’t know.
I started bringing her juices to the hospital. She lived for another three and a half years, and she passed away at home. Around that time, I was exploring holistic nutrition. I was exploring parasite detoxes and heavy metal detoxes. I was healing my leaky gut, and I was helping other people while doing it because I had an audience, I had an academy.
Then Ayahuasca found me in 2011. I drank some medicine, and I gave everything away and moved to Costa Rica. Then from there, my education and my healing continued. Since then, I’ve traveled to train with all these gurus and teachers. Just like, “What do they know that I have no clue about?” There’s something missing for sure because we don’t have elders, so I just kept looking for elders to try to teach me, and through that, I built a few supplement companies because I was just scratching my own itch. I couldn’t find any supplements that didn’t have any magnesium stearate or silicon dioxide or any of these. I was like, “I don’t even understand why these things are in there.”
Until I started a supplement company, and I was like, “They actually put it in so they don’t break their machines. It’s not for you. It’s for their machines,” which is mind-blowing for me. They’re like, “Well, it’s just such small amounts of this arsenic-laden rice powder,” but these small amounts add up, we don’t need it that much to get sick.
From there, I’ve probably invested a little bit over a million dollars into my healing and my education in the last 15 years, just like traveling and trying to figure it out. I moved back to the United States, I was going through a divorce. A lot of my stuff was coming up that was unhealed inside of me. I spent a year and a half just basically by myself, meditating, moving eight hours a day, going to sleep at 7:30 PM, waking up at three o’clock in the morning, and just spending that time as a man going through my initiation and rites of passage, and also thinking about, what is it that I’m teaching, and how do I sequence it properly.
You coach people, and as a teacher, it’s very challenging to get people to do things because they only do things when they’re on the brink of death. As you know, it’s a lot harder the further you go down the path. For me, it was like, what’s the easiest thing that I can do to help them heal, to give them the biggest bang for their buck to help get them hooked on this process of becoming a better human, like human development.
Then COVID hit and everybody was panicking. I opened my doors. I was seeing hundreds of people. Every month, people were just coming over, and I would just take measurements, look at them. I thought I had something, and I did. It was like everybody’s nervous system that I saw from world champions, to billionaires, to massage therapists, their nervous systems were fucked up. There’s a measurement that you can take, like your vital lung capacity or really your vital life capacity, and all of them were doing so poorly. That had a lot to do with pain, anxiety, sleep problems, their digestive issues.
Then I constantly go back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or just human needs. We can only survive without air for this much. Everything else, we have time to figure out. If it’s hydration or it’s nutrition, but without air, it’s such a short timeframe of survival. I started working with the hardest clients that I can find. I just wanted people that are recovering from cancer or have cancer, or people that have crippling anxiety, and people that escaped cults. I just want the hardest cases. I was like, if it works for them, it’s going to work for Joe [unintelligible 00:11:55] that is a construction worker, or Sally that cuts hair, that has arthritis, that also has anxiety, but it’s not bad enough for her to even know that she has anxiety.
Ari: Let’s go back to the start of this, your personal story for a second. You were essentially a refugee from genocide. Can you just describe that in a bit more detail of what exactly was going on?
Rome: Yes. Chechnya is pretty hardcore, really great wrestling, that’s their national sport. They’re fighters, that’s what they do. Their only export is oil, and that’s to Russia because Russia owns them .It’s a Muslim republic in the Soviet Union, which is predominantly atheist because you’re not allowed to practice religion in the Soviet Union, so they were basically under the rule of Russia, and they were abused and kicked out by Russia many times. Russia would put them on trains and leave them in the middle of nowhere, and then they would come back. They’re super resilient humans.
Ari: What’s your ethnic background? You were among the persecuted by these people?
Rome: Yes, for sure. My dad’s Jewish, my mom’s Orthodox Christian-Russian.
Ari: Neither of which were particularly well-liked.
Rome: For sure. There were times where my dad would be standing on a bread line for three hours and they would be like, “Go back to your Russia, let them feed you.”
Rome: We had to hire a KGB agent, which is like a CIA agent to bring us to the train. Then the week after we went on this long journey on the train, they blew up the train so people couldn’t leave. My dad would get letters all the time. He’s like, “Oh, this guy got caught up and left in the forest,” or like, “They threw this guy out in the dumpster.” It was a really intense time. For sure, that did not contribute positively to my nervous system growing up.
Ari: I can imagine that’s probably the understatement of the century. How do you feel like this experience, this early life experience that you had, has influenced your worldview and your, what I want to go deeper as the next question after this is, is your paradigm, your understanding of health?
Rome: I was in a state of survival most of my life. I had such crippling anxiety in my early 20’s that I got to the point where I was just like, I’d rather die. That perspective in life, it toughened me, it made me have to develop grit, but also that comes with a price because that means you wait longer to find healing as well. In my experience, I like generalizing, but obviously we can take it with a grain of salt, but there’s only two types of people that I’ve experienced.
There’s people that grow up like me, hypersensitive and they have to figure out how to heal early on. Then there’s people that get blessed with really great genetics and they can just keep pushing and one day they just have a heart attack and die. I don’t know, it was really hard growing up. I’m really grateful for all those experiences now because if it wasn’t for that, it forced me to grow up early, it forced me to take responsibility for my life, for my health, not just my physical health, but my emotional health, my psychological health, my spiritual health. It forced me to develop a deeper relationship with something bigger than myself.
I feel like it was destiny. It was God, or the universe’s humor.
Understanding human health
Ari: I feel like this is a good transition into your paradigm of health. I wanted people to understand where you come from and the upbringing you come from, those early life experience, because I think that’s influenced how you perceive human health in a profound way. What is your paradigm? I’m really into paradigms and understanding how people perceive something. What is a person’s conceptualization of the problem, because if you know that, then how they’re going to logically extrapolate, how they think the solution is going to be. how do you think about human health? What is your paradigm?
Rome: I’ve thought about this for a really long time, and I’m still thinking about it constantly. I think that humans have basic needs in order to human well. I think that those needs need to be fulfilled before going out and seeking exogenous hormones, or supplements, or anything else along those lines. First and foremost, it’s breathing, learning how to breathe properly and optimally so that you can control your nervous system in a way that is conducive to making good decisions that are long-term decisions, because if you’re in a sympathetic state, what’s happening is that you’re constantly feeling like you’re being chased by a saber tooth tiger, and most people are in that state. I wouldn’t say probably, I would say most people are 100% in that state.
I’ve seen over 4,000 people in the last few years, and every single one has been on some spectrum of very intense sympathetic excitement. That’s really biologically built for breaking case of emergency. Those people are having massive amounts of pain in their neck and shoulders, their lower back and hips, their digestive issues, their sleep problems, anxiety, cravings. That’s a really big one, so they’re scrolling, they’re smoking, they’re drinking, to relieve some of the pressure and overwhelm that they feel with all of this fear mongering that’s going on in the media, and also the toxicity in their body.
Going back to the two things that I think will most likely kill people, is going to be their nervous system and making poor decisions based on that, and toxicity. Heavy metals, I mean plastics, parasites, environmental factors, what their house is built with, what they’re breathing in, what they’re putting on their skin. You have to take responsibility for your internal environment and your external environment.
The next thing is your hydration. What are you putting in your body? If you look at the EWG website and you type in your zip code, you can see what kind of toxins are in your tap water.
I remember growing up, they used to be like, “New York City has the best tap water.” It’s incredible what’s in there. When I lived in Las Vegas, we had radium in the water. Every place that you type in for the most part is going to have at least 15 to 36, if not more, at least that I’ve seen, of heavy chemicals that are past the limitations of the EPA or whatever. The EPA limitations are bullshit. You’re not going to get rid of that stuff from your body.
Then it’s nutrition, where are you sourcing your food from. Movement is a big one. Movement in a very holistic sense. What are you doing with your body? Are you just going to the gym for 30 minutes a day, or are you actually using it to create something, to experience something, to do something worthwhile? I don’t mean like playing a sport. Recently I started cutting logs and cutting down trees, and that’s been an experience because it’s very different than lifting weights, because all the grips are different, and the weights of each one is different. I have to adjust and adapt. Are you practicing to learn how to adapt for whatever comes up in your life, or are you just practicing for us aesthetics? There’s nothing wrong with that, but whose aesthetics are you practicing for? Whose model of aesthetics do you have?
Then from there, obviously we have community. We have lights, sunlight. All of these things, they seem so small, like lights. Well, if you have LED lights all over your house, you’re not going to feel good. It’s very stressful for your body. Those things are constantly blinking. They’re stimulating your nervous system in a way that’s putting it in a more sympathetic state. It’s very interesting that all of those incandescent light bulbs are now illegal in the United States. That’s a very interesting move. Like getting adequate sunlight, using the right lights around your house.
Electromagnetic frequencies are huge. They found that 3G was classified as a Class 1 carcinogen with asbestos and smoking. Smoking, you go out every hour to smoke a cigarette. EMFs are on all the time. Once those things are in place and done correctly and effectively and efficiently, well then we can start thinking more about supplementation and cleansing, and all this other stuff because cleansing is rough.
[inaudible 00:27:00] When you’re letting out parasites or heavy metals can kill you, or at least feel like it’s killing you if your container is not structured adequately and resilient enough. I’ve had moments where I thought I was going to die and I was already really strong at that point. I was already training two or three hours every day. My body was very, very resilient, and I still had to lay in a dark room for three days because I thought I was dying. It’s getting the basics right and getting them righter. You’re never going to get it right. It’s never going to be perfect. You’re always going to have to adapt and adjust.
I think that’s where it really goes into the idea of becoming anti-fragile. Everything that hits you, you become better because of, and that’s really where my work leads to because it’s like everybody is going to have a different experience, everybody is going to have a different primary concern that they want to deal with, but until they get the foundations correct, it’s almost lazy to not get the foundations correct. Everybody wants the most fanciest supplements, they want to use all the highest tech things where it’s just like, did you get enough sunlight today? Did you drink enough water? Oh, I’m not pooping, so I have to do all of these crazy things where it’s just like, did you drink enough water? Where’s your water coming from? Did you eat enough fiber? There’s just basic human questions that you can’t get away with things that maybe you got away with as a teenager in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. I think people just have to get it right.
Ari: We’re all indoctrinated with a certain idea from the time we’re very young, which is that, number one, health is the absence of disease. This is a base assumption of modern medicine. Is a belief that we all become indoctrinated to without even realizing it. Out of this, we extrapolate the idea that what takes away our health are these different diseases, and that what we need to do to get back to health is we need to study disease and then develop treatments for disease. We all learn to think that there are these horrible diseases out there that kill us, whether it’s heart disease, having a heart attack, or a stroke, or cancer or diabetes or dementia, or something like that, and we’re trained to believe that the path to being disease-free, the path to longevity lies in a scientist, in a chemistry laboratory somewhere synthesizing synthetic chemicals that are going to cure this disease.
Diseases are bad, and hopefully, medicine, pharmaceutical companies can find a cure. Then we go on walks to generate money for pharmaceutical companies, so that they can find a cure for these diseases that are killing us. All of this paradigm is largely, and most of the people in this paradigm, I should say, are largely unaware that the majority of what will influence whether they get those diseases or not are their basic fundamental daily habits like many of the ones you just described.
We already know what kills 8 out of 10 people what are called diseases, the chronic diseases of aging, or also called the diseases of civilization, are diseases of nutrition and lifestyle. What most of us are doing is taking diseases of our behavior, of nutrition and lifestyle in the modern environment, we’re all indoctrinated to believe that the answer will be from a pharmaceutical company and will come in the form of a pill. We’re all trained to believe also that the answers are things that don’t require our effort. It’s very alluring, this idea that we can get a solution to our problem that comes in a pill or that comes in a fancy technology, instead of that comes through our consistent basic, simple daily foundational habits.
Rome: I agree. It’s very interesting how many people– The scarier the world gets, the more people buy into the easy way, the shortcuts, the biohack, the something to save me that’s going to come from an external source where it’s just like, “No, you’re going to have to take the long way home, and that’s the end of it.” You can wish, you can hope, you can pray, but that little goldfish is not going to grant you your wishes.
Ari: There’s no way around doing the work.
Moving your body
Ari: A couple things I want to go deeper with you on. One is movement. One of the things that I’ve been intrigued by of the videos that I’ve seen of yours is the way you move your body and how you think about movement. I know you touched on this briefly earlier, but let’s go deeper into this. Maybe let’s start with this angle, if this resonates. How do you think most people are moving in the wrong ways, or moving poorly, or dysfunctionally?
Rome: For the most part, we’ve lost most of our primal movement patterns. If somebody has developed any movement patterns, they’re very specialized movement patterns that don’t really adapt well to real life. During COVID, people were sitting between 13 and 15 hours a day. Sitting, they’ve been saying for years, is going to be the new smoking. I think so. When you’re sitting, you’re putting a lot of strain on your diaphragm, you’re putting a lot of strain on your lower back, your hips, your elimination organs, your sexual organs. There’s just a lot of stuff that’s happening when you’re sitting.
We’ll talk about people that are actually doing stuff. Most people that are doing stuff are only working their muscles. I think that’s a huge problem because muscles are really easy. Give me a human and I’ll get them jacked in 6 to 12 months. It’s not that hard to be aesthetically pleasing in the muscular sense. What’s very challenging is working the ligaments, and the tendons, and the joints, because the ligaments are very avascular, so it requires maybe not more effort, but longer duration of effort to develop that kind of tissue.
I believe that’s the kind of tissue that needs to be developed first because then you’ll negate a lot of the injuries that are happening with people. Most people, they think they have degenerative injuries or degenerative things, where it’s just like, no, you just have never worked this area. You’ve developed your muscles to be really strong and your joints are really weak, so the force that your muscles are creating is going to tear something.
Most people train in what the personal trainers tell them is the safe range, where we get injured outside of that range. If you’re not practicing to prepare for injury, then you’re missing the boat on practicing. You’re just doing it to look pretty. Honestly, that’s going to disappear eventually too. You’re not going to look pretty forever, but you could keep the joints bulletproof. I call the system bulletproofing.
If you see the difference, I broke my wrist when I was younger, and they adjusted it and put it in wrong. Then I had to get it rebroken and then put it back in, and that’s actually what stopped me from competing in MMA because I kept injuring my wrist. Then years later, I learned bulletproof my wrist. Now I can do push-ups on this side on my hands in a handstand. Everybody can do that, because look at this injury that I had that they told me that would never go away. My left side would always be weaker than my right, where that’s not really true anymore. I just don’t take anything that they say with a crystal ball. That they’re this all-knowing entity. My movement practice is a lot of–
Ari: Hold on, Rome, one second. Before we get there, I want to come back to something you said that I think might have gone over some people’s heads, or might not have made total sense, which is this idea that people are taught, personal trainers, fitness experts, the prevailing standard wisdom, to work with a particular kind of form and a particular range of motion that the joint is supposed to move in. Probably the most common example of this, common examples maybe would be like, don’t ever round your back when picking things up, or when you go into a squatting or lunging pattern, you don’t want your knees to go over your toes, and this sort of thing.
What you are getting at is that you intentionally violate that standard wisdom to work the joints under tension in ways that would be considered by some people “unsafe” or incorrect ways of doing things that could potentially be injurious, but you’re doing it with the intention to safely open up those joints into those ranges of motion to strengthen them and to help protect them from injury. Just explain that two people, and maybe you can give a couple more examples of how that works.
Rome: I basically use the idea of hormesis, which is eating a little bit of poison every single day. Homeopathy would be a similar idea, but also, we’ve been told that there’s safe ways of training and not safe ways of training, but the thing is, if we keep going in the direction that we’re going, we’re going to end up like Wally where everybody’s just sitting in a chair and doing chair aerobics. Where did we get most of our movement practices from? We either got them from the Chinese or we got them from the Indians. We got some from the Russians with the strength training and stuff, but for the most part–
Ari: Going into a sauna and hitting each other with sticks. [chuckles]
Rome: Yes, [unintelligible 00:39:20], for sure. We’ve stepped away from actually taking time to develop things, which goes back to the long way home, that idea where this stuff takes time to develop. This is a lifestyle. This is a lifetime commitment.
My dad’s a master of sports and wrestling. I was indoctrinated into movement ever since I was a baby. There are videos of me like a six-month-old hanging on a pull-up bar, pictures, not videos. Pictures of me hanging on a pull-up bar. I was obsessed with movement. I had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding when I was nine years old. I started Thai boxing when I was 11 and I always knew that it takes time to get to these places. All of these things develop time and effort and energy, but you’re developing it for a specific reason, and that reason is, so nobody has to take care of you when you’re old.
That right there is the most important thing that you could be doing. You might want abs. That’s cute, but what if you have abs and then you develop a liver dysfunction or a GH belly or whatever it is that a lot of these bodybuilders develop because they’re sacrificing tomorrow for today? What I’m doing is the opposite. Usually, the people that are talking about this are not my age. They’re already in their 60s and 70s and they have to learn it through massive amounts of pain and suffering. I learned it through pain and suffering early.
What I’m saying is I don’t want somebody to take care of me when I’m older. I want to go out on my own.
It’s so sad looking at what our elders look like. We are at 72% overweight and obesity rates in the United States. One out of four has an autoimmune disorder that’s been diagnosed. Imagine how many haven’t been diagnosed that they’re still figuring out what that is. I don’t want that. I think all of these things are related. I don’t think that what you eat is not related to your joints, is not related to your spinal health, it’s all related. I think that our ancestors in some way, shape, or form knew that, whether consciously or unconsciously.
I believe that everything has been specialized so much that if you have a problem with your hand, you have to go to a hand doctor but the problem with your hand might be stemming from your foot, but the hand doctor can’t see that because he’s only looking at the hand. Because of our ultra specialization, we’ve lost the ability to creatively problem solve and to overcome challenges as humans. Joint bulletproofing or resilience is one of those things that will lead people to a higher quality of life as they get older and help them to be able to get on the floor and play with their grandkids without pain.
At the end of the day, yes, performance is cool, but who cares about your performance? Who cares about your abs if you wake up feeling terrible, if you can’t play with your children, if you can’t squat down on the floor and sit in an Asian squat around the campfire? Nobody cares. Nobody remembers anything.
Ari: There’s a few things I want to tie into this. One is something you said earlier, you’re talking about the things most likely to kill you. We’ve all been trained to think of our health as a product of our biochemistry. We go to the doctor, they take a blood test, and then they give us a report of our health, essentially, and the different markers that dictate our health.
One of the things that’s being left off of this or left out of this way of looking at paradigm of health as a product of biochemistry, is that our physical structure of our body and our physical functionality of how we move our body and use our body, which doesn’t show up in any way on those blood test results, hugely impacts many things that are very likely to kill us. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
The leading cause of loss of independence and functionality in older ages above the ages of 60 are physical frailty, sarcopenia, loss of muscle mass, and bone breaks, fractures, all of which are not really products of biochemistry. There are rare cases where somebody has maybe osteoporosis secondary to undiagnosed celiac disease, and so it’s more driven internally via biochemistry, lack of absorption of nutrients, things like that. There are rare examples where it’s true, but for the most part, the vast majority of people who are suffering from these things, it’s simple lack of movement, lack of using your body.
Doesn’t show up in any way on your blood tests. It’s not a deficiency of Fosamax, it’s not a deficiency of anabolic steroids. It’s you not physically moving your body, which makes these systems like your muscles and your joints and the nervous system aspects that are involved with strength and endurance and stability of movement and balance and mobility, all of those systems atrophy and they weaken, they become fragile, and then, oh, you’re 65 years old and now you tripped over something and you don’t have the ability to get your other foot out in front of you to stop your fall or you lose your balance and you fall. Now you’ve broken a hip, you’ve broken an arm.
People don’t understand that a lot of what kills us isn’t stuff that shows up on the blood test of the doctor and can’t be fixed with a pharmaceutical. You are a physical body and a physical brain. How you use those things and the functionality you keep based on how you use them, hugely impacts your risk of dying. It’s not just stroke, cancer, diabetes, and heart attacks that kill you. It’s you having a weak physical body that is likely to kill you.
People, that’s not in our paradigm because it doesn’t get listed in the causes of death. We don’t list physical frailty or sarcopenia or fractures as the cause of death in most cases. It’s a cause of death that leads to you dying from other things in most cases. What you’re talking about, to a large extent, is maintaining high levels of functionality in the physical systems of your body.
Rome: Yes. Also, suicide rates are going up, how much of that is from pain? How much of that is from pain that just can’t be fixed by going to a doctor? When I was 22, I had two herniated discs at that time in my neck and they wanted to fuse my neck at 22. They were like, “You can either fuse it or you can get cortisone shots.” I went to 12 experts at that time and I was like, “I don’t want to do any of that.” Then, I went in a different direction. I started trying to figure all of this out, healing my spine. How many people move their spine in diverse ways, right? The spine, the Chinese would say that the spine, “You are as young as your spine is flexible.”
They also say another thing which not related, but related, and it works really well with today’s day and age, you look at some of the best physiques out there in the world, they have no functionality whatsoever. The Chinese would say, “Strong looking on the outside, but rotting and diseased on the inside.” They had sayings for this because it’s very important to distinguish the difference between somebody that can actually do stuff with their body versus a body that just looks nice according to magazine standards, according to Instagram standards.
Ari: [laughs] I wanted to ask you about jiu-jitsu. I think this also ties into it ties into movement. Certainly, it ties into what you were talking about earlier with the nervous system, I would imagine as well. What do you think are the lessons that come out of jiu-jitsu? How do we grow physically and how do you grow psychologically from a practice like jiu-jitsu?
Rome: Brazilian jiu-jitsu is out of all of the martial arts, it spends the most amount of time under tension, so time under tension. As soon as you touch, you’re doing this. The only time you spend with more friction is in bed with your partner. Jiu-jitsu it’s very intimate. I think it allows people to become very comfortable touching another human being and I think that’s what’s missing a lot of the times.
Virginia Satir would say that we need hugs in order to survive, maintain, and thrive. We need 8, 12, 15 hugs per day for those things. I think jiu-jitsu is aggressive hugging in a lot of ways. Jiu-jitsu, I think, it helps you to problem solve under pressure. I believe with the right instructor, you can start to see that play has a huge component in human interactions. Jiu-jitsu, I believe, is the most complex version of play.
We evolved through play as humans. We’re constantly playing. As children, we played, hopefully, and that helped us to learn how to lose, learn how to win. It taught us how to interact in a way that wasn’t constantly goal-driven. Jiu-jitsu could be that too because you can play jiu-jitsu as an infinite game as well. I believe that the way that it’s presented currently in the current paradigm is a very finite game.
I believe that it could be an infinite game where both partners have the idea that they want to win, but they don’t want to hurt the other person. I think that that’s the most purest expression of play when we can do it in a way that constantly forming growth and constantly creating problems and letting the other person solve it if you’re a higher level than them.
Honestly, jiu-jitsu was my first physical obsession love. I was training six days a week, twice a day, and I was obsessed. I got my blue belt in a month and a half. I got my purple belt in a year and a half. I was really, really, really obsessed and it was because, for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere in a place that’s safe.
I think that jiu-jitsu can provide that in the right environment for people to finally feel safe with physical touch and to finally feel safe around strong, dangerous men. I think that’s what a lot of our culture is missing, strong, dangerous men that are safe. I feel jiu-jitsu can provide that with the right environment.
Adapting the nervous system
Ari: I want to come back to two things. One is breathing and one is the nervous system. I feel like this is very central to your work. Maybe we’ll wrap up on those topics. Talk to me about- I know you said that you’ve seen thousands of people in the last couple of years and almost everybody has this kind of sympathetic dominance and their breathing is dysfunctional. Their nervous system is wired in a way that’s overly tense, overly stressed, not in the optimal state of relaxation. I’m curious. What you perceive to be the major things causing that and what you perceive to be the most powerful methods? How do you solve that?
Rome: There’s a myriad of things that are causing it. There was a study and they studied about 250 kids, somewhere around there, and they found that their breathing changed at around five and a half years old. What happens around five and a half years old? We go to school. We start to be graded based on our performance, which there’s a lot there on the emotional and psychological spectrum. Then we start wearing tighter clothes. If you have children and they don’t go to school, they just wear whatever they want all day and they play on the floor. Now they’re sitting at a desk for eight hours and they’re being forced to learn things in ways that are unnatural to humans.
Here’s another thing that could potentially be. You could experience some sort of emotional trauma. Your breathing changes, psychological trauma, spiritual trauma. Maybe you went to a church and experienced Something as a child or a synagogue or whatever place of worship that you go to. Maybe you were hit with a baseball or a kickball in the ribs and you started to protect your ribs for a day. That’s probably 15,000 to 20,000 breaths or so. Now you’re in a new cycle. It doesn’t take many reps to create a new pattern. It could be in any of those four elements. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual.
It comes from trauma. Trauma can affect us from anywhere. We are creators. We are constantly creating our experience based on what’s going on inside. A lot of the old text would say, our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. If our inner world is stressed out or anxious or in this space, we’re going to create that experience.
If you’ve ever spent time around animals, they get very nervous when the owner’s nervous. They’ll bite when the owner starts to pull. We’ve seen that recently where a dog came up to another dog and they were okay, the fur was a little raised, but they’re figuring each other out. That’s okay. Then the owner came over and grabbed it, and then it went for a bite and I feel that’s what we create when we’re anxious. We create an anxious experience. We communicate in an anxious way.
If we live in a victim state, if we live in a, I would say a sympathetic state even, we create more sympathetic experiences to prove ourselves to be right. We want to prove that we’re right all the time and we’re going to mirror that external experience with our internal experience. It’s a very simple fix, it doesn’t take a lot of time, but it takes diligent effort every single day doing specific exercises.
I don’t get involved in a lot of the political discussions because, for the most part, most people are just terrified. When they’re terrified, they need to grab onto something that makes them feel safe. When you’re in a sympathetic state, you’ll grab onto anything to make you feel safe.
Creating that parasympathetic state, people ask, “How long does it take?” If you’re 40 and you’ve been in that state for 30 years, maybe it’ll take you three months of diligent– Three years to fully heal, but three months to get to a baseline where you’re good. What I like about this is that there are measurements. I can take measurements, I can give somebody a score. There are layers of developments of complexity. When I think about movement, I really think about breathwork. The breath comes before the movement. It’s more important than movement.
When we’re moving and not conscious of our breath, we’re wasting our time a lot of the time because we can exert so much more effort in a shorter period through proper breathing. We can also get more developments through proper breathing because we can be working on a multitude of different attributes. When I think about this breathing that I teach people just for the nervous system, that’s baseline stuff. That’s to get them to be in a parasympathetic state so they can start to choose what they’re creating in their life. One of my guys told me, he goes, “You help people birth their soul.”
I’m not impregnating you with those soul things. I just want you to birth whatever’s in there. You just need a doula. I believe that that’s really important for people to feel safe enough to remember and release what they came here to experience as humans and what they came here to create and what they came here to give. I don’t think it’s possible being in a sympathetic state because you’re constantly either overreacting, underreacting, or soothing with cravings.
That’s what we’re seeing a lot of now. Cell phone addictions and drug addictions and pain pill addictions and porn addictions for men. That’s the trap, the porn addictions, that’s a really big one because it doesn’t just ruin your mind, it ruins your relationships. You walk around with a sense of shame constantly. You can’t sexually connect on a spiritual level because it’s just like everything is related to that external experience. It’s a mirror, but it’s mirroring from the outside.
It also kills creativity because I think that that’s a beautiful experience that we can create sexual experiences in our mind that don’t look like that or love experiences or whatever that don’t look like that because we’ve also been– We’ve been tricked, basically. We’ve been tricked. We’ve been bamboozled with all of these conveniences, basically. You don’t need a girlfriend, you have Pornhub. You don’t need to learn how to cook, you have McDonald’s. You don’t need to worry about your health. You don’t have to think about your health, you have a doctor that’s going to give you a pill.
This process, like the nervous system evolution, is you take responsibility back for your health. You take responsibility back for your reactions. You take responsibility back for your relationships through yourself. Working on yourself, being, as some people would say, selfish, creating boundaries, which I think are important for humans. We need boundaries. We need boundaries in order to know what’s for me and what’s not for me. Not that it’s bad or good but that it’s just for me, not for me. I think that makes it a little easier because then I don’t have to make anybody else wrong for my choices.
Rome’s 3 top practical tips
Ari: Rome, I would love to wrap up with having you give maybe three pieces of more practical thoughts or three insights that you want to communicate from your way of looking at health of– What the core thoughts you want to leave people with or the core things that you think most people could benefit from or would be healing for most people.
Rome: If you breathe and your shoulders are raising and your clavicles are raising, you’re breathing in a sympathetic way. The nervous system evolution can definitely benefit you massively. It would be a complete change to look at the world from a place of fear and look at the world from a place of love and making a choice.
Definitely get your breathing in order because then, it’ll be a lot easier to make a choice on changing your diet or making lifestyle changes because lifestyle changes, if you’re working in a sympathetic state require willpower and we only have this much willpower. If you’re not making a choice and enjoying those things, that’s very challenging because it’s just exhausting to use willpower all the time.
Two, choose very carefully the environment that you want to live in. You live in Costa Rica. That’s a choice and it’s a very specific choice of why somebody would go to Costa Rica. Figure out what you need more of in your life and surround yourself in that environment. Right now, I’m on this call and I’m looking at 100-foot pine trees right in front of me. That’s what I needed more of in my life.
If you need the beach, go to the beach, but you don’t need the city. Everything is set up there to put you in a sympathetic place. If you’re there right now, that’s okay, do as best as you can, protect yourself, but make it a goal to go somewhere and to connect with the land in some way, shape, or form because there’s a huge resonance that the earth has to give, but it can’t give it through a concrete jungle.
The third thing is do better with less. Figure out how to create less in your life but less but better. Things that really make your soul sing and not things that you buy because you think that it’s going to solve a problem and it’s probably not. Most of your problems can only be solved from inside of you and through your choices. It’s not going to be some magical product that you found on the internet because what you’re going to find is lots of Amazon boxes and very little substance for your life.
To say more about that is get rid of as much furniture in your house as you can and make your life more playful. Hang rings, hang pull-up bars all over your house. Have a coffee table that you eat at and little cushions to sit on so that your body can adapt to being human again because sitting in chairs it’s not human, it’s inhumane for our bodies.
Ari: I want to briefly interrupt you by saying right outside this door to my office here is my living room. I should maybe show you some pictures one day because the whole living room is martial arts mats and all kinds of plyometric boxes for the kids and obstacle course stuff and gymnastics set up for the kids. It’s basically like a giant playground for my kids to learn and experiment with how to move their body.
Rome: That’s what you need to build. Wherever you live, build that. When people come to my house, they’re shocked because I have no couch, no TV, no table, no chairs. They’re just like, what’s going on in here? It’s an adjustment period. That’s how we’ve always lived, maybe until the last 100 years. Chairs have only been around for the general public for about the last 100, maybe 200 years, depending on where you’re looking. There’s no other time in history where the general public used chairs at least as much as they do now. This is absurd. A lot of your problems will start to be solved if you integrate those few things.
Ari: Rome, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Let people know where they can follow you, where they can find your work or work with you, wherever you want to send them.
Rome: Any of my social media which is Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, @romeza. If they want to checkout the nervous system evolution, it’s romeza.com/nse. That’s it. We do the programs and we run retreats. It’s very simple.
Ari: Say a word on what demographic do you think would be well suited for working with you or following your work. What’s the kind of person and kind of situation that this is being addressed to?
Rome: Most of the people that I’m currently working with are entrepreneurs that usually work from home and have some time on their hands to work on themselves because it’s a little bit for the more in-depth stuff. I work with a lot of women, some men. Men are a little harder, I find, in today’s day and age to get them to do things because they know everything already.
Rome: Women are a lot more open, as they are in jiu-jitsu and martial arts. When they come into the academy, they’re a lot more open to learn because they’re like, “I don’t know how to fight.” Men all know how to fight until they get choked. I really enjoy working with women because they take all the steps. I enjoy working with men that are willing to do the work. Most of the people that I work with are entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs so they work as some director in a company or they own the company. A lot of founders too, especially the ones that have IPO-ed and have a lot more time on their hands [chuckles] as founders.
That’s it, and parents. Parents because if you fix yourself, if you heal yourself, then your children won’t have to do the same thing in the future because they’re modeling you, monkey see, monkey do.
Ari: Awesome, man. Rome, I really enjoy this conversation, and thank you so much for coming on the show. I look forward to talking to you again, hopefully, in the near future.
Rome: For sure. Thank you so much, brother.
00:00 – Intro
00:48 – Guest Intro
02:30 – Rome’s personal story
15:39 – Understanding human health
26:00 Moving your body
44:40 – Adapting the nervous system
52:15 – Rome’s 3 top practical tips