The Moon and Strength Development: An Interview with Dr. Mark Filippi

(I did this interview in 2013. Bloomberg recently had an article on related themes.)

Consider the ocean and the rhythm of its tides. This phenomenon stems from the satellite approximately 239,000 miles from earth. “The Moon creates two high tides,” Tufts University astronomy professor Kenneth Lang writes, “because the gravitational force of the Moon draws the ocean out into an ellipsoid, or the shape of an egg.”

And it increasingly looks like the moon affects human life as well.

Scientific American has reported about a study at the University of Basel in Switzerland that found sleep affected by the lunar cycle. In Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Douglas Rushkoff discusses the moon’s influence on behavior through neurotransmitters, with the four phases of the lunar cycle corresponding to the predominance of acetylcholine, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Rushkoff learned about this “mind-moon” relationship through interviews with Dr. Mark Filippi, the founder of and a chiropractor in Larchmont, New York. After changing his work schedule along these lines, “My own experience is that my productivity went up by maybe 40 percent, and my peace of mind about the whole process of writing was utterly transformed for the better.“

Curious about applications for strength development, I contacted Dr. Filippi, who has worked with athletes ranging from Olympic gymnasts to basketball players.

When did you begin examining the relationship between lunar phases and neurotransmitter patterns?

Well, they have sort of independent tracks. I first started using lunar and seasonal cycles as a means to establish functional targets for my clients, be they metabolic, rhythmic or behavioral.

I added a lot of new information over time (mid-90s) and established a set of transitional feedback surveys for clients to do to prepare for the ~90 day seasonal shifts. I’d also give out the dates of the New and Full Moon within each season more as cues for inner work than any conventional reason.

Anyway, that was running on one track and on another one was where I was studying brain development, regulation and longevity. It was the so-called “Decade Of The Brain,” and I was wearing out a path to local bookstores to learn about how to use the way the brain communicated with the body to better support my clients’ self-care menus.

It was around the late 90s when I began to meet some of these researchers I’d been reading about. I’d already incorporated a lot of the new neurocardiology into my work since I’d figured out that the brain (encephalon) was more of a complex set of routers than the true source of coherence. So to me, the neurotransmitters (NTs) were not these flat, linear circuits I’d read about, that worked in parallel. They were a self-regulatory entrained system that was coupled to all the other ones I’d already been working with to understand other aspects of adaptation.

By the time I’d combined them into a rudimentary protocol, I’d already figured out that all the NTs were, for my purposes, just biochemical signatures of more systemic activity the entire organism was conducting. Eventually, the 4-phase model of the seasons and the 4-phases of the lunar cycle were boiled down to a 4-phase model of a day and then down to an hour and even down to a single breath.

There’s more, but you get the idea that this stuff was a giant fractal that I could use to zoom in and zoom out to track a case over short, medium and long intervals as the client learned how to navigate their biological terrain. The calendar became a vortex of cycles within cycles and eventually I designed the SIMPLES protocol to reflect that:

I have also created a page to supplement my interviews with Douglas Rushkoff:

I also did a conference call tele-class about this for a group out west that has both audio, video and some background information on my travels through the research community:

In Present Shock, the author recounts about the benefits from changing his work schedule based on your research:

“Though certainly anecdotal as far as anyone else is concerned, it convinced me to stay aware of these cycles from now on.”

Along with such anecdotal experience, what other evidence has been found on the moon-brain connection?

As far as behavior, there are two schools of thought. The conventional wisdom says it’s a red herring, a non-factor and lunar cycles have absolutely no influence on brain function and/or behavior. Then you have the outliers in the world of chronobiology who’ve studied it from the standpoint of rhythms; and the lunar cycle is one of many exogenous (environmental) infradian (more than 24 hours in length) rhythms we’re exposed to on a regular basis. Those people are so crazed with this they even tracked it to the way our body clock thrives on certain behaviors at different times of the day, which impacts both circadian (sleep/wake) rhythms and our ultradian (rest/activity) rhythms.

My protocol was derived from the influences I mentioned in those links (Goodman, Dardik and Robertson) all of whom have slightly different things to say about the moon/brain connection. From my experience, digging at this with various tools since the early 90s, my feedback is that we can get entrained to or by anything. The lunar cycles are a good one to hook into if you could choose what to entrain into your behavioral algorithm. They’re specific, they’re easy to distinguish, and they forgive quickly.

They forgive quickly?

The nature of the lunar phase is that you get the better part of a week to wade into the neurophysiology. They peak on the actual lunar phase changes, so an ONTO week begins the day after the 1Q moon but peaks on the Full Moon. That gives you a runway to ramp up your activity and in a sense get in sync with the lunar phase over that interval. In an ideal world, we’d get there instantly, but our social conditioning is so biased against it that it’s a nice feature that we get a little buffer zone to reorient our behavior and align with it again.

Once you see the big picture of how fractal and scaled this all is, you can recover within a day or a few hours just by shifting your awareness of your breathing and movement patterns. So it’s very, as they say, neurobic in its design, which is why these natural rhythms are so vital.

In terms of athletic applications with these findings, for anaerobic sports in particular: Is there a lunar phase most conducive to maximal strength output?

Yes, the ONTO week, which is the serotonin week NT-wise. It’s the week of maximal activity in the lunar cycle. We can handle more intense, brief anaerobic exercise. That peak energy builds that whole phase and hits its zenith on the night of the Full Moon. When I used to have more gym rats here I’d design their workouts to be more focused on strength training during this phase and rotate that with flexibility/agility during the PHYLO week (ACH) and use the EXO week for cardio/endurance training (norepinephrine). The ECO week (dopamine) was the rest interval for them. If they cross-trained like that for a good 8–12 weeks the pattern stuck.

If a strength athlete has a competition during a phase less conducive to strength, is there a workaround for that?

Sure, we’re not slaves to the lunar cycles at all. I deal with it when a client travels for work to another time zone and they need to be mentally sharp. That’s why I designed the MoodBender app and live desktop entrainment games. People can access these states in 1 to 3 minutes and have it running in their system for 2–3 hours (a little longer than a rest/activity cycle). You can create the neuroplasticity you need to deal with schedule glitches that ignore or aren’t aligned with the natural seasonal and lunar cycles by using that tool to shift you into the energy/focus combination you need to perform whatever task you’re doing on any day.

Here’s some background about the app:

Here’s some about the desktop entrainment games:

Between the Coherence Calendar and the MoodBender technology I can cover both ends of the spectrum of a client’s behavioral arc so they always know where the world around them and beyond them is and where they need to be in order to adapt to the world they live in…

Various recovery techniques have become a major part of some strength athletes’ training structure. In relation to lunar phases and the MoodBender app, can these be applied to optimizing recovery?

We’re conditioned for exertion in most settings. Only recently was REST even considered a part of a training program. Now we’ve seen with interval training we can increase flexibility, speed, strength and endurance by staggering a workout’s intensity and duration. When you fan that out over a lunar month or even a lunar phase, the downtime between training sessions becomes more critical than the rest periods within them. That’s where the MB app can help an athlete shift their state on the those days when they have to drag themselves to the gym and also help them retain a coherent energy/focus so they can get their REM sleep and get all the benefits training has on their psychoneuroimmunology.

Regarding the app and desktop entertainment games:

“People can access these states in 1 to 3 minutes and have it running in their system for 2–3 hours.”

Can those states be accessed several times during a single day? Here’s what I’m thinking of: a powerlifting meet often occurs over several hours despite the brevity of the actual athletic performance. Is that 2–3 hours a one-off state or renewable?

The direct impact of an entraining session whether it’s the 3-minute app format or the 1-minute desktop games is on the person’s visual motor integration. So the immediate payoff over the short term is better eye-hand-body coordination — a sharper spatial intelligence. Each time you play the game or the app you are triggering that loop to fire.

In the case of a powerlifter who needs to summon that state in a more punctuated way with a lot of inactivity between performances, they do best to play the game during warm-ups prior to the start and use the eyes and body as their recall mechanisms during the event rather than play the game again and again. Once they learn this ‘map’ the MB technology and their neurology are bridged and they don’t have to ‘state chase’ themselves during their competition. Here are related resources:

On the serotonin peak with ONTO week: powerlifters tend to consume caffeine, etc. in both training and competition. Does that peak suggest reducing such consumption during this phase? Conversely, would increased consumption be advisable during say ECO week?

Caffeine is a natural astringent, so it spikes the system for intense, brief activity, all in sync with the ONTO week’s pace. But it feeds all 4 of the NTs we discuss, so it has an overall negative effect on the natural bias of the system. In effect it lowers the ceiling for the athlete. If you were going to lean on it, it’d be the EXO week when you’re leading into a New Moon valley that it’d have a slightly beneficial role. But in general, caffeine is a day tripper not a trainer.

In addition to his website, Dr. Filippi can be found on Facebook and Twitter.