[00:01:25] Podcast Sponsors
[00:05:28] Guests Introduction
[00:08:18] What a “Relational Alchemist” Is
[00:10:17] The Role of Breathwork in Stefanos' Practice
[00:15:55] How Christine Became a Life Coach
[00:23:03] How Christine and Stefanos Met
[00:31:32] The Protocols Stefanos and Christine Did with Ben and Jessa This Past August
[00:35:56] Podcast Sponsors
[00:38:01] The Science Behind Breathwork That Connects Couples
[00:47:15] How the Body Resists Anticipated Change from Breathwork or Therapy
[00:52:03] Enhancing Lovemaking with The Tantric Approach
[01:02:55] How Christine Got Off Antidepressants
[01:14:45] Rules for Getting to The Other Side of Arguments and Disagreements
[01:20:00] Final Comments
[01:22:26] Closing the Podcast
[01:23:31] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
There's something character developing about it because you're taking almost like a harder route to the top of that mountain.
Christine: There's zero judgment on us. In fact, we're kind of like, “This is good.” Like even though it's uncomfortable, it's just the body's way of releasing and letting go.
Ben: There should be an emphasis on this idea of sex being this sacred, spiritually intertwined activity.
Christine: Anger and rage leaks out as irritability, and we don't think we're angry, but we really are deep inside.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
My wife and I had an amazing couple come and visit us and they brought us through tantric breathwork, holotropic breathwork, relationship building, and beyond, and we dive into all of it on this episode. This is a really fun one. Their names are Stefanos and Christine. You may have seen Stefanos all over Instagram with his potent breathwork tactics. You may have seen Christine interviewed on the Joe Rogan show where she talks about getting off antidepressants, and a whole lot more. As a couple, they're amazing. And both my wife and I had the fantastic chance to be able to interview them.
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Alright, let's go talk to Stefanos and Christine.
Alright, folks, this is one of those episodes that's interesting because I originally actually wanted to do it live because my two guests on today's show flew to my house in Spokane–or I don't remember. Did you guys fly or drive?
Christine: We flew.
Ben: Yeah, you flew. Okay. That's right. They flew to my house in Spokane and they came up because I'd been hearing all these rumblings about this–actually, originally, about my first guest, Stefanos Sifandos, who describes himself as a relational alchemist, but who also is somebody who I had been told was a really great breathwork practitioner and breathwork instructor, particularly for couples. So, I'd heard about this guy a few times, and he reached out, and I really wanted to interview him on the podcast. And then, he came up to my house and spent a few days at my house, but I got a little bit of a bonus because he brought along his wife, Christine, who is a best-selling author, and a keynote speaker, and a podcast host herself. You may have actually heard her–well, what's the name of your podcast, Christine?
Christine: “Over It and On with It.”
Ben: “Over It and On with It.” And so, she has her own podcast. You may have seen her on the Joe Rogan show as well talking about a whole host of topics in the realm of consciousness, and health, and healing, and antidepressants. And so, she's a host or a wealth of knowledge herself as a podcast host, but also as somebody who coaches in addition to breathwork relationships and a whole lot more things that we'll get into on today's show. So, anyways, Stefanos and Christine both came up to my house. They both spent a ton of time with me and my wife training us in some pretty cool practices, particularly breathwork like tantric breathwork, and couples breathwork, and couples connection, and they laid us flat on our backs on our living room floor and brought us through this crazy, musically choreographed breath routine that was kind of like holotropic breathwork. And it was just such a cool experience that I had to get these guys in the show. We actually wound up running out of time while they were up at our house, but we have connected via the magic of Skype. So, Stefanos and Christine, first of all, welcome to the show.
Christine: Oh, thanks, Ben. It's great to talk to you again.
Stefanos: Thanks for having us.
Ben: Yeah. And I don't even know if I said your last name, Christine, but Hassler, H-A-S-S-L-E-R. I may have left that up.
Ben: Yeah. So, anyways, as you guys hear Stefanos and Christine and I talk about all of these things related to relational alchemy, and breathwork, and beyond, you can access the shownotes at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/alchemy. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/, for those of you who don't know how to spell, A-L-C-H-E-M-Y.
So, the first question that I have related to alchemy is actually for you, Stefanos. What the heck is a relational alchemist, and what's the day job of a relational alchemist look like?
Christine: Maybe I'd be better answering that since I'm the one in relationship with him.
Ben: Yeah, that's true. You got to [00:08:31] _____.
Stefanos: Probably. She probably would–look, in short, man, I just help people move from an undesirable place of being in their lives and relating to things that are important to them, whether it's their purpose, relationships, their own sense of worthiness, their own sense of self into a place that feels desirable and feels sustainable for them where they can explore with spaciousness their internal psychological and emotional world and just do the things in life that they really fucking love, essentially.
Ben: So, in terms of like boots on the streets, let's say somebody comes to you and–I don't know, I would imagine the common question would be like, “I can't find my purpose in life, bro,” or, “I wake up every morning without direction.” What does that look like in terms of how you would actually engage in a scenario like that?
Stefanos: Well, the first thing we need to do is help them feel safe enough to explore these unknown parts of ourselves because we don't know what we don't know, right? And often what's holding us back in life or not giving us clarity and really holding us like in a holding pattern of confusion is this sense of unresolved pain, and trauma, and fears that we have that are stopping us generally from living a full life. So, the way to access that, and there are different tools, and modalities, and techniques that we use depending on the individual, but we access that by firstly creating safety. So, we build rapport, help the individual get confident in his own self or herself, and really build trust between them and myself, and that's the starting point, and that can't be negated big. Otherwise, you can explore all you like, but you won't go to those deep places that are really uncomfortable and unfamiliar if you don't feel safe enough.
Ben: So, where does breathwork fit into this? Because that's how I first heard about you, was the whole breathwork component. So, I'm curious what your background in that is and how you came to do this in the first place and incorporate breathwork into the practice.
Stefanos: Yeah. So, for me, my first experiences with breathwork were personal. I was going through a very turbulent to measureless time in my life and a friend actually recommended this lady that was visiting from Europe, this is in Australia, and he said, “Man, she's amazing. You've got to try her breathwork. It will help you access states of consciousness and areas of your own psyche that you wouldn't even believe.” And I was, “This is me years ago,” and I was like, “Uh, okay.” I was in a pretty desperate place just going through a big change in my life. And I tried it, man, and it changed my life, and I've been a proponent ever since. I mean, it broke me down. I was howling, I was crying.
Ben: Was that like holotropic breathwork?
Stefanos: It was very, very similar. So, her technique was a combination, which is very much like mine, is a combination of holotropic, biodynamic, transformational breath, and a few other techniques as well. And honestly, it was so profound for me. Cops came knocking on the doors. I thought someone was getting murdered in there. I was screaming, and howling, and crying, and just releasing all of this stuck trauma, this stuck pain that I wasn't able to access in my familiar state of consciousness through the analytical aspects of my mind. And that was really powerful, and that set me on a journey to then study breathwork and become qualified in practicing breathwork, and just teaching it and incorporating it in my own practices.
Christine: And you had experience with psychedelics and things like this, and breathwork just topped a lot of that for you, which is why it was so impactful.
Stefanos: It was more psychoactive than psychoactive substances on many levels.
Ben: Yeah. I've experienced that myself. What was the name of that gal who you originally hooked up with?
Stefanos: So, [00:12:16] _____.
Christine: He's the worse, [00:12:17] _____.
Ben: The reason I asked is there's a lady in Sedona, Arizona named Anahata Ananda. Do you know of her?
Stefanos: Yeah. She's a friend of ours. No, no. This lady was European. She was from Germany, I believe.
Ben: Okay. Got it, because I did a few sessions with Anahata and she combines like–actually, not too dissimilar from what you had my wife and I doing on our living room floor, but she has a lot of the instruments live there. So, she's got like the gongs and the didgeridoo, all this stuff that she's blasting you with as you're laid out on the floor, and she combines aromatherapy and these other interesting things along with it. But yeah, I have similar experience every time I've done either the SOMA breathwork protocol, or the protocol with you and Christine, or the work with Anahata. For people who don't understand how something like that can simulate almost like a deeply psychedelic experience, you almost just have to experience that to understand what it feels like. And in a way, I don't know how you guys feel about this, but it's almost more rewarding when you breathe yourself into that state versus when you just, say, like pop a pill or drink a brew. There's something more, I guess character developing about it because you're taking almost like a harder route to the top of that mountain, so to speak.
Christine: Mm-hmm. And in a sense, you have more “control.” You're really leading yourself into it. So, a lot of people that have a lot of fear with psychedelics, or really have a hard time with surrendering, or scared of where it will take them, this is your breath, and it really gives you a sense of empowerment of, “This isn't a substance, this isn't something outside of me that's taking me there, this is a place I've taken myself.” And we've noticed that the integration after breathwork is even more powerful than the integration after a psychedelic experience because there's such a sense of empowerment, there's such a sense of, “I took myself here. I did this just with my breath.” And people can really embody that. We've noticed breathwork really gives people more confidence in their personal transformation because they tap into their own source of power.
Ben: Yeah. Plus, you don't have to worry about a P-test that worked the next day.
Christine: Exactly, or something really strange happening, or having a bad reaction, or any of those things.
Ben: Yeah. It is interesting because despite there being a similar response as you might get with, let's say–well, I would say probably top of the list in terms of the crossover would be something like LSD, which is one of the reasons why the guy who invented holotropic breathwork from my understanding, Stanislav Grof, came up with it as an alternative to some of these little surgimides. It seems to simulate very much what a dose of LSD would actually do. But in a way when you're using a lot of these exogenous substances, you do things like exhaust 5-HTP or sometimes overload the receptors with serotonin. And it's almost like when these same states are achieved through breathwork, and I don't know if you guys agree with this, but it's almost as though the body remains in a state of physiological balance a lot better, like you don't feel like you have a need to say, “Take a bunch of vitamin C the next day to shut down excess neural inflammation,” which is quite common with psychedelics, or, “Take extra 5-HTP to rebuild your serotonin levels.” Like, you just don't feel as though there's really much rebuilding or bouncing back that needs to be done from a biological standpoint after a breathwork session versus after a psychedelic experience.
Stefanos: The intensity of the experience can be very similar yet the recovery is quite different. So, yes, definitely agree.
Ben: Yeah. Now, Christine, what exactly do you do? Because I know you're–I don't know if you describe yourself also as a relational alchemist or as something else, but what do you do exactly? And also, I'm curious how you met Stefanos.
Christine: Yeah. I'll answer both of those. I use more simpler words.
Christine: I just say I'm a master coach. So, I started coaching in 2004. When I'd say I was a coach, people would say, “What sport?” Because life coaching just wasn't a thing back then. And then, went on to get two degrees in psychology. So, I blend coaching and psychology in a lot of different modalities. And really, I've been doing this close to 17 years and it really is something I'm masterful at. Don't give me guitar. I'm not a very good painter. But when it comes to people, that's just my zone of genius. I'm kind of like when you go to a functional medicine doctor and they look at the root cause, that's really what I help people identify, like what's the root cause, the emotional root cause, or the unresolved issue that's getting in people's way. And I coach, I speak, I write books, I post retreats, all kinds of things, and it really has been quite an amazing journey because I've been my own best client. This career came out of my own. Well, at the time, I called it my quarter-life crisis back at 24 when I ended up leaving my very successful career in Hollywood and had a broken engagement, and all kinds of other things that go wrong.
Ben: Alright. Were you an actress?
Christine: I was an agent.
Ben: Okay. Got it.
Christine: Yeah. I was an agent. And moved out to California when I was 20, worked my way up very quickly. I was incredibly insecure and compensated by being an overachiever, which a lot of overachievers and very successful people can relate to. But I just always was looking for something to make me feel better about myself. I lived in [00:17:49] _____. And when I hit a rock bottom at 24, I was seeking advice, I was seeking a different way. I had been in therapy since I was 11 and it just wasn't really working for me anymore. And that's when I found personal development, and that's when I decided to write a book for women in their 20s going through what I was going through, and because there wasn't a book out there like that. And that's really what launched my career was writing my first book. So, I never planned on getting into this world, but it is something that has helped me so much, everything from getting off antidepressants to getting over really difficult times in my life. Like, I never thought I could be as happy and as content as I am today, especially coming from being told at 11 years old, “You're depressed. You have a chemical imbalance and you're going to be on meds the rest of your life.”
Ben: When you were 11?
Christine: I was 11.
Ben: Holy cow. My kids are 12. I can't imagine saying that to them.
Christine: It was the doctors who said it to me, and I think as a kid, you give doctors a lot of authority, especially back then. And I believed it, and they said, “If you were diabetic, you take insulin. You just need to take this.” And looking back–and I have no anger at my parents or the doctors. I've worked through all that. Everybody really was doing the best they could with the limited information that they had. But looking back, I think there were two things going on. I was a highly sensitive child, highly empathic child, and was just picking up on a lot of stuff that I couldn't process myself and didn't really have anyone to help me with that. And I think I had a huge gluten intolerance. And gluten affects people in different ways. Some people it's more stomach upset. For me, it really impacted my brain.
Ben: There's a book about that, “Grain Brain.”
Christine: Exactly, but I didn't know, so I just stayed on them 'til 11 until 29. I was fully off them by 30. I started getting off of them about 28 years old and had a lot of people that helped me. And so much of what got me off of them is the work I do today. And I just want to say I'm not anti-antidepressants. I'm not anti-medication. I think that everybody's mental health is their own personal and they really have to check in and see what works. And sometimes medication is needed for people, but I knew deep down that I didn't want to be on them, and I wanted to feel everything. I didn't want to feel just a little bit of life. I wanted to feel all of it, and that took being willing to go into some really deep, dark emotions, anger, rage, shame, fear that I had been able to avoid because I was just medicated.
But it got to the point in my 20s, especially in my mid-20s where I was on antidepressants, I was on anti-anxiety pills, and I was getting headaches since I was in fifth grade. So, I was also popping two Excedrin in every day and some anti-inflammatory stuff. I mean, I was just popping pills left and right, and it's still something I'm clearing out today. But I can say being off antidepressants for more than a decade now, I love the fact that I'm able to feel everything, and I love the fact that I don't have to live by a label anymore because I think that's one thing in psychology that can be limiting for people. They get a label and you're told you're this thing, and that puts you in a box, and it limits our experience, and it limits our opinion of ourself and our belief in ourself. And so, my work is really helping people really find the healing within, and that's kind of the place I come from when I work for people is that everybody has their own inner master inside. Anything is healable, and it's just my job to help them find their way through.
Ben: Well, you obviously did not meet Stefanos at a bakery then based on what you just tell us about gluten? And by the way, just for people who are wondering, who haven't heard this about gluten, the idea is that even if you don't have celiac disease, in some people, gluten protein can trigger a pretty significant amount of gut inflammation and increase the permeability of the intestinal barrier. When that happens, you get these things called lipopolysaccharides. Those leak out of the intestine, they go into systemic circulation. And one of the areas where they act as a pro-inflammatory molecule and also cause a release of more pro-inflammatory cytokines, is in the bloodstream, and then that reaches the brain, that systemic inflammation reaches the brain. You get neural inflammation, and then that's where you get brain dysfunction, and cognitive impairment, and increased vulnerability to things like neurodegenerative disease.
And if you actually look at the data, there is some pretty compelling data between gluten and depression and anxiety, or gluten and bipolar disorder, or gluten and schizophrenia. And I'm not saying that happens with everybody. I mean, you guys have been to my house and you know I love a slice of my wife's lovely fermented sourdough bread, but I am pretty careful. Even though gluten doesn't necessarily cause a lot of gut distress with me, I'm careful with large boluses of gluten, particularly from modern wheat crops where it's more concentrated due to some of the neural problems. People who struggle with brain fog, et cetera, but maybe don't have gut issues and think they're fine with gluten, they should know that.
But anyways, so where'd you guys meet?
Christine: So, the short version of the long story is I was in San Diego, he was in Perth, Australia where he's from. I was in-between places to live and friends said, “Hey, we're moving out of our place in San Diego.” It was going to go back on the market and places that are on the market there go quickly. So, they said, “Come to our house, have a look at the place, see if you want to apply for it.” I look at their place. I love it. I'm sitting down and having dinner with my friend Renee, and her husband's working on his computer. And he says, “Hey, Christine, I'm working on this new startup. Will you come over and pretend like you're working on the computer? It's a website startup and I need an over-the-shoulder shot of somebody working on the computer, and I've used my wife too many times.” So I'm just like, “Sure.” So, I come over. I set the computer. I pretend I'm working on it. And on the screen are all the co-founders of this company and Stef's picture. Actually, if you're looking at a Skype picture right now, that picture was on the screen. And I looked at it and I thought–
Ben: So you've got a nice suit coat on, kind of a plunging neckline. His hands are folded together. He looks like a very trustworthy and responsible individual.
Christine: Doesn't he? That was my thought exactly. So, I saw that picture. But it wasn't like, “Oh, he's cute. Who is that?” I actually thought I knew him. I recognized him on some level, even though we had never met, I'd never seen him before, but I was convinced I knew him. And my friend said his name and I was like, “Oh gosh, that's the name. I would have remembered that name.” And I was kind of hesitant for an introduction because my friend offered an introduction, but I had just gotten back from Australia. I didn't really want to date another Australian dude and he was really far away. I mean, Perth and Encinitas could not be farther away. Renee reached out to him and I'd take it from here.
Stefanos: Yeah. She went up to me and she asked me if my heart was open for a relationship and–
Christine: Oh, let me jump in.
Christine: So, I had been dating a lot and it was like one unavailable guy after unavailable guy, and I was done with that cycle. And I said, “I'm only interested in being introduced to him if he's looking for a relationship. I don't need another friend, like, I'm looking for my partner because I was really clear that's where I was in my life.”
Stefanos: And I've been in Singleton for about 18 months, and I'd hopped out of a stillness practice, and it came to me that I was ready. I was ready to be in a relationship. And it was really coming from a place of I'm super content where I am, whether it's in a year, tomorrow, 10 years. That doesn't matter. I'm very, very grateful where I am in my life, and I'm very content and very full. So, it wasn't coming from a place of I need someone else to make me feel better about myself because that had been unconsciously a lot of the other relationships that I had engaged in, being involved in. That's really where it was coming from. I was trying to make myself feel better about myself by having someone else love me and appreciate me because I wasn't really doing that for myself. And I've been doing it at this point. It was years since that first breathwork experience and I was really delving deep into my own psyche, past traumas, and my own emotional self. Who am I as a man, the construct of masculinity for me?
And I said, “Sure. I'm open to meeting amazing people.” Really also keeping a–I want to say a level head around, “Hey, I need to know how this woman smells. I need to know what she looks like in real life.” I'm not jumping into anything here. But the interesting thing was that coincidentally, in quotation marks, we were both going to be in the same place–
Christine: In Europe.
Stefanos: In Europe. In Estonia, which is a very small country three months from now, with vision.
Ben: Yeah. I've been there. I went to the Mindvalley University with Vishen Lakhiani in, yeah, in Estonia.
Christine: Yeah. So, I have–
Ben: Tallinn? Tallinn, I think, was the name of it. Yeah.
Christine: Yeah, Tallinn.
Stefanos: Yeah, Tallinn, yeah. So Christine was going to speak there. I was going to go there because, one, that startup that Christine was referring to, we were investing the company there. And the second part to that was, well, we're visiting for Mindvalley University, the team that was in this startup. And so, we knew they were going to meet each other and I'd already planned to leave Australia and remain in Europe because my parents live in Europe, and I was going to remain in Europe or float over to the U.S. And that was already in my plans. And so, it was just that was really interesting, but the short of that again is we just developed a very intimate communion, a very intimate dialogue and getting to know each other over WhatsApp and sharing videos and voice notes. We came up with a little–
Christine: Oh, it's your idea.
Stefanos: Yeah. I came up with an idea around sharing and how we can get to know each other at a deeper level. And so, I would ask five questions, three to five questions that were important to me, and they could be anywhere on the range. They could be funny questions, really deep, and profound questions. So, one of the questions that we often say is that if an animal could be the president of the United States, what animal would that be and why?
Christine: And then, you asked really interesting questions, or deep questions like, what's your biggest wound with your mother, and how does that show up in relationship? I mean, you got two people in the personal development world. We went pretty deep with the questions.
Stefanos: We went deep, yeah. And so, I would ask those questions and she would answer them, and then I would answer my own questions. And the reason I did that was because I didn't want any get out of jail free card. I wasn't going to ask anything I was not prepared to delve into myself. And that changed the game, but what happened was that we developed a really deep intimacy really quick and–
Christine: And this was new for us because without the physical, like we had three months of this with no physical contact. Didn't know how each other smelled, never kissed, never hugged, nothing, and we were falling for each other over WhatsApp. And it was actually nice not to have the physical there because we really developed this emotional intimacy, and we're really clear about how we felt about each other on an emotional level. So, it was new for both of us to meet someone this way.
Stefanos: But we're also very honest, Ben. And what I mean by that is that we were very aware that, hey, this is great and we need to be in each other's physical presence to really determine whether this thing is going to work. So, we're very–
Christine: Yeah. Otherwise, it was just a fantasy.
Stefanos: Absolutely. So, we're very aware of that. So, instead of meeting in Estonia, Christine was–well, you should probably share this.
Christine: Yeah. And we'll speed it up. So, I had said yes to a trip to Mykonos months ago with a bunch of couples and I was just going to be the ninth wheel. And it was a bunch of people going–probably, Ben, people you know. And I was like, “If I don't have anybody by then, it's fine.” So, he comes into my life and I asked him if he wants to go on this trip with me and four other couples before Estonia, and he says yes. And he's Greek, so speaks fluent Greek, was excited to get to Greece. So, it was a big risk for me to invite him on this trip with some of my friends, given I never met him. So, the way it happened is I flew into Greece. You flew in from Estonia or something, and we met at 9:00 a.m. in my hotel room, and I was very stressed out about what to wear at 9:00 a.m. when you meet someone for the first time. And I opened the door, and we hugged, and that was it. We moved in together that day, traveled through Europe for a month, then he moved back to the states, proposed to me two months later, and the rest is history. And that was nearly three years ago now.
Ben: Wow. You know, one thing that came to mind as you were describing how you fell in love via just kind of asking questions to each other was an article I read some years ago. I think it was in the New York Times about 36 different questions that lead to love, and it's actually–you can still find the article. I'll link to it in the shownotes. So, if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/alchemy, I'll hunt it down and link to it. But it's a set of questions like–and they kind of progress from, given the choice of anywhere in the world, “Who would you want as a dinner guest?” All the way down to, “Complete the sentence, I wish I had someone with whom I could share–” And they did a study and they found that these 36 questions actually led people to fall in love when they went through them over a series of time, like over a few dates, et cetera. And so, it actually is kind of interesting that that's how you guys wound up falling in love, and eventually getting married. And you obviously have an amazing relationship. I witnessed that when you were out at our house.
And that brings me to, I guess, the topic at hand, and that is this amazing work that you do with couples where you teach things like breath and tantric work that people can do together, particularly using breath protocols. And that's something I really want to unpack a little bit more because I know that you've successfully done a lot of this in your own relationship and you bring other couples through this type of thing. But I think one of the first things that we did, Stefanos, when you were at our house was we were down in the basement and you, I think–did we start with breathwork or did we start with questions? You have to remind me.
Christine: We started with just talking, and then the questions, and then the breathwork.
Ben: What kind of questions?
Christine: The questions that you and Jessa did facing each other. Do you remember those?
Ben: I remember them, but I don't remember what the questions were. So, if you could share with my audience what a few of those questions might be.
Christine: Yeah. We have all of them. We'll just share a few. So, when I look at you, I see. So, some of these are questions, some of them are sentence completion. And to back up the reason why we do it this way is so many couples want to talk, talk, talk, talk to get to intimacy, just want to talk about the problems. That's where a lot of couples get stuck in therapy just talking, talking, talking. What we want to do is we want to get the intimacy back in the relationship, and then do more of the talking. So, these set of questions was really to develop intimacy rather than talk about issues than the breathwork. And if we were working with you as a couple, which we weren't, we were just taking you through the process, then we would have gone into the relationship coaching. And we find that works really well for couples we work with because it gets them opened up, and then they talk versus trying to talk and talk and talk to open up. So, just a little background into why we do it this way. So, one of the questions–well, first question is when I look at you, I see, and we just invited you to look at each other and take each other in and just see what you see.
Stefanos: Another question, when you look at me, I think you see. And so, that's an important question because now we're perception checking and we're beginning to understand what is it that the other person–how do we really think the other person sees us? And this begins to bring up some more vulnerabilities and opens our heart to maybe some insecurities that we're dealing with, whether they're temporary or something's a little older. But we begin to share at a deeper level now.
Christine: Mm-hmm. And then, when you look at me, I want you to see. So, as Stef was saying, we want to get into some of the insecurities, we want to create a space for each individual to share what they really want to be recognized for, what they want to be acknowledged for, what they want to be seen for. So much in relationships, we end up just judging our partner and collecting evidence against them, seeing the things that drive us crazy versus really seeing the things they want us to see and they want us to acknowledge. And all of us, from when we're little kids to when we're grown-ups, need acknowledgment and really need to be seen. Back to what Stef was saying about when we start in either couples or individuals, it's all about creating safety so someone feels really seen. Some other questions we asked about, when I feel most alone, when I feel most angry when I feel most sad.
Stefanos: Yeah. And really an important aspect of this whole process is how the individual across from you when you're sharing is receiving. And so, you may remember this, Ben. We really asked you just to be there in stillness. That doesn't mean you couldn't emote. That doesn't mean that you couldn't have any facial expressions, but it wasn't about being agreeable with a person or even empathizing with him. It was empathy through stillness. So, that way we're not unconsciously or subliminally influencing the person's expression. They get to just fully express without having this this idea of, “Oh, I better say the right thing.” Because, you know, we're looking for micro-expressions on it unconsciously. We're looking for how people are reacting to us when we're communicating. We're to validate our expression. And that's a really important part of this is if we can remain very still in this expression, we're giving people permission to just fully go there and it's a really beautiful thing that happens.
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Alright, let's go talk to Stefanos and Christine yet again.
Ben: I think that gives people a pretty decent idea of kind of like what the question asking process looks like. But then I think what happened after that, if I recall properly, was you basically just like laid us out flat on our backs on our floor in our downstairs living room, and you brought us through this crazy, musically choreographed breath routine. And I'm curious, what exactly that was? Like, what's the purpose of that specifically when it comes to connecting couples?
Stefanos: So, do you want me to get just a little bit into the science of it?
Ben: Yeah. We got time, man.
Stefanos: Okay. So, essentially, what we're doing is we're looking at voluntary hyperventilation, and this is another way to alter brain chemistry. Now, I'm going to pause there for a second before I go a little deeper into this, and then just speak to the power that this can have with couples. When couples are sharing a particular experience like this, and you're hearing each other emote and breathe heavily, and the senses are being overloaded and you're in it together, there's a sense of camaraderie and companionship that you're moving through challenge and struggle together. That's a beautifully bonding practice. You think about this from an evolutionary perspective. We bonded through many different ways, but we also bonded through challenge and hardship. That's a form of cultivating deeper intimacy.
So, I'll come back to what's happening in the body. So, there's a common misconception about this that the breathing alters oxygenation of the blood, right? But that's not necessarily true. I just want to get into what's happening physiologically and it will make more sense what happens then psychologically as well. So, if you take a deep breath and you hold it, you can extract oxygen from the air, held in your lungs for minutes without much difficulty for most people, especially if you practice it. So, you don't have to be breathing for this to happen until of course the oxygen content of the breath or air gets too low. So, breathing, particularly in this way, is mainly about regulating CO2, carbon dioxide. So, we breathe to blow off CO2.
And for this reason, CO2 is the main driver of respiration. So, our respiratory drive is a feedback loop that maintains our blood CO2 levels within a very narrow range. So, when you voluntarily hold your breath–and we didn't do a lot of breath-hold through this particular practice, but we did a little bit. And sometimes you're actually involuntarily going to a breath-hold. Remember, Ben, you did a little bit of this, right, because you know what's going on in the body. So, when you hold your breath, the CO2 levels rise, and then you gasp for breath at the end due to high CO2 levels, right, long before oxygen is even an issue. So, when you voluntarily hyperventilate, you blow down your CO2. So, CO2 is acidic. And so, regulating CO2 levels in the blood is also about regulating the pH of your blood.
When you hyperventilate, you force CO2 down. So, it alkalizes the blood, and this is called respiratory alkalosis. And so, this affects the functioning of the nervous system. Now, this begins to cause tingling in the mouth and the fingers, lightheadedness, dizziness. You have a [00:41:10] _____ response because your carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen levels are changing in your body. So, this type of breathing essentially is a simple method for creating physiological symptoms in conjunction with meditation or expressions of meditation to enhance the sense of a spiritual experience. This is powerful. So, this means it combines an accelerated breathing with evocative music in a special set and setting, which is a lot of what we did with both of you first. We set the intention, we set the clarity. When your eyes are closed and you're laying on the mat, you use your own breath, and the music, and sound within your own body and movement within your own body to enter into a non-ordinary state of consciousness.
And so, this state activates natural inner healing processes of you as an individual on a psyche of your past as integration of inner child memories that come through, implicit memory starts to come through. It brings the “spiritual seeker,” a particular set of internal experiences. And so, the inner healing intelligence guiding the process, which is essentially you, the quality and content that brought forward to your own sense of awareness, A, it's very unique to each person, but it's also very particular that time and place. This allows you to explore reoccurring themes within your own life and also helps you understand that no session is alike. Every session is slightly different.
And so, what ultimately happens is you're able to access unconscious parts of yourself that you couldn't access before and you're doing that through the physiology. And the technique that we use in this instance is a–there's various breath techniques, but it's a breath technique. Now, the interesting part is that when you hyperventilate, the amygdala starts alarming and saying, “Well, something's not right. There's an association that we're in danger.” But the paradox is, and the juxtapositioning is that you're lying down, you're in your home, you're relaxed, you've got your eyes closed, which generally infers to the brain that–the eyes are part of the brain as well, but infers to the parts of your brain that, “Oh, I'm safe.” And so, there's a confusion there. And because you're voluntarily hyperventilating, the brain-body is confused. So, you enter this state, but you also enter this state of awareness, “I am safe.” And so, in that safety, you're able to explore these areas of the psyche, your relationships, yourself, parts of you that you haven't been able to have before.
Ben: It's interesting because you get this–a lot of people are familiar with metabolic alkalosis, which would be an overabundance of bicarbonate in the blood, or a loss of acid in the blood, which is caused by breathing off all this carbon dioxide. But then you get to that term that you brought up, Stefanos, which is this respiratory alkalosis. So, you got metabolic alkalosis that leads to respiratory alkalosis. And when the respiratory alkalosis occurs, that's where you see a lot of the vasoconstriction, some of the vasoconstriction, particularly the blood vessels feeding the brain. You get almost this bounce-back response in the brain that results in the release of DMT, and some of these other molecules responsible for making you feel as though you're having a deep spiritual experience. Not making you feel as though you are having a deep spiritual experience, but yeah, it takes time though.
It took us about an hour to really get to that final stage. And sometimes people who just do, say, one round of, I don't know, something like Wim Hof breathwork, they get a little glimpse of this. But not a lot of people will go for 45, 60, or–I've done sessions up to 90 minutes because it is hard, like your diaphragm gets tired, your stomach gets tired, you get fatigued. And you don't have to treat it like a full-on workout, yet it is somewhat difficult to actually force yourself to just do that type of deep inhalation, letting go for multiple rounds, often with increasing frequency, often with these long breath-holds during, but the payoff is pretty profound.
Christine: Yeah. And like Stef was saying, so many times, unconscious memories can come forward, and this helps us move with either individuals that we treat or couples so much faster because so much of what comes up in relationship is inner child stuff, is past wounding. We're bringing our past, our childhood, our relationship with our parents into our marriage or our relationship, and it might take six to eight hours of talking even more to get to some of the memories and the ah-has that can come forward with breathwork because people have different visions, they have different things that come forward, they have different insights. And so, the talking therapy and the coaching that we do afterwards is so much more profound because so much more of each person is online, and we don't have to go digging for stuff. So, we just find it so much more effective to integrate this kind of work into any of our work. We do it at retreats, we do with individuals, we do with couples.
Stefanos: Many people as well in the room.
Christine: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And so, we did that whole thing together. Jessa was across the room from me. We were both flat in our backs. And then, I think from what I recall, didn't you guys kind of bring us together after that?
Stefanos: We did.
Christine: We brought you together, gave you some time, and then we have lunch, I believe, and then we did some more of the tantric breathwork and positions later that day.
Ben: Yeah. I want to get into the tantric breathwork, but one thing popped up that was interesting. It's actually why one of the reasons we're podcasting via Skype versus us having done this at my house because we ran out of time, and it's the fact that I got horrifically sick the day prior. I thought it was food poisoning or something, but I was literally bedridden for the entire day. I felt really bad. So, you guys were over at the house. I had house guest and I was literally just like up in my room, locked away. I don't get sick much, but I was just horrifically sick, just randomly came down with this freak 24-hour thing.
And I think it was Stefanos who mentioned that he'd seen this happen before, or that the body almost was resisting what it knew it was about to go through or experience or was resisting some of that emotional or psychological release that was going to occur during breathwork. And I'm curious if you could unpack that a little bit, what you meant by that when you said that you thought, “Perhaps my body was sick because it was resisting going into this protocol.”
Stefanos: Yeah. So, both Christine and I have experienced this on so many levels with clients, and particularly at retreats where we're in deep dive immersions. Man, the body knows. There's a great book by one of the leading trauma therapists, “The Body Keeps Score.” And in that book, and amongst other trauma-related books, we store all of our experiences in our bodies. Yes, we registered in the Mindscape, and as implicit or explicit thought, that then has an emotional experience attached to it. But we also store experiences in our bodies, and the brain and the body is a pattern recognizing machine. And at any point in time if it recognizes an event, or an aspect of an event, or experience or relationship dynamic, that once is familiar and that once caused us to feel threatened or unsafe. It will kick in, the amygdala will kick in, the adrenals, the pituitary gland will click in–yeah, lock-in, and begin to release stress hormone to warn us, “Hey, this is dangerous. We've got to move away.”
Now, that can either be a physical retraction, it can be a psychological shutdown, but we notice these things at various levels, and we can't necessarily explain it, but that's part of what happens.
Christine: Yeah. Well, to add to that, I don't know, Ben, that it was resistance, or if it was just releasing. So, Steff and I see this a lot when we came to your house with the intention to create a safe space and to take you through an experience. It was awesome that we also got to hang out as friends and connect with you and your family. And there was a lot that we were doing behind the scenes to set the container and to call energy in and to really just be intentional about what we were doing. And we see this a lot when we show up with that intention, just to love and be of service, back again to what Stef said about creating a safe space.
Again, we see this so much when someone's unconscious or their little boy or little girl recognizes, “Oh, I can trust these people, like this may be a safe space,” and, “Oh, they may be taking me through something really profound.” The body can start to just release stuff in interesting ways. We definitely have had people get a lot of stomach stuff, we've had people vomit, we've had people pass out, we've had people get UTIs right before. I have one client right now that we're dealing with some massive anger and she's releasing kidney stones. So, the body just stores stuff. And so, what I really think you had was not necessarily resistance, but a deep, deep release and let go because we all ate the same thing, right? So, why did you get sick? And it's like you hold so much and you have so much responsibility, and it's like some part of you knew, “Oh, there's a moment or a day that I can just let go,” and whatever your body just use that opportunity to purge some stuff.
So, that's really how when we talked about it, and it didn't bother us at all. There's zero judgment on us. In fact, we're kind of like, “Yeah, this is good.” Like, even though it's uncomfortable, we know that it's just the body's way of releasing and letting go. And I think it probably led to, even though you didn't feel that great, it led to even a more profound experience. There's no way to measure it because we don't know what it would have been like, had you not had that experience, but just the opening that you had not just in breathwork, but in with Jessa and in some of the questions and things that we did. Who knows, maybe that created more space for you to really be present.
Ben: I'm going to blame you, guys. I'm going to somehow sneak some gluten into your next salad, Christine, just to bounce back, or just to strike back. Okay. So, we did this amazing breathwork session together that was preceded by all these questions that allowed us to really open up to each other. And it was a really cool one-two combo, but then we went into more of the tantric type of practice where we were embracing each other and sinking our breath. And I'd love to get a little bit more into the sexual component of this now as well. I recently did an interview with Jamie Wheal where we talked about all of these different ways that one could using what he calls his hedonic sex matrix, actually really amplify a love-making experience. I mean, we wanted everything from nipple clamps to LSD in that particular episode.
But we touched on breathwork a little bit, but I'm curious, for people who are unfamiliar with how to enhance lovemaking, particularly, with this type of tantric approach. Can you explain what it is that you brought us through next and kind of the reasoning behind it?
Stefanos: So, what we brought you through next was synchronizing not only your breath, but synchronizing your intentions. And we again accessed that through breath. And so, what we find with the very busy world that we live in, and I know that you can attest to this, Ben, is that we often don't have intimacy and connection with our partners. We want it, we crave it, but we don't have it. We often live very separate lives, and there's a disjointedness there. So, we don't feel not only connected to ourselves. We don't feel connected to our partners. That creates a barrier to intimacy. And so, what we want to do–
Christine: And just to clarify, he wasn't saying you have various intimacy, just the busyness you could relate to.
Stefanos: Yeah. I remember one of our conversations around how grateful you are to be home with COVID because you're not flying around as much.
Stefanos: And so, sometimes it can be physical distance, sometimes it can be emotional distance, but couples in general, right? Unless they have very solid practices and they're very intentional with it, which may I say your family very much does, and that's from our perspective, and I know I can speak for Christine here, is that's what keeps a family together, that intentional practice of bonding and connecting at particularly various times during the day, whatever that looks like. So, what we really got you to do was sync up, and we're going to sync up through your breath. So, you would inhale and exhale at the same time as a very simple example.
Now, what we also did with you, one of the exercises we used was we had you leaning up against each other. So, you're back to back. Now, symbolism being the oldest language in human history, symbolically, you are holding each other up, you were supporting each other. And you had to get to a balance point where there–and you're a big guy and just as–I don't know, you must be at least 60 pounds heavier than Jessa, right?
Ben: No, easily. I think I'm probably like 80 pounds heavier than her.
Stefanos: Yeah. So, you've got to hold each other up so you're both at a balance point. That gets you working together again. And that breathing, synchronizing your breath, you become or you move into this oneness. Now your breath becomes more singular. And now, you're connecting deeper. And that connection, that synchronization, begins to bring up memories maybe of when you were really intimate and close with each other. And that begins to soften you more into the moment and seeing that at that other person, in a way that maybe you haven't seen them in a long time, and you begin to empathize and understand at a deeper level as well. So, that was part of the process.
Christine: And I think that a lot of people have misunderstandings about tantra. They think it's this crazy sex position type of practice.
Ben: Yeah, like Kamasutra.
Christine: Yeah, exactly.
Stefanos: It's a very small component of it.
Christine: And it's really about breath and connection, and learning how to run energy through the body. And the entry point to running energy through our body is the breath. So, if we want to run energy with another person, which is what leads to a very tantric sexual experience, we've got to sync with the breath because that's where it goes through. So, having you in these different positions, breathing together, that's the first part, and then you sync the breath and the movement, and that's the second part, because when you're energetically connected, that leads to way better sex because you're having sex on a multi-dimensional level. You're not just on the physical level anymore, and you're not just on the emotional level anymore.
A lot of people can have very emotionally connected lovemaking sessions, but if they want to take it to the energetic level where it's beyond the physical, it's beyond the emotional, it's really on that energetic level. And we find it can be simple. It's just through simple breath and simple movement, you're able to get into this energetic dance with each other where something takes over you. It's like not just two people making love, there's an energy that you're playing with, which can lead to of course much deeper connection, but much more ecstatic sexual experiences and pleasure as well, because you're not just having sexual pleasure, you're having energetic pleasure, and that's really where the ecstasy comes in.
Ben: Right. Yeah. I'd read the book, “The Multi-Orgasmic Male,” which I think I've mentioned on podcasts before, and have gotten myself using a lot of the power draws that are taught within that book to be able to, just as I'm about to ejaculate, to kind of like forcefully exhale all the air out and then inhale through my mouth and concentrate all that energy up to the crown, and basically, get to a state where I'm orgasming without an ejaculate, which allows you to experience pleasure over and over again during sexual intercourse. But what I hadn't really done, mostly because I just hadn't yet really gotten Jessa to learn this type of breathwork with me, was this breath synchronization where not only were we rocking our bodies back and forth, but as she would breathe out, I would breathe in, and then as I would breathe out, she would breathe in.
And we were just doing this with your guys' coaching, fully clothed on the floor of our living room, just practicing what we could do during foreplay or during lovemaking. But then once we actually were able to take what you taught us in the bedroom, in terms of making sex be an even more, I guess what I would describe as a spiritually intertwined activity where you're deeply connected to your partner, and we know that the root word of the word sacrum, it was kind of triangular bone in our pelvis that we're rubbing up against our partner with during sex, that is something that can be translated into something that is blessed, something that is revered, something that's highly spiritual, and the root of which we draw a lot of our life force and a lot of our energy, and the ability to be able to connect in that way, and then breathe that energy up into the crown chakra, and experience the deep connectedness that occurs with that, especially in conjunction with things like eye gazing and some of the other breathwork that you brought us through earlier in the day.
It's very profound. I mean, I think I've said this before on shows, but I think a core part of every young person's key foundational curriculum growing up should be to develop an intimate relationship with how to use their breath to control their physiology, like how to activate a sympathetic or a parasympathetic state. I think that similarly, when, whatever, parents are teaching their kids about the birds and the bees or whatever, that there should be an emphasis on this idea of sex being this sacred spiritually intertwined activity that can be vastly amplified in terms of its meaning, and its fulfillment, and its satisfaction via these practices like eye gazing, like mutual breathwork, like tantric breathwork, and a lot of these things that you guys teach or that people can learn through tantric resources. And I think it's just a total game-changer when it comes to one's sex life.
Christine: Yeah. And especially the longevity of a relationship. People get bored in their sex lives and they want the next best thing. A lot of infidelity comes from just being bored and not being satisfied. And in a relationship where two people are choosing monogamy, you don't want to have the same sex all the time, and it is bringing these energetic and spiritual components into sex where you can reach that sacred union and you can reach states of ecstasy. And just like we were saying, breathwork can take you to places that psychedelics can soak in making love, so can sex. It can take you to such a level of ecstasy that–it's like, “Wow, did someone give me MDMA?” It can be this incredible experience in the body.
And so, especially when we're working with couples that have been together a while and their sex life has gotten stale, this is the work because you keep growing and you keep finding new levels to get into and you discover new parts about each other. And you have more life force, too, because when you wake up that kundalini energy, which is at the root of tantra, and starts in the sacrum, the sacred part of our body, and goes all the way up to the crown and beyond. The life force just amplifies. And when you have a better sex life, you're more creative, you're healthier, I mean, there's so much research on how having a better-connected sex life improves your overall health, stress level, longevity, quality of life, everything. But it has to be good sex, not just robotical sex, not just, “Oh, it's Wednesday night, so tonight's our night,” really taking it a level deeper than that.
Ben: Yeah. Granted you guys did almost ruin our quickies because it's almost impossible for us now to just like duck away when, whatever, the kids have a math class and we just sneak into the bedroom, which we still do, but sex takes us longer now. Like, it's more meaningful, but we have a hard time now just like having a quickie because the opposite of that is just far more meaningful and we feel so much more connected. And honestly, I would rather have deeply spiritual tantric sex once a month, then I would want to have like a quickie three times a week. And I mean, it's just an amazing, amazing experience. And I know that you guys have some courses in which you teach these type of practices along with a whole series of different breathwork and meditation practices that involve some of the work you do with couples and individuals. And I'll link to that in the shownotes because I know you guys have some–didn't you put together like a special breathwork course for some of my listeners?
Christine: Yeah. We have a breathwork and meditation course that's eight different breathwork tracks. Stef takes you through the breathwork. And we made them prescriptive, so there's one for releasing anger, there's one for releasing anxiety, there's one for feeling more connected, one for releasing loneliness. You can pick what you really want to focus on and do the breathwork for that. And then, I follow it up with a guided meditation visualization because we want to give you the embodied experience, we want to give you the release and the high of breathwork. And then, I use the meditation and guided visualization to help you really integrate that state into your body and into your nervous system.
Ben: Okay. Cool. I'll link to that stuff in the shownotes. But I want to ask you guys a few more questions just while I have you on because we didn't get a chance to delve into this too much, Christine, but you did tell a pretty interesting story about coming off of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications that you were on from the age of 11. And I do know that we have some listeners–I have some clients, for example, who are on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, and it's always an uphill battle to help them with that. What did you wind up doing to wean yourself off antidepressants?
Christine: A lot. So, first, I'll talk diet. I got off all gluten, dairy, coin, corn, soy, sugar, alcohol, for three years. I still don't really have any of that except the occasional glass of wine. But the biggest piece was I worked with the emotional level. So, so much of depression is suppression and repression. And I grew up overachiever, a bit of a people pleaser, good girl, looked like I had everything together from the outside, but was really, not falling apart on the inside, but anxious, and insecure, and lonely, and a little lost. And so, I had to learn emotional release work, and this is a big thing I teach. And there's a difference between emotional release work and catharsis. So, a lot of people will go to, say, a workshop or an event and they'll scream really loud, like everybody just scream and let it out. And that's great, it's catharsis, they're going and hitting a boxing bag, great catharsis, but it's not really emotional release work.
So, my first coach, Mona, who I met when I was 22, taught me how to hit a pillow in the correct way. She got me a big pillow, and a tennis racket, and gardening gloves, and taught me how to attach memories with the release of emotion. So, it would look something like just beating the pillow with a tennis racket and then putting words to it. I'm angry because I'm frustrated, because I'm so pissed off, and really riding that wave of emotion. I've adapted this process a little bit and I call it the temper tantrum technique because if you look at a child and they go through a temper tantrum and you don't interrupt them, they eventually will get to self-soothing. They eventually will ride the wave of the entire emotion and then be fine. A minute later, they're ready to play again.
As children, we get so interrupted in our emotions because we're told to be a good girl or a good boy, or don't cry, or we don't want to upset our parents, or our parents don't really know how to soothe us, or they oversoothe us and we don't know how to soothe ourselves. And so, most adults today really do not know how to feel and process our emotions. So, I had to learn how to tap into that anger. I was one of those people that thought I wasn't angry. I'm not angry, but I was very irritable and very anxious. And for so many people, repressed anger and rage and shame leaks out as irritability or frustration. And we don't think we're angry, but we really are deep inside.
So, it was finding that rage and finding that anger, and then of course finding the grief, finding the shame, processing some memories that came up that I'd repress for many, many years. And I had help. I had coaches, I was getting my master's degree in spiritual psychology at the time. I had a doctor that was supervising the weaning off the antidepressants. I was going to acupuncture. I was journaling. I was really going all in on this and approaching it from the spiritual, mental, behavioral, and physical level. It was important to me. It was important to me to feel free from what I felt like was holding me back from living into my fullest potential. And I can say now that one of the things that helps me most in my work with people is my intuition. And that was muted, Ben, when I was on antidepressants.
And I'm not saying that antidepressants mute intuition. I'm just talking about my personal experience, but I'm sure there's probably research out there that would confirm some of that, because I was just so numb I could not really tap in. And so, a lot of getting off the medication was tapping back into a spiritual practice as well, like really opening that back up. And now, that's something that's a big part of my everyday life and a part of how I work as well. So, it was a multi-dimensional approach, and like I said, almost a three-year process. And I have one podcast on my show where I go into much greater detail about it, and like I said earlier, I think that for everybody, it's a very, very personal experience. And one thing I do not recommend is just stopping them, like going off them cold turkey, especially if you've been on them for a while because I tried that a couple times and all it does is make things worse. So, you got to really work with the chemistry of your body.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. But it is important to be aware of. I mean, everything from osteoporosis to gastrointestinal issues, even bleeding and dyspepsia. You lose your stomach acid. There's sometimes liver injury, there's depletion of a lot of your beneficial gut bacteria, there's cardiovascular issues. As a matter of fact, I think it's Chris Kresser who has a whole series called “The Dark Side of Antidepressants” that I'll link to in the shownotes if people want to know a little bit more about why they may want to think twice, or consider using some of the tips that Christine has to get off of antidepressants. I know you talk about you are on the Joe Rogan show, and I think you unpacked this a little bit more on that show as well, but it is an issue that I wish more people were aware of and I wish more people had access to kind of like a systematized approach to actually wean themselves off of anything from SSRIs to–I guess there are others like monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants, and serotonin, or what they call norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Like, there's a lot out there.
Christine: I've been on them all.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Christine: Yeah, there's a lot. And that's the thing one stops working to go on another, and I'm still rebuilding my body from it. I mean, I'm way healthier now than I was then, but this was in 20 years of my life, especially my formative years. So, when Ben's talking about the risk of these things, I can raise my hand and go, “Yeah. A lot of that happens.” And I believe the body can heal and the body can rebuild. And this is just my opinion. I think that we've gotten a bit lazy, especially when it comes to psychology. Oh, you're sad. Oh, you're anxious. There's a pill for that. There's a reason we're sad, there's a reason we're anxious, and those are alarm systems that we really need to look at and go, “Why do I have this anxiety? What have I been carrying around in my life that I'm not looking at? What have I brushed under the rug? Why do I have this sadness? Why do I have this feeling of loneliness? Why do I feel like I don't matter?”
There's reasons for these things, and if we just medicate and think it's just chemistry and there's not something deeper, then we're missing a huge alarm system from the body. The body is the messenger of the unconscious mind. When our body has a symptom, or disease, or disorder, most often, there's something going on that it's trying to alert us to. And if we just medicate that and ignore it, we're missing the message, we're missing what our body's trying to tell us.
Ben: Yeah. Did you ever mess around much with–either of you because it seems right up your alley with this idea of therapeutic tremoring, like shaking off stress and trauma, like there's a book called “Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers,” and it goes into how zebras, when they're chased by an animal, will sometimes dissipate that stress by just shaking it off really heavily. And we as humans, once we're out of baby phase, a lot of times don't do that kind of full body shaking, and shivering, and tremoring to be able to get rid of stress. But it seems like something that they'll be woven into some of the stuff that you guys do.
Stefanos: Most definitely. And Dr. Peter Levine speaks to this a great deal, and he's a pioneer in this space and made a connection in the biological world around the value of tremoring, trembling, shaking, moving the body, and releasing the shock of the neurochemistry that has been expelled and moved through the body after a traumatic experience or during the traumatic experience. And so, that big part of what we do, generally accompanying breathwork, is recommending any movement that comes to the surface and trusting what that movement is. It could be jolting the knee, it could be stamping the feet, it could be gentle trembling, it could be almost the equivalent of having–it could be very intense, like the equivalent of having a seizure of some sort. But doing that, there's so much emotional and physiological release that's taking place, that there's a freedom that comes from that. It's almost like space is created in the body. So, yeah. With great caution, we both recommend movement, and sound is part of that as well. We accompany primal sounding with that movement and that breath.
Ben: What's primal sounding?
Stefanos: So, for example, screaming, just screaming. So, if you're feeling terror, and you feel that terror is stuck in your body and you need to move it, and shaking's not quite doing enough, scream.
Christine: Or make a guttural sound, or a groan, or a grunt, or whatever.
Stefanos: What was once suppressed. Often in situations where the sympathetic nervous system is highly activated, we repress our emotions. So, for example, if you're being attacked, sometimes you'll even have dreams where you're trying to scream, but no sounds coming out. There's a repressed sense of self that's taken place there. And so, that can have a long-term effect on the body, on relationships, on interactions with people, one sense of self–there's their self-belief, self-love, self-worth. And sometimes not all we need, but a missing component is that I had a traumatic experience where I wanted to scream and could not, or I wanted to move and could not. Now, I get to release that. That can be so empowering.
Christine: I love any kind of tremor release shaking. As someone who definitely still deals with anxiety from time to time, shaking is incredibly useful because anxiety is a very wiry feeling in the body. It's like the shaky feeling that you just want to be able to calm. And my least favorite thing people say to me when I'm anxious is, “Just calm down. Just breathe.” And it's not that easy when you're feeling physiological anxiety. But I have found that shaking, because it's a similar energetic of anxiety that you feel inside your body, when you actually do the shaking and let it release, it really dissipates the anxiety. So, thank you for bringing that up because that's another really amazing tool, especially for people that lean towards anxiety a bit.
Ben: Okay. There's a lot that you guys do. Obviously, I don't think everybody listening in, and I don't know if this is scalable for you, is going to fly you out to their homes to meet with them in their living rooms and teach them breathwork, and tantra, and everything else, but would you say that something like this breathwork and meditation series that you guys put together would be adequate to teach people some of the same stuff that you brought my wife and I through, or do you guys make yourselves available for couples to actually just like hire and you go out to their house and teach them this kind of stuff? Do you do courses, or how exactly can people learn more?
Christine: So, yes. We do, we have courses, we have retreats–
Stefanos: All of the above [01:14:16] _____ questions.
Christine: –should be coming up as soon as we are legally allowed to hold them again. It's kind of hard to hold a breathwork retreat right now with everything going on. We also have a free process that's a sacred union process for couples that people can just download at christinehassler.com/sacredunion. And that's an introduction to what sacred union is, and about a 45-minute process very similar to what we took you and Jessa through. So, that would be a guided process for couples people can grab as well.
Ben: Last question for you guys. You guys ever fight? Are you a perfect couple?
Ben: If you argue, if you fight, what's the number one thing? And you could both go if you have or if it's the same thing for each of you. I'm just curious what you guys do, like, let's say some–I don't know. If somebody drinks all the coffee, or you butt heads about where you're going to go to eat that night, or I don't know, whatever silly things couples argue about. How do you guys get over things?
Christine: Well, we definitely fight. I'm married to a Greek Italian, so he's feisty and fiery, and goes from 0 to 100 very quickly where I tend to–my bad habit is kind of holding things in and letting them brew, and then just throwing a whole laundry list of things that I'm mad at him. But we've broken these habits a lot. But I think that one thing that we've done that we advise couples to do is make agreements about how to fight when you're not fighting.
Stefanos: I disagree, essentially.
Christine: So, how to disagree. So, we have agreements about like certain guidelines for when we argue. So, when we argue, we argue. We definitely still yell, we definitely still fight, but we don't fight as much and our fights don't last as long because we try to grow from each fight, we try to learn something from it. So, one of our agreements is no one can storm out of the room without saying anything, like we're not allowed to leave. We can say, “I need space. I'll be back in 10 minutes.” Or, “I need to go for a walk. I'll be back in two hours.” They're an agreement so that no one can just like walk off or drive off or leave. Also, Stef came up with you and [01:16:14] _____ arm in the air.
Stefanos: Yeah, yeah. So, if we're really not meeting eye to eye and we're struggling to see each other's perspectives, one of us will just put a hand in the air. Or if one of us, let me just say something, if one of us are feeling insecure in the relationship as well, in that moment, we're not trusting the relationship, something doesn't feel quite right, we're not being heard, et cetera, one of us will put our hands in the air and clench our fists, and that represents our unity, and that represents our lifelong commitment to growth, and to each other, and to this relationship. And again, that symbolism is very powerful because that's a pattern interrupt and a pattern break.
And in psychology, that can be very important for shifting and changing neurological, emotional, relational behaviors. So, that's very important. That's another part of what we do when she gets really real. And I can be really intentional. Sometimes if I can catch myself really just not being healthy in that moment, being maybe emotionally aggressive, being abrasive and abrupt, or I'm being really stubborn. If I can catch myself in that moment, I'll often drop to the ground and move into what's known in yoga as a plow position where I lay on my back, and my butt goes up in the air, and my feet go over my head, and that's a really powerful pattern break because what we often do is just both laugh.
Stefanos: And that laughter creates spaciousness in that dynamic. But what it also does is we're smiling, and the thousands of muscles in our face are indicating to our brain that, A, we're safe, and B, there's nothing to be angry about. And so, that's a pattern break for us to then get back into some level of homeostasis and decent conversation.
Christine: And I really want to acknowledge Stef, too, because yes, he is more fiery and oftentimes he's yelling, and I'm like, “You're yelling.” He's like, “I'm not yelling. This is just how I talk.” I say, “That's definitely yelling. You're definitely yelling right now. Anyone would agree you're screaming.” So, he's more kind of the fiery one in the relationship, and I'm usually one sitting and crying. That's the dynamic that usually happens. But I want to acknowledge him because one thing that we work on, we didn't get to talk about today, but one thing we work on a lot is the masculine-feminine polarity in our relationship, and it's taken us work because I had to release and dial back my masculine.
When we have an argument, usually Stef will be the one that comes and says, “Alright, let's repair this.” He owns it, he takes responsibility, and we go into that repair, and he really leads from this healthy masculine to go into the repair. And then, I really am intentional about embodying that healthy feminine, and receptive, and open to that conversation. And usually, we can work our way through arguments pretty quick, but at first, Ben, when we got together, it'd be like three to five days before we could get out of it. But it just takes practice, it just takes really knowing each other and knowing each other's issues and being willing to remember we're on the same team.
Stefanos: Yeah. Humility plays a part as well, Ben. When we first got together, we were both spiritually arrogant. And I want to say facetiously rightly so, from our perspectives back then, our ignorant perspective is that we've done a lot of work. I mean, we continue to do a lot of inner psychoemotional work, spiritual work. But we had done a lot and we came in with this arrogance of, “Oh, everything's going to be great. We're going to have this “perfect relationship.” Of course, we're in the limerence phase of relating, and hormonally, we're all over the place, and we're blind to our darker sides or the challenges that we would face. So, it took a while to unwind that and just drop into humility. And that practice of humility outside the intensity of disagreeing and argument can really help lower the intensity of disagreeing an argument.
Ben: Yeah. Well, knock on wood, but Jessa and I rarely, rarely fight or argue anymore. And I think a big, big part of it is the spiritual work that we've done, like being spiritually intertwined during sex, having extreme transparency, and truth, and honesty, in our relationship, knowing that we can say anything at any time, having even like these safe zone talks where we can chat with each other, but know that there's no judgment and that the other person's job is simply to be a listening post, and it's not necessarily argue, but just to listen and to hear the other person out. We have the same understanding with our kids, like if they have an issue with one another, they could simply say, “I need to have a safe zone talk with you,” and they could simply approach their brother and say whatever they want to say to get it off their back.
And the rule is like the other person can't argue, or state their point, or anything like that, they just listen and say, “Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing with me.” And then, if they want to come back at a later point and make a point or justify something they were doing, they can, but that's not the time and the place to do it. And little things like that just add up, and I think for anybody who really wants to tap into specifically some of the sexual and spiritual intertwinedness, some of the breathwork, and some of the things that Stefanos and Christine teach to bring couples closer together. I cannot encourage you enough to hook up with Stefanos and Christine and check out some of the work that they're doing, some of their courses because Jessa and I found it just absolutely amazing.
And honestly, even though my wife is probably upstairs somewhere painting, because she's working overtime right now on a project for her dad where she's making him a book that she's painting. So, she's not with us today, but I will say for her, from the bottom of our hearts, we actually are very grateful for having met you guys and having learned especially some of the breathwork things that you guys taught to us when you came up. So, thank you. Thank you for what you do.
Christine: Oh, we loved being with you. You have an amazing family. We were glad that you got a little unwell and got to stay an extra day.
Stefanos: Yeah, [01:22:01] _____, just credit to you and your family. And we speak often about this when we meet friends, we meet and connect with friends, just how amazing the dynamic is in your family, and it's just a testament to the effort that you all put in. It's very inspiring for us on embarking on the journey of soon to be having children.
Christine: Yeah. You're amazing parents and amazing couple.
Ben: Oh, thanks. Alright, give me a big head. Alright. Well, folks, there's plenty more that you can explore. I'll link to a lot of the books that came up as Stefanos and Christine and I were talking. I'm going to link to their podcast, to Christine's podcast, to their Instagram channels, which are wonderful, to some of the articles like that one about the 36 questions that lead to love, some of the information on gluten in your brain, a whole lot more. I'll put links to all that along with their breathwork and meditation series, which would be really cool for you to go through, especially if you're a couple. And I'll link to all that at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/alchemy, BenGreenfieldFitness.com/A-L-C-H-E-M-Y.
Stefanos and Christine, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all this stuff with us.
Christine: Thank you.
Stefanos: Thank you, brother. Thank you for having us.
Ben: Awesome, awesome. Alright, folks. Well, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Stefanos–how do you pronounce your last name, dude, Stefanos Sifandos?
Ben: Sifandos. That's a tongue twister. And Christine Hassler, which is way easier to say, signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
My two guests on today's show flew to my home in Spokane to train me and my wife Jessa in some very special forms of breathwork training that they specialize in, particularly for couples and tantric sex, but also for trauma, emotional release and much more.
You may remember them if you read the recent article on my blog “Tantric Sex & Beyond: How To Rejuvenate Your Relationship By Improving Communication, Navigating Conflict, Creating Intimacy & Having Mind-Blowing Sex.”
Stefanos Sifandos describes himself as a relational alchemist, international speaker, and author who facilitates transformational growth through neuro-empowerment practices, an integration of spiritual praxis, and western psychology to improve, evolve, and enhance the quality of relationships. By integrating the best of Eastern and Western methodologies and philosophies, and using integrative techniques methods, Stefanos has created programs and systems to enhance the quality of your life, your relationship, and, in essence, bring them closer to their potential.
Christine Hassler is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, master coach, and podcast host who is committed to guiding people and organizations into their highest potential. She left her successful job as a Hollywood agent at 25 to pursue a life she could be passionate about, but it did not come easily. After being inspired by her own unexpected challenges and experiences, she realized her journey was indeed her destination. Her thirst for personal development continued as she dived into self-help books, attended seminars and retreats, got trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and eventually pursued her master’s degree in spiritual psychology with an emphasis in consciousness, health, and healing from the University of Santa Monica. As a student (and eventually, faculty member), Christine found that the principles she learned at the USM were foundational to her life and work. In 2005, she wrote her first book 20 Something 20 Everything, and then the 20 Something Manifesto in 2008. Her latest best-selling book, Expectation Hangover: Free Yourself from Your Past, Change Your Present and Get What You Really Want, is the guidebook for how to treat disappointment on the emotional, mental, behavioral, and spiritual levels.
The breathwork course we discuss in detail in the show is their Breathwork and Meditation Series (use code BEN to save $30).
During this discussion, you'll discover:
-What a “relational alchemist” is…08:15
- Moving from an undesirable place in a relationship to what you love
- What's not giving us clarity is a sense of unresolved pain, trauma, fear
- First build safety, rapport, trust between Stefanos and his clients
-The role of breathwork in Stefanos' practice…10:15
- Recommended by a friend during a turbulent personal time
- Similar to Holotropic breathwork
- Transcended analytical elements of the mind
- Breathwork complemented psychedelics Stefanos had used
- Magic Chocolate, Holotropic Breathwork, Grounding, Earthing, Vortexes, Crystals & More With Shamangelic Healer Anahata Ananda.
- SOMA Breathwork protocol
- Breathwork allows the user more control than things like psychedelics
- Stanislav Grof
- Not as much “rebuilding” is needed as is the case with psychedelics
-How Christine became a life coach…15:55
- Began life coaching in 2004
- Blend coaching with psychology
- Identify the emotional root cause of an issue
- “I've been my own best client”
- Left successful career in Hollywood
- Masked insecurity by being an overachiever
- Wrote first book 20 Something 20 Everythingshortly after becoming a life coach
- Grain Brainby David Perlmutter
- Labels create limitations
-How Christine and Stefanos met…23:00
- Both were tired of uncommitted relationships prior to meeting
- Nice to have the emotional intimacy prior to meeting physically
- Article: The 36 Questions That Lead to Love
-The protocols Stefanos and Christine did with Ben and Jessa this past August…31:45
- A few of the questions:
- “When I look at you, I see…”
- “When you look at me, I think you see…” (perception checking)
- “When you look at me, I want you to see…” (how we want to be perceived)
- “When I feel most angry, sad, etc.”
- Get the intimacy back in the relationship before talking about issues
- Create safety so the other feels “seen”
- Empathy through stillness
-The science behind breathwork that connects couples…38:00
- Voluntary hyperventilation (alters brain chemistry)
- Shared experience, sensory overload, brings about camaraderie together
- Breathing does not alter the oxygenation of the blood
- Regulating CO2, the main driver of respiration
- Voluntary hyperventilation blow down CO2 levels
- Respiratory alkalosis
- Enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness
- Access unconscious parts of the self you can't ordinarily access via breath technique
- Unconscious memories that precede the relationship come to the forefront
-How the body resists anticipated change from breathwork or therapy…47:15
- The Body Keeps The Scoreby Bessel Van der Kolk
- Ben became very sick during Stefanos' and Christine's visit
- We store experiences in the body; pattern-recognizing machine
- Resistance vs. releasing
-Enhancing lovemaking with the tantric approach…52:05
- Recapture the Rapture: Biohacking Sex, Tantric Breathwork, Plant Medicines For Orgasmic Enhancement & Much More! With Jamie Wheal
- The Multiorgasmic Maleby Mantak Chia
- Tantra – Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religionby Hugh Urban
- Tantra is far more than a sexual position
- Synchronizing intention accessed via breath
- Busyness creates a barrier to intimacy
- Intentional practice of connection keeps a family together
- Energetic connection leads to sex on a multi-dimensional level, beyond physical and emotional
- Infidelity comes from boredom in a relationship (same-sex marriage)
- Kundalini is at the root of tantra, begins in the sacrum (in the pelvis)
- Stefanos and Christine's Breathwork and Meditation Series(use code BEN to save $30)
-How Christine got off antidepressants…1:03:00
- Diet: No gluten, alcohol, sugar
- Depression is oftentimes suppression and repression
- Emotional release work vs. catharsis
- Temper tantrum: Children self-soothe if you let them alone
- Intuition was muted while on anti-depressants (her biggest asset as a life coach)
- Not wise to quit meds cold turkey
- Article: Dark Side of Antidepressantsby Chris Kresser
- Christine's podcast on the Joe Rogan show
- Anxiety, anger, etc. are the body's alarm system (which we can miss with medication)
- Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcersby Robert Sapolsky
- Primal sounding (screaming, guttural sounds)
-Rules for getting to the other side of arguments and disagreements…1:14:45
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
-Stefanos' and Christine's Breathwork and Meditation Series (use code BEN to save $30).
- Stefanos Sifandos
- Christine Hassler
- Christine's podcast Over It and On With It
- Christine on the Joe Rogan show
- Magic Chocolate, Holotropic Breathwork, Grounding, Earthing, Vortexes, Crystals & More With Shamangelic Healer Anahata Ananda.
- Recapture the Rapture: Biohacking Sex, Tantric Breathwork, Plant Medicines For Orgasmic Enhancement & Much More! With Jamie Wheal
– Books and articles:
- Grain Brainby David Perlmutter
- The Body Keeps The Scoreby Bessel Van der Kolk
- Tantra – Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religionby Hugh Urban
- The Multiorgasmic Maleby Mantak Chia
- Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcersby Robert Sapolsky
- Is Gluten Killing Your Brain?by Chris Kresser
- The 36 Questions That Lead to Love
- Negative Effects of Antidepressants: Is There a Dark Side?by Chris Kresser
– Other resources:
–Fit Soul: Get Ben Greenfield's newest book for FREE. Fit Soul is filled with practical, easy-to-understand tips, tricks, strategies, and solutions to care for your soul, attain true spiritual fitness, and find the happiness you have always craved and deserve.
–Ben Greenfield Coaching Program: Personally mentored and trained team to coach you on everything from sleep, gut health, performance, weight loss, etc. They do customized nutrition and fitness plans, all-inclusive VIP coaching, consult calls, etc. All at bengreenfieldcoaching.com.
–The Kion Fasting Challenge: The Challenge starts January 6th, it's completely FREE to join, and when you do you'll get a bunch of exclusive content including access to a Q&A by yours truly answering all your burning fasting questions. To join just go to getkion.com/fasting-ben.
–Organifi Green Juice: Now you can get all your healthy superfoods in one glass…with No Shopping, No Blending, No Juicing, and No Cleanup. Get a 20% discount on your entire order when you use discount code BENG20.
–Beekeeper's Naturals: A wellness company specializing in innovative nutraceuticals made from healing hive compounds and plant-based ingredients. Get 15% off your order when you use discount code BEN.
–Butcher Box: Delivers healthy 100% grass-fed and finished beef, free-range organic chicken, and heritage breed pork directly to your door on a monthly basis. All their products are humanely raised and NEVER given antibiotics or hormones.