Most of you have probably heard of Wim – “the Iceman” – Hof and his method. For those who haven’t, the Wim Hof Method (WHM) is based on 3 pillars: Cold Therapy, Breathing and Commitment.
The physical and mental benefits have been researched endlessly and include: increased energy, better sleep, reduced stress levels, heightened focus & determination, increased willpower and stronger immune system. One of the most significant scientific studies was the “Radboud study”, which demonstrated that we can – in fact – influence our sympathetic nervous system and immune system through practicing techniques learned in a short-term training program (Kox, Pikkers et Al, 2014). In other words, we could control our reaction to any physical or mental stressor (“fight or flight”)!
I recently had my first WHM-experience in a workshop led by WHM-instructor Allan Cant, in Leysin. This is what I learned:
Inhaling oxygen is an unconscious process and is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. The amount of oxygen that we inhale through our breathing, influences the amount of energy that is released into our body cells. Breathing is the easiest and most instrumental part of the autonomic nervous system to control and navigate. In fact, the way you breathe strongly affects the chemical and physiological activities in your body. The breathing technique is first and foremost premised on inhaling deeply and exhaling without any use of force. You are inducing voluntarily a short stress response which ultimately will lead to more resilience towards everyday stress, mentally and physiology and feeling more in control.
Routinely taking cold showers or ice baths, which are physical stressors, resets your stress response and ensures that stress won’t feel as overwhelming as it otherwise would. Furthermore, exposure to cold exercises your nervous system, endocrine system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. Meaning it speeds up your metabolism, reduces inflammation and sore muscles and is therefore beneficial to your overall health. So, when Cold body therapy is combined with meditation and conscious breathing, you create a strong awareness of your body, empowering you to manage your body’s ‘automatic’ response to stress (“fight or flight”) and prevent a chronic state of stress.
The last pillar: the commitment or training your mindset. Willpower and self-control are very important factors for a successful and happy life. People with low willpower tend to make poor choices in life, because they give in to short-term goals at the expense of longer-term goals. According to the WHM, willpower can be trained.
Interested? This is how you can get started yourself:
Step 1: Sit or lie down comfortably
Make sure you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction.
Step 2: 30-40 Deep Breaths
Close your eyes, clear your mind. Be conscious of your breath, try to connect with it. Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale unforced through the mouth. Fully inhale through the belly, then chest (like a wave) and then let go unforced. Repeat this 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts. You may experience light-headedness, and tingling sensations in your fingers and feet. These side effects are completely harmless.
Step 3: The Hold
After the last exhalation, inhale one final time, as deeply as you can. Then let the air out and stop breathing. Hold until you feel the urge to breathe again.
Step 4: Recovery Breath
When you feel the urge to breathe again, draw one big breath to fill your lungs. Feel your belly and chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold the breath for around 15 seconds, then let go. That completes round number one.
Step 5: Repeat cycle
This cycle can be repeated 3-4 times without interval. After having completed the breathing exercise, take your time to bask in the bliss. This calm state is highly conducive to meditation — don’t hesitate to combine the two.
As for the Cold Therapy; it is best to gradually expose yourself to the cold. This could mean finishing your warm shower with a 5 second cold shower every day for one week. Then 10 seconds on week 2, 15 on week 3 and so on. Until you just have cold showers.
Lastly, it is about Commitment. Finding a way to fit it into your daily routine and make it a lifestyle.
If you are interested in learning more about the method or participating in one of the workshops near you, visit https://www.wimhofmethod.com/. I look forward to hearing how your experience with the Wim Hof Method has contributed to a “happier, healthier and stronger life” for you.