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Full System Upgrade: What I Learned On a ‘Biohacking Holiday’

six senses
Everything I Learned On a ‘Biohacking Holiday’courtesy of Six Senses

There was a time, not too long ago, when any man who professed his plans to live to 180 would have been laughed at. But, on day one of his posting at Six Senses Kaplankaya in Turkey, Dave Asprey – the author, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and self-proclaimed ‘Father of Biohacking’ – is telling us just that.

‘My goal isn’t just to be healthy,’ the 50-year-old explains, as we sit in a half-circle around him, notebooks in laps. ‘It’s to be 25 again. And to live much longer than Mother Nature wants me to.’ What’s more, over the course of four days, he’s going to teach us how to do it, too.

Asprey’s residency at the resort is led by Harvest Series, an events company which curates retreats and immersive experiences based around self-enquiry and self-optimisation.

Those of us who’ve signed up for Asprey’s workshops will follow a busy daily schedule of lectures and Q&As, punctuated by group meals, yoga, spa treatments and IV nutrient drips.

Whether your interest in wellness tends towards the high-end or the holistic, the Kaplankaya resort has it catered to. Located on the Aegean sea, the resort is surrounded by hills and olive groves, with miles of hiking and biking routes.

Inside the hotel is a 10,000 square-meter spa (one of Europe’s largest, we're told), complete with a Finnish sauna, salt grotto and ‘experiential rain’ room. There’s a waterfront yoga pavilion and a reformer Pilates studio; a VO2-max testing facility and a Tarot reading station; a place to borrow Tibetan singing bowls, or Normatec compression boots.

Outside the spa, a tall, tanned man with a British accent asks if I’m interested in signing up for a ‘human design’ workshop, which incorporates chakra readings and elements of astrology. I’m curious – but I have a timetable to stick to.

six senses
courtesy of Six Senses

After a quick swim at one of the resort’s three private beaches, I head to dinner to meet my fellow classmates. Our group is small – there are about 10 of us – and international, with an age range of roughly 40 years. Some are new to the idea of ‘biohacking’ and have signed up purely out of curiosity. One woman shows us a thick wadge of highlighted notes pertaining to all her favourite self-development books, bound together with an elastic band.

We’re introduced to Asprey at a fire ceremony near the beach, which only makes him seem more mystical and guru-like. He’s animated, despite his jet-lag, and his welcome speech skips through subjects ranging from quantum physics to Tibetan dream yoga. It’s going to be a busy four days…

Biohack to the Future

Our daily workshops are held in the outdoor seating area of the Wild Thyme – one of six restaurants at the resort – overlooking one of the many swimming pools. On day one, the topic is nutrition. If you know Asprey at all, it’s likely from his multimillion-dollar nutrition brand Bulletproof, which popularised the idea of putting butter in coffee (at least in some circles).

Asprey stepped down as Bulletproof ’s CEO in 2019, and is now an investor in various longevity-focused companies and products – many of which he’ll promote over the course of the retreat, although he’s transparent about his interests. He’s engaging, a good storyteller and a good salesman.

The term ‘biohacking’ originates from the San Francisco programming community, and has been a wellness industry buzzword for about a decade. Biohackers see the human body as a system that can be modified and manipulated through self-experimentation. Another well-known proponent (and a friend of Asprey’s) is Bryan Johnson – the tech billionaire who famously injected himself with his teenage son’s blood plasma. Anti-ageing can be an expensive hobby.

Asprey’s ambition to live to 180, he tells us, ‘is not crazy’. The research is exciting, and he sees it as his job to distil and apply it. He is both scientist and lab rat.

a man sitting under an umbrella
Biohacker Dave Asprey at the Six Senses resortCourtesy of Harvest Series

He hands out colour-coded charts, which divide foods into different categories: green (Bulletproof ), amber (suspect) and red (toxic or ‘kryptonite’). On the green list are grass-fed beef, butter, collagen, egg yolks and a selection of ‘approved’ fruits and vegetables. Kryptonite foods include tofu, almond milk, hummus, wheat and – perhaps most controversially – kale. Needless to say, Asprey’s methods are controversial and contrary the currently accepted dietary guidance.

He writes down key points on a flipchart, and we jot them down in our notebooks. It’s a lot like school. After lunch – sharing-style, Bulletproof-approved and, frankly, delicious – we reconvene for a Q&A. Asprey answers our questions without missing a beat. The best place to buy salt? He knows a small company in Utah. The healthiest type of cheese? That’ll be three-month aged manchego.

His coffee order has changed a little over the years; since parting ways with Bulletproof, he now drinks remineralised ‘Danger Coffee’ (his own-brand), which he mixes with a blend of ‘half beef protein and half enzymatically processed dairy protein’. I sip my oat-milk latte self-consciously.

Once class is dismissed, I walk down to the seafront for another quick swim before dinner. The water’s warm – and clear enough that I can watch small fish dart around my fingertips. When the sun sets, I head over to the beach bar for a (very un-Bulletproof) glass of Aegean Turkish white wine. Over dinner, the group dissects the days learnings. My comment that I’d happily sacrifice centenarian status to avoid following some of Asprey’s more left-field food rules is not universally well received – which is fair, considering most people have paid about £10k to be here. For fear of seeming closed-minded, I make a mental note to suppress my cynicism.

In Search of Shortcuts

Each day’s itinerary starts with a yoga class or bodyweight workout by the ocean, led by our instructors Seda and Brylle, who also sit in on our sessions with Asprey, and are on hand for impromptu PT sessions and guided meditations.

Our remaining workshops are focused on fitness, recovery, supplementation, meditation and – tying it all together – longevity.

Asprey used to weigh more than 21 stone, he tells us, and suffered with arthritis and chronic fatigue. He’d train for 90 minutes a day and he was strong with decent muscle mass. But he never lost any weight... until he stopped counting calories and adopted his ‘toxin-free’ Bulletproof eating plan.

a group of people dancing
Courtesy of Harvest Series

In life, he explains, the amount of energy we apply to a task is not often well correlated with the results. He considers endurance training largely a waste of time and is a fan of shortcuts – or the ‘minimal effective dose’.

He teaches us his preferred form of cardio, REHIT (reduced exertion high-intensity training), which pairs 20-second all-out efforts with 1-2 minute recovery periods, in which you lie on the floor and attempt to bring your heart rate back to baseline. It’s important to take recovery as seriously as exertion, he says. We practice REHIT later, on the stone paths that wind around the hills between the hotel and the beach.

When it comes to weight-training, Asprey’s a fan of the basics: ‘push, pull, squat’, for 20 minutes, three times a week. He rates saunas and cold exposure – both available to us in the resort’s spa – as well as blood flow restriction training and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). He’s an advocate for psychedelics (not on offer at Kaplankaya...) but urges us to start with something simpler to increase self-awareness, like holotropic breathwork.

Asprey considers himself a spiritual person, and talks us through the various forms of meditation. ‘The things that are least appealing to you are probably those you need the most,’ he says. He also gives a quick plug to his five-day neurofeedback programme, 40 Years Of Zen (yours for just $18,000).

At his home, Asprey says, he has a million-dollar biohacking lab. Should you want to begin building your own, he advises starting with an infrared sauna, a hyperbaric chambre, a cold plunge, a REHIT-friendly static bike, and power plate or similar whole-body vibrational device.

Not all of his recommendations require a re-mortgaging, however. No space for a cold plunge in your back garden? Stick your face into a bowl full of ice water, instead, he suggests. It helps with sleep. For muscle growth and strength, he also recommends isometric exercises and training with resistance bands. Your body understands gravity, and so will subconsciously limit the amount of weight you can lift in order to avoid injury, he explains. Bands short-circuit this.

Later that day, I experiment with cold exposure in the hotel spa’s ‘igloo’, which I pair with a session in the salt-crystal steam room... which surely must be good for something.

Who Wants to Live Forever?

On day four, we talk about death, namely delaying it. In his quest for a preternaturally long lifespan, Asprey takes 150 supplements a day, swallowing up to 50 at a time. (He’ll later demonstrate this to us, gulping them down like a seagull.)

Some of them are relatively affordable – a high-quality multimineral is a must, he explains, with magnesium particularly important. Other treatments, such as injectable peptides, are somewhat less accessible, less studied, and more fringe.

After the workshop, I’m offered an IV drip of glutathione, amino acids and coenzyme Q10, which I take. I’m offered an anti-ageing NAD+ jab, too, which would be injected into the pinched fat of my stomach, but I wimp out when the woman before me says it hurts.

a room with couches and a stone wall
Courtesy of Harvest Series

On the last night, we gather around an open fire on the beach to listen to traditional Turkish music, before a final Bulletproof dinner of beef curry, salmon kebabs and grilled vegetables. (I may have my misgivings about Asprey’s colour chart, but the food at Kaplankaya really is exceptional.)

My experience with Harvest Series has been eye-opening. But my feelings about the biohacking movement in general are a little mixed. I try to view it as the longevity Olympics; it’s interesting to watch others dedicate their lives to chasing exceptionalism, but the majority of us will still benefit by focusing on the basics – sleep well, eat whole foods, go outside, get some exercise.

Or perhaps Formula 1 is a better metaphor? Most of us just don’t have the funds to compete… To do what Asprey is prescribing, you need money, resources and time. Asprey believes his longevity research will have a trickle-down effect, and I hope that’s true, but biohacking still looks a bit like a rich man’s hobby to me.

That said, I take plenty away from the experience, including a renewed interest in nutritional supplements and breathwork, and some fresh inspiration for my fitness routine. As Asprey put it to us, if you don’t know where to start, ‘Pick the easiest thing and do that.’

On my last morning in Turkey, I go for a solo run along the coastline and a final swim in the warm Aegean sea before sitting down in the sunshine to enjoy a platter of Turkish gözleme, halloumi and grilled vegetables (for balance). You know what? Living to 180 does sound pretty nice right now…

Harvest Kaplankaya is a four-day wellness event with talks, workshops and performances; it runs 22 to 26 May 2024. To find out more, see harvest series.com

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