I’ve put on a LOT of weight this year. My PTSD flashbacks and overall anxiety levels are the worst they’ve ever been. I slept over at a mate’s place a few weeks ago and he told me I have sleep apnoea. I’m not formally diagnosed but he said I was making some extremely weird choking noises while sleeping on his couch. Also, to a much lower degree, I have mild insomnia. I’ve started addressing it but the complexity of my current life situation means I needed to implement a simple, flexible strategy. One that doesn’t take a lot of time, low cost, addresses weight loss, anxiety management, PTSD, apnoea & insomnia.
So I thought I’d revisit the Wim Hof Method.
I first learned about Wim Hof 10 years ago and used his techniques which I found transformational at the time. The man, Wim Hof, is simply astounding. I read his book The Way Of The Iceman by Wim Hof & Koen De Jong for the first time today. It’s a great short book which I highly recommend.
I’ve just started using some of his techniques again tonight which I wanted to share with you.
Most people would look at any one of Wim’s feats and say they’re impossible. Some of which include running a half-marathon barefoot on ice, swimming under ice for a record distance of 57.5 meters, and of course, climbing Mount Everest in shorts. Wim is certainly gifted but he argues in his book that he has simply studied, trained and mastered several techniques which are now known as the Wim Hof Method.
It’s a unique combination of 3 practices with benefits to increase athletic performance, reduce stress, and help you sleep better, along with several other benefits as you’ll discover below.
What Is the Wim Hof Method?
It’s a set of skills that, when practised consistently, can provide your mind and body a wide variety of benefits.
The Wim Hof Method combines 3 different practices: Cold Therapy, Breathing Exercises, and Commitment.
Embracing the cold is healthy for you.
In fact, exposure to the cold provides an array of health benefits including increased brown fat (the good kind) which results in fat loss, reduced inflammation, and an improved immune system.
Plus, you’ll have better-balanced hormones, better sleep, and more endorphins.
The second practice of the Wim Hof Method involves a focus on breathing.
You’re always passively breathing, but you may be unaware of the potential of focused, concentrated breathing exercises. Increased oxygen levels come with a range of physical benefits including reduced stress and better immune responses.
VICE journalist Justin Ong, who visited Singapore to test out the Wim Hof Method for himself, said, “I went from doing 40 push-ups without breathing, to 60. I could now hold my breath for almost three minutes, up from 43 seconds. In both instances, I felt I could push myself even more.”
The final practice is the most important. Without a commitment to improving your body and mind, you don’t see transformational results.
In order to fully master the Method (and reap the numerous physical rewards it has to offer), you need a certain level of patience and determination.
How Does The Wim Hof Method Benefit Us?
Cold showers sound awful. Because they are. So what is the benefit? Various studies have come out to prove that in order to reach the highest levels of fitness, our bodies might actually need the assistance of environmental stress. In fact, one of the main benefits of exposure to cold temperatures is the increase of beneficial brown fat stores.
Yes. There are two kinds of fat: white fat (the bad kind that leads to obesity when there’s too much) and brown fat (the good kind). Brown fat, or BAT (Brown Adipose Tissue) burns energy, rather than storing it like white fat. In fact, increased brown fat levels lead to better glucose regulation and can even combat obesity and diabetes. (Another of my goals!)
An additional benefit to cold exposure is something called “cold thermogenesis”. The body’s natural response to cold temperatures is to kick into a high-heat mode, which means your body starts working incredibly hard to heat up, thus creating a fat-burning mechanism.
One way to easily activate cold thermogenesis in your daily routine, with no extra time or energy, is by having a cold shower.
The benefits of the Wim Hof Method include:
- Increased energy
- Increased mental clarity
- Improved recovery via improved nervous system function
- Better sleep (one of my goals)
- Lowering inflammation and treating arthritis (another one of my goals)
- Increased willpower
- Improved cold tolerance
- Reduced thyroid issues
- Reduced food cravings (indirectly… another one of my goals)
- Anti-depressant effects and mood stabilization
- Greater immune function and consequence lower rates of contracting cold or flu
- Reduced muscle soreness after exercise
- Significant weight-loss in mere days of cryotherapy.
Perhaps the most impressive benefit to the Wim Hof Method is the ability to improve your immune system to fight off disease. A 2012 study at the Radboud University of Nijmegen (Netherlands) was conducted that compared 12 people following the Wim Hof Method to 12 control subjects to measure immune response.
The study observed, “profound differences between the two groups” including “increased epinephrine levels, increased levels of anti-inflammatory cytokine, decreased levels of pro-inflammatory mediators, and less pronounced fever. Also, flu-like symptoms were lower in the trained group compared with the untrained group.”
Overall, the 12 that followed the Wim Hof Method for 10 days proved to strengthen their immune system and immune responses by following these breathing methods and exposure to cold environments.
If you’re going to have a shower anyway, you can just have a cold one and get all these additional benefits. It doesn’t take any extra time and the benefits begin immediately.
Tip: Ease Into It!
If you start with your usual temperature, you can then slowly make the water colder until you’ve hit your limit.
Tonight I went for a 3 kilometre walk and then hit the shower. During my walks, I listen to an audiobook so I’m getting in reading time simultaneously. I make sure I get my heart rate up enough so that I’m reducing my adrenalin & cortisol levels which in turn decreases the feelings of anxiety. After the walk, I was determined to hit the cold but I couldn’t go straight to it. It took 4 stages to get to completely cold with no hot water added!
One of the key skills to develop is to maintain slow and steady breathing while in the cold water. I had this in mind before hitting the shower. I forgot how difficult it is! I was panting frantically like a puppy. With each of the 4 colder increments, I began to hyperventilate and it took 20 – 60 seconds to acclimatise and control my breathing before decreasing the temperature again.
The good news is a small amount of exposure to the cold several times per week is enough to stimulate an increase of BAT and receive the benefits.
The Breathing Technique
Regulated by the autonomic nervous system, inhaling is an unconscious process. Fortunately it’s an unconscious praxis, otherwise we simply wouldn’t have a break, as we’d have to manage it incessantly. The amount of oxygen that we inhale through our breathing, influences the amount of energy that is released into our body’s cells. On a molecular level, this progresses via various chemical and physiological processes. Breathing is the easiest and most instrumental part of the autonomic nervous system to control and navigate. Wim has discovered that the way you breathe strongly affects the chemical and physiological activities in your body. If you want to delve into it more here’s some more science.
He recommends practicing right after waking, or before a meal, when your stomach is still empty. Note that WHM breathing can affect motor control and, in rare cases, lead to loss of consciousness. Always sit or lie down before practicing the techniques. Never practice while piloting a vehicle, or in or near bodies of water.
Step 1: Get Comfortable
Assume a meditation posture: sitting, lying down — whichever is most comfortable for you. Make sure you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction.
Step 2: 30-40 Deep Breaths
Close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Be conscious of your breath, and try to fully connect with it. Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale unforced through the mouth. Fully inhale through the belly, then chest 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. This cycle can be repeated 3-4 times without interval.
The breathing exercise is effectively a form of meditation which we all know has a host of benefits including managing anxiety. However, this technique has the physiological benefits too.
So that’s the Wim Hof Method. I’ll post up again soon and share an update.