SoundSelf and Breathwork: Tune up, tuning out

With thanks to some suggestions Kasper van der Meulen of Mindlift (who gives a great Breathwork Mastery class) and by Robin (who made SoundSelf), I’ve been playing with breath and SoundSelf.

The breathing basis

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Breathing-techniques-2-1024x346.jpeg

In the beginning the voice guidance guides you into setting up your space, settling in comfortably, letting go of tension, and generally feeling grounded and relaxed.
I find that a good way for me to go to that place, is to do a breath hold, and letting that go with a somewhat explosive pfffffffff via the mouth.

Calming breaths to start any meditation.

Then the tree launch sequence starts, where you set and SoundSelf learns the base rhythm for the later session. So I set the base rhythm there with an unhurried but deliberate, deep full-belly nose inhale (my natural rhythm seems ±5s, yours may differ) and long deep resonating ohhhmm tone out via the mouth (±30s).

https://youtu.be/TW4v3_smvvE
A normal SoundSelf rhythm to fall back to.

This will be the rhythm I fall back to in the later process, the metronome that SoundSelf will also be repeating to you in your own voice.

Power (breathing) up

Power breathing and exhale hold

The basis of supercharging the experience, is first some over-ventilation:
forced quick in- and exhales for a short period.

Nose in, mouth out power breathing.

Although the details of the technique (in/out via nose or mouth) do not matter that much for this purpose, I suggest that you focus on the exhale via your mouth, and inhale 80% in via your nose.
This matches the rest of the breathing patterns, activates your system but does not panic it, and it is generally a good idea to prefer nose inhales.

Do these quick breaths to taste: to the moment where you feel more energised/tingling, a bit or even a lot further than that if you are more experienced with breathwork.
I end up doing 10-40 breaths usually.

Everyones’ mileage can vary, but the big trick with this experience seems to be what you do right after this power up breathing.
Think of going right back into toning (you may notice that you can exhale and thus tone longer because you have exhaled a lot of CO2).

Mouth power breath and immediate chanting. Note the longer Oooooooom.

But you can also immediately fully exhale, hold empty until you feel the clear urge to breathe in, nose inhale and go back to breathing.
This one is my current favourite.

This looks like this:

https://youtu.be/YqIeU-i04Ho
My current favourite: power-up with over-ventilation, nose in and mouth out.
Exhale and hold until you feel a clear need to inhale (via your nose).

Bringing it to a grounding close

At the end, give yourself some time to get back to grounding. Lay down and let your body integrate, then take some grounding breaths like so.

Quieting down after intense breath work and finding ground again.

I like anchoring this experience to a trigger, so that I can come back to the sensation with that word/gesture.

Future things to try

There are of course many further things to try, like making different sounds (I’ve started experimented with mantras), exogenous chemical influence, and tactile experiences like the SubPac/TacSuit (going towards EMDR?).

Mantras

DMTtripBear showed how using the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” would work and I’m experimenting with mantras now too.

Normal Om Mani Padme Um

A power breath and Om Mani Padme Um:

Nose in, mouth out power breath with Om Mani Padme Um mantra

Other possible power-ups

For the (increasing) places where this is legal, apparently “indica dominant cannabis can dramatically heighten the SoundSelf experience“. Try it out, let me know?

Doing SoundSelf with psylocibin (“magic mushrooms”), LSD or other ‘real’ psychedelics… I doubt will be that interesting or smart at a dose that gives an internal psychedelic experience. Robin has tried that experiment and sweetly came to the conclusion that the internal experience from the psychedelics is more interesting. And that the magic goes away if you know how SoundSelf works like he does.
I’d also think that it is probably not a good idea to have a VR headset strapped to your head with a full psychedelic (not a great setting), and the visuals might be a bit extreme on a screen. To be clear: not advised.

Micro-dosing… maybe. Let me know?
Alcohol… pretty sure not.

More to follow I am sure…

SoundSelf: Zone out, Tune in

SoundSelf play is both a very relaxing zone-out self-care moment for me, as well as a deepening tune-up of meditation and breath work. I’ve been starting my day with a cup of coffee and a 15-20 minute SoundSelf session, and often end the day with 40 minute one.
I feel relaxed and clear for the whole day from this, and it is nurturing something deep in me.

SoundSelf is labelling itself as “a technodelic” and that seems like the best way to describe this unique new experience (in the VR domain): somewhere between an old-school Winamp-like sound visualisation and a psychedelic experience.

I highly advised you try it, not in the least as it gives a taste of meditation and/or psychedelics, while keeping legal wherever you are ;-).

A long history with SoundSelf

I’m a huge, long-time fan of SoundSelf: when way back in 2016 I heard about this VR-generated almost-psychedelic software being in its alpha stages, I bought a Kickstarter Oculus Rift CV1 setup just to experience this myself.

From that moment on I’ve been ‘playing’ SoundSelf from that “I’ve got something cool” demo phase, through the kickstarter phase in 2017, to a chance meeting with Robin in 2019 where I got to tell him I bought the Oculus for the experience and he told me he wrote it, to investing in Andromeda Entertainment to bring this to the world, to now the big launch into the wide world in April 2020.
So you could say I’m quite invested and experienced in SoundSelf.

‘Game play’

Starting menu

‘Play’ is simple: start SoundSelf, sit or lay back, and tone (drone ‘ooooohhhhhmmmm’).

Full session (unedited)

A SoundSelf session is both a very relaxing zone-out self-care moment for me, as well as a deepening tune-up of meditation and breath work. I’ve been starting my day with a cup of coffee and a 15-20 minute SoundSelf session, and often end the day with 40+ minute one.
I feel relaxed and clear for the whole day from this, and it is nurturing something deep in me.

If I go more meta, games like these are of course a way to enjoy an experience and a story, but also a way nurture and grow something inside me (Robin is saying similar things in interviews). This one is teaching me to take time for myself, to do active breath and toning meditation, and surrender into quiet one-ness.

Psychedelic?

There is research showing SoundSelf helps go into medium altered states [1]. My experience is not a full blown psychedelic experience, but there is definitely a losing my default mode network/ego, and relaxing into the quieting down from the toning and breathing (vagal nerve stimulation).
It definitely is also a good breath exercise.

I’ve been making recordings using the Muse as brainwave measurement device, but it is quite a bit of data so I’ll analyse them later.
Quick and dirty measurement using the Muse in normal meditation mode does show way more neutral and calm then in normal state, and obviously more activation than in the Zen no-mind meditation that Muse aims you towards.

Quick and dirty measurement with the Muse: mostly neutral

Practicalities: VR headset not needed

A frequent question I get from people wanting to experience SoundSelf, is whether you need to have VR goggles?
The answer is simply: no.

But… the more immersive you can make it, the better.
So ideally you set yourself up such that:

  • The visuals take up as much as possible of your visual field: use a big screen or projector, sit close to it, have the surrounding visual side be dark and non-distracting.
  • You can relax into the sensation, ideally recline back a bit or completely.
  • You can feel the base. The audio needs to play on a headset, but a body-shaking subwoofer is a great addition. I have a SubPac that works great for it, but I guess that if you keep it to the low tones, an external subwoofer will work too.
  • If you consider getting a VR headset for this (like I did), consider the HTC Vive (or presumably even better because of the bigger field ov view: the Steam Index), over the Oculus Rift, as the newer headsets have less screen door effect and more pixels.

Practicalities: Running on MacBook

The visualisations are fairly CPU and GPU intensive, so even though it works on MacBook, it really needs a recent high-end one.
Currently there is a strange quirk with the microphone and the access control on it by MacOS. This means that if SoundSelf does not ‘hear’ your microphone, try not starting it via Steam but directly start the application. You can tell you are starting it the right application if you see SoundSelf green eye icon, not the blue Steam gear.
On the MacBook you’ll want to disable the ‘strobing’ feature, as the lower frame rate makes it look bad.

(more to come) More here

Coffee Exorcisms

Oh yes:

I do like this company’s consciously over the top branding. I’ve heard from a reliable source that they are on purpose stereotyping themselves. Love it, some nice conscious spiral dynamics blue “we vets!” to have orange financial result, for once not pampering to the childish version of green that is going around now.

My practical (air)travel trips

I travel quite a bit for work and pleasure, and have for a few decades. Here are some practical tips I have for you.

Preparation (weeks-days before travel)

  • Invest in the best active noise cancelling earphones you can afford and that fit you best. I love my Bose 20i. I prefer in-ear earplugs, but the over-ear Bose 35i and Sony WH1000XM3 work really well too (they are a bit hot to wear, and the Sony one’s Bluetooth handling is less elegant as it will not easily switch between two users. The reduction of the onslaught on your ears and the resulting stress on your system is worth more than any class upgrade if you are in a bind. I can’t emphasis this enough: invest in a good noise cancelling headphone.
  • Consider buying passive earplugs for sleeping: if you cover the microphones of the active noise cancellers they will typically give you a high screeching tone. Plus I don’t like having wires around my throat when I’m sleeping: I prefer not to garrotte myself. I like 3M’s 1100 Orange rounded earplugs or more recently my custom made earplugs from Alpine.nl.
  • Go into the travel with enough sleep. Going in with a sleep-debt will make the effects of jetlag much worse, and it will take longer to recover from it. Plus with low sleep you’ll be more tempted to eat crap food.

Preparation (just before the trip)

I have a check-in/carry-on suitcase (currently Samsonite B-Light 3 with 2 wheels) ready for travel nearly all the time. The week before a trip I have it open in my bedroom and fill it with the specific items I need for an upcoming trip as I bump into them (Getting Things Done style inbox filing ;-)).

I also have my daily-carry/designated carry-on backpack (currently North Face Kaban (older model)) which is always ready for day to day meetings and for air travel (fluids only in an external pouch, no sharps, etc).

That carry-on backpack also contains a change of clothes, just in case my check-in goes missing for a few days (rare) or I get caught in rain/manage to dirty my clothes (less rare). I’ve packed, in waterproof ziplock bags, wrinkle-free business casual clothes:

  • 1 Mizzen and Main shirt (doesn’t wrinkle, looks professional, does not sweat, does however love to absorb coloured liquids spectacularly).
  • 1 Nike Golf pants (looks like formal pants, stretches and dries like sport clothes, hard to get dirty and easy to clean)
  • 2 changes of underwear
  • 2 pairs of socks (with my Vibram 5fingers I get wet feet easily)
  • 1 waterproof trenchcoat from Patagonia (if I’m not wearing it)
  • Take a biggish (1 or 3 liter) ziplock bag, and put the items you need available at your seat in there. This allows you to quickly and without fuss settle into your seat. If you practice putting your stuff back in after using, you also won’t lose items as you leave again. As an added bonus, that bag probably is also exactly the electronics that you have to pull out at the security screening anyway, making that process much less stressful (and more efficient for other travellers like me too ;-)).
  • Consider packing:
    • Apple travel Adapter Kit (or equivalent), with the plugs of all your stops on the way. Consider to add the UK one too: I’ve found that the power plugs often don’t hold power supplies with US prongs at all, and poorly with the European ones. This is the one place where I really like the massive UK power prongs: they keep the power supply nice and snug even in turbulence.
    • Short USB charge cables for your phone, tablet and noise cancelling headset.
    • A good eye mask.
    • A small pen, and if you like that, a note pad.
  • Pack any item that is a liquid/gel in a good ziplock back of max 1l. Not only will that allow you to efficiently pull it out if it is in your carry-on luggage, but it will also save you much grief should it accidentally open/leak in your check-in luggage.

During the trip

  • Drink plenty of water: Simply accept every offer of water.
  • Stay away from alcohol: Alcohol dehydrates you, and degrades the sleep quality significantly. You might feel a bit better dulling yourself from the travel stress with the alcohol, but you are paying a heavy price for this after the flight. I advise meditation and binaural beats as an alternative for handling the stress of the travel.

Professional-paranoid tips

  • Consider putting a 3M privacy shield on your laptop. It severely reduces how much your neighbours can see and how much they are disturbed by your laptop’s light. (Disadvantage: it is glossy, especially the gold side, so it makes the screen a bit less clear. A privacy shield also interferes with a blue-filtering screen. Do install F.lux.)
  • Consider the environment and prefer seats with no people behind you. People do look on your screen. I know I can’t help but notice that presentation or business plan…
  • As usual, always lock your computer when you are away from it. Don’t leave it unattended in waiting rooms and such of course.
  • Put some TSA approved locks on the zippers of your backpack, and connect them together.

Measured authentic relating: Lief at the Bulletproof conference 2016

My takeaway

“Lief” has a very interesting kinesthetic approach to HRV training, leading to faster unconsciously-competent management of your own activation level. This technology might go places.

I also see some exciting possibilities with this technology to deepen authentic relating.

There is a lot to experiment with and figure out before I come to a clear conclusion, so I am writing this so you can get a sense of what is happening.

What is “Lief”?

“Lief” is a wearable heart rate variability (HRV) tracker and feedback device. It is smaller than my palm, has a shape that reminds me of a liver (probably because it attaches to your ribs under the breast).
It has two connectors for adhesive sensor pads, similar to EKG pads that stick to your skin. According to the guys of “Lief”, the pads can stay attached for 1-2 days and are standard in the field of heart rate sensing (so you are not locked in to buying them from Lief if you chose “Lief” as a tool).
Besides the electrical sensors for the heart rate, the Lief also has built in acceleration sensors (which it uses for detecting breathing rate and hence faster and more accurate HRV coherence determination), and a vibration motor. It also has a Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) link to the accompanying app on iPhone/Android, and a fairly sizable USB-rechargeable battery (1+ day with feedback mode, 4+ days with measuring according to the guys from Lief Therapeutics).

What makes Lief different?

What makes the Lief different from other heart rate sensors, is the mode where it uses tactile feedback (the vibration motor) to provide the wearer with the HRV feedback. The Lief vibrates gently when it estimates that your exhale would maximize the downslope of HRV, i.e. helps you shift your body into a less reactive mode.

In practice, this means that the “Lief” vibrates gently in a pattern that feels much like a breath. This feedback loop feels much more body-based than say, the sounds or visual indicators of the Inner Balance or the Muse headband.

Traditional HRV feedback

The traditional HRV feedback cycle is:

  1. The heart-rate sensor detects that the HRV coherence is low (anxiety).
  2. The app shows or sounds a warning (requiring you to watch a screen or listen)
  3. Based on that information, you have to know how to change your brain state (letting the thoughts go for example, or focussing on your breathing again).
  4. After a while the brain state influences your breathing/heart rate, and the HRV coherence is high (relaxed).

Traditional HRV feedback loop
Traditional HRV feedback loop

As a result, there is an extra brain-heavy step in this process, and a bit more lag between notification and the change in attention/behavior. The advantage is that your brain learns to quiet itself and your body. The disadvantage is that your brain is in the loop.

Lief feedback cycle

With the Lief, the cycle now is:

  1. HRV coherence is low (anxiety).
  2. Lief reminds body to breathe in the way that restores HRV coherence.
  3. HRV coherence is high (relaxed).

Lief HRV feedback loop
Lief HRV feedback loop

With the Lief, obviously your brain is still actually in the loop, but in the background. As the feedback is more kinesthetic, a somatic experience, I imagine it will be easier to learn to automatically moderate your physical state.

(Also, because the Lief also can determine the breathing rhythm, it will calculate the HRV coherence more correctly faster, ending in a shorter-in-time feedback cycle too.)

Lief’s kinesthetic approach worked for me

I seem to generally have a fairly regular and deep breathing pattern (as detected with the Spire), and I think I unconsciously-competently(?) regulate my HRV that way. Even so, after a few minutes of attuning myself to the vibration/feedback of the Lief (which was fairly easy for me), I did feel myself slow down in the hectic tech hall of the Bulletproof Conference.

I like this kinesthetic feedback loop. I think this somatic feedback will indeed make learning to modulate the level of nervous system activation much easier, creating the calming effects of meditation minimizing the involvement of the brain.

Their application area

From the developers perspective, the aim for “Lief” is to become more aware of stress/anxiety in your body, and teach your body to relax (i.e. have better HRV coherence).

One of the developers shared that it helped him overcome social anxiety. I can see how this would be a very useful tool for those of you struggling to notice anxiety and bodily activation early.

My application area: what I’m excited to use it for!

In Authentic Relating, we have developed simple yet powerful practices to drop deep into connection with others. In doing those practices, especially the ‘Circling’ practice that brings this many skills together, I often get a sense of feeling the other person deeply and more rarely, a sense of us merging. I feel as if we are going into a “we-space”.

Yes, I know, this may sound quite woo-woo. This “we-space” might be a pure imagination (I don’t think so), this may be mirror-neurons / the vagal nerve in action (my current best theory), some non-dual energy experience in action, or pure randomness. All I know, is that I have a strong subjective experience of this.

So I’ve been very curious to see if this very subjective feeling may actually be supported by “objective” measurements. Nothing like n=1 experimentation, especially when it touches such a subjective and personal experience.

The guys of “Lief” were very enthusiastic about such an experiment and in no time both Cris (close friend and fellow experienced practitioner of Authentic Relating practices) and I got a pre-production Lief device attached to us.

Authentic Relating experiment with Lief
Authentic Relating experiment with Lief: sensing each other’s Lief vibrating breath indicators

First impressions from this experiment

We experimented with the Lief as a way to connect to ourselves first, then moved to connecting to another. We got interesting preliminary results.

Stronger connection to self

During our trials of the authentic relating practices (Notice Imagine Feel and Numbers), the vibrating of the Lief seemed to help anchor me into my body. I see this as having benefits and a disadvantage:
+ I can see the “Lief” helping me to feel more of my own state, and ground into my own state more. So it is easier to be with my own bodily experience.
+ As a result, I also felt more anchored in my body, so it seems easier not to lose myself in the other.
– It also seems harder to lose myself in the other person. Putting my attention almost completely on the other person seems much harder because I was ‘dragged’ back to myself.

Not clear how it helps make connection to other

After just focussing on our own “Lief”, and getting in the flow of the practices, we tried out consciously synching our HRV downslopes with each other (as shown in the picture). My hypothesis was that by consciously synching our HRV downslopes, we might get more easily in a we-space.

Testing my above hypothesis was not successful (so far). There were some demonstration-effect technical glitches, that may have been in the way also. We did not get both Liefs in the same downslope mode until late in this experiment, and one of our Liefs was not linked to a phone so we could not modify its settings nor read the values easily.
I’m not coming to any definitive conclusions from this experiment about this device, as I know from experience, that these kind of glitches happen with spontaneous experiments.
We were also doing this in a context of a loud, bustling technical hall, and I did have less sleep than I would like to have had.

I’ll experiment with this tool more, but I don’t think this path of consciously physically syncing of breathing/HRV will work. The natural breathing and hence HRV coherence of participants will likely be too different.

A way to sync the HRV coherence level could possibly help, and might supercharge what happens in the authentic relating practices already.

This might make “connection to other” measurable?

After attempting to attune and create coherence via our respective Liefs first, we tried the Numbers authentic relating game. That too did not seem to work because of a practical aspect of the Numbers game: the person repeating the numbers aims to speak the number very close to the original speaker. This means that the repeater has to hold their breath to have enough air to say the number when the original speaker says it.
This holding your breath “unnaturally” of course brings your HRV out of coherence.

So we shifted to Notice Imagine Feel, a practice that also connects to another person, but allows each individual to have their own rhythm in speaking (and hence probably more natural breathing pattern and hence more HRV coherence).
After doing that for a few back-and-forths, we did seem to get into a resonant HRV pattern for a while: the other’s Lief vibrated at the same time, suggesting that the breathing had synchronised with maximised HRV coherence.

Further experiments needed 🙂

My cautious impression, is that using this kind of tool might help with authentic relating:

  • Connection to self seems it might to be faster, and possibly deeper and more easily sustained during the process: The Lief gives subtle somatic assistance to stay in HRV coherence.
  • Connection to the other might be supported, especially in online settings, by helping noticing dissonance between coherence states. I need to experiment a bit more with two Liefs to get a better feel for it.
  • We-space – I hope it might be in a way, measurable with these sensors. Just how the HRV coherence and the heart rates converge or differ might be a really interesting way to quantify this.

We, as well as the guys at Lief, enjoyed the experiment we did in the tech hall, and want to try it with the practitioners in Boulder at the Integral Center. As the production run of the Liefs will be end of this year, the guys at “Lief” enthusiastically offered to loan me two of the pre-production models for that experiment in the meantime! I’m really looking forward to seeing what that will bring.

My intent is to hook up both the facilitator (Circler) and the focus of the Circle (Circlee) with Liefs, and see if we can actually see patterns of resonance or reaction between them both.

I’m arranging other sensors to also measure other aspects (2 Muses for brainwave measurement for example), as well as recording video and audio.

All in all I had a very fun time mixing authentic relating and biohacking technology, and am very much looking forward to trying this more.

With a beating heart,
Wouter

P.S. “Lief”: what is in a name?

By the way, according to the founders, the name “Lief” is both an abbreviation of “relief” (from anxiety, stress etc) and of the old English word “lief” meaning “beloved” or “willing”.
In Dutch, “lief” means “nice, lovely” as adjective, and “my beloved” as noun. I prefer that interpretation 🙂

The new logo: thank you!

logo-transparent-background

With big thanks to you all, the new logo was selected.
With thank to Cris, these became embroidered Mizzen + Main shirts on time for the BP Conference 2016.

Wouter.org embroidered on shirts
Wouter.org embroidered on shirts

Wearing the shirts with logo felt good: it is my style clothing (nice business casual and practical), my style logo (personal, simple yet slightly out of the box), and people had an easy time spotting and reading the logo. Win!

Oxygen bar BP Conference 2016

Oxygen bar BP Conference 2016

Business card
Business card

I’ve written up how the process with 99designs and with those of you who gave feedback was too.

Again, thank you all for making this happen for me!

With gratitude (and a new logo),
Wouter

Flying as superman: Airflow by Mindride at the Bulletproof Conference 2016

I always wanted to fly a wing suit, but without the risks of actually crashing into an unforgiving ground. 😉

I got to experience that with Mindride’s “Airflow”: I got suspended in a bungee jump harness with foot straps to hang horizontally, sensors on my arms for arm inclination, an Oculus Rift on my head for virtual reality view, and fans blowing at me for the sensation of wind flight.
And off I went!

The experience is much like flying as superman. Like with a canoe, holding one arm low pivoted me around that arm, arms to the back accelerate (Naruto ninja-running style), arms open to slow down.

I found this quite an immersive experience.

The developer said they also have versions with heat lamps, CO2 puffs for cold, and water misting for even more immersion.

The main application they said they were targeting for was entertainment (hiring it out for parties and such). I imagine there is also great opportunity for working on fear of heights or flying with it.

With different software, I think it is a great opportunity for flow state hacking with this kind of setup.

My expectation is that this kind of application of virtual reality is going to be worth to keep an eye on. There are already “VirZoom” and “WideRun” virtual biking, or “Icaros” flying core workout.

Here is to flying as superman!
Wouter

Time hack: speeding up podcasts and audiobooks

One of those small hacks that I enjoy a lot, is to set the playback speed of podcasts or audiobooks to 1.5-2x the normal speed. Modern players such as the iOS podcast Overcast app and Audible app will keep the pitch normal.

So the effect is similar to giving the speaker a cup of coffee, not a hit of helium and making him one of the chipmunks. Especially with speakers … who … speak … with … … profound … … silences … like Osho, this speed up saves me a lot of will power to keep listening.

Overcast

The Overcast app has a more granular setting for the speedups. Not only can you select speedups in 0.25 granularity, you can also vary the speedup per podcast (so usually slow speakers can get even higher speedups). In the speedup it also removes the pauses, which gives another 0.25-1.50x speedup without any loss of information.

The Overcast app has a few other features that make life easier: downloading of new episodes is reliable (iOS app is crap at this), skip forward button step is configurable, it automatically plays the next priority episode (iOS app stopped doing this for unknown reasons). And they are very well aware of the impact on our mental well being:

Overcast knowing the cost of attention
Overcast knowing the cost of attention

For iOS podcast app

Podcast speed is to the left of the play buttons:

Podcast speed is to the left of the play buttons

For the Audible app

I like Audible for audiobooks, and quite a few of the speakers have this profound … silence … speaking style that I’m not really interested in anymore, so this works well for me. Tapping on the lower left corner brings up the Narration Speed menu.

IMG_7632IMG_7634IMG_7633

Even more ideal would be removing the silences automatically, similar to how my videos are edited, but I’m not aware of something that does that.

Hoping I saved a few hours of your life with this,

Wouter