Hold up, what did you say? Bracing unbearably cold temperatures and depriving our brains of oxygen for short stints of time can transform our wellbeing? And we don’t need anything but our bodies? DOSE writer Emily dives deep into the Wim Hof Method to see if it really works…
If you’re on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen more and more people jumping on the cold water swimming hype and wondered what the fuss is about. Well, combine this with some guided breathwork and you’ve got the Wim Hof Method. A simple yet powerful method involving three pillars (Breathwork, Cold Therapy and Commitment), coined by Dutch athlete Wim Hof. Aka ‘The Iceman’.
WIM HOF’S STORY
After tragically losing his wife at a young age, Wim spiralled into depression and was left a single father to four young children. To cope with his grief, he turned to the cold. By enduring extreme temperatures and undergoing extensive training to control his breathing, Wim gained his energy back, and more. Years later, an extreme athlete, yogi and all round wild adventurer (only in the best sense of the word), Wim now holds 21 Guinness World Records. From climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in just a pair of shorts, to running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot. He is living proof of what the human body is capable of.
Sharing his knowledge through the Wim Hof method, he’s scientifically shown that we can train the body to better cope with stress, strengthen cardiovascular health and gain control over the immune system. Teaching thousands, including Russell Brand, Jim Carey and more recently The Body Coach, his self-healing method has been proven to: reduce stress, increase energy, strengthen willpower, enhance creativity, improve sleep and heighten focus. So, how exactly does it work?
WIM HOF BREATHING EXPLAINED
Breathing. We all do it and know that it’s fundamental to our existence. But what if we were to go past the normal conditioning and breathe in order to change our chemistry?
The Wim Hof method breathing exercises act as a short stress response. Known as ‘controlled hyperventilation’, they are proven to lead to more resilience and control in everyday life. The method involves deep, rhythmic inhales and exhales followed by a retention time, holding the breath for minutes at a time.
Having dabbled in breathwork since discovering The Breath Guy last year, I was already practicing these techniques so have experienced their power first hand. I like to think of breathwork as energy therapy. Whilst it triggers a flood of happy hormones, it can also work to release any suppressed emotions. On more than one occasion, I have felt trauma physically leaving my body during a session. Don’t worry, it’s totally normal to cry, feel lightheaded or tingly (or like you’re floating on an actual cloud). But for peace of mind, if you experience any strange sensations during breathwork, just remember, people have been breathing for centuries before you. All those feelings are working in your favour.
COLD THERAPY: BUILDING IMMUNITY
Now to tackle the cold. According to Wim, our bodies are naturally capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. But, society has artificially controlled our surroundings to make us ‘comfortable’. Challenging the cardiovascular system and blood vessels with cold therapy balances hormones and builds mental resilience. Basically, the cold is our teacher and we can learn the power of our own minds.
Kicking things off with regular cold showers. Wim recommends easing your body into the cold water one limb at a time. Running the hands, feet, shoulders and then rest of the body under the cold. Without force, the body and blood flow can then adapt to the temperature drop. Drawing from breathing techniques used in the first pillar of the Wim Hof method, the mind is trained to cope. Meaning the body doesn’t have to. Eventually, you’ll build up the time you can manage under cold water. On day one I endured 15 seconds but now, I can cope for over a minute.
To push myself to the limits, I decided to practice some yoga in the outside air. In winter. In five degree weather. Wearing just shorts and a sports bra. Whilst I found the whole thing (yes, the full 10 minutes) rather uncomfortable, I actually sort of enjoyed it. Only once I had reminded myself these conditions were nothing on the 112 minutes Wim sustained in an ice tank in 2011. Afterwards, I felt ultra-energised, exhilarated and completely at peace with myself. Maybe a bit of cold therapy a day really can keep the doctor away.
COMMITMENT: MENTAL ENDURANCE
Dedication to the Wim Hof method is the most important pillar of all. After all, a goal’s just a goal unless it’s a habit. Our minds are our greatest tool but going deep into your own physiology can take commitment and focus. Conscious breathing and cold therapy takes patience so willpower is key. It all starts with awakening the mind by setting an intention. Recognising the power of your thoughts to steer your body to the right hormones in cases of stress.
SO, WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Everyone’s experience of the Wim Hof method is different and I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it takes self-control and accountability. Switching your mental thermostat on and expanding your tolerance takes some serious work. That being said, this work is life-changing. The breathwork has seamlessly snuck into other parts of my life. Whether I’m exercising, feeling overwhelmed or simply depleted, conscious breathing resets both my mind and body. Oh, and gone are the days I hop out my morning shower feeling drowsy. Instead a flick to cold at the end leaves me feeling fuelled for the day. Something I intend on doing for the rest of my life.
Truth be told, this method is freeing. Not only have I felt calmer, both in and out of the cold water, I have been more present in my life. In tune with my surroundings and a lot more patient. My body has never felt so energised. For weeks I’ve been working up to beating my Peloton PB but after just a couple days of practice, the Wim Hof method (and Cody Rigsby’s infectious energy) finally got me there. With this method, you can go anywhere you like too.
WIM HOF BREATHING APP
Take Wim with you wherever you go. Intuitive, developed with user feedback, and jam-packed with features, the WHM app is the ultimate companion to your practice.
*Disclaimer* It’s recommended to practice the method on an empty stomach in the morning. You should always do the breathing exercises in a safe environment, lying or sitting down. If you have any medical conditions or are pregnant, consult your doctor before trying the method. Never overdo it and always, always listen to your body
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