"Less Stress, More Energy". Dr. Peat takes this even further though. His claim is that these two-energy production states (stressed vs efficient) not only change the amount of energy available to us, but they fundamentally change our personalities. He believes that when people are not producing energy adequately, they become more selfish, and more prone to greed, anger, depression, anxiety, etc. Vice versa when people are producing adequate energy, they are more empathetic, gregarious, peaceful, content, generous, etc. This would mirror the claim within Qigong that our level of Qi production has a direct relationship to the quality of our character and virtues.
Peat attributes these two energy states to the dominance of either the thyroid or adrenals in endocrine production. He believes that in a low stress state energy production in the cells is driven by thyroid hormone (T3), while in a high stress state energy production is driven by adrenal hormones (cortisol, adrenaline). In the low stress state, the thyroid signals cells to make energy from carbohydrates (rice, fruit, etc), mirroring the Chinese Medicine idea of "Post-Natal Energy" from food being transformed into Qi on a daily basis. Chinese Medicine says that when this "Post-Natal Qi" from food is unavailable our bodies tap into the "Pre-Natal Qi" stored in the kidneys and adrenal glands. This pre-birth energy is seen like a trust fund given to us by our parents at conception. There is a limited amount, and every time we tap into this emergency fund, we get a little closer to our deaths.
Ray's work shows that when we move from thyroid-driven metabolism to adrenal-driven metabolism, the cortisol (stress hormone) released signals our bodies to break down muscles and other protein-heavy tissues in order to provide extra energy through the conversion of protein into sugar. The cortisol simultaneously tells our bodies to convert blood sugars into fats, because it believes we are in an inhospitable/stressful environment that will require the stockpiling of resources. Essentially, the adrenal-based energy mode will sacrifice structures (protein-based tissues and cellular machinery) for energy, while simultaneously locking away energy in the form of stored fat. Staying in this state long enough will lead to the wasting conditions associated with aging: Loss of muscle mass, sagging skin, buildup of fat stores, loss of elasticity, lower energy, and a lower and lower body temperature until the inevitable rigid cold of death. Sound familiar again? This stuff is Chinese Medicine and Taoist Longevity Arts 101. Ray wasn't the first western scientist to discover this parallel to the "Pre-Natal Energy" or "back-up energy" of Chinese Medicine.
The Stress of Life, by Dr Hans Selye, M. D.
One of Ray's biggest influences, Dr Hans Selye, M. D. was a researcher at Johns Hopkins University as well as the Director of Experimental Medicine at the University of Montreal, Canada. Dr Selye found that upon studying the response of mammals to various stressors, there was a pattern of response that was the same no matter what the stressor was. He would apply heat stress, cold stress, exercise stress, toxin stress—it didn't matter. All the subjects responded with the same underlying condition. The adrenals increased stress hormone output, the lymphatic tissues shrunk, and the stomach and intestines became "leakier." He coined the term G.A.S. - General Adaptation Syndrome - for this strangely uniform response to every conceivable form of stress. He claimed that these adaptations were part of a larger effort by the organism to adapt itself to the stressor. But this came at a long-term cost. In his own words, in his 1956 book, The Stress of Life:
"It is as though something were lost, or used up, during the work of adaptation; but what this is, we do not know. The term 'adaptation energy' has been coined for that which is consumed during continued adaptive work, to indicate that it is something different from the caloric energy we receive from food; but this is only a name, and we still have no precise concept for what this energy might be. Further research along these lines would seem to hold great promise, since here we appear to touch the fundamentals of aging."
Dr. Hans Selye, in 1956, having moved from Europe to America to study rats in a lab, independently rediscovered and tried to articulate what Chinese Medicine doctors, and Taoist. Mystics, found out millennia ago—That we have two types of energy in the body:
1. Post-Natal Energy (Qi), the energy we get from food and air that powers our day to day needs. 2. Pre- Natal Energy (Jing), the energy that we rely on as backup when we don't have enough Qi to meet demands, and of which there is a limited amount.
Dr. Selye even intuited that this "Adaptation Energy" was at the foundation of aging, a concept which mirrors the Taoist idea that when the Jing runs dry the life of the organism ends. How strange that he wasn't able to identify any particular form of physical energy that would account for this. Perhaps the Taoist description of Jing is more literal than many scientific materialist types would be inclined to assume (myself included).
Another area that Chinese Medicine overlaps with Bioenergetic Health is the assertion that there is something in the nature of youth that holds the keys to health and longevity. The Tao Te Ching (The Book of The Way and its Virtue) states:
"Man at his birth is supple and flexible; at his death, rigid and brittle. (So it is with) all things. Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and supple; at their death, dry and rigid."
The Taoists associate suppleness and flexibility with youthful vitality; But Dr. Ray Peat takes it a step further. He points out the fact that young children seem to easily regenerate after injuries, at least compared to adults. One common injury is that of slicing off the tip of the finger while cutting fruit or vegetables. In adults, the fingertip is typically lost for good, whereas in children it will often grow back completely. Take the opposite extreme example, of an old person in a nursing home, who falls and breaks their hip. They frequently take so long to recover that they. die of infections from lying in bed so long. (This is actually a very common cause of death, and a great reason to work your balance with a Tai Chi practice as you age!)
According to Dr. Ray Peat:
"If we optimize the known factors which improve energy production (red light, short-chain and medium-chain saturated fats, and pregnenolone, for example), to the extent that our metabolism resembles that of a ten-year old child, I don't think there is any reason to suppose that we wouldn't have regenerative, healing abilities which are common at that age."
Taoist Longevity schools and Bioenergetic Health seekers are going after many of the same goals, just with different tools. The former uses herbs, breathwork, movement, meditation, and acupoints, while the latter uses microscopes, scientific journals, vitamins, minerals, and various supplements. Where they both meet is on the importance of diet as a foundation for health and longevity. I'll save describing the whole Bioenergetic dietary philosophy for another article. For now, let's see where Chinese Medicine and Bioenergetic diet principles align:
● Carbs are the best fuel (Qi) source, not fats or proteins
● Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and eating it will lower your stress and give you more energy
● Cooked foods are generally preferable to raw in terms of digestibility
● Eating foods that are easier to digest is ideal in times of stress or illness
● Overexercising can be just as bad for you as being sedentary, especially if you aren't eating enough
● Eat the organs you are having issues with. Cow liver for your liver, and bone broth and tendon for your bones and sinews, etc
● Fasting depletes the body, not just of fat reserves, but of fundamental adaptive energy or "Jing", and should only be used rarely and wisely
● Having sufficient energy brings out our best virtues, so if you eat regular meals and keep your blood sugar balanced you will be more pleasant to be around
● Periods of starvation or malnutrition have the potential to bring out the darkest sides of Humanity—Beware such times and guard against the monster in yourself, that you may not yet know is there.
Listen to Your Body
Perhaps you have found doing something opposite to this advice has helped you. Good! We always want to listen to the results in our bodies over even the most time-tested wisdom. However, perhaps you are like me and have jumped on a bunch of dietary or fitness bandwagons due to the shiny marketing and bold promises. You may have pushed yourself to do something "healthy" because of how it is supposed to make you feel, rather than how it is actually, making you feel in reality. One of my teachers once said to me, "People always say they've tried everything, when they really mean they've tried the same thing harder, and harder, and harder". If you suspect that might be you right now, I recommend just trying out these basic tenants, and seeing if anything improves. Eating lots of raw salads, skipping breakfast, doing tons of cardio, and trying to be "fat fueled" all day can be a great way to get shredded fast, but in the long run can suppress your metabolism, and ruin your health, by convincing your body it is starving all the time. This forces you to deplete your Jing, or Adaptive Energy, and leads to early aging, as I found out on my two-year keto and intermittent fasting experiment where I started going bald and grey in my 20s (the bright side being it led me to find Ray Peat's work on anti-aging). These two ways of viewing health, Bioenergetic and Eastern Medicine, would also agree that quality of breathing, movement, and rest impact health significantly. As Dr Peat puts it:
"Choosing the right foods, the right atmosphere, the right mental and physical activities, and finding the optimal rhythms of light, darkness, and activity, can begin to alter the streaming renewal of cells in all the organs. Designing a more perfect environment is going to be much simpler than the schemes of the genetic engineers."
The Bioenergetic Health community doesn't have a whole lot to say yet about specific activities of breath, movement, or meditation. Fortunately, the doctors of ancient China have already got that one nailed down! We can improve mitochondrial respiration, and thus metabolism and energy production, through our quality of breathing. We can improve blood and energy flow through the body, and relieve chronic pain and stiffness, through efficient posture and dynamic motion. We can lower stress hormones and improve brain function by focusing our awareness with mindfulness. We can achieve all these benefits and more through the practice of the ancient art of Qigong (or Chi Kung), which brings together many aspects of mind/body training into a unique system of health cultivation.
There are thousands of interesting styles to choose from, but I have brought together some of the best exercises for beginners and intermediate students in my Bioenergy Training 60 Day Program. This affordable, approachable, convenient, and aesthetically beautiful two-part program will take you through ten unique routines of progressively more challenging Qigong exercises. The programs will improve your balance, posture, flexibility, strength, mobility, breathing, and focus, and will help your body learn to live in a high energy low stress mode of being. As we shift towards a higher energy and lower stress state, many people find health conditions mysterious vanish or become less severe or frequent. This is the magic of energy improving structure, and vice versa!
It's only a matter of time, in our hyper-connected modern world, before Eastern and Western medicine synthesizes. The physical technology of the West, and the psychic technology of the East will converge somewhere. I personally believe Bioenergetic Health is the perfect starting place to make that bridge happen. When the old and the new, the subjective and objective, the East and West, the mythic and literal, finally find their balance and peace, we will advance in our wisdom and understanding as a species like never before. For now, a lot of people are suffering with needless illness. Let's get out there and change that.
The above is part-two of a two-part article by Nick Loffree author of Bioenergy Training: 60 Day Transformation - Part 1 Beginner and Part 2 Intermediate, March 2022.