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PYP 134: Glenn Murphy on the New Science of Stress

glenn-murphy-2Glenn Murphy is a science writer and educator, bestselling author, and longtime student of the Russian martial art known as Systema. He's also my teacher, my friend, and a hilarious guy with a kick-ass British accent.

It turns out that a great deal of science of human stress and resilience was done in the former Soviet Union which was embargoed and unavailable to the West until recently. This neuroscience of performance was tested and validated in work with Olympic gold medalists and spec op forces – both of whom are under a great deal more stress than most of us will ever know.

And these insights are baked into Systema, which teaches relaxation and selective use of tension in response to physical threats rather than rigid stances and hyper-aggressive techniques.


Glenn's skill as a researcher combined with his hands-on experience with Systema make him an expert on stress: what it is, what causes it, how it harms us, and how we can de-stress ourselves.

Expertise is nice, but what's more important is Glenn's work with students and clients who suffer from the daily accumulations of stress in their (our!) lives.

I've been a student of Glenn at NC Systema since 2011, and can testify first-hand to the profound rewiring that's taken place in my nervous system since I began studying Systema with him. (And so can my wife and kids… ;))

Trouble is, most people aren't willing to go to the effort and time to learn a martial art in order to stress-proof themselves. So the sensitivity and inoculation techniques we learn, practice, and master have been our little secret – until now.

Glenn has begun leading stress-proofing workshops and retreats for corporate teams and individuals. In this interview, I wanted to find out how his approach differs from the stress management stuff I learned while in grad school in the 1990s.

(My doctorate, earned in 1999, was actually on stress management interventions in middle schools. So I'm quite familiar with the Standard American Stress Management Protocols.)

In our conversation, we cover:

  • the beauty of an evidence-based approach to life
  • the problem of viewing stress as an environmental toxin to be avoided whenever possible
  • the mechanisms of stress triggers
  • why it's not useful to distinguish between physiological and non-physiological stress
  • misunderstanding the “automatic” fight or flight response
  • the key insight: how to identify and interrupt the stress cycle
  • our surprising instinctual response to snakes – and what this tells about the inevitability of stress
  • how warrior cultures practice “stress inoculation” – and why it's crucial to performance under fire
  • the cruel irony of allostatic load (I had never heard of this either ;))
  • why workplace culture suffers when stress goes unaddressed
  • how your boss unknowingly causes stress through animalistic body language
  • why we think we can think our way out of stress – and why we absolutely can't
  • the benefits and limitations of meditation and yoga
  • the missing piece: somatic resilience training
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


NC Systema website

Info on the Stress Proof Retreat

Stuff That Scares Your Pants Off – Glenn's children's book on the science of scary things


Check out my online TV show, Triangle Be Well. This week I talk about alternative medicine: when is it a good idea, and when should you run away?

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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2 comments on “PYP 134: Glenn Murphy on the New Science of Stress

  1. Thank You says:

    Howard, Thank You for another information packed podcast. Keep them coming 🙂

    Thank You

  2. Colin Hanson says:

    Good morning! I hope all is well! My name is Colin Hanson and my co-teaching partner is Nathan Holtz. We teach 5th grade in Edgar, WI. For years, we have been bringing in people to share their stories and expertise with our students (we have a K-12 building as we are a small rural district), through our organization “A Walk In Their Shoes”. We have a website if you would like to look at it ( Anyway, we are presenting this summer at a teacher’s workshop at EAA Oshkosh (the largest fly-in, aviation event in America) and would love to give out some of your books that fit that field! We will be writing a grant to buy copies of your book, but we are wondering if you would send us 10 to 15 bookplates with your signature on them so we can put them into the books for the teachers? We love your book “Space: The Whole Whizz-Bang Story” and would love to share it with other teachers. Our presentation is to show how to connect picture books to lessons, units, and classroom activities about aviation. Maybe another time we could talk about having you come to Edgar WI for a writer’s workshop with the students!

    Here is my personal email (no**********@ho*****.com) and my school email (ch*****@ga***.us). I hope we can talk soon! Take care! Colin.

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