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RHR: The Science of Longevity and Performance, with Kien Vuu


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In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, Chris speaks with Dr. Kien Vuu, who shares his journey from a medical doctor to a proponent of integrating science with spirituality for holistic health. They discuss Dr. Vuu's personal health transformation, the influence of the default mode network and technology on our well-being, and strategies to counter chronic stress. The conversation highlights practical steps towards achieving optimal health and longevity, offering listeners valuable insights into blending scientific and spiritual practices for a balanced life.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Dr. V’s background
  • The role of the default mode network in health
  • Impact of modern technology and social media
  • Improving longevity and quality of life
  • Conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA)
  • Practical steps towards personal transformation and health

Show notes:

Hey everyone, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week I’m excited to welcome Dr. Kien Vuu as my guest. He’s also known as Dr. V., and he has become a passionate advocate for health, happiness, and human potential. He has a fascinating story. He was a refugee from Vietnam. In his childhood, he emigrated to the United States and became a medical doctor, very quickly [working] his way up to the top of his field in interventional radiology. [He] became the chief of his hospital, won lots of accolades, was traveling around the world speaking at conferences, and eventually determined he was very unhappy doing that. He was overweight, diabetic, [and] starting to develop several different chronic diseases. Despite being renowned in his field and accomplishing everything that he set out to accomplish, he didn’t have the life that he wanted to have. So he began an exploration of spirituality and health and human performance, and has, over the past several years, merged science and spirituality in his work.

He’s the founder of Vuu Performance and Longevity. He’s the author of Thrive State, a really incredible book. He consults with high performers, athletes, leaders, [and] Fortune 500 companies, seeking to improve their health performance, engagement, and prosperity. And what I love about his work is that it really transcends [the] conventional boundaries of medicine, extending into psychology, philosophy, personal development, and spirituality, as I mentioned. I really enjoyed this conversation with Dr. V. I think you will as well. Let’s dive in.

Chris Kresser:  Dr. V., pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for joining me.

Kien Vuu:  Chris, I’ve actually been a fan for a while. Thanks for having me.

Dr. V’s Background

Chris Kresser:  Awesome. So, you are a huge advocate for health, happiness, and human potential. That’s maybe not necessarily the default career path for an MD. Of course there are many who are exploring those avenues, but it’s not really the conventional direction to go. So how did you end up in the place that you are now? I know you have a really interesting story, your childhood and the background you come from. I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you arrived here today.

Kien Vuu:  Well, great question. Many people hear me on the phone and they think, “Oh my gosh, when I first [met] you, I did not expect you to look a certain way.” I was born in Vietnam, shortly after the fall of Vietnam, and I escaped on a refugee boat filled with 2000 other refugees. We were on a boat for eight months, in a Philippine refugee camp for another three months, and then we were sponsored to America by a Catholic church. Growing up, I remember being teased a lot. I got bused to a more affluent area for school. I was teased for the holes in my hand-me-down clothes [and] for the stinky food my mom sent me to school with. I got a lot of comments like, “Go back to your home country, chinky.”

And I remember back in the day, my revenge would be to be rich and famous. I remember being inspired by people like Robin Williams, Tony Robbins, and Mick Jagger. But when I looked at people that looked like me in the media, they were caricatures. I don’t know if you remember [Mickey] Rooney in Breakfast [at Tiffany’s], but he played this caricature of an Asian person. And that’s how I felt the world looked at me. So growing up, I always thought that being myself and being able to express who I was as a person was never really enough. I had to put on some kind of mask. I had to change the way I sounded. I needed to sound more American. I needed to adopt a personality.

I wanted to do media and entertainment. I felt like I had a voice and I wanted to share that. But my mom loved to remind me that they didn’t travel across the world on a refugee boat for me to become a comedian. She said, “You have three choices. You [can] be a doctor, a physician, or an MD.” So I went to medical school. But the drive of not feeling enough and not feeling worthy constantly led me to chase down something outside of myself for me to feel good, which would be to be valedictorian at my high school, to be able to get into the top colleges [and] medical schools, and once in medical school, [finding] the toughest residencies in a field of medicine that was cutting edge. So I ended up being an interventional radiologist– a doctor that uses medical imaging or radiology to perform minimally invasive surgeries.

After I graduated, I became an attending [physician], I climbed the ranks, [and] was traveling around the world to speak about the innovations of interventional radiology. I’d become chief of interventional radiology at my hospital. Then, about eight years ago, [I was] overweight, diabetic, [had] high blood pressure, [and was on] prescription medications. This is somebody that was trained at the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, UCLA, all the like, being able to get disease. And it was really one of those wake up calls that said, you know what? I’m not [being] given the information to really be healthy. And it was at that point that I started to pursue additional sciences– anti-aging, regenerative longevity medicine, which was very lifestyle focused. And then I tapped a little bit into spirituality. And in a very short period of time, I actually reversed conditions that were considered very chronic, lifetime conditions for people. So it was really my journey of self-healing that allowed me to step into this longevity space. And I now not only love talking about the latest advances in longevity medicine, but recognize one thing that I find most important– that how we live our life, how we approach every single moment of our life, the energy and the consciousness we bring to each moment to our life– is actually medicine.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, I love that and I would agree with that wholeheartedly. And it sounds like that was a major shift for you, in recognizing that there was a disconnect between how you were approaching your life and experiencing yourself on a day-to-day basis. Even though you achieved the highest echelons of performance in your field and recognition and accolades, you were not, I presume, given what you just said, experiencing joy and fulfillment and health and well-being in the way that you thought you might once you got to the top of your field in that respect. And you’re not alone in that. I’m sure you saw many of your colleagues in [a] similar situation, whether they were aware of it or not or eventually went in a different direction. This is actually a[n] all too familiar story, isn’t it?

The Role of the Default Mode Network in Health

Kien Vuu:  It’s a very, very familiar story. I certainly have colleagues right now. I’ve lost some colleagues to cancer and heart disease very early on who were just stressed out working at the hospital. I mean, in medical training, we certainly produced a culture of people not listening to their own body’s needs and constantly caring for others, but caring in a way that wasn’t very useful. We never really learned any behavioral type of things that made people choose the disease that they actually had. We never really got training in doing so and just the residency training all the way up into us practicing was really saying no to ourselves, saying no to our bodies, and our intuition, and driving the narrative of these type A personalities that probably felt like they were not enough or worthy at some point in life. And we’re starting to be able to understand this concept a little bit more because neuroscientists are beginning to learn more about a part of the brain called the default mode network. This is a very primitive part of our brain and nervous system. And as we’re developing in utero, all the way up until the age of 10, it just is a system that’s going to help us, keep us safe and help us survive. It’s the brain autopilot system.

And so at a very early age, it’s going to download beliefs, values, mindsets, worldviews from our parents, from our teachers, from society, from TV, from media, all these things around us, it’s intimately tied to our amygdala or fear centers, and our hippocampus or memory centers. And because this thing is supposed to keep us alive, it’s going to remember the things that emotionally charge us and make us fear the most. And as human beings, we need safety, love and connection. And when we don’t feel like we’ve gotten those things as a child, we would start to adapt certain type of behaviors to get them. And unless we are aware of this, most of these things are programmed before the age of 10. They become the seats of our ego. For me that programming was you’re not enough, or I’m not enough, I’m not worthy. And so something outside of me, I need to seek success, I need to behave in a certain way, I need to strive. And you become someone you’re not. You develop this inauthentic way of being. And running life through that mode or not being conscious that you’re running your life through that mode actually drives the stress response in our body that basically gives the signal to every single one of our cells that you’re running away from a saber-toothed tiger. So inflammation goes up, our immune system drops down. Those two things epigenetically were giving ourselves the signals of danger and then our cells are basically driving energy towards increasing inflammation, just in case we got a flesh wound and dropping down our immune system, because why expend that energy on fighting against cancer or infection when you’re about to be someone’s lunch?

Chris Kresser:  Absolutely.

Impact of Modern Technology and Social Media

Chris Kresser:  Well, I was just going to say I think social media and screens have amplified this tremendously. I actually just started reading a new book by Jonathan Haidt called The Anxious Generation; How the great rewiring of childhood is causing an epidemic of mental illness. And I’ve written and spoken about this a lot over the years and interviewed a ton of people on this topic over the years, but what we know is that constant interaction with the screen, constant notifications just keep us in that default mode, network state. And then especially apps like Instagram. I have a 12-year-old daughter, she doesn’t, she’s not allowed to have an Instagram account. We have pretty significant limits on her screen use. But I see this with a lot of her friends, especially for teenagers who are just hardwired to seek approval and especially for teenagers, adolescent girls, Instagram and apps like that just constantly do what you’re talking about. They create a source of extrinsic motivation, where we’re always monitoring our own experience and thinking about how we’re going to talk about, post about it on Instagram, and then what the response to that will be, rather than tuning into our own intrinsic motivations and desires. Which is to say, our own experience, which I know, we’ll talk about this, like spirituality and meditation and mindfulness actually help us become aware of what our own internal experience is. But it seems to me that almost everything in our culture, the way things are heading now, is designed to take us out of our own experience and create these external reference points that we use to measure our self-worth and even just kind of be the compass for our day-to-day life.

Kien Vuu:  No, I completely agree. And, a bigger question is, is there a consciousness that’s driving all of that? Are there pockets and dollars that are driving our ability to leave ourselves and our own intuition to tap into something that can be easily controlled?

Chris Kresser:  The trillion dollar rhetorical question. Yeah, I mean, I’ve had, I mean, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Social Dilemma and Tristan Harris’s work. But that’s the essence of it– we’re not the customers, we’re the product and these multinational corporations are maximizing our attention, so they can sell it to the highest bidder. And that’s the business model of social media. And that’s what I often remind people of, it’s not a fair fight. It’s not like we’re just sort of one individual dealing with our own addictive tendencies or our own propensity to get hooked into something. It’s not like, it’s not an individual thing. I mean, of course, there are individual patterns and ultimately, we have choice and how we respond to it. But we have to understand that there is a multi-trillion dollar industry on the other side, that is highly profit motivated to overcome whatever conscious resistance we might be able to marshal in this fight. And most people are just gonna lose. That’s not a condemnation or judgment. It means that they are so sophisticated in how they hijack our basic biochemistry and heart, our heart.

The things that actually enabled us to survive in our ancestral environment are being hijacked in such a way that they work against us now. And that’s I think, the thing that people need to understand and release the blame and the guilt and the shame that might come with like, oh, I’m failing to work with this or to overcome this personally. Well, yeah, because it’s designed for you to fail, basically.

Kien Vuu:  Absolutely.

🎙️ New on Revolution Health Radio: Join Chris Kresser & Dr. Kien Vuu as they explore the fusion of science & spirituality for optimal health. Discover the journey from medical expertise to holistic healing & practical steps to thrive. #HealthRevolution #HolisticHealing #ThriveState

Improving Longevity and Quality of Life

Chris Kresser:  So I know you’ve really in your own life and in your work, you talk a lot about fusing science and spirituality as being the future of biohacking and health, and we can break down biohacking and what that means to you. Because that’s a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So let’s start there, this 30,000 foot view, why do you think that’s so important in this day and age to merge science and spirituality? If anything, to me, it seems like in the recent few years, they’re moving apart rather than together, which is unfortunate. Because I think that I agree with you that they actually need to be merged. So talk a little bit about that, and then we’ll talk about how biohacking fits under that umbrella for you.

Kien Vuu:  Yeah thanks. When I look at the field of longevity, I’m very excited, because there are a lot of scientific advances that allow us to pierce human biology so much more. Certainly, we have diagnostics like new types of CT scans, and looking at soft plaque and our ability to predict heart attacks have never been better. We certainly have a new DNA-based type of technology that catches cancer even really before they manifest full body MRIs. We’ve got stem cells and exosomes, regenerative products that allow our body to heal itself a little bit better. So there’s so much that’s out there. And I put that in the bucket of the science of longevity, and just seeing what’s about to come out there, all these technologies are going to exponentially increase with AI. And they’re really, really exciting. The things that they’ve seen in rodent models, in the petri dish, and hopefully translating into humans very soon.

So the science of longevity is brilliant. However, we look around the world to where people have lived the longest. And it’s not great science over there, but there’s a book, certainly, that I’m pretty sure your audience knows about called the Blue Zones. These places that Dan Buettner and his team discovered, where the largest concentration of centenarians, people living over 100. And they did some broad-based studies and observational studies as to why they live so long, and they came up with these nine different things. And a lot of these things were just very simple. They move naturally every day, they didn’t stuff themselves with food, they all had a deep sense of a family, a tribe that they belong to, and they had this thing called eudaimonic happiness, which is not hedonic happiness, which is the pleasure of getting something, achieving something, money, things like that. But eudaimonic happiness is the happiness you feel when you feel like you’re connected to something bigger. It’s the happiness that’s associated by having purpose.

So I took these observational type studies and asked, are there any molecular or epigenetic data that living this way can actually lead to a longer life? And as I discovered this, particularly with my colleague over at UCLA, Steven Cole, we looked at sleep, nutrition, movement, sense of purpose, community, our emotional states, where our thoughts are, and we actually started to see epigenetic changes in certain gene complexes, as well as the work from Elizabeth Eppel and blanking on her name, Elizabeth Blackburn, on telomeres. That how we live our life, our approach to life, actually changes how our DNA is being expressed. And the more I started to do this, I started to understand that it was a state of being that the people in the Blue Zones had, that they started to actually change the biochemistry of their body ultimately leading to changes in genetic expression. So what I learned from them most is, yes, we’ve got the science of longevity. But how you live your life is also medicine. That there’s also the art of living. How are you approaching each moment? By what consciousness are you approaching each moment? Are you in that consciousness that’s gotten hijacked and always looking for fear, like, I gotta hustle to get the next dollar. This person just ran me off on the freeway. And building these emotions of stress and anger in your body, which we know biochemically what happens, actually what happens on the genetic level now, now we know as well.

So that is a very important piece. I love what’s happening around in the science. However, I also know of certain populations of people that I’ve worked with. They constantly want the newest and greatest thing that’s out there, and they want the latest protocols. And they’re stressed out about following the protocols to the tee that unlike you’re not doing it right, my friend.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Kien Vuu:  It’s how you approach your life. And so it’s melding those two things together, which I think is going to compound our ability to not only live longer, but to be the very best version of ourselves, and age better as well.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, that’s, I have a very similar take. I mean, being in clinical practice as a functional medicine clinician for many years, you can imagine I had plenty of patients who show up with spreadsheets that go on and on and on with every biomarker you can possibly imagine and trend lines and analysis and all kinds of stuff. And then I would start talking to them about just basic stuff like, do you have good relationships in your life? Are you doing anything for fun? What are your hobbies? And it turns out that their hobby was essentially managing the spreadsheet with all of their health data and trying to tweak every last variable and make it perfect. And I’ve rarely encountered somebody like that, who was truly happy, and who really seemed to have a love, just an innate sense of joy, eudaimonia whatever you want to call it. Because as you said, like you’re confusing the forest for the trees and you’re getting further and further away often in that kind of obsessive mentality from the things that make life worth living. And often it was better for those people to actually take a step back.

I spent a lot of time trying to encourage them to take a step back from that approach to biohacking because it wasn’t, my simple question to them was usually, has this made your life better? Has this actually subjectively made your experience of yourself on a day-to-day basis better? And the answer was very often, no. So I’m in full agreement with you there. And I think it’s really an important piece, especially in this age of AI and quantified self where it’s becoming easier and easier to take that type of approach because you can process the data more efficiently and even have LLMs build spreadsheets for you and sort of outsource some of that material.

Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity (CTRA)

Chris Kresser:  So going back to the default mode network and the mental autopilot, which is an easy way of thinking about it, we have this mental autopilot that’s often running in the background and that, as we’ve discussed, social media and screens and other factors in the modern world just kind of amplify that and keep it going. But then we have the CTRA, the conserved transcriptional response to adversity. And this is a system, as you’ve talked about, when we perceive stress, this genetic, it’s like a genetic alarm system that gets triggered. And that, in an ancestral environment, that might have happened in an acute setting where there’s a lion. And then it happens, whatever happens, happens, and then it’s over, and then we’re back to a more parasympathetic nervous system response, right? But the problem in our society is that many of us are just living in this CTRA chronic activation. And what is the problem with that? I mean, at the risk of stating the obvious, I think it’s worth talking a little bit about what the research shows, when we live in a state of chronic CTRA activation.

Kien Vuu:  That’s a great question. So let’s break down CTRA again. It’s called the conserved transcriptional response to adversity. So a lot of times our DNA is built in where it signals certain type of things in the environment, these gene complexes that will turn on to create changes in our cells, the behavior of cells. So the CTRA is made up of, I don’t know, 150 or so genes. And within those genes, you have a set of genes that actually code for inflammation and inflammatory markers. And then you also have some antiviral and immunity type of genes that are within this complex. What happens when the body perceives stress? Again, when there’s a saber-toothed tiger or a neighboring village about to attack us, it’s going to rev our body and skew its energy resources for danger. So it’s going to turn on, upregulate, all those inflammatory genes, because what if you got a flesh wound? And so our blood can thicken and things like that. So inflammation is increased. All the while, again, I mentioned earlier, that during that time of danger, you’re not going to try to protect yourself from cancer or an infection. So your immunity genes get turned down.

You basically have elevation and inflammation decrease in immunity, that pretty much sets the stage for almost every single chronic disease in your body. So if every single one of your cells was armed, ready to fight for danger, it’s not going to have its own energy reserves for normal functioning to basically perform at its best. So if you have these suboptimal cells, they lead to suboptimal tissues leading to suboptimal organs, suboptimal systems, and then the whole ecosystem starts to break down. And all of a sudden, if one particular tissue type is affected more, then you get that disease. If you’ve got some inflammation in your esophagus, all of a sudden it’s esophagitis. Now chronic inflammation leads to cancer, things like that. And so basically, long-term or chronic signals in the CTRA leads to increased inflammation, a drop in your immune system, but basically causes us to have chronic symptoms depending on where in the body this derangement goes on, on to chronic disease down the road.

Now, why is this so closely tied to that default mode? Remember, the default mode is autopilot survival, and it’s the source of all these automatic negative thoughts that we’re constantly thinking of that are repetitive. And it’s on to keep us safe unless we’re aware that it’s on. There’s a great study, I think it was performed by Kaiser back in 1998, and you might know about it, called the ACE study, which is the adverse childhood events score. And they list basically 10 big type, big T traumas. Divorce in the family, drugs in the family, abuse, sexual, physical, neglect, all these traumas. And they noted that the more trauma that you had as a child, later on, you would have a propensity to have increased incidence of mental health disorders, and physical health disorders. And so what we do know is that if you’ve got a lot of these traumas, your default mode is constantly on. The more it’s on, it could actually lead to mental and physical health conditions down the road. And so it’s our ability to do some of this work. Now, some people don’t have these big T traumas, but unknowingly, as a child that has the soul that just wants to express yourself authentically, you’re this being that came into this world, and says hey I just want to be me authentically. But you’re saying no, you’re a little too this, you’re never going to get a job doing this, or Mommy’s not going to love you if you don’t listen to Mommy. All of a sudden, you build these filters, and all of a sudden, the default mode starts to get programmed as I need to be something other than myself to actually get safety, love and connection. And so all of a sudden, the default mode is programmed, you’re in this ego. And if you don’t recognize it, that ego is close, when it’s always on, it’s tied to that CTRA. So living in that space will eventually cause you to have some kind of chronic condition, chronic disease. Which is why, as an interventional radiologist at the top of my game, I actually had disease.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, it makes perfect sense. And when you understand the connection between the DMN, default mode network and CTRA, it sheds a lot of light on why six in 10 Americans have a chronic disease and four in 10 Americans have multiple chronic diseases. It’s almost like how could it not be that way, when we’re in this chronic state of hyper activation. And the main effects are inflammation and depressed immunity. Well, that explains a lot of the modern chronic diseases that threaten our survival now that are number one, that are in the top 10 causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia climbing the ranks every year.

It’s a major issue and there’s a tendency to really focus on diet, exercise, which are absolutely important. Neither of us are going to disagree with the importance of those things. But I feel like this is the elephant in the room when it comes to conversations around health and wellness. Because we all know people who have done all of the right things when it comes to diet and exercise, but who still have heart attacks relatively early in their life or still develop cancer or develop autoimmunity or something like that. And in that situation, I think it’s almost always, at least from my experience, this pattern, whatever we want to call this entire constellation of issues, is very often to blame. But it’s in some ways more difficult to shift than just changing your diet, because you really have to shift who you are as a person, and how you relate to the world rather than just what you eat.

So talk a little bit about that. How do you approach that, given how deeply wired this is, and how there’s this mismatch between our genes and our biology and now the environment that we live in is so different than the environment that those genes and biology evolved in?

Practical Steps Towards Personal Transformation and Health

Kien Vuu:  Yeah, such a good question. It’s so individualized for people as well. When I wrote the first edition of my book, I talk about the seven pillars of things that we can actually control in our life that changes the epigenome and the messages that we’re giving to our DNA. There’s sleep, nutrition, movement, our mindset or our thoughts, our emotions, our community, and then that sense of purpose. And here’s this playbook. And I was always wondering why, when given the playbook, why aren’t people losing weight? Or why are people not getting into their symptoms? Why is every single year we might come up with so many things to do in terms of our resolutions, but six weeks in, we drop out? And it wasn’t until I really started to understand this default mode. Some people call it the ego, some people call it the subconscious, but it’s developed, basically up aspect of our personality that has all these subconscious beliefs, that doesn’t allow us to take action towards the things that we actually want to do or achieve. Which is why certain people that are actually able to make the sleep and food habits, they’re going to notice a shift in their body. They’re going to notice a shift in their identity. That’s going to be great. You’re going to build energetic momentum to be able to jumpstart change in your life. But it’s not until you start to notice basically, the narrative, the identity, the personality that you are in, that caused that disease. And if you’re not noticing, it’s difficult to make new choices. Because your body is almost sort of programmed and habitualized the ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that it’s hard to make change. But I think once people start to understand that there’s this part of our biology and nervous system that’s not us, that if we could start to recognize that and start to make some new changes, that’s when the transformation happens.

And so what does it look like for people? It may look like, so all these things are energetically connected. If you shift new choices in how you approach any of these seven areas of life, you’ll notice a shift in your body. And so it might just involve moving radically different, you’ll notice the shift in your body. But there are things that we do that can actually quiet down the default mode, one being holotropic breathwork. We noticed people in FMRI machines actually see that as your blood pH increases, it also causes vasoconstriction in certain regions of the brain. What is one of those reasons? The default mode network. And that’s the state that people get when they’re like an alpha states or big time meditators are in that state. So breath work is something that’s great in doing so. Rediscovering the things that truly bring you that sense of joy. I think one of these things that I’m starting to talk about is a bucket list. Writing down all these things that you want to do. The travel that you want to do, the people you want to serve, the health that you want to have. Writing all those things down. And yes, some of those things you write down is going to come from the ego space. But some of those things you write down is from your soul space. And why I think it’s such a great way to be able to do some of these things is you’ll notice that you cross things off. Like say, hit a $10,000 a month at work mark. You cross that off. You know what? I’m proud of myself for doing that. But did it really fuel something? Man, when I was just out dancing with that new group of people last week, and we just got moving and laughed for no reason, that really lit me up.

So going through a bucket list is so important. One, you’re taking action, but what you’re doing in that action is you’re rediscovering who you are. You’re crossing off the things that might have been programmed because it’s not going to give you that high as there’s things that make you feel really alive. And what I’ve come to notice is the thing that makes you feel alive, that feeling of aliveness, is also the energy that changes the biochemistry, molecular biology that your cells are bathing in, that actually activates the genes for human performance and longevity.

Chris Kresser:  I love that. Yeah, feeling good is good for you is a shorthand way of talking about it, which I often say to my patients. And it’s not just for hedonistic reasons. We have so much research now that shows that the release of endorphins, for example, most white blood cells in our body, which of course, very important in our immune function, have receptor sites for endorphins. And so that can explain why things like exercise or dance or sex can actually fine tune our immune system and help increase our immune defenses, reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, etc. And I think one way of talking about this which you have been throughout the show and you do in your work, is that this is kind of our birthright as human beings to experience pleasure and joy. And there’s been in so many ways the modern society doesn’t respect that or doesn’t encourage that or isn’t set up to really allow humans to flourish and to encourage that.

Kien Vuu:  Most of that is free to do.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Kien Vuu:  It’s hard to sell you something and get you fearful of the thing that you don’t have than to sell you something if it’s naturally within you already.

Chris Kresser:  That’s right. And I would say there’s been a confusion as well of this distraction with pleasure or joy. Because some people might hear this conversation and say, what are you talking about, our whole culture is designed around pursuit of hedonism? How can you sit there and say that our culture is not set up for people experiencing pleasure and joy? I actually disagree with that, I think our culture is set up around pursuing distraction and temporary, maybe temporary hits of dopamine and very short-lived kind of feelings of numbness maybe is is another word, rather than a deep and true experience of joy or pleasure in our bodies that comes from being fully present and aware of our sensations and embodied fully. That’s really not how our culture is set up. And as you said, that’s so critical to our health and well-being and our spiritual growth and development as well.

Kien Vuu:  Yeah, I mean, I really wish through my work that people truly understand. I have a daughter, she’s three years old now. When she was first born, I wasn’t able to attend any of the prenatal visits or see what was going on. And before we knew it we were like 40 weeks in, the OB asked us to come in to do an induction. Long story short, we find out that she was born with a cord wrapped around her neck and ankle, and there were periods of time, she was completely (apic? 37:14). And I was in the ICU, just I was in the ICU just really understanding sort of the gift and just how precious it is. The fact that we’re here in this world is that we are already enough. That we were loved enough to be given this life. It’s one of these cosmic type of I don’t know, jokes that we have that we are loved, safe and connected. Unless, of course, there’s actually a saber-toothed tiger standing right behind you. But outside of that, we are safe, loved and connected. And if we could remember that, we basically shut off that default mode. And it’s a cosmic game that we play, but I think that’s a beautiful part of the human journey is to remember ourselves and our power to heal.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, I love that. And I think it’s a really important place for us all to remember to put our focus. In this world, there are so many forces that are pulling our attention away from that. And this is, one recent trend that I can really get behind is gratitude practice. I think more and more people are understanding the value of it, there’s a lot of good research, as you know, documenting the effects of gratitude. And one thing that does is just really redirect our attention to impart what you just were speaking of, that we are loved, we are safe, we are many of us, at least, obviously, it’s not true for everybody, but there’s an enormous amount to be grateful for. And that when we turn our attention toward our own internal experience and allow ourselves like in each moment, there’s often this choice where go down this road, which is I can pick up the phone and start mindlessly scrolling because I’m feeling a little bit uncomfortable or anxious or I’m feeling some stress or something is going on that’ unpleasant. Or I can just take a breath, and really just allow those feelings to be there and see what emerges from that. And we all have thousands probably of those moments on a day-to-day basis, and it’s becoming so much easier to make that first choice, whether it’s a phone or a tablet, or a computer, or a TV or whatever it is, it’s almost like, in our. And there’s a whole, again, as we talked about, industry that’s trying to, inviting us to make that choice over and over and over again and investing in us making that choice over and over again. So to make that choice to be still and be present, and come back to our own experience and be in our body is, I see it as a kind of almost a revolutionary act in the culture that we live in today.

Kien Vuu:  Oh, yeah. It’s revolutionary, but it’s the key to our wake up.

Chris Kresser:  And evolutionary, right?

Kien Vuu:  Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There’s a quote I keep going back to from Viktor Frankl. And certainly if people don’t know him, Holocaust survivor, once was in Auschwitz.

Chris Kresser:  And search for meaning.

Kien Vuu:  Yeah, mother and sister murdered, friends and family members tortured. And he still said, had this to say that, that you reminded me of that. “Between stimulus and response there’s a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response. And in our response lies our growth and freedom.” Every moment we get to choose, and yes, we are trained and patterned in such a way to react. But in my online courses, I teach a framework called Impact, I-m-p-a-c-t. The IM is something you get to decide or choose within yourself. Maybe do it after breath work or in nature. But are you love? Are you joy? Are you generous? Are you confident? Are you giving? All these states of being you get to choose and it doesn’t matter what’s around you, what’s happening, you get to choose these states. So in every single moment, you get to pause. Take 10 deep breaths in through your nose, do some 4-7-8 breathing, go for a walk in nature, you could pause when you find yourself being triggered to something. A, you have the awareness of what’s happening right now. That story of not being enough just came up, because she said this to me. Okay, cool. All right. Yeah, that’s that old story. Default mode. Usually it’s that default mode that’s triggering us. C, you choose. What do you choose? You choose back from your IM. Who do you choose to be? Loving, joyous, connected, generous. Okay, cool. You’re that. And then T, you take action. And every single moment in life, the more you can have these impact moments, whether you walk through a door or you’re about to have a conversation, you get very intentional of who you want to be as you make those things. That is the process of transformation done repeatedly over and over again, of being able to make these new choices of who you want to be believing in that vibrational state of your true being rather than this old way of being that drives the transformation.

Chris Kresser:  Love that. Yeah, one of my favorite Frankl quotes is very similar. He said, “When we’re no longer able to change the situation, we’re challenged to change ourselves.” And as you said, that’s a person who can speak about that with authority, given what he went through, compared to what most of us have been through that he could come out of that experience and still maintain that awareness and that mentality, is a pretty incredible testament to the power of that perspective in allowing us to be present to our lives no matter what’s happening, no matter what the circumstances of our lives are.

Conclusion and Resources

Chris Kresser: So Dr. V., I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Tell us a little bit more about your book Thrive State. I know it’s in, is it second edition now that was just recently released? So about that and then where people can learn more about your work.

Kien Vuu:  Yeah, well, Thrive State is really the state of being that we get to be once we make the choices in these areas of life. And that state is also the state that creates our genes to be turned on to give us optimal health, longevity and peak performance. And I talk a little bit about why we don’t get there, part of our biology and how to actually break through that. I have courses that teach people how to do that too. But you can get that book at Amazon or wherever bookstores are sold. You can find out more of my online work and courses at MyThriveState.com. And I’m all over social media at Doctor V, MD on Instagram, YouTube and all of social media.

Chris Kresser:  Great, thanks again Dr. V. I really appreciate you coming on the show and let’s stay in touch. Look forward to seeing what comes next.

Kien Vuu:  Yeah, well let me know how I can support you in any way, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris Kresser:  Take care. Thanks everyone for listening. Keep sending your questions to ChrisKresser.com/PodcastQuestion and we’ll see you next time.

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