Sun Sachs, a long-time endurance athlete and software developer, is the CEO and Co-founder of Rewire Fitness, a mental fitness platform for athletes to avoid burnout by providing tools that improve mindset, readiness and resilience. He is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and human health. Sun co-created the plant-based media brand – www.thebeet.com – which merged with Forks Over Knives. He is a plant-based culinary chef graduate and continues to advise for The Beet.
In this week’s podcast, Sonya chats with Sun about brain endurance training, performance and his app, Rewire Fitness. Rewire provides neuro-training, mental readiness assessments, and mindset recovery.
“When you’re under a greater amount of cognitive fatigue, it’s going to negatively impact your behavior and your perception of effort, which is going to essentially make you slow down. So what this system does is, and it’s been cross validated with the same researchers that developed the science originally, basically what it does is keeps overloading your brain over a, let’s call it a six to eight week period, you start to have an adaptation and and how that adaptation is measured is what we call perception gap. And you might imagine what that means, which is basically, we want your perception to accurately reflect the effort when you’re under cognitive load. So that way when you’re out there pushing yourself like, how often do you as a professional push yourself really hard all the time, and it probably takes a really hard training day to get to that edge where you feel like mentally you’re really suffering, right? This allows you to get to that state without the physical load. So that means you can practice getting in that overloaded state over and over again, build that resilience, so when you are in competition, or you are trying to push yourself, you have more resilience.“– Sun Sachs
- What is brain endurance training?
- Tracking cognitive fatigue
- Cognitive fatigue and physical fatigue
- How to adapt your perception of effort
- What mental recovery looks like
- The power of priming
- Breath work for performance
- Learn more about Rewire Fitness app
- Related Podcast: Alex Hutchinson: Do Limits Live in Our Mind or Our Body
- Related Podcast: Dr. Michael Gervais: The Mental Skills of High Performance
- Related Podcast: Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson: How to Be a More Confident Athlete
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Sonya Looney: Sun, welcome to the show.
Sun Sachs: Thanks for having me, excited to chat.
Sonya: I see you have a bike on your shirt there. And I know that one of your backgrounds involves the bike. Can you tell us about that?
Sun: Yeah, my pleasure. Yeah, this shirt is from the bike messenger association. So go kind of way back. I mean, I’m a lifelong endurance athlete, and super passionate about biking, grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and got involved in early age in bike racing. This is dating myself, but this is we’re talking about the early ‘80s. So it was just about pre mountain biking. There was certainly some stuff happening in Marin. So I went obviously, into road. And then by late 80s, I got involved in mountain bike racing. And I worked my way up to an elite level, several disciplines. This was back when like, I remember doing Mammoth without shocks, if you can believe it. No power meters. I mean, we had heart rate monitors, but nobody discovered HRV yet. So I was data poor, let’s put it that way. And, you know, like what happens to many athletes, starving athlete doing everything I could to succeed, I burnt out and suffered from injury, just mental and physical burnout, and retired at 26. I also spent about seven years as a bike messenger, which is probably the most fun on the bike I’ve ever had. You really hone your skills, cruising through traffic at speed. And it’s a it’s a great community. You know, it’s an incredible group of people, because you’re just sort of, putting yourself on the line with a bunch of folks. It was very cool. This was in Seattle. So, that’s just sort of the the bike backstory, I haven’t stopped riding. I’ve been riding almost 40 years, you know, to get out there like to push myself and continue to be the best athlete that can be.
Sonya: I’m smiling to myself about the bike messenger because this is a bit off topic and a bit of an anecdote, but I think it’s fun. I’ve raced my bike in Nepal a couple times in the Himalaya. And that required riding in Katmandu, if you wanted to do any type of riding before the race, and there’s no stoplights, there’s no like everything, just mass chaos, there’s cows, there’s bikes, there’s cars, everything’s going every which way. And I thought, how am I going to ride my bike and not get hit in this? But you just become part of the chaos, and it just works. So it just made me smile thinking about that.
Sun: Yeah, and I do not recommend this for anybody, so this is not a recommendation, but you get into flow state very quickly, when you’re dealing with multiple objects that could wipe you out at once. Like it it just is a flow trigger. And I had incredible experience like, that just made me real, really connected to the bike, when you’re jumping over a hill, and there’s a car, right, where you’re going to land and you have to figure out what to do in the air. The second I hit the ground, I’m gonna skid around that thing, and I’m gonna pull sideways, you know, like, it’s just, it’s a different level of experience with the bike.
Sonya: So speaking of flow state, and you mentioned physical and mental burnout, what inspired you to move towards brain endurance training and your app?
Sun: Yeah, totally. So right after I retired from cycling, I went into software and product development. This was like, right when the internet was starting to boom a little bit. This is like late 90s. And so I spent a few decades cutting my teeth on building consumer and business products, online, digital, that good stuff. Meanwhile, I kept sort of looking at how I could improve. So I spent, this is probably 12 years ago, went super deep on quantified self, was measuring everything. Before HRV was very well known, I was using it every day. I found it was sort of the most correlative to my training and adaptation. So I was like, okay, of everything I’m measuring every day. This is the one metric I can count on to be at least somewhat correlative. Put that in my toolkit that I spent, like, went four or five years super deep on meditation. I was meditating three to four hours a day, which is a bit much, but the practice I was doing required it.
Sonya: What practice were you doing?
Sun: It is a yoga technique, where with a lot of breathing, I’m actually not supposed to reveal any of the master secrets, but it’s essentially really a breathing and very sort of physical meditative technique, and wonderful practice, really transformative, but also didn’t really fit with my athlete lifestyle. Like if I’m already trying to squeeze in the workouts and now I’m getting up at 4am to do the meditation, it didn’t really fit. So while I recognized the incredible benefits, I also found it to be just too much. And then the last piece of the puzzle for me was, it must have been six, seven years ago at this point, I became aware of this science around brain endurance training, and I was, literally the second I heard it, I was so excited. I was like, I want to be a test subject. Let me do it. Like, how do I get involved? It was in Europe, there was no real way that I could figure out how to get involved. And so I was like, okay, well, it’s so innovative, it’s going to come to the market. And I kept waiting and waiting, there were a couple of attempts to bring it to market…never came to market. And one day, coincidentally, I was on the bike trainer and I was like, oh, this is a UI problem, which is stands for user interface. And I was like, oh, I could probably do this. So started making a prototype. This puts us back in 2018 at this point, fall, right about anniversary here about four years ago, and got together with a couple of co founders, started beta testing pretty much immediately. And we really just took all those components of a way to quantify your training and recovery, a way to measure your cognitive state and tools to really build resilience, but also recover the mind. And so it was very holistic approach a lot from my firsthand experience and a lot from science that didn’t come to market. So labor of love for sure. It’s been a long journey,
Sonya: You seem to have a lot of intuition with things that are going to be big. So you mentioned mountain biking in the 80s before it was what it is today. You mentioned the quantified self and HRV. You’ve mentioned the mental side of sport, which seems to be blooming. What else is kind of on your mind when I know that you’re already working on something, but what other kind of connections are in your mind right now?
Sun: Yeah, I mean, appreciate that. Yeah. I’m always seeking, I’m always seeking data and mastery, and that sends me down many rabbit holes, but in the process, I find a few things. Yeah, I would say like, the two most exciting areas of development would be really continuous monitoring, with not just data, but insights and trends and AI. In other words I’m wearing an aura ring, I have my Garmin watch on. They’re really good at giving me data. But they’re not so good about understanding where I’m at, and also being predictive about what I need. So we’re doing that with Rewire. But that’s just getting started. Like when we get to a point where your your hormonal activity, all of your nutrition trends, all of your stress trends, everything is sort of in a system that can start to analyze slow moving factors for disease and other things. Typically, cancer doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over 20-30 years, right? There’s a sleeping giant in there, if you could be aware of those factors as they’re developing slow, subtle changes, be incredible for your health, but also incredible for performance, you know? So that that’s one, that’s one.
Sonya: It’s little bit off topic, but a lot of times we’re making changes, people need to have something bad happen. I’m thinking about health changes, and you mentioned cancer being a sleeping giant and something that happens over 20 years. Someone might be getting feedback like, hey, this might give you cancer, they still might not take action until something bad happens.
Sun: Yeah, you’re so right. Humans, as smart and clever as we are, we’re really not good at long term consequences. Say what you will about all kinds of problems we’re dealing with, but these are things that we could have predicted quite a long time ago. So yeah, the behavior change, that’s a different aspect, which is also important. We work on doing that in Rewire to really provide, qualitative and quantitative data in terms of how the session worked for you, what you could do to improve so that you’re always getting this feedback of like, oh, well, the last time I was stressed out and I did this session, I felt a lot better. So maybe I should do it again. If you can have that sort of a reward based system, I mean, it’s not easy for sure, especially with the habit that’s so enjoyable, like diet or drinking or things that feel great at the moment. And then you suffer through it later. It can be hard. But yeah, I’m optimistic.
Sonya: So let’s shift gears to talking about the app because I mentioned before we hit record, I was really impressed that it incorporates so much from the science, but also practical application. Can you give us a quick overview of the app? And then I want to go into detail on some of the things that it does.
Sun: Yes, absolutely. So there’s three pillars to the system. One is resilience training. So in the same way that you’d want to build more physical strength in the gym, or on the bike, or whatever your sport is, you want to build sort of mental muscle, if you will. And then just like training, we all know that how important recovery is, we have tools for recovering the mind and body, which are really what I would consider an alternative to meditation. Again, meditation is a wonderful practice, but what people often aren’t aware of is the cognitive fatigue, and how that builds up over time, and how that can negatively impact your performance. So we want to provide tools for recovery. And then right in the middle, is the readiness system and it’s a holistic approach to readiness. So basically, we’ll connect with your Garmin, or your Aura, or Strava, heart rate straps, a bunch of stuff, will bring in your physical data, so we’ll know how you slept, what your training load is. And then we’ll also combine that with cognitive and emotional assessments. So we can tell at a high level, where you’re at holistically, not just physically, which is so important. We’re not just the sum of our sleep and heart rate data.
Sonya: Thank you for saying that because I think a lot of times people will look at that data, and then they’ll go out and do whatever their activity is, and be like, my HRV is good, why do I still feel like crap?
Sun: That’s right. Well, I had a super stressful day at work, but I’m not sure why I’m not performing. I mean, it’s easy to miss. We’re the traditional sports science and traditional way to train is not doesn’t really, it’s just siloed, it doesn’t really include that stuff. Unless you’re in a pro environment, like yourself, where maybe of a sports psychologist or other support, but the average athlete doesn’t have that kind of context or that support.
Sonya: I think the cognitive load affecting physical performance is still something that’s not talked about very often. And in fact, I had never even heard of it until I read Endure by Alex Hutchinson several years ago. And I’m the type of professional athlete where I like to have lots of things going on. I don’t want to just train and do sponsorship obligations, I want to have lots of things. But again, it would get to the point where the morning of a race, I’d be working before the race because I was excited and happy about my work, but then I’d be tired at the race. And I’d be like, well, what’s wrong with me? Why am I so tired? Or there’ll be people where they would take a rest day like myself off the bike, but then spend 10 hours working on something that’s very mentally engaging. And it’s not something that I’m unhappy doing. It’s something I’m stoked about. But then I would feel bad on my bike. And I just never made that connection that mental fatigue actually contributes to a decline in physical performance. And then I started getting into Samuele Marcora‘s work and all of that stuff and it got really fascinating. So I was so excited to see that this is part of the app. So how is cognitive readiness assessed in the app?
Sun: Yes, so we do what specific tests, it’s a protocol cut. It’s called the psychomotor vigilance test. And basically, it’s a reaction time test where you see a shape on the screen and every time you see the shape, you tap on it. And we gather a lot of data from that. So we’re tracking everything compared to each individual’s baseline. So we’ll know you’re 5% off your reaction time, your accuracy, things like lapses, so lapse would be like a momentary lapse of attention, which we’ve all had, and we’ve had it on the bike and that’s not good, right? So knowing that you’re 5-10% off your, your baseline and cognitive performance is super helpful, pretty much in any sport, but also if you need to perform mentally that day. So it’s a varied test, you’ll see it in sleep studies and also in the military. Like all of the app, we basically found the specific science, worked with scientists and really recreated it in a way that’s very palatable and usable for an everyday person.
Sonya: So in light of taking information and then putting it into practice, someone will do this test, which I’ve done. And I think it’s actually really fun. As a competitive person, you’re like, yeah, 2.71 milliseconds like, you want to better that, but how can somebody take this readiness score and then make decisions in their training and in their daily life? On how to improve that? Or what type of rest they might need?
Sun: Sun: Yeah, yeah, I’m the same. A lot of athletes think it’s really fun. What you do is you wake up in the morning, and just as part of your morning routine, you spend 90 seconds with the app. You open up the app, it syncs all your training data, you do the reaction time test. We also have an emotional questionnaire. I’m really geared towards your perspective of your ability to perform and how frustrated and stressed you are. All that goes into the algorithm. And then what’s really unique is that, then it will break everything down. So you’re like, oh, physically, I’m great. All my other devices are saying I’m great. But cognitively and emotionally, I’m in the tank, and it’ll be like you’re 5%, or you’re 10%. So it basically illuminates or reflects back details you may not be aware of. So one is understanding where you’re at, that’s helpful. But then to if it’s just monitoring without a solution, it’s really not that helpful, because you’re still on your own, right, like I love for for sleep. But when it tells me, maybe you should take a rest day, and I’m like, dude, I have a lot of work to do, and I gotta get my workout in, and I feel fine. It’s not that helpful. So what we say is, here’s where you’re at, here’s what you need. And then we’ll provide an intervention, which is typically two to four minutes. You basically tap on prepare for the day and then it’ll give you a session that’s very curated to your areas of need.
Sonya: I realized that I forgot to ask, what is brain endurance training for those who might not have heard of it?
Sun: Yes. So basically, the comparison, you could definitely look at it like physical training. What you’re doing is, you’re doing a specific type of test, which is targeted to the part of your brain, it’s called a response inhibition test. Basically, it’s like impulse control. So the questions are really in the forms of letters and shapes. And your intention is to answer them correctly, but they’re intuitively a little bit tricky. And what that requires is just a little bit of sustained focus, to make sure you’re concentrating enoug. Layer that on times 1000 questions over 15 minutes, what it does, is it it overloads the brain, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and curiously, it is the same part of the brain that’s responsible for goal driven behavior, right. So we’re all athletes, probably most of us type A, we’re really trying to achieve things. So it’s impacting that part of your brain. And that’s also the part of your brain that basically perceives the effort or the physical difficulty of a task. So when you’re under a lot of cognitive fatigue, like your example, you’re working all day in between races, when you go out and get on your bike the next day, that cognitive fatigue is going to make you misperceive the physical difficulty, because your brain is tired, your brain is like I’m tired. And then your body reflects that. So great endurance training is specifically targeting that part of your brain to create an adaptation. And what the studies show is that adaptation translates to greater physical and mental performance, which is what I was so excited about back in the day when I first heard about it.
Sonya: So you mentioned that one of the pillars is resilience training, so can you talk about some of the examples of resilience training?
Sun: So when the system detects that you’re kind of mentally sharp, let’s say you’re 5% above your baseline, it’s going to prescribe an exercise you can do in the app, which is basically this brain endurance training session. And right now the idea is that you can do it before a low intensity workout or after a high intensity workout. Why you don’t do it during the high intensity workout is because it might negatively impact your performance. So if you’re really trying to hit your numbers, doing that right before it’s not a great idea. It’s 10-15 minutes. Typically, it does depend on the athlete, but typically we’ll see them do it between two to three times per week. And then I’ll give you a quick exclusive, which is we’re getting ready to roll out these neuro buttons, which are going to basically allow you to remote control the app to answer the brain training questions, which is so exciting, because what you can literally do and, not outside, but you can get on the bike trainer and do brain training while you’re working out. Or you can go for a run and do brain training. It’s a pretty novel experience, like a mind-body workout. So that’s coming later this year. But yeah, that’s how it works. It’s just app based. It’s very convenient. And it’s gamified, so it is kind of fun to do.
Sonya: So how does it work? How does it actually improve your resilience? And how is that played out in performance setting?
Sun: So what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to bridge that gap. When you’re under a greater amount of cognitive fatigue, it’s going to negatively impact your behavior and your perception of effort, which is going to essentially make you slow down. So what this system does is, and it’s been cross validated with the same researchers that developed the science originally, basically what it does is keeps overloading your brain over a, let’s call it a six to eight week period, you start to have an adaptation and and how that adaptation is measured is what we call perception gap. And you might imagine what that means, which is basically, we want your perception to accurately reflect the effort when you’re under cognitive load. So that way when you’re out there pushing yourself like, how often do you as a professional you push yourself really hard all the time, and it probably takes a really hard training day to get to that edge where you feel like mentally you’re really suffering, right? This allows you to get to that state without the physical load. So that means you can practice getting in that overloaded state over and over again, build that resilience, so when you are in competition, or you are trying to push yourself, you have more resilience. So I’ll give you a good example from the research. So they basically took 30 amateur cyclists, there’s actually a lot of research done with cyclists, but other other sports too. So they took 30 amateur cyclists, and they had them come into the lab and do a power base workout three times a week. And over a three month period everybody improved. You would think they would improve. The control group just did the power base training when they were in the lab. And the variant group did the power based workout with a keyboard attached to their bike doing the same brain training exercise that we have in the app. So the end result after the three months, the control group that was just doing the regular power base workout, they improved by 40%, which is awesome. The brain train group improved 3x – 120%. And how did they improve? So the way they measured the improvement was they had them do a time to exhaustion test, which is pretty much like a brutal FTP test. You set a fixed power and you pedal as long as you can, until you can’t go any longer till you’re like my legs are dead. So the brain train group ended up being able to go five minutes longer at the hardest part of the test, which is pretty significant when you think about competition. If you could get even 1% difference, or 2% difference, is massive, right? So it just shows you the kind of untapped potential whether it be amateur all the way to professional. Professional might need more load, but there’s still, you know, you can always get better.
Sun: That’s amazing. And the thing that I think is really unique is that a lot of times we’re thinking about sports psychology, and it does incorporate sports psychology, but it’s a little bit different of a skill and a mental training that you’re doing.
Sun: Yeah, exactly. That’s why, the brain is not a muscle, but that analogy is is a good one and that you’re you’re basically building more capacity, you’re creating an adaptation. And that adaptation is super helpful when it comes to performance, not only in sport, but in life. And then the other part of it is our recovery system, which as he said does incorporate a lot of other protocols from sports psychology.
Sonya: I love the idea of doing this resilience training while writing the indoor trainer because a lot of times people dread the trainer or they think it’s boring and this adds a whole other element and almost sense of purpose where you could essentially be knocking out two birds with one stone.
Sun: Yes, we’re very sensitive to the time crunch athlete. The average athlete is juggling work life, all this stuff. And the idea that you can one, kill two birds, as you said, but also, some of this interval workouts are brutal. And if you can distract yourself a little bit and have a different thing you’re focused on. It’s very gamified. Like, basically, you’ll have your power, your power map, and you’re trying to hit these thresholds, but as you’re doing that, you’re also trying to answer the questions, and of course, we’ll mess you up by making you answer the hard questions at the hardest interval. So it’s pretty engaging, that’s for sure.
Sonya: Yeah, I’m definitely going to be using this over the winter. And it also makes me think about when you’re in a race, you’re trying to do simple math sometimes. And you’re pushing yourself so hard, but then you’re trying to calculate the next aid station and convert kilometers to miles, or whatever it is. And sometimes it’s actually really hard to do simple math in your head when you’re pushing so incredibly hard.
Sun: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, you can’t really decouple the mind and the body. You know, that’s how we’ve traditionally done it with training. But when you’re really pushing yourself, like your mind is helping to drive your body. And that’s creating a lot of load. And over time, yeah, we’ve all had those moments, right, where you just start, say, you can’t you can’t even answer a simple question.
Sonya: I also wanted to ask, because you mentioned distracting yourself during the pain during an interval. But what about the opposite – going in, and focusing on the pain. Something that I started doing this year during my intervals is saying, I am not separate from the pain; I am the pain. And that seemed to be really helpful.
Sun: Totally, yeah. So the other part of our system, and actually, it’s integrated with the resilience training. So when we roll out these buttons, we have self talk integrated. And so you can use self talk as part of the recovery now, but when we roll out the buttons, you’ll be able to use it in brain endurance training. And basically, you program the self talk messages that you want to use, really as a trigger, right, to to have the right mindset about what you’re experiencing. And the more you can practice that in training, the better in competition. So just like you’re describing, yeah, I like to transmute pain too. My little trick is I think about my favorite meal, and how savory and delicious it is. And I tried to like remap that to the worst interval that I’m doing. It tends to work at least initially.
Sonya: Something else that I was thinking about, whenever I first discovered this app is in mountain biking, I’m sure you’ve had this experience riding technical trails, some days you’re, you’re on it. You feel like you’re one with the bike, the things that were intimidating, or sometimes or intimidating just come easily to you. And then there’s other days where you just cannot get out of your own way whenever you’re out riding your bike, or insert whatever sport you know, especially skills based sports, maybe it’s like tennis, or soccer or football or basketball, anything that’s heavily involved with skills. And you just cannot make yourself do the thing that comes easily other times. And I had this crazy experience, it was a seven day enduro surgery. So like down, all the downhill segments were timed, and there was no pre-riding. So it was all blind riding and this was in BC, where it’s very steep and technical. So you had to make a lot of decisions over the course of a week. And I didn’t do any previous training for the mental side of this. And by the end of the race, my brain was so tired, that I could not make any more decisions on what line to take, or how to ride something. And in fact, even the next day, I went for a ride with my husband and I could barely ride a green trail because my mind was so fried from just trying to make so many decisions in that moment. So long story long, thinking about your app, thinking about this resilience training, there’s so many applications, other than just the pain part. It’s the skill part where you have to be focused on executing a skill repeatedly.
Sun: Yes. So you know, when you go into our library, we basically have sessions you can do for pre competition, we have sessions you can do in between. So there’s this race that I do every year that has three races in one day. So how do you deal with that? Right? So what I do is I do the mindset recovery. You can passive mode so you don’t have to even look at the screen. And what we integrate is things that will help recover your mind and get your body into a calm ready state. I think before the recording, we were talking a little bit about flow state, and classic flow trigger is being in that calm, ready state, having a lot of anxiety, having a lot of stress, a lot of tension, there’s no way you’re going to get into that flow state on the trail or running or whatever your sport is. But if you can sort of prime yourself to really be open and accepting to whatever the situation brings, you’re going to do so much better. So yeah, these techniques you can absolutely use, even in competition. I mean, not while you’re racing, but in between rounds and things like that.
Sonya: What are some of the other recovery tools in the app?
Sun: Yes, so basically the system will assess you in the morning. And it will give you a recommendation. You can also go into the library and I’ll give you kind of a classic example. So we do, and this is part of our unique technology, is basically take a bunch of different evidence based protocols, map them to your areas of need, and put them together and we call a recipe. So it’s kind of like what you’d imagine, it’s a combination of things that in aggregate are all going to help you. And so we can maximize the time you put into it with we’ll bring in oftentimes some kind of breathing modality. We can support any kind of breathing, classic one for stress, and maintain focus is box breathing. But we could do things like alternative nasal breathing, step up, such as like a hyperventilation state, 4-7-8, and so on. So imagine you open up the app, you do a couple of minutes of breathing, while you’re doing the breathing, you’re listening to in “relaxing music” but it’s actually, well, what we call binary old beats, which is a neuroscience technique to entrain your mind. In other words, have your mind mimic the waves that it’s perceiving. And what’s so powerful about that is, we can broadcast a theta state or a beta state, in other words, a relaxed state or a focus state. And what’s going to happen is your brain is actually going to start to shift into that mode. So you’re breathing, that’s impacting your physiology, and getting you into a calm state. You’re listening to the binary beats. And then we’ll bring in things like self talk, visualization cues, all sports science techniques that work better in a structured way. So you can really learn them and get the benefit. And another protocol that we integrate is subliminal priming. So right out of the lab, right out of the 1950s movie theaters, trying to sell popcorn subliminally, flashing, buy popcorn. Instead, what we’re doing is it’s grounded in science, specifically for athletes, what we’re doing is we’re priming somebody subliminally with positive imagery. And what we want to do is impact their mental state, their emotionality, and help them cognitively recover. And it’s a pretty novel technique. We literally had to de-engineer what they had in the lab to do the priming following their exact protocol. But all you do is look at the screen and it’s basically getting you into a positive mental state.
Sonya: There’s so much information and research in this app; how did you bring it all together?
Sun: Yeah, labor of love, testing a lot of things, working with many scientists. It took three years to develop it. A lot of beta testing. We’re a whole team of athletes, athletes first. And we were sensitive, the fact that most people don’t have a lot of time, we’re asking them to try something new. And so we really wanted to make sure that the science was sound and that it offered as much value as possible. And the last piece is we just have iterated a lot. So the product has evolved and continues to evolve, really based on feedback. So we just released a whole bunch of… two new collections of mindset sessions focused around literally one minute passive mode. What’s the challenge for us? We’re working with this group that they’re trying to do a world record and they’re like, we only have one minute. What can you do for us within one minute? Like, okay, challenge accepted here are five sessions you can do that will help you. So we just keep evolving. And, and obviously we have our nose to the science constantly and are looking and testing different things. So we have a great advisory group of different scientists and human performance neuroscience, all that good stuff.
Sonya: It seems like finding the right team is so key for this app, not only its birth, but also the continuous iterations as the science continues to evolve.
Sun: Yeah, 100%. Yeah, we’re very committed to continuing to be evidence driven. And we’re forming relationships with different universities, and I think will help contribute to that science as well. So that’s exciting. There’s a lot of other ideas I have for things we could do. So looking forward to that.
Sonya: So somebody that spent a lot of time doing meditation, and then coming over to your app, and the brain endurance training, you’re not necessarily saying that people need to be doing meditation in order to improve their athletic performance, but there’s breath work in the app. So can you talk a little bit or play a little bit with the idea of meditation versus breath work? Or maybe in addition, improve performance?
Sun: Absolutely. So meditation, they call it a practice for a reason. It typically takes at least eight weeks of consistent practice, in other words daily, to start to see benefits. And it’s very amorphous in that way. It almost feels like it’s faith based initially. And if you have a very active mind, it’s even harder. And oftentimes, the practice, it’s a big commitment in time. And the real difference is, one with our sessions, they create a very similar result, but without the time. They’re also evidence based, so there’s, I mean, there’s lots of science behind meditation so I don’t want to say that it’s not evidence based, but we’re basically analyzing the results, and showing you the objective and subjective data of how it went. So in other words, when you meditate, an app, any meditation app is great as they’re not going to tell you how well you meditated. Like you scored a seven out of 10 in meditation. But because of the way we’re doing it, we’re taking this approach, we can actually measure the subjective and objective results via heart rate monitor via your own assessment before and after. And that’s helpful. And the other thing that’s missing with meditation is, in general, it is a technique that you can do for mindfulness, but it’s not really geared towards performance or geared towards the needs of an athlete, right? And it’s also missing context. So like, if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, a meditation app isn’t going to tell you, hey, you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, do this specific meditation for that. And if you’re trying to have a great performance, there’s generically you can meditate and get into a calm state, wonderful. But it’s not going to be geared towards performance with the tools that will help you really get into the right headspace for performance. So it’s really just I would say like, meditation is a is a wonderful tool for mindfulness and self reflection, and managing stress. But it’s a generic tool. Whereas what we have is something that is very specific to athletic performance, and provides the data which we all love, and also understands where you’re at and what you need so you’re not having to just sort of figure it out.
Sonya: Yeah, I’m hearing that this is more personalized approach that takes into account a lot more factors, but that meditation still has its place in the non judgmental self awareness that goes on. For the sports psychology piece, if you’re doing a meditation, knowing where your mind goes and being able to recognize those thoughts so that when you are in the heat of the moment on the bike, or wherever your sport is pushing yourself, being able to first notice that these thoughts are even happening because a lot of times we might not even know that. And then being able to apply all of the things in the app, so that you can work with those things instead of against them.
Sun: Yes, they’re definitely complementary in that way. I think you nailed that one. They’re very complementary. And the other thing is that’s great. I still meditate almost daily. But 86% of the population has never meditated, right? And won’t. So there’s a lot of people that, they don’t have the tools, and they’re not going to try that. So why not find something else that works, because, you know, having quality time with your mind body spirit for two to four minutes a day is material, it makes a difference, you know?
Sonya: The piece that I’ve been the most interested in lately is the breath work piece. And I mentioned, I have this mindset academy that I launched in 2020. And I did have some breath work involved there. But since then, I’ve learned a lot more about breath work. And it’s so fascinating how you can change your energy and how after James Nestor’s book, Breath, after his book came out, I was like, wow, there’s just so much more here. What have been some things that you’ve adapted and learned with the breath work piece recently, or just as this app has iterated?
Sun: Yeah, I mean, it’s incredible. Like, there’s a reason that it’s autonomic and also self controlled. You have this gift of being able to change your physiology, right. And people have been so excited about how you can activate this fight or flight state and resist, basically, viruses. That’s a natural ability we have. We have this ability to trigger our state. And, for instance, if you do box breathing, what you’re basically doing is a fixed breath in, holding, a fixed breath out and holding. And what that does is get your body into homeostasis. When you’re in a homeostasis, this is used by the Navy SEALs, probably most famously, you’re focused, and you’re calm. That is like a wonderful state for athletic performance. And there’s certain sessions we do in the app where I can wear a heart rate monitor, I can see my HRV improved by four or five points. What else can you do to, I mean, otherwise, you’re just sort of like, well, I hope my HRV recovers, right. But if there’s something you can actually do to improve it, that’s really exciting. The super fascinating thing is the relationship with your parasympathetic and your sympathetic nervous system. And how breathing in is your sympathetic and breathing out as your parasympathetic. Same thing with your nostrils, your right nostril is your sympathetic and your left as your parasympathetic. So when I’m just walking around, throughout the day, I’ll go like, oh, interesting, my left nostril is clogged up, I’m kind of in a stress state. There’s these little things, you can start to observe and do something about it. That’s why the alternative nasal breathing, again, gets you into a homeostasis, because you’re basically unclogging that, you know that other nostril, I’m getting everything balanced again. So it’s fascinating and very powerful.
Sonya: And I can see you light up whenever you talk about how you can see the changes in the measurement right in front of you. And it sounds like that’s really exciting for you that you can do these things, but that you can actually see the changes happening, instead of it being this nebulous thing.
Sun: Yeah, that’s important. Definitely a nerd at heart and being able to measure things and know that they work. And then when you find something that works, that’s like gold, right, you can just rinse and repeat whenever you need it. So the way to do that is to show people the data. If you’re doing one of those sessions, like I talked about, which has breathing and binary beats and self talk will break down your physiological changes for each protocol. So hey, for one person, maybe the self talk didn’t really impact them, but for other people, it did. And now that you know that, you can do more self talk sessions. It’s just showing the data can help illuminate and change behavior. At least that’s our intention.
Sonya: I’m sure whenever you’re continuing to evolve, there’s a lot of different ideas out there and you can’t do everything all the time. So how do you decide which which ideas take priority whenever you are putting them into the app versus the things that need to be put on the back burner for a little while?
Sun: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve been in product for a long time. And that’s the hardest part is oftentimes no shortage of ideas. Believe me, I would have built five different apps at this point. But what is important is really it’s user driven. So like we have several beta groups that we meet with every week. We have a lot of different coaches that are using our coaching platform. We’re taking that feedback, the practical application of what we’re doing is most important. So if the majority of folks in our beta are asking for a feature, we think something else is so much cooler and more important, we’re going to do what they’re asking for nine times out of 10. And that actually over time, that becomes a product that just resonates and helps more and more people, which is what we’re trying to do. So we’re only like, 50%, right, most of the time, and then everybody else helps us get there.
Sonya: as there anything else about the app that I didn’t bring up that you really want people to know?
Sun: Thank you for asking. I think, like I said, we’re always iterating always love feedback. The app is we have a freemium version, which gives you the holistic readiness, totally for free. And then an Elite version, which really has the sort of the recommendation engine stuff in it. And like I said, we’re rolling out the buttons, this next quarter here before the end of the year, and continue to iterate. So there’ll be many more things over time.
Sonya: Great, well, everybody should check it out. I’m really excited to start using it. And I mentioned I’ve only used it a couple of times because we’ve just met but I was super excited with what I saw. And yeah, this is gonna be a game changer for sure.
Sun: Awesome. Thank you. Thanks so much.