What do monks, startup founders, and Ph.Ds in cognitive neuroscience have in common? They all have a heartbeat. Today’s guest, Rohan Dixit, founder of Lief Therapeutics joins us to talk about how our heart beat, can tell us more about our mental health, than any other biomarker, and how we can learn to use it to self-regulate our mental well-being.
Rohan explains how Heart Rate Variability (HRV) data can be used to help us learn to self-regulate our emotional state by taking biofeedback and using it to train ourselves to regulate our mental state.
Rohan explains the science behind it this. He has a degree in cognitive neuroscience from Northwestern and has done a lot of interesting research around neuroscience at both Stanford and at Harvard and around the world when he spent a year measuring the HRV in Monks who have mastered the art of self-regulation.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS WE DISCUSSED:
- Rohan Dixit is an expert in Cognitive Neuroscience and he joins us to talk about neuroscience, heart rate variability, his startup Lief Therapeutics, and his story of recovery from depression and anxiety. He began his own mental health journey as a teenager. Solving problems in this space is very personal to him. He talks about how mindfulness and meditation changed his live by helping him manage his mental health struggles and ultimately led him to this space.
- Cognitive Neuroscience is how the brain thinks and how we perceive who we are. We can use it to help people who are sick (with mental illness). Rohan talks about having spent a year studying the biofeedback data from monks and noticing how masters of self-regulation present when analyzing brain waves and heart rate variability biofeedback.
- We talk about the Default Mode Network, a large scale brain network of interacting regions that controls our perception of ego. If we tweak that network, then some parts of what we think about our self, can be turned off or managed. Rohan explains how using biofeedback to improve our ability to self-regulate can help us do just this, tweak our Default Mode Network.
- What is biofeedback? Have people been using it for a long time? Biofeedback testing started in the 1970’s. One of the earliest studies included a group of students where half were asked to consciously raise the temperature of their fingertip, and the other half asked to lower the temperature of their fingertip. If you give those students an accurate enough sensor, then they could do it. With the right biofeedback, you can train your body, and your mind. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the best biomarker to use for biofeedback when it comes to mental health.
- What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)? It is the most accurate biomarker for tracking the body’s response to a variety of mental states, stressors, and moods. This is all found in the variability of one heartbeat to the next. You can track this with an EKG or some very good sensor. If you track it enough, and practice regulating it, then you can effectively manage your mental wellness by actively controlling HRV. You can practice how to make that biomarker (HRV) improve through breathing and biofeedback.
- Why did Rohan become an expert on HRV? Rohan found relief from his struggles in meditation and self-regulation practices. He started to have better emotional responses while engaging in these practices. He wanted to know why it worked, so he went to Tibet for a year and studied the biofeedback in Monks who are experts in self-regulation.
- What is Lief Therapeutics? Rohan aims to integrate those ideas into the mental health system that is currently failing millions of people. The system failed him, as he states. He has found a way to use science, to measure the effectiveness of a person’s self-regulation and turn it into something that insurance companies will pay for.
- Why do biomarkers matter for treating mental health? Imagine if your doctor was trying to treat you for diabetes without using any blood tests. Maybe they only asked you how tired you were after big meals and diagnosed you that way. That’s how we diagnose mental health issues today.
- What about other biomarkers like voice, facial recognition, etc.? Those biomarkers can’t really be called biomarkers. They are behavioral assays. They are not the best with respect to teaching people how to get better either, but HRV is, and that’s the focus at Lief Therapeutics. Let’s say you use voice to diagnose depression, then you’re telling people it’s a behavioral issue that’s in your head and if you talk a little peppier, then you’re well, and we all know that’s not true. Depression is a physiological problem. It’s not just “in your head.” HRV is easy to measure accurately. You can teach people to improve HRV using the biofeedback.
- How to measure HRV? How Lief works. To measure it in a clinically accurate way and provide biofeedback you need hyper accuracy. The only way to do that is with an EKG. Lief built an EKG smart patch. You put it on your body, it’s very discrete, and measures with hyper accuracy. Then it gives you vibrations through the patch, that teach you to breath in a pattern that improves the HRV and in turn your mental health. Eventually, you know what you’re doing and you can take the training wheels off and not need the patch any more.
The goal is to be like training wheels on a bike. Lief teaches people how to be aware of what’s happening inside them. Lief gives them skills to get better. Eventually, people don’t need the advice. The solution is a short-term training program. Once you know how to self-regulate, then you don’t need Lief anymore, and that’s a victory.