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We had the honor of hosting a Q & A with performance coach, Bob Soulliere, who uses Lief to help his clients transform their mindset, rebalance their nervous system, optimize their workouts, and achieve their health and wellness goals.
I am a coach for mindset, breathing, cold exposure, and hormesis (getting out of your comfort zone on purpose) for stress management. I help athletes improve their physical performance, as well as those who simply want to work on their general wellness and feel better. This includes people with chronic conditions, pain, stress, and panic disorders.
Mostly I apply Oxygen Advantage, the Wim Hof Method, and the Buteyko Method as the basis for how I train people. I started from Crossfit into all of this! Now I’m working with not only Crossfit athletes, but opera singers, open water marathon swimmers, endurance athletes, triathletes, office folks, retirees, and many different types of people who aren’t necessarily trying to achieve an athletic goal, but a better life.
Breathe Your Power emerged from my own transformation, where I gained control over my health and nervous system by working hard, making the hard things fun, and realizing breathing is a huge part of wellness, self-control, and optimization. First, it was through the Wim Hof world, and then through Oxygen Advantage. Oxygen Advantage emphasizes “functional breathing” — light, slow, and deep (or, LSD) — which is how you should breathe for the rest of your life.
I noticed a missing piece in a lot of exercising is breathing. You’re leaving performance on the table if you’re exercising without focusing on your breath. I had a revelation about this through my own transformation, and wanted to tie it all together for others. Being able to help someone realize their power is the best work I’ve ever done. It isn’t even work. It’s just fun.
A key piece that was missing in my breathing with Oxygen Advantage was an objective feedback mechanism. I wanted to improve people’s breathing, but the question I was asking was, “how are you feeling?” which is subjective. Coming from the Crossfit world, I know people want to measure things. If you can measure it, you can manage it, and then you can improve it. This led me to heart rate variability (HRV) tracking and training with Lief.
My whole game is self-control. I want to give people back their control. People who are not in a good place often have a narrative that places control outside themselves, “You did this to me” or “You caused me to feel this way.” But I want people to realize they’re in control of their feelings, their physiology, and their health. If you can govern your nervous system, you can govern how you experience life, which is what I want people to experience. Until people feel it, they do not understand it. They need to feel the feeling of being in control, and then they’ll want it more.
I view HRV as a window to yourself, so you can see what’s going on at the physiological level. It’s life-changing to see things happening in my body that I can’t even feel, but that I can see in my Lief’s HRV data. We don’t always grasp the damage we do to ourselves when we don’t eat well, sleep well, move well, etc. Many factors impact our physiology, which can then impact us mentally.
HRV provides that insight into what affects you, and HRV biofeedback gives you the control knob to change how you’re feeling. I want to empower people to realize they have control over their state, whether it’s happy, engaged, calm, etc. A lot of it is done by relaxing into a stressful situation on purpose. Essentially you can choose how you think, and your mindset around something that is stressful.
I encourage people to expand their comfort zone and engage in adaptive plasticity. As a result, they learn to associate a positive emotion with a physical stressor, and it then becomes something that they’re attracted to. This allows them to grow, physiologically and mentally, in terms of their perception of themselves. That improved self-perception translates into better performance.
When you realize that you have more control over how you feel than you thought, you can begin to go forward in life. I want people to go at it, instead of waiting for something to happen to them. My message is: Don’t sit around and wait for good or bad things to happen to you — go after the things you want so you can live a better life!
I heard about Lief from the author of Oxygen Advantage, Patrick McKeown. He’s also the founder of Buteyko Clinic International. He’s been empowering people to take control of their health using simple breathing exercises for 20 years. Oxygen Advantage brought breathing into the fitness world. Patrick introduced his coaches to Dr. Jay Wiles. I took a 6-week HRV Master Class with Dr. Wiles and discovered Lief through that series.
I realized that Lief is a reliable HRV measure, which is highly correlated with blood pressure, mental health, performance, and resilience, especially. I thought: This is gold. This is what we need. All this work I’m doing to teach people resilience, we need a measure for it. Sure, people tell me how they feel, which is key, but if you want to change how you’re feeling, you need a way to see yourself changing it.
I view HRV tracking and training like training wheels — ultimately, the goal is to perceive your inner state. Lief helps you get there. Use your HRV as a feedback mechanism, so you can get concrete numbers about your internal state and then change it.
We only need this stuff because we’re disconnected. If you’re connected to life, you’re good and you don’t need Oxygen Advantage or HRV biofeedback. But for most adults, being connected to their internal state is very challenging. The goal with the Lief component of my program is to learn to be more in-tune with your inner state. Then, after you’ve got it, go and enjoy, and bring that openness to other people!
I emphasize that the goal of HRV training is not to achieve some high number. Rather, it’s the ability to modulate your HRV. Even if your general HRV range is low, as long as you have control over when and how to increase it, that’s the most important thing. Now, I can increase my HRV nearly 49 points in 5 minutes. It was super cool being able to modulate like that and see that data reflected back to me in real time.
HRV modulation translates into self control because exerting influence over your physiological state helps you control how you feel. As you learn to modulate, your top range will go up overall because you’re doing things that impact your HRV in a positive way. Of course, ultimately, the most important thing is gaining insight into yourself.
Some people in my group started out with a lower HRV baseline, but they learned to have some control over their range. Absolute number is not as important as the ability to control where you’re at in your range. Let’s say your HRV is in the 20s. Can you modulate it between 20-50? Your average will start to rise as you modulate more. Being able to exert this influence on your body gives you a sense of hope and control. If you can change your HRV at will, you’re in control, and that’s really what people want.
One of the partipants in my Oxygen Advantage group was on a $500/month migraine medication that he no longer needs to take after just three weeks in my program. Two things helped him: Mouth taping at night (part of my Oxygen Advantage training), and utilizing the Lief device’s autodosing and Downtime practice.
Just seeing his daily progress on charts he made for himself made a big difference for him because it really helped him see his improvement over time. Again, it comes down to realizing you have self control, and having faith in yourself.
The beauty of the Downtime practice is individuals can see that they’re improving their HRV in real time, and then learn to perceive how that feels in their body. Having the thresholds and being able to get the haptic feedback (literally, a buzz) to wake up to your state at any moment is very valuable.
Continuous real-time HRV tracking is powerful; it helps you connect real world circumstances that cause your HRV to change. You start to make correlations around eating sugary foods, for example, or getting into an argument, etc. Sometimes it’s not bad for HRV to drop. When you work out hard your HRV drops, as it should, but it should recover afterwards.
Lief’s autodosing gives you insight into your internal state under day to day circumstances, so you start to see the flavor of a moment. You start to notice, “Ah, this is the kind of moment that drives my HRV high vs. low.” This doesn’t necessarily mean “good or “bad.” Rather, the day is less a blur. You can start to understand how different events shape you on the inside.
The autodosing gave my trainees great insight into how their lifestyle choices impacted their body. They didn’t realize how often they felt angry, for example. Or that their HRV would drop in the middle of a difficult situation. I tell my athletes that the goal is to feel in control. You’re getting info about yourself that you’ve never had before.
The feedback can take some time to get used to. In the first 3 to 4 days using Lief, I often have to put participants back in the driver’s seat. Encouraging them to keep going over and over again, even when they thought they weren’t making progress, has been super important.
You’re leaving something on the table if you don’t know your internal state. Your breathing is up to 15% of your oxygen usage when you’re at full exertion. If you can control how much of your metabolism is dedicated to that effort through modulating your HRV, you can control your energy system. If you can control your energy system you can dedicate that energy to efficiently powering your body instead of managing stress.
You can achieve a more optimal performance level when you know your internal state and you’re able to control it. A useful analogy I like to share with people is that HRV training helps make your engine more efficient.
The Oura Ring is wonderful for insight into sleep. It gives you your HRV reading once a day. However, I also wanted a continuous view of my state so I could do something about it. Oura was like my starter kit that gave me some insights, whereas I view Lief as a more robust, flexible HRV improvement tool.
Lief’s Smart Patch uses an entirely different kind of reading and processing than the Oura Ring. Lief’s HRV readings are real-time and far more dynamic and clinically valid, so it’s a much better reflection of your internal state. I’m working with people who want continuous feedback and self control, so Oura just didn’t give me enough data to work with, since it didn’t provide real time insights. Oura gave me a snapshot of my HRV while asleep, which is great, but now what? I want to be able to respond to my data now. I don’t want to see that my sleep data is not great and then take delayed action hours or days later.
Overall I think Lief is an incredibly effective tool. Pairing it up with Oxygen Advantage and physical exercise to help people be in contact with their body makes a big difference. For me and my performance people, it’s critical to pair the Lief program with physiological stimuli beyond the HRV tracking and the breathing piece. I also paired people up with an accountability partner, and it really made a big difference in terms of their engagement. The tribal aspect was a big component in making this a success for my athletes.
Honestly, my wife has stolen it from me and has been using it for her hypertension, haha! But before that, I used it for 6 weeks every day. Mostly I used it for insight. I wanted to see what my Lief would tell me about myself, which correlated with my expectations. When I was able to change my HRV by 50 points in a few minutes with the Downtime practice, that didn’t surprise me. It confirmed that the work I’d done all these years has made a difference. Seeing my numbers changing before my eyes gave me a boost of faith in myself.
I was fascinated by what was happening. I used it to become aware of when my HRV was impacted. I found my lower HRV corresponded to hard workouts, when I ate, and when I talked a lot. I used it to reinforce my own senses and to learn when my HRV dropped, so I could recover efficiently.
Honestly, I don’t know if my average HRV improved overall because I didn’t really care about that one number. I was more interested in what was impacting my HRV, and whether I could modulate it. I was very happy that I was able to modulate. It confirmed for me that I’m on the right path. I had to see that the Lief would work for me first, and then I knew I could share it with my athletes. My experience was a proof of concept to ensure that Lief would be useful to my group, which it definitely has been.
At the end of the day, I help improve people’s performance and their approach to life, and HRV goes along with that. I meet them where they are, and then I bring people to a higher level of performance through self-awareness and contact with their nervous system.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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