Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman,” hails from Sittard, Netherlands and holds 21 records for ice endurance, heat tests and other grueling, body-punishing feats of endurance in the “Guinness Book of World Records.” He’s run marathons barefoot, gone shirtless the Arctic circle, dove under the ice at the North Pole, and climbed most of Mt. Everest shoeless, shirtless and without oxygen.
How does this superhuman manage to push his body beyond the brink without suffering long-term negative consequences?
Through practice and conditioning, Hof has taught himself to control his body’s heart rate, breathing and circulation. Through hyperventilation and controlled breath-holding, Wim Hof has learned to suppress external and internal stress and its negative long-term effects. His technique is now known as Wim Hof breathing.
Even if you’re not looking to climb Mount Everest naked, there’s something in it for you: the Wim Hof breathing technique can help deal with stress. Read on to learn how this powerful breathing tactic can help you conquer stress like never before.
HOW WIM HOF BREATHING WORKS
- Slows the body’s systems down and acts as a counter-anxiety and counter-stress response to halt the negative effects of prolonged stress.
- Facilitates our ability to influence deeper processes within our bodies.
- Increases our body’s endurance and strength
According to Hof, controlled hyperventilation followed by cold exposure increases your blood’s alkalinity and enables cells to optimize their effectiveness. Immersion in ice cold water or cold temperatures increases cortisol levels and decreases testosterone to create thermogenesis. Thermogenesis, which occurs in all warm-blooded animals, is a method by which bodies produce heat – through shivering (which exposure to cold produces) or non-shivering (which occurs in the body’s brown adipose tissue, or brown fat). Hof’s method uses shivering thermogenesis to control the body’s inner temperature.
How? Neurotransmitters in the blood vessels communicate with the brain and blood cells to regulate blood pH levels. When we control our breath and subject our bodies to cold temperatures, we’re able to force open the doorway and “reprogram” the blood cells to optimize our body’s performance.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN WIM HOF BREATHING AND TUMMO MEDITATION BREATHING
- Tummo practitioners can increase their body temperatures by using breathing techniques; however, the effects only last about an hour.
- Tummo breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for increasing epinephrine, similar to the Wim Hof method.
- A study of Tummo meditation concluded that the breathing techniques help non-meditators learn to regulate their body temperatures to improve health and regulate cognitive performance.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Most people don’t plan to complete a full marathon through the Namib Desert without drinking water like Wim Hof. But Hof’s technique has many other benefits:
- Boost energy levels
- Lower stress levels instantly and over time
- Strengthen the immune system
- Facilitate a better and quicker recovery after workouts
- Improve focus and concentration
- Improve sleep quality
- Boost your mood by releasing endorphins
- Improve and increase blood circulation
A 2015 study on the effects of a training program consisting of meditation, breathing exercises and cold exposure showed that techniques like Wim Hof’s can strengthen the immune system.
MIND OVER BODY: SCIENTIFIC PROOF
Since publicizing his technique, Hof’s methods have been tested multiple times and scientists are continuing to evaluate the method to determine its efficacy for helping those who suffer from various autoimmune diseases and other disorders.
A 2014 study tested the immune systems of a group of volunteers who followed Hof’s training regimen for 10 days. Researchers injected the subjects with an inflammatory agent while they performed the techniques. The group experienced lower levels of inflammation and were less affected by the fever and nausea that accompanies an injection. They also experienced spikes in adrenaline.
It wasn’t clear whether the hyperventilation, breath holding or cold exposure created the positive effects. Either way, this study proved that by practicing Hof’s method, people can voluntarily influence and strengthen their sympathetic nervous and immune systems.
Another study indicated that Hof’s method also helps to alleviate symptoms of acute mountain sickness, often suffered by mountaineering experts and non-athletes who enjoy hiking. After receiving special training including mindset coaching, cold exposure and breathing technique practice, a group of 26 trekkers, aged 29-65, successfully ascended Mt. Kilimanjaro in 48 hours. Contrary to the scientists’ predictions, none of these non-athlete, inexperienced hikers suffered from severe acute mountain sickness.
Finally, a 2012 case study looking at the influence of meditation concluded that using ice immersion and meditation resulted in better control of the body’s stress responses.
HOW TO DO THE WIM HOF BREATHING TECHNIQUE
PART ONE: THE BREATHING
First, get into a comfortable meditation posture that allows you to breathe deeply without feeling pressure or constriction.
- The Warm Up: Inhale deeply, drawing in your breath until you feel a bit of pressure in your stomach. Hold for a moment and then exhale, pushing out as much air as you can. Hold for 2-3 seconds. Repeat this warm up 15 times.
- The Power Breaths: Pretend that you’re blowing up a balloon. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth in short, powerful bursts. Keep a steady pace, and use your whole chest and diaphragm area. Take these power breaths about 30 times or until your body feels completely oxygenated. You might feel a bit lightheaded or get tingling sensations – that’s okay.
- Scan Your Body: During your power breaths, close your eyes and focus on each part of your body. If you sense something that doesn’t feel quite right, send energy or warmth to that area, and then release.
- People have reported seeing swirling colors and other visual imagery during this exercise. Go with it!
- The Hold: After you’ve completed your 30 power breaths, inhale deeply and fill your lungs to capacity. Force all the air out. Drop your chin and really relax. Hold until you experience the gasp reflex. Then inhale normally.
- The Recovery Breath: Inhale deeply again. Release any tension in your sternum and hold that breath in. Drop your chin to your chest and hold for 15 seconds. Scan your body again for anything that feels “off.” Send energy, and let everything go.
- The Body Scan: Meditate for five minutes or longer by relaxing and scanning your body.
- Bonus: Add yoga poses or push-ups while you’re holding your breath and waiting for the gasp reflex.
Do this whole exercise two to three more times. Aim for once a day, preferably on an empty stomach. When you feel more comfortable with holding your breath, increase to six rounds.
If you feel pain or dizziness, lie on your back, and stop doing the exercises. If you are pregnant or suffer from epilepsy, do not practice this method. If you suffer from cardiovascular issues or other serious medical conditions, consult a medical doctor before trying this activity.
PART TWO: COLD SHOWER THERAPY AND EXERCISES
Once you’ve completed the breathing exercises, meditated and scanned your body, you’re ready for the next step.
Cold exposure works a lot like weightlifting. You start slow with warmer temperatures (like lower weights) and gradually decrease the temperature (like you increase weights). The muscles that surround your veins contract when they’re exposed to cold. Eventually, with cold therapy, stronger veins require less help from the muscles to move blood through the body.
- If you’re new to cold therapy, start with a cold shower. Begin with the water warm and gradually adjust the temperature cooler. Turn it to cold for 15-30 seconds to start. If you experience pain or strong discomfort, stop.
- You can also start with a cold bath and then work up to an ice bath. Begin by submerging your feet and working up your legs, lower torso and the rest of your body. Shivering – which indicates hypothermia – is normal. Try to stay calm and breathe. Close your eyes and embrace the cold. If it becomes painful, stop and warm up.
- After you’ve acclimatized to cold baths, up the ante and create an ice bath.
- Dump two to three bags of ice in a tub that’s half full of cold water and wait until about two-thirds of the ice has melted or the temperature has dropped to 50-59 F.
- Slowly submerge your body into the water, relaxing as much as you can. Start with 10-minute intervals and gradually increase the amount of time you’re in the water. If you ever experience pain or major discomfort, stop, get out and warm up.
- You’ll always feel extra cold after an ice bath. Keep the blood flowing by taking a walk once you’ve finished.
Many regular people have used this method to do incredible feats and heal illness according to the testimonials on Wim Hof’s website. If you’re interested, give it a try. You may not be climbing Mt. Everest just yet, but you might be feeling great enough to conquer your next big meeting.
Watch Wim Hof demonstrate his method:
How Can Spire Help?
If you’re new to the Wim Hof method and would like to give it a try, use Spire’s breathing tracker to help you keep track of each step in the process. Spire will also collect feedback so you can evaluate your progress and the exercises’ effectiveness.