physiology of awe,  techniques and tools

Rapidly reduce the effects of fear

As long as we felt our intimate way up the mountain, accidents could be averted. Yet, within, fear built up unashamedly. When controlled, fear can bring strength. But unleashed fear made us cling to the mountain in a tight panic. In some ancient cultures ‘to clutch the mountain’ was a euphemism for ‘to die’.

— Peter Boardman

It is difficult to experience awe when you are strongly experiencing fear, so first calm the autonomic fear response with the following two steps.

Step One: eye movement

The amygdala is the brain region involved in threat detection, stress, anxiety and fear.

To calm the amygdala, for 30–60 seconds look side-to side without moving your gaze up or down: left-right-left-right-left-right-left . . .

The eye movements alone will suppress the activity of the amygdala. To take it a step further, after making the eye movements, describe your fear aloud.

Why it works

This type of lateral eye movement is what we naturally do when we are moving through space via our own physical effort (e.g. walking, riding a bike, climbing), and it also suppresses the activity of the amygdala. For reasons that haven’t yet been fully identified, it helps you move through a traumatic experience or great fear without excessively activating the amygdala.


This practice is called EMDR and it’s one of the few behavioural treatments approved by the American Psychological Association for the treatment of trauma.


Step Two: cyclic / physiological sigh

To restore balance in the neural circuits of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic-parasympathetic) and reintroduce calm, do 2 or 3 cyclic sighs — also known as the physiological sigh:

  1. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  2. Inhale again through your nose to fill your lungs (it may be only a ‘sip’ of air).
  3. Slowly exhale through your mouth until your lungs are empty.
  4. Repeat as necessary.

As a long-term practice of 5 minutes per day, cyclic sighing can have significant lasting beneficial effects, including

– lower resting heart rate at all times of day

– reduction in stress around the clock

– improved mood at baseline

– improved sleep


Eye movement: Huberman Lab: Understanding and using dreams to learn and to forget. (37:15).

Cyclic / physiological sigh: Huberman Lab: How to breathe correctly for optimal health, mood, learning & performance. (1:22:39).

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