Here’s How RZA Trains His Brain for Peak Creativity

Lots of guys focus on the pecs, biceps, and abs. But for creative powerhouses like RZA—a rapper, music and film producer, and actor (see: next summer’s Minions: The Rise of Gru)—the most important performance happens above the neck. Here’s how the 52-year-old WuTang mastermind keeps his eyes, ears, and brain in optimal shape.

Train the Brain

1. RZA uses breathing exercises based on Shaolin kung fu to increase oxygen and chi to the brain. Sit in a comfortable position and press your tongue to the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth. Close your mouth and breathe in through the nose for 5 to 9 seconds. Slowly exhale through your mouth for 5 to 9 seconds. Repeat 9 times for 1 set; do 3 sets.

2. To sharpen your memory, sit down and close your eyes. Think of a person, place, or thing you know. Say the name in your head while envisioning the person, place, or thing. Choose 5 to 9 different images. Repeat for 3 sets.

3. To hone focus, play chess, sudoku, or another computational strategy game for 10 to 30 minutes a day. You can also solve equations throughout the day in your mind
or on paper.

Train the Ears

1. Train your range: Sit indoors and focus your hearing on low or high frequencies for 30 seconds. (Think appliances for low frequencies, chirping birds for high frequencies.) Break the silence for 10 seconds by counting down from 10 to 1. Do 3 sets.

2. Listen to quiet sounds to nourish your hearing. While sitting, cover both ears with your hands to block out noises. Hold for 30 seconds or until you begin to hear your breathing and heartbeat. Remove your hands. Repeat for 3 sets.

3. Sit and play some music at normal volume for 15 seconds. Play it again at half that volume. Continue the process until the music is at the lowest volume that’s audible,
all the while focusing on hearing it as if it’s at the original volume. Do 2 sets.

Train the Eyes

1. To expand your field of vision, stand and close your eyes for 3 seconds. Open them and fix your focus in 8 directions, 2 seconds each, moving clockwise and then counter clockwise. Repeat for 3 sets.

2. Improve your eye for detail: Place a book 3 feet away. Close your eyes for 3 seconds, then open them and look at the title font for 3 seconds. Repeat with the next-smallest font until you reach the smallest font that you can read. Do 3 sets.

3. To train perception, stand outdoors and close your eyes for 3 seconds. Open them and set your gaze on the closest thing. Next, gaze at the farthest object you can see (say, a building or mountain), then fix your sight on the object as if you’re piercing through it. Repeat for 3 sets.

A Second (Medical) Opinion

“RZA is training his mind and body to work for and not against him,” says Gregory Scott Brown, M.D., the founder and director of the Center for Green Psychiatry and a Men’s Health advisor. “It’s about starting small, being consciously aware of breath, balance, and movement. Techniques like hatha yoga have stood the test of time and are great for improving physical and mental health.”

This story originally appears in the September 2021 issue of Men’s Health.

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