HDR – Nature, Purpose and Mechanisms

What is it?

Essentially, HDR is:

Black coffee-fuelled Trancercising to Uplifting Trance music before breakfast in a grateful state of mind having fasted (600 kcals) the day before (using a menu such as the one shown here) and ideally having had a full night’s sleep.


It’s worth bearing in mind that the trainer David Siik, creator of the Precision Running programme, having researched the effects of various types of music on exercise motivation, has concluded that the most effective genre is positive, instrumental trance music.

But with HDR the effect of the music is so elevating that it becomes shamanic; it isn’t just a form of exercise.

Read More: An HDR Session – What to Expect

What’s it for?

HDR (Hungry Dawn Raving), is a way to:

  • achieve states which are pleasurable, and which also
  • provide a balance to mundane modes of mind by means of more integrated modes of consciousness, while also
  • activating a profound process of rejuvenation.*

*This rejuvenation is felt in the moment. It would appear that there are also long-term rejuvenating effects, but as a non-medical professional I don’t stress this aspect so much. It interesting to note for example that of all forms of exercise, dance seems to have the strongest benefits for cognitive health, while simultaneously going into ketosis also has strong cognitive benefits, which suggests that HDR (dancing while in a state of fasting-induced ketosis) would be particularly good for cognition, but of course this is supposition: I haven’t done clinical tests.

Why is HDR more than just exercising to trance music? How does it reach these extra dimensions?

How it works

HDR is itself an add-on for the 5:2 diet (as devised by Michael Mosley)

This means it involves restricting calories. What’s this got to do with trance music? The systems in our bodies that control whether or not we should be taking in more calories involve modulations of the activity of neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. Fasting increases the intensity of the rewards provided by our internal reward systems. It’s easy to see why: it’s been found that rats with higher dopamine levels have more motivation to overcome challenges in seeking food. So, we evolved so that our reward systems would upregulate in times of scarcity, and down regulate in times of plenty. That way we would be more motivated to find food when more motivation was required, but less inclined to get too much food if there was no lack, to keep us from the unhealthy effects of overeating.

However, dopamine and its relation to anticipation and reward also plays a key part in our enjoyment of music. As well as increasing the intensity of anticipation of immanent rewards, the upregulated system also increases the sense of gladness at getting the rewards, i.e. the emotion we call gratitude, because, as is well known, the reward system is involved with reinforcement of patterns of behaviour, i.e. whether or not we will do them again.  When you feel appreciative of something, you’re imprinting your brain with the importance of getting more of it in the future. So, crucially, HDR uses the upregulated reward system (see also here) of the fasted state to supercharge the effectiveness of the scientifically proven mood elevating art of Practising Gratitude.

But whilst this is, as such, a type of Mindfulness, it has more in common with the active, passionate, “non-subtle” ecstatic dancing methods of Brad Keeney than it does with meditation methods that focus solely on passive tranquillity.

As well as an upregulated reward system, HDR also involves the enhanced aerobic efficiency of the ketosis that is a natural feature of fasting. The energy needed for dancing comes more easily and efficiently when you’re producing and metabolizing the ketone bodies that your liver synthesises as an alternative fuel when glucose levels are low. So not only does bouncing feel more comfortable, and music feel more rewarding, but dancing is also less of an effort!

So HDR is a form of exercising in the fasted state, which is recommended for health reasons such as, in particular, revitalising mitochondria / rejuvenating the metabolism / regaining neural plasticity

As a practise based on exercise in the fasted state, it has a connection to Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet, but HDR is also equivalent to Stage 5 of Osho’s Dynamic Meditation – grateful, celebratory dance.

HDR seems to be the easiest and quickest way to enter a state of ecstatic trance without illegal drugs, by initiating what anthropologist Michael Winkelman calls the Integrative Mode of Consciousness, (IMC) the mode that is accessed by shamans and which exists as a healing, tension reducing balance to the normal modes of consciousness that occupy us through most of the day; in IMC the reasoning, executive part of the brain is more integrated with other parts of the brain, rather than operating in an isolated vacuum.

This makes HDR a useful tool for neo-shamans as well as those seeking healthy and sustainable alternatives to the traditional avenues of hedonism.

It is also a free, DIY, home-based version of “Clubbercising” and of the increasingly popular Morning Raving / Sober Raving phenomenon.

The exercise itself takes the form of bouncing around in time with the recently emerged genre of Uplifting Trance – using the fact that this genre inspires feelings of passionate gratitude, plus the fact that  the 140bpm beat is just right for bouncing, while letting the moves come spontaneously as with normal trance/club/rave dancing.

On the one hand, HDR taps into the current zeitgeist for, amongst other things, morning raving, 5:2, mitochondrial biogenesis, biohacking, gratitude, exercise in the fasted state, Uplifting Trance and the realisation that there are quite a few ways in which coffee is good for you  (thus differentiating it from stimulant drugs, even if it is addictive – I speak as a coffee addict myself)…

But on the other hand, despite all this up to date stuff, HDR has an ancient precedent in no less than the climax of the mystical initiations of the Greater Mysteries of Ancient Greece, where a state was reached that informed the Greek idea of paradise.

Fasting is also, in a real, historical sense, at the core of the original traditions of the Holy Grail.

In fact, HDR taps into a vast tract of our evolutionary history  as hunter-gatherers who would go out on a hunt once they got hungry and celebrate with ecstatic dance when they were successful.

But why add in coffee?

The importance of coffee

Why should coffee play an important part in achieving this state? I mentioned above that “the energy needed for dancing comes more easily and efficiently when you’re producing and metabolizing the ketone bodies that your liver synthesises as an alternative fuel when glucose levels are low” so that “not only does bouncing feel more comfortable [endorphins and endocannabinoids] , and music feel more rewarding [upregulated reward system: dopamine, endocannabinoids, endorphins], but dancing is also less of an effort [increased efficiency of aerobic metabolism]!”

You see, a major feature of HDR is the sudden surge of easy flowing energy. It feels so easy to dance because this energy comes so easily, with the years seeming to evaporate away. This is undoubtedly due in large part not only to the release of pain-blocking endorphins and endocannabinoids that eradicate discomfort, replacing pain with pleasure, but also to the fact that you actually are in an enhanced metabolic state, namely ketosis – energy really is coming more easily. Ketone bodies produced in the liver are able to bypass a certain metabolic bottleneck that no amount of glucose could ever manage, and this leads to increased aerobic efficiency. It doesn’t make your muscles stronger in terms of maximal output, but it does increase endurance and allow you to generate more energy with less oxygen consumption. No wonder dancing feels effortless during HDR.

What has this got to do with coffee? Fasting itself of course leads to the creation and metabolism of ketone bodies as an alternative fuel when glucose resources are limited, but coffee has been shown to increase this. A Canadian study showed that “Caffeine given at breakfast significantly stimulated ketone production in a dose-dependent manner (+88%; +116%) and also raised plasma free fatty acids.” So this is very interesting. Not only does caffeine block the chemical that causes you to feel tired, it also promotes exactly the type of metabolism that gives fasters an energy surge.

Why is HDR done in the early morning?

Being asleep is a very relaxed state, so something needs to change in order for us to wake up. The changes in a whole range neurotransmitters and hormones that occur as we move from sleep to waking are dramatic. For example, between 4:00 and 6:30 am epinephrine and norepinephrine increase significantly. These catecholamines increase metabolic rate and initiate the burning of fat for energy.

HDR rides on this wave of wake-up chemicals.

The Tricky Bit…

In a small community of hunter gatherers, like a San tribe for example, life could be – and indeed was – organised around the Dance. The Trance Dance was the central, primary institution of society, around which life revolved. If the Dance made you fatigued, well then you would organise the following day in such a way that it allowed time to recover. You’d take it easy, make it a parasympathetic nervous system type day. The Man wasn’t standing over you telling you the Dance wasn’t important.

In the “modern”, “developed” way of living, we have to organise the Dance around life. The Man makes it so. Dollar makes it so. This is likely to be the case with HDR too. If you wake up and spend an hour and a half with your adrenals pumping out large amounts of sympathetic nervous system hormones to fuel high intensity celebration – “raving” – and then rush off straight after to commute to your job and then do a full day’s work with yet more coffee just to get through the day, what do you think will happen? It’s easy to answer that one: you’ve already done the adrenal thing – raving – and now you should be doing the chillaxing thing, but you’re not, so you’ve got a lack of parasympathetic nervous system activation, and adrenal depletion.

I can’t deny that on days following HDR, I have quite often felt a degree of adrenal fatigue. I don’t see this as a problem with HDR itself, but rather the demands of rest of the day.

  So what’s to be done? What are the options?

The first suggestion might be to stop doing HDR.

  Not going to happen. Next?

Reorganise life back to how it was in the hunter gatherer setting.

  Bit tricky. Anything a bit simpler?

Get very good at replenishing the adrenals.

Keep talking…

Well, you really ought to avoid caffeine for the rest of the day, or just have the bear minimum if you’re fully addicted, say a weak green tea. Have some ginseng instead. And have some other “adaptagen” herbs, particularly those associated with bringing the relaxation response to the fore; I’ve found ashwaganda  can be pretty effective to returning to a calm state after HDR, for example. Make sure you take some time out to meditate mindfully. Have some protein and some healthy fats and some green leafy veg…

OK I’m not going to regurgitate all the standard stuff on adrenal fatigue, but this looks like a good fount of wisdom on the subject: https://drjockers.com/heal-adrenal-fatigue/

HDR and HEL Flowchart

The criteria/decisions/instructions in the below flowchart aren’t advice for conscious action: they are an algorithm that our body follows, based on the circumstances we evolved for. It’s a flow chart of automatic responses in their original evolutionary context. What we can then do is hack all that to get to the enjoyable bits: the celebration stage bottom right and the lounge stage in the box above it.  Creation of that flow chart was not aimed at losing or gaining weight but rather achieving hedonic states.

If the algorithm was allowed to run without being hacked, you would, in the modern world, continuously answer “YES” to the first criteria, and go round and round the “FEAST” loop, getting fatter and fatter but losing enjoyment of food. But the “hack” is, therefore: mimic the scarcity stage artificially, to gain entry to the right hand side of the chart.


The chart is mainly evidence-based with one or two more speculative, phenomenological, experienced-based connections to flesh out the picture. It is not the full or final picture, but is hopefully informative enough to illustrate the ancient responses that HDR (Hungry Dawn Raving) and HEL (Hungry Evening Lounging) hack into. HDR is a hack for the celebratory stage shown bottom right. HEL is a hack for the FASTING RESPONSE 2 shown in the box above it.

Who you are as a human creature is more than just who you are in the feasting mode, yet many people are stuck in a kind of semi-feasting mode pretty much all the time. There is a whole side to their creature-hood from which they have become estranged. This is like going to a fun-fare again and again and only ever going on half the rides, as if you don’t know the other half of the fair exists. It’s like getting a smart phone and only using it as a camera, without knowing it can also be a phone, web device or audio player. Or buying a novel and just reading the first six chapters again and again and never knowing the full arc of the story. There – that’s probably enough similes to get the point across.