Are there mornings where you find yourself feeling drained, sluggish or struggling to get your focus together? Have you tried countless tricks to improve your vitality but none seem to do the trick? If this rings a bell, it may be time to try the Wim Hof breathing Method.
The controversial Wim Hof Method was created by Wim Hof himself, a Dutch extreme athlete often referred as the "Iceman" (beware Batman, a new super hero is coming). The Wim Hof Method is a breathing technique endorsed by athletes, celebrities, and wellness enthusiasts all raving about its health benefits. Even scientists have taken notice and are studying the method to learn more about its presumable benefits.
Experts on the Wim Hof technique claim that it can improve your physical and emotional wellbeing and even extend your lifespan. Some believe it can even lessen pain, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. But does the Wim Hof method actually work? Is it safe? Let's examine the science behind this widespread breathing technique to see what advantages it offers.
What is the Wim Hof Method?
The Wim Hof Breathing Technique is a specific respiratory training method developed through intense cold exposure and breathing techniques.
The notorious “Iceman” holds more than 20 Guinness World Records, including some seriously impressive feats. Wim Hof climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest wearing just shorts (Wild Steve style), ran a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot and naturally in shorts (goes without saying), and even completed a half marathon through the Namib Desert without drinking any water. So, what’s his secret ? It’s actually his ability to regulate his autonomic nervous system using his breath. Sounds cool, right? Now, let’s take a deep diver into the method itself and the components that make it such a game-changer.
Understanding the Science behind Wim Hof Method
Doctors have used the Iceman as a subject to better understand the mechanisms that enable him to resist extreme cold.
Pediatrician Otto Musik and his team used MRI technology to monitor Wim’s brain and body as he was exposed to freezing water. The study revealed that Wim Hof can make his body release opioids and cannabinoids, natural painkillers, in response to cold exposure through breathing exercises. In addition, they trigger the release of dopamine (read the molecule of more)and serotonin, resulting in a feeling of euphoria that can last several minutes and ultimately reduce stress or pain and help surpass the pain. This discovery led Musik to describe it as a "brain over body" concept.
There's still more! Scientific research has demonstrated that because of the oxygen saturation that occurs during breathing, your blood becomes less acidic and becomes more alkaline. This is a good stressor that can, over time, help the body deal with other stressors in daily living more effectively.
The Three Pillars of the Wim Hof Method
Breathing is the first of three pillars of the Wim Hof Method. It involves a series of deep, controlled breaths that help to activate the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, promoting balance and harmony within the body.
Often praised for managing stress and anxiety more effectively, it can also help you perform better when you’re hitting the gym or track by increasing your oxygen intake and retention, hence improving your overall endurance.
The second pillar of the Wim Hof Method focuses on cold exposure, in other words, exposing yourself to cold temperature through activities such as cold showers, ice baths, or outdoor winter activities. This activates and stimulates muscles and reflexes that we don’t automatically develop while exercising. Cold exposure sometimes referred as cryotherapy promotes stress resilience and physiological adaptation to extreme environments.
Study found that merging breathing exercises (series of deep, rapid inhalations followed by passive exhalations and breath-hold phase) with cold exposure produced very powerful anti-inflammatory response in participants than either breathing or cold therapy alone. Cold showering can reconnect our brain with our vascular system and improve our cardiovascular health. It’s a simple yet effective way to keep our vascular system healthy and functioning properly.
And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to supercharge their immune system ? It might be a bit of a shock to the system at first, but after a while, reaping the benefits of the cold is worth the initial discomfort.
The final pillar of the Wim Hof Method is commitment. This one actually involves our minds, which we are in complete control over. The commitment pillar promotes self control, focus, and resilience to stress. In fact, this kind of mental commitment allows our brains to understand our emotions in response to our body, and find out how to stimulate them better.
But let's be pragmatic – the Wim Hof Method is not for the faint hearted and requires a significant commitment. Daily breathing exercises and cold therapy demand time, effort, and a whole lot of courage. Let's face it – jumping into an ice-cold bath doesn't exactly sound like a spa day at blue lagoon. But that's why commitment is so important. It helps us go beyond our limits and achieve things we never thought possible.
Can the average Joe practice the method or Is Wim Hoff Just a Superhuman?
Alright, we've seen what Wim Hoff can do with his body (From which planet is he really from anyway ?) and we all agree that his achievements are impressive to say the least. However, the question remains, can the average person learn these techniques to achieve similar results?
Let’s briefly explore some case studies and see how the method could be a solution to push your limits beyond:
- Helps with High Altitude Adjustment
If you're planning a high-altitude adventure, the Wim Hof Method could be your secret weapon. A study found that the Wim Hof Method can help with high altitude adjustment. A group of 26 hikers who used the method's breathing technique while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro experienced reduced symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). This suggests that the Wim Hof Method could be a natural way to adjust to high-altitude environments.
- Increases Ahtletic Performance
Another study in 2020 found that just one session of the breathing technique can increase aerobic endurance. Participants in the Wim Hof group had a higher VO2 max score than the control group, and were able to complete exercises with less fatigue.
- Improve your immune system to fight of diseases
A 2014 study actually found that subjects trained by Wim Hof were able to voluntarily influence their sympathetic nervous systeem and immune system by practicing meditation, cold exposure, and breathing techniques for over a week. This study shows the Wim Hof Method could indeed be a natural way to keep stress (potential source of disease) at bay and boost your immune system.
How to Practice The Wim Hof Method
To get the most out of the Wim Hof Method, preparation is key. Firstly, it's important to remember to never force anything - instead, think of it as having a conversation with your body. Hof is all about respecting limits, understanding our physical needs, and starting the day right.
Start the day with the breathing exercises. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, then take 30 deep breaths while focusing on your breath and filling your lungs. Focus on breathing, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Breathe consciously from your belly and making sure each subsequent breath is deeper until they fill your lungs. After the 30 breaths, exhale and hold your breath for as long as you can.
Remember that small regular practice will make it better, so don't worry if you can't do it perfectly at first. To take it to the next level, try taking cold showers daily or if you have more experience coping with the cold and feel like a true Viking go for an ice bath while performing the breathing exercises.
Always set your intention before starting – it's like giving your mind a map to follow. Of course, consult with your doctor if you have any concerns or unusual pains while trying the method.
After a while, look back to track your progress, and you’ll be satisfied to learn that you can really listen to what your body needs just by breathing properly.