Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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Category: Mindfulness

What Is the Vagus Nerve? (and How Does It Impact Health, Mood and Performance?)

In recent years, I’ve regularly vouched for the gut as our long-abused secondary brain. Given what most of us grew up learning in school, it can feel like a mammoth shift. Science and philosophy have long revered the brain as seat of consciousness, even the seat of humanity itself. But when it comes down to it, everything is interconnected. Our consciousness extends well beyond the brain. How we feel and who we are encompasses a much more expansive and intricate system than any of us learned in high school biology. At the center of this paradigm revision is something called the vagus nerve.

Vagus…as a word it sounds a little off-putting. If someone called me a vagus, I’d probably be mildly offended. But the literary origins of this word are actually kind of mystical: “vagus” in Latin translates to “wandering.” And I’d struggle to find a more apt definition.

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The Problem with Self-Improvement Culture (and What To Do About It)

We’re a little more than a month out from New Year’s, and most people have abandoned their resolution efforts. Gyms are emptying out; the squat rack is free again. Cars are piling up in the drive-thrus, the farmer’s markets are noticeably emptier. Was it all for naught? Are the grand visions, the big plans, the lofty resolutions really going to culminate in a sad sputter…a fizzle? Will one-time optimists resign themselves to just another personal failing, another reason to slink back into despair? If January is about hope and ambition, what’s the lesson for February?

I’m not surprised. It happens every time, and it’s caused by our dysfunctional relationship to self-improvement.

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4 Ways to Harness Mindfulness for Health Goals—and a CONTEST

It’s hard to believe we’re already midway through the 21-Day Challenge. How is everyone faring? What effects are you noticing? Where have you found your successes and your stumbling blocks?

What’s motivating you right now? How do you feel yourself settling into the practices you’ve adopted since the first day? Even if you’ve experienced some wavering (that’s no reason to abandon the venture, you know), what brings you back to the center of your intention? How do you reclaim the moment?

Reclaim the moment…. A rather powerful concept. It reminds us that—at any time—we can realign ourselves with the now. Moving our attention from the past (regret) or the future (pessimism, anxiety), we claim the potential of the present. We apply ourselves mindfully. In possessing the moment, we achieve self-possession.

But let me be clear. This isn’t some mental game. This is how success happens. Now…and now. Applying mindful observation to our sensations, to the environment’s feedback, to our own string of thoughts—without getting sucked into side stories about what we should think about them—this is where self-empowerment resides. Health research concurs.

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Dear Mark: Meditation for Neuroplasticity, Astragalus, and Red Light Therapy

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, did I mess up by not mentioning meditation in the neuroplasticity post? Yes, and you’ll find out more below. Next, what are my thoughts on taking astragalus for fighting off colds and flus? Does it work? And finally, does red light therapy have the potential to reduce chronic pain? Does it do anything else?

Let’s go:
I’m sorry that meditation is not mentioned, but magic mushrooms are. Meditation increases white matter in the brain (which influences efficiency of electrical signals in brain), and lessens shrinkage due to age. Meditation also has a positive influence on the preservation of telomere length and telomerase activity (when these shorten, we experience adverse aging effects). I would much rather do it the natural way (via meditation) than taking a chance with hallucinogens.

Susan Grace
Thanks for your comment, Susan. This is why I love my readers. They call me out.

Everything you say is true. Meditation is a powerful trigger for neuroplasticity.

Mindfulness meditation can undo stress-induced changes to connectivity in the amygdala (the “fear” center).

Experienced meditators show enhanced neural plasticity and even structural changes to the brain (both gray and white matter).

Like seemingly everything else out there, the relationship between meditation history and neuroplasticity follows a U-shaped curve. Beginners show less neuroplasticity activation than more experienced meditators, who show more activation than advanced meditators. How can this be?

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Embodiment for Emotional Health: Is Mindful Movement a Primal Key?

“Women carry trauma in their hips.”

(The stray remark got my attention, too.) I was walking along the beach when I heard it. Two women, deep in conversation, had passed me. Between the waves and my dog’s bark, it was the only snippet I caught. One had matter-of-factly professed it, and the other offered a knowing sigh in agreement. As a trainer, the thought jumped out at me—not so much the gendered suggestion (I have no claim on expertise there) but the idea that emotion gets stored in our bodies and not just in our memories. All of us are at various points in life subject to pain, loss and suffering. Whether we contend with something as severe as trauma or something difficult but normal like grief, anxiety or resentment, how do unresolved emotions linger within our physiology or even particular locations or functions within it? How might these feelings that we retain act as a wild card in our overall health? Finally, in keeping with this possibility, does “moving through” emotional suffering oblige us to move bodily toward healing?

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How to Stop Using Food Like a Drug

You might be hard-pressed to find many people who never take advantage of the “elixir” effects food can have on us. For instance, I’d venture that the majority of us start our day with a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea. Some of us wind down after a long week with a glass of wine or a taste of our favorite bourbon. Even a small dose of sugar during times of excessive stress can lower cortisol (hence why some of us reach for an extra indulgence when things get rough). As long as we’re talking occasional or modest gratification, we can take advantage of these benefits without worry. But for some people, food becomes an ongoing coping mechanism or an unhealthy dependency to get them through their day. Where’s the line between normal indulgence and chronic “abuse” of food? And what do we do when we find ourselves sliding into risky territory?

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