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Episode #99: The Science of Mindfulness, with Neha Saxena

Grad Conn

March 17, 2021  •  16 min read

Today we wrap up our discussion with Neha Saxena as we talk about brain science and how to manage those triggers that hijack our prefrontal cortex. Plus, I finally share my two-trip philosophy which is pretty much guaranteed to change your mindset and lower your blood pressure.  It’s the conclusion of our informative and inspiring 3-part interview with Neha Saxena, the Breath Yogi.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
Okay, honestly, seriously, we’re not using this intro music for Neha anymore. This is the last time, okay. We’re going to find something super cool. And super Breath Yogi-like. Apologies, Neha. It’s just hard to find music.

This is our exciting conclusion. We’ve been talking for the last couple of days about your journey and your story. Cannot wait to bring this around the corner to where brain science is going and how we can help people. I have not had this much fun during an interview in a long time. So thank you for the time. And thank you for the energy. And a particular thank you for the transparency and the honesty and openness. So without further ado, Neha, let’s get going. For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And here we go.

I can tell you I have not had this interesting an interview on CXM Experience. So, I got married super young, to my first girlfriend. I have as close to what would be normally thought of as an Indian marriage as anyone out there. Right? It wasn’t specifically arranged by my parents. That’s where it’s different. But I was her first boyfriend, and she was my first girlfriend. First holding hands, first everything. Yeah, we’re divorced now, so don’t do aw shucks too much. But we did stay together for 35 years. So it did last a long time. But it’s interesting how there is some power to that. Because it’s hard to leave those things. But then, I think that to a certain extent, sometimes things get taken for granted.

But I know what you mean around the PTSD. I emerged from that experience with a ton of trigger points. And I’ve never been a super huge fan of triggers. I always thought that was a little bit like, you’re being triggered, blah, blah, blah. But it’s amazing in my new relationship, how something will happen that’s reasonably innocuous. And completely somewhat… I’d say mostly accidental or unintended by Rachel. She’s not… there’s nothing nefarious. But it will trigger a response based on my past history. And she gets crazy. And it’s tough, right? Because you’ve got all these layers of stuff you’ve built up and this cruft you built up over the years. And you’ve got to get through it somehow. How have you done that? How have you left that behind? Because you’ve had, you’ve got a lot of layers there. How do you get past that? How do you make sure that doesn’t get in your way.

Neha Saxena
Thanks for sharing that.

Grad
Nobody knows that, by the way. That’s the first time I’ve ever talked about that. This is definitely a deeper CXM Experience than we normally have. The good news is my ex-wife never listens to it. And my current girlfriend never listens to it either. So I can say whatever I want. Nobody’s listening to it that will actually matter. So, I’m good. I could talk at length about these things. But anyway, how do you get through it? Coach me up on that a little bit. Because I do find that I’ve been running into more triggers lately than I would expect, and they’re irritating because you can’t help but reflexively think, oh boy, here we go again. I was verbalizing a couple weeks ago… I had to do something. And I was going through a little experience. And I was sitting at my desk, doing a thing. And I said to myself, well, this feels familiar. Because you’re replaying these old tapes, right? And so, tell me, how do you manage that? Because you’ve got a lot of old tapes as well. And you’re still reasonably close to the edges on those things.

Neha Saxena
Yeah. And I mean, I don’t know if this is something… I’m sure you also experience that you will go into a situation, you know you’re going to get triggered. You don’t want to get triggered, but you’ll get triggered, and then you’ll regret it later. Right? So the answer is a two-prong approach. First you have to understand that when this is happening, what’s really happening is that the limbic brain, which is the part of our brain responsible for our survival instinct, hijacks our prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for critical reasoning. So it’s not in our hands, okay? The limbic brain hijacks that functioning. Even though it used to happen to me, even after years of breathing — like three, four years — I knew I was going to do this. I didn’t want to do it, but then it would just take over. And it’s because that part of our brain which is responsible for involuntary functions, to protect us, hijacks the thinking brain. So first of all, don’t beat yourself up. This is how the brain is structured. When we beat ourselves up after doing something like that, it just strengthens that neural pathway. You have to just step back and be like, this is not the normal Grad doing this, this is my instinctive brain just hijacking my thinking brain. That helps you understand. And the second thing that helped was, I doubled down on my breathwork practice, and I went for this 21-day retreat…

Grad
A 21-day retreat?

Neha Saxena
It was a 21 day… it was actually my teacher training. The training I did to become the facilitator for these workshops. And I came back from the training, I was like, Yeah, whatever. We were doing practices. Now today, I know from neuroscience that the brain is neuroplastic, right? What that means is the brain, even though you’re aging… the earlier belief that neuroscientists had was that the brain stops developing after 20 years or so. But that’s not true. You can form new neural pathways. So these tools now today show that when you are doing more advanced breathwork type of techniques, the body relaxes very deeply. When we do the veterans workshops, they have severe PTSD. They form new associations with the triggering memories. If they’re in a battlefield, and something’s exploding, the body is tense. But now when they’re breathing, the body gets relaxed, and that memory comes up. Now the brain forms a new association. So the next time they find themselves in a situation that could trigger that, that earlier neural pathway doesn’t get activated. To answer the question, I highly recommend, and I see this on a daily basis, there are certain breath-based tools available that I highly recommend that you should start experimenting with. At least give it a go.

Grad
I feel like I need to spend some more time with you.

Neha Saxena
Absolutely.

Grad
We’ve got to spend some more time together. As I unpack all this stuff, I’m like more messed up than I thought I was.

Neha Saxena
We’re all more messed up than we thought we were.

Grad
Oh, my gosh, okay. Let me tell you my two-trip philosophy. I don’t know, it seems so ridiculous now based on this conversation, which has been so amazing. Let me tell you my two-trip philosophy. See what you think of it. And then I want to talk to you about someone named Dr. Michael Gervais, who is someone I’ve gotten to know pretty well. He’s not a guru. But he’s got some pretty interesting ideas. And then let’s talk about what’s next. But let me do two trips.

I developed a philosophy probably 20 years ago, right? Around the time that I had kids. Because before you have kids, life is pretty idyllic. Life’s pretty nice when you don’t have kids, right? When kids come along it just gets really hard. It’s hard on the relationship, it’s hard in everything. Everything’s gets harder. And there’s a lot more to do. People sometimes say, I’ve got a dog, or I’ve got a cat, and it’s like having a kid. And I’m like, no it’s not. I have a dog, I love my dog, my dog’s amazing. It is nothing like having a kid.

And so, what I found was that I was running into a situation where I was getting very frustrated. Because I would go to do something like say, upgrade my mobile plan, or go buy something at the store, or go get something fixed, or get something delivered or… all the different things you have to do to make life happen every day. And it would never happen correctly the first time. It always was never quite right. And at some point I was realizing that almost everything that I was doing — not everything, but almost everything that I was doing — seemed to require two trips, or two calls, or two something’s. You go to get your thing, or some something renewed, and you’ve forgotten your license, or you’ve forgotten your passport. Or they needed some documentation you didn’t have. You have to come back with it. There’s always a second trip. And I was getting really crazy with these second trips. They’re driving me ba-fuckin- nanas. I was losing my mind because everything took way longer than it should.

And then I realized that if I redefined the timespan, and if I redefine the task as: it should take two trips. Then suddenly, if it took one trip, which occasionally happened, it’ll be like bonus. And if it took three trips, which sometimes happened. It’d be like the three-trippers balanced at the one-trippers. And most of the time, it was two trips. And it was very funny.  I’ve been teaching this philosophy to Rachel, my girlfriend. I’ve been teaching this philosophy to Rachel, and she’s sort of getting into it, because she’s equally frustrated all the time that you’re surrounded by incompetence, you know, all that kind of stuff. And we had some new furniture delivered today. And I said, How did it go? I’ve been in my office all day in meetings. And she said, “two trips.” That was her answer. They had accidentally damaged the credenza. And so they had to go back and fix it and blah, blah, blah. It’s so irritating and not necessary. If they had just wrapped the thing in a blanket it would have been fine. But no, they had to do it slapdash. But, two trips. And she’s a little frustrated because it would have been nice to have everything for tonight, because we have a dinner party tonight. And it would have been nice to have it all together. But she’s like, you know, two trips. That’s kind of how it works. It’s the world we live in. And so that’s my two-trip philosophy. It’s not very spiritual, but it’s very relaxing.

Neha Saxena
No, it isn’t. It’s like when you’re expecting something, then you don’t get thrown off when it happens. Right. And it’s a pleasant surprise.

Grad
Yeah, it’s a two-tripper. Okay, I got it. Right.

Neha SaxenaYeah.

Grad
So, Dr. Michael Gervais. He runs a podcast called Finding Mastery. And he’s got a site called FindingMastery.net. And he is actually the high-performance psychologist who works with the Seattle Seahawks, the US Olympic team, these high-stakes surfers, you know, who surf these 60 foot waves. He worked with Alex Baumgartner, who did that dive from the balloon up in the stratosphere. All sorts of different athletes and tennis players, Broadway performers, all sorts of people. He’s an amazing psychologist that gets underneath people. And when I met him, we met him when he was working for Pete Carroll, who’s the coach of the Seattle Seahawks. And he and Pete we’re just about to start a corporate coaching program. I was on a team led by Allison Watson who was the COO for the US subsidiary of Microsoft. And Allison and myself and people like Margaret Arakawa, and Julie Sanford, and Karl Noakes, and a bunch of other people. Yeah, so it was a rogue’s gallery of great people. We all were part of this experiment.

I remember Alysa… a really good friend of mine named Alysa, and she hated Dr. Gervais. Because Dr. Gervais had this weird, uncanny ability to see underneath you. And so you’d be like, Oh, I’m all good, and life is good. And I don’t need to worry about things and all this kind of stuff. And he would be like, this is what’s really going on, or this is what I really see. And he could tell when people were hiding things. I feel like that if you were to meet him, he would probably see some of your underlying issues. And Alysa Taylor, she’s the CVP of Dynamics and business applications at Microsoft. Alysa couldn’t stand it because he could see something in her that she never shared with any of us. So who knows what it is, but he could see something in her that she did not want seen. Right?

Anyway, if I can get you and Dr. Gervais somehow connected, we might have to put those… you know when they watch a nuclear explosion you put those really deeply tinted sunglasses on? We might need to wear something like that to see the two of you… Yes, it might be like, the Vision and the Vision kind of meeting together in WandaVision. Yeah, like, Whoa, everybody buckle up. But I really do think it’d be super powerful.

Grad
Anyway, we’ve got just a couple minutes left. What we’re going to do, we’re going to wrap on this interview. And I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your openness and your story and how much I’ve enjoyed this. This has been totally amazing. And then what we’re going to do is next time, we’re going to do a breathing exercise for our team. And then we’ll go through that. So, think about how you’d want to prep for that. But we’ve done the hero’s journey. I mean, I assume you’re divorced now. When you found out your husband had other interests.

Neha Saxena
Yeah.

Grad
Okay, so has he moved on? Or what’s going on with his life?

Neha Saxena
Yeah, I guess we’ve been divorced for more than two years. And we’ve never once tried to talk to each other, so it should just say that how happy both of us are.

Grad
Wow. I talk to my ex-wife every day, almost. Okay. All right. Interesting. Okay. So you moved on, you’re in separate worlds. You’re happily single, living in North Carolina of all places. So, what’s your next chapter? What’s coming up for you? What do you think the universe has in store for you now?

Neha SaxenaThe divorce and the business and all of that happened around the same time. That was another very intense… what I wanted to do was to go back to my known world, corporate world where I was doing strategic marketing for medical devices. But then I was like, No, I’m here. And I feel like now I’m really aligned to my purpose. And my purpose is to bridge this gap. I feel like I need to take these ancient healing tools and make them accessible to people. There’s a fundamental gap in which they’re not being translated to the mainstream. And I’m here, that’s my job is to bridge this gap. And that’s the journey that I’m here on. Ragy and I developing this happier program, and it’s evolving every day.

GradThat’s very cool. I’m very excited about that.

Neha Saxena
Yeah, so more and more, I didn’t have the vision of how that was going to pan out. And that’s what Ragy bought in when me and him got to spend five days on that retreat. And he helped me see that I wanted to do this but had no idea how I was going to do it. And he, from the business entrepreneurial side, knew the business side of things, right. And slowly but surely… now we finished the pilot for level one, we had amazing results. We’re in level two, I’m really excited about it, because we’re using the latest DNA technology to figure out everything from your sleep chronotype, to what kind of diet is best suited for you. And now we’re combining them with more advanced tools of the authentic yoga. So, we are really pulling from the best of the ancient technology and packaging it and using the latest neuroscience developments and science developments and putting it together in this program. So surely, but slowly moving along, and I’m getting more confident every day. But one step at a time.

Grad
That’s amazing. Well it’s very, very inspiring. ‘ve had a particularly long week and I have surgery tomorrow morning. I think this week is like a shit sandwich for me. It started rough, it’s been bad in the middle, but tomorrow is going to be horrible. But this has been a highlight. And I’ve got to thank you for being my guest today. It’s been amazing listening to your story. And we are scheduled for about a week or two from now. We’re going to do this again. And we’re going to get right into exercises and start teaching people how to make their lives better through breathing with the Breath Yogi. Thank you so much.

Neha Saxena
Thank you, and I hope it wasn’t too much information. I love talking.

Grad
He was not too much. It was perfect. It was great.

Neha Saxena
Great. Good luck with your surgery. I’m sure it’s going to go really well.

Grad
I’m sure it’ll be amazing. Nothing like having a knife in your face. Alright, great. For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and I will see you… next time.

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Grad Conn

Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr

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