Hacking the Self

Dealing with Dis-ease

In January of 2017, just shy of my 36th birthday I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. Conventionally, a diagnosis of osteoporosis is determined by a DEXA scan, which assesses, among other things, one’s Bone Mineral Density (BMD). If you have a T score below -2.5 you are said to have osteoporosis. 

Usually, they will measure a few key parts of the body to assess BMD. Typically, it is the lumbar spine and the hip; often, the forearm is included as well. My T score left me with a diagnosis of osteoporosis in my lumbar spine and forearm, and “osteopeonia,” basically low BMD, in my hip. 

Given my age, I was shocked. Above all, I was scared…frightened less of the reality that I was facing in the present, because my attention did not linger in the present for too long, but rather fearful of an imaginary future, the disturbing contours of which my mind was rapidly constructing. 

As the mind often does when it builds a picture of the future, it drew on memories from the past, and my past was filled with ammunition to make me particularly terrified of such a diagnosis. 

I recalled images of my childhood, watching my father have one vertebrate after the next blow out, leaving a man who was an active outdoorsman, full of vigor and life, largely incapacitated and unable to pursue the passions and hobbies that gave him joy.

Though my father had degenerative disk disease, and only later had osteoporosis which undoubtedly exacerbated but did not cause his condition, this knowledge offered little consolation. It was the association my mind latched onto. Even now, understanding the distinction between his situation and my own, the specter of this image still haunts me.  

Yet here’s the bizarre thing about even the most shocking of medical diagnoses: the mind has a powerful capacity for cognitive dissonance.

This is the story I told myself: 

My condition could only be explained by prolonged use of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), such as Nexium and Prilosec, which I used to treat my acid reflux, from the time I was in my late teens. 

I will write more on PPIs in another blog post but I’ll cut to the chase right now: if you are taking PPIs, stop taking them

[It turns out that you need stomach acid, that long term use of PPIs can significantly put you at risk for osteoporosis and increase your chances for a fracture. PPIs can also lead to other digestive problems, as you need stomach acid to break down food and absorb essential nutrients, including calcium. There are other, more effective ways to treat acid reflux.]

Clearly, I surmised, what else could explain osteoporosis in someone my age if it weren’t for the PPIs? So I stopped taking the PPIs immediately. I started some relevant supplementation, in particular increasing my levels of Vitamin D. 

In retrospect though, my efforts seem paltry. I stopped far short of asking questions, and was not nearly aggressive enough in my treatment strategy. Underpinning this complacency was the assumption that surely my problems could be explained by a single variable, and the removal of this variable from the equation would gradually improve my condition. 

When I went back for my follow up scan nearly two years later I was hoping for at least a modest improvement in my BMD, thinking that a bad case scenario would be no improvement. In retrospect, it seems incredibly naive, but my mind had not even seriously entertained the possibility that my condition could have worsened. Without the PPIs, given my otherwise very healthy diet and lifestyle, what else could have explained my initial diagnosis? Surely, my condition would improve, if not hold stable. 

Or so I thought.

While there are many things I would have done differently following that initial diagnosis, the biggest thing I want to share with other people is this: do not make assumptions about what is causing your condition, whatever you might be facing. 

Do not accept the first opinion of your doctor no matter how good. You need to be persistent and relentless in getting to the bottom of what’s ailing you. As I’m now discovering, this often entails a process of elimination before you can even begin to hone in on a set of plausible explanations for what might be underlying your problems.

This is the position in which I now find myself, and this is one of the central dilemmas that I find myself facing: how to manage The Fear?

Fear: we can respond to respond to it in so many different ways. Denial is one. Determination is another. It didn’t take too many days after my second diagnosis to transition me from this first phase to the second one.

I can honestly say that I don’t spend a day, even a minute, regretting how I spent the last two years, not because I wouldn’t have done things differently (clearly, I would have), but simply because regretting the past is simply a waste of precious mental bandwidth I need to solve my problem, to reverse my condition. 

Right now there is only conceivable outcome in my mind, one possible end to this story: changing these circumstances. Not managing it, Not learning to live with it. But reversing it. Overcoming it. Triumph.

Sometimes acceptance means learning to live with your condition, and undoubtedly one day, whether it is this disease or another one that I meet on the way to my ultimate demise, that will clearly be a worthwhile mindset to embrace. 

But I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to entertain the current set of conventional treatment options with their predictable prescription drugs and typical litany of caveats and side effects, the inevitable outcome of a reductionist approach to medicine that focuses only on treating the symptoms, not addressing the underlying cause and restoring the imbalance of an integrated mind-body system. 

Right now I’m focused on one thing: re writing my story. Through this process I hope to learn a few things that will enable me to help others lighten their load on the healing journey as well. 

In the meantime, I’m trying to savor the small things more, to deepen my gratitude and appreciation for all of the things I can now do, with the heightened awareness that one day, whether in one year or in many years down the line, I will be unable to participate in not only the things that I love, but in all of the little things that I too often take for granted.

Every day I’m making anew the conscious decision to allow hope, not fear, to be the guiding force in my life.

#50: Reducing Stress with Chinese Herbalism: a conversation with Roger Drummer Part 1

This is the first of a two part conversation on Chinese Herbalism with Roger Drummer. Roger is the founder of Herb Works and the man who formulated its various, exceptional products, such as Tian Chi and Inner Peace.

A brief description of Roger’s story from the Herb Works website will give you a taste of what you’re in store for in this conversation:

“I truly believe in the healing power of Chinese herbs. They have transformed my life, and I’ve witnessed it happen for countless others in my 26 year career. As a Diplomate of Chinese Herbology, I’ve put tens of thousands of people on herbal programs with great success.

What makes Chinese herbology unique, is its fundamental principal of recognizing a person’s core imbalance and correcting it. It also recognizes that a healthy constitution can withstand tremendous outside influence. Therefore, restoring and maintaining vitality is the foundation of Chinese herbology.

People are suffering from chronic stress and losing vitality, which typically leads to poor health. Through my work with Chinese herbs, I have been able to help people create an internal environment where they can thrive and enjoy life.”

Roger Drummer is a wealth of knowledge regarding the benefits of using adaptogens such as Reishi mushrooms, Shizandra Berry, and Ashwaghanda, among other herbs. These compounds are natural, powerful ways to down regulate your nervous system, reduce stress and improve your mental and physical health.

From my perspective, Chinese herbalism is an ancient form of biohacking and the use of these herbs continues to offer great benefits to the health of many people who work with these herbs.

If you’re looking for a healthy way to reduce stress and improve your health, I would highly recommend that you consider purchasing some of the high quality products from Herb Works.

I’ve been taking Tian Chi most mornings or early afternoons, as well as three capsules of Inner Peace after dinner. Tian Chi helps me feel focused yet calm and relaxed: a great combination for a productive day of work. Inner Peace leaves me with a deep feeling of relaxation, which is a nice transition into winding down and getting ready for bed.

Enjoy my conversation with Roger and, as always, we welcome your comments and questions on Facebook or Twitter.

#49: What’s the difference between Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

In my fourth and final conversation with acupuncturist Ben Elan we learn about the differences between Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Ben’s insights are highly relevant to anyone interested in Chinese Medicine, “alternative” approaches to Western Medicine, Medical Qi Gong or Daoism.

In particular, this information is highly valuable to anyone interested in seeking Chinese medicine treatment. It’s helpful to know the advantages and limitations of each school before committing to working with a practitioner without first understanding the different approaches of these two schools of Chinese medicine.

#48: Crash Course in Yin Yang & The 5 Elements with Ben Elan

In my third conversation with Ben Elan, Ben gives us a glimpse into two foundational pieces of Daoism and Classical Chinese Medicine: the concepts of Yin Yang & 5 Element Theory.

Guest Bio:

Benjamin Elan, Dip. Ac has been been studying and practicing Classical Chinese Medicine for 13 years. Trained in the Stems & Branches acupuncture tradition, he is a certified Acupuncturist, Herbalist and Medical Qi Gong instructor. He also holds a Masters degree in Narrative Therapy from Melbourne University.

Benjamin began his journey doing community and health work with indigenous tribes in Southern Israel. Today,  The scope of his practice incorporates elements of humanistic psychology, ethnography, shamanism and community work.

Ben is currently practicing and teaching Chinese Medicine in Northern Thailand.

#47: Chinese vs Western Medicine with Ben Elan

In the second conversation in our series on Ancient Chinese Medicine with acupuncturist Ben Elan, we cover the following topics:

  • fundamental differences in approach between Chinese & Western medicine
  • the pros and cons of each methodology
  • what kinds of problems or symptoms are each of these effective at treating
  • challenges in talking about, or comparing, these two systems

As always, if you enjoy the show please consider supporting the podcast by writing a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform, sharing the episode on social media, and/or supporting Hacking the Self on Patreon.

I welcome questions, comments or any other constructive thoughts that you would like to share on the FB page for Hacking the Self. You can also email: hackingtheself@gmail.com.

Thank you for listening.



#46: What is Chinese Medicine? with Ben Elan

This conversation is the first in a series on Chinese Medicine. I’m tinkering with a new format for the show in which I do a series of shorter (20-30 minute) conversation with one guest where we unpack one theme or topic over a number of shorter episodes.

Here is the overview of topics for the upcoming series on Chinese Medicine:

  1. What is Chinese Medicine?
  2. Advantages of Chinese Medicine vs. Western
  3. CM Theory: Yin & Yang 5 Elements
  4. Difference between kinds of Chinese Medicine

Guest Bio:

Benjamin Elan, Dip. Ac has been been studying and practicing Classical Chinese Medicine for 13 years. Trained in the Stems & Branches acupuncture tradition, he is a certified Acupuncturist, Herbalist and Medical Qi Gong instructor. He also holds a Masters degree in Narrative Therapy from Melbourne University.

Benjamin began his journey doing community and health work with indigenous tribes in Southern Israel. Today,  The scope of his practice incorporates elements of humanistic psychology, ethnography, shamanism and community work.

Ben is currently practicing and teaching Chinese Medicine at Tao Garden Retreat Centre in North Thailand.

#45: Biohacking Light & Sleep with Dayne Barkley

In this episode I sit down for another conversation with Dayne Barkley who shares helpful suggestions for biohacking light and sleep. Dayne also discusses his latest venture: developing a multi use and more stylish model for blue light blocking glasses.
Dayne educates us on the following topics including:
  • circadian rhythms
  • what types of light you want exposure to, when, why, and how much, natural light, when and
  • what kinds of light you want to avoid, and
  • other hacks for feeling our best and for optimal sleep
Guest Bio:
Founder and CEO of interchangeable blue blocking glasses range, Barkley Eyewear.
A certified Human Potential and Primal Health Coach with an integrated holistic approach to human health and performance, with a particular focus on sleep optimization and Quantum health principles.

#44: Buddhist Geeks with Vincent Horn

This week is a special week for me because I sit down with Vincent Horn, the host and founder of the podcast Buddhist Geeks, which was the first show, along with Waking Up with Sam Harris, that turned me onto podcasting. Buddhist Geeks has a keen interest in several of the topics that we like to explore on this show and most recently Vince’s interests have focused on the relationship between meditation and psychedelics. Vince and I spoke about our personal thoughts on the connection between entheogens and contemplative practices, as well as some of the challenges around having this conversation.

We also discuss Vince’s evolving relationship with Buddhism and why he now says that he keeps one foot within the circle of Buddhism and one foot outside the tradition. Vince is also deeply interested in the intersection of ancient wisdom and modernity, hence why I had such a great time speaking with him.


Guest Bio:

Vincent Horn is part of a new generation of teachers translating age-old wisdom into 21st century code. A computer engineering dropout turned modern monk, Vincent spent his 20s co-founding the ground-breaking Buddhist Geeks project while doing a full year of silent meditation practice on retreat. Vincent began teaching in 2010 and since then has been authorized in both the pragmatic dharma lineage of Kenneth Folk and by Trudy Goodman Kornfield, whose contemplative training is in the Insight Meditation and Zen traditions.  Vince is one of the co-founders of Meditate.io, which is dedicated to offering deep practice opportunities for independent learners.  Vincent has been called a “power player of the mindfulness movement” by Wired magazine and was honored to be featured in Wired UK’s “Smart List: 50 people who will change the world.” He lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his teaching & life partner Emily and their son Zander.

#43: The Art of Awakening with Katchie Ananda

This week I speak with Katchie Ananda who teaches Dharma Yoga: an approach to teaching hatha yoga that integrates the insights of Theravada Buddhism. Katchie and I discuss studying with exceptional teachers like Richard Freeman and Jack Kornfield and how these teaches have impacted her. We also discuss the ways in which entheogens, such as Ayahuasca, can complement contemplative practices and further augment the art of awakening.

Guest Bio:

Katchie Ananda is an international yoga and dharma teacher who has been teaching as a full-time yoga teacher since 1990.

She is certified in Integral, Jivamukti, Anusara, and Ashtanga yoga by Richard Freeman.

A committed student of Vipassana Meditation, she has practiced with Jack Kornfield, her Buddhist mentor, since 2000.

The co-founder/director of Yoga Sangha, a beloved yoga center in San Francisco dedicated to yoga and dharma, Katchie offers trainings in Europe and the USA.

She is dedicated to raising awareness about human and animal rights, the environment and social justice. Her leadership in yoga and social change prompted Yoga Journal to name her one of five top yoga teachers making change in the world and she volunteered for many years at San Quentin, teaching Yoga and Dharma to long-term inmates.

She has brought her humor and stories to conferences, festivals and workshops all over the world and is loved by her students for her authenticity and wisdom.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband Joshua and dog Leelou.


Katchie’s Personal Website

#42: Living with Right Intention with Roshi Joan Halifax

This week I am honored to speak with Zen Buddhist Priest and social activist Roshi Joan Halifax. Roshi Joan shares the wisdom she has learned through working with people who are terminally ill, and how confronting death honestly has taught her how to live live more fully. She also offers insight into how to live with right intention, including acting without expectations to the outcomes of our actions. I learned a great deal from my conversation with Roshi Joan Halifax, and I’m sure that you will as well.

Guest Bio:

Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D.,is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology in 1973 and has lectured on the subject of death and dying at many academic institutions and medical centers around the world. She received a National Science Foundation Fellowship in Visual Anthropology, was an Honorary Research Fellow in Medical Ethnobotany at Harvard University, and was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress.

From 1972-1975, she worked with psychiatrist Stanislav Grof at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center with dying cancer patients. She has continued to work with dying people and their families, and to teach health care professionals and family caregivers the psycho-social, ethical and spiritual aspects of care of the dying. She is Director of the Project on Being with Dying, and Founder of the Upaya Prison Project that develops programs on meditation for prisoners. She is also founder of the Nomads Clinic in Nepal.

She studied for a decade with Zen Teacher Seung Sahn and was a teacher in the Kwan Um Zen School. She received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh, and was given Inka by Roshi Bernie Glassman.

A Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order and founder of Prajna Mountain Buddhist Order, her work and practice for more than four decades has focused on engaged Buddhism. Her books include: The Human Encounter with Death (with Stanislav Grof); The Fruitful Darkness, A Journey Through Buddhist PracticeSimplicity in the ComplexA Buddhist Life in AmericaBeing with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Wisdom in the Presence of Death; and her forthcoming, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet to be released on May 1, 2018.

For a listing of Roshi’s books, click here:

For a listing of Roshi’s film credits, click here: