Everything You Need to Know About the Wim Hof Method
July 22, 2019
Forget everything you knew about breathing. Tear up the rule book on being cold. A 60-year-old Dutchman has baffled scientists with his ability to endure extreme conditions through breathing alone. His name is Wim Hof, aka ‘The Iceman,’ and he’s the inspiration behind respiration. Here’s why you might want to give his methods a go to reach new heights of athletic performance, mindfulness—or just to impress your friends.
Who Is Wim Hof?
The Iceman holds 21 Guinness World Records for cold exposure and endurance. Some of his more prominent feats include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon in Finland above the Arctic Circle in bare feet, and standing for 112 minutes in a container covered in ice. Nobody could accuse him of being a one-trick pony, either. The Dutchman also ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without drinking. Why does he do it? The world’s second-most famous Hof uses these exhibition challenges to demonstrate the potential of his unique method.
The Idea Behind the Wim Hof Breathing Method
The Wim Hof method is actually quite simple. It’s based on the three pillars of cold therapy, breathing, and commitment. If you’re up to submitting yourself to extreme cold, using your breathing to achieve a higher state of brain activity, and ready to commit to the method, you’re on the way to replicating some of The Iceman’s incredible feats. For centuries, showmen and yogis have proved that the mind is capable of disengaging from the senses. For Wim Hof, the point is to increase human potential.
Chill Out With Cold Therapy
With the caveat that prolonged exposure to extreme cold can cause hypothermia, controlled immersion builds up brown adipose tissue and produces endorphins. Not only does that lead to long-term fat loss, but it also fortifies the immune system, reduces inflammation, and produces a momentary “high.” When he’s exposed to cold, Hof activates a part of his brain that releases natural opioids and cannabinoids. In turn, these trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, effectively blocking out any pain.
Breathing on Another Level
With the caveat that prolonged exposure to extreme cold can cause hypothermia, controlled immersion builds up brown adipose tissue and produces endorphins. Not only does that lead to long-term fat loss, but it also fortifies the immune system, reduces inflammation and produces a momentary “high.” When he’s exposed to cold, Hof activates a part of his brain that releases natural opioids and cannabinoids. In turn, these trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, effectively blocking out any pain.
Give It a Try
- Lie on your back or sit in a comfortable meditation position.
- Take 30 to 40 power breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Imagine the air filling your belly, chest, and head. When you exhale, do not force all the air out of your body—release your breath naturally.
- Take a deep breath, exhale fully and hold until you feel the gasp reflex.
- Repeat cycle three or four more times.
Of course, if you have any concerns about your physical readiness for power breathing exercises, seek the advice of a medical professional before you get started.
How the Method Can Work for You
The Wim Hof method is more than being comfortable in the cold. With mastery, it can help you tap into new resources of energy, sleep better, and focus more. Each session fortifies the immune system, so in time you’ll be more resistant to illness and recover more quickly from infections. Underpinning research into the Wim Hof method is the idea that the brain can be trained to trigger the release of pain-killing, immune system-boosting chemicals. This can be a fix for physiological factors, such as extreme cold, but also a solution for psychological issues, such as anxiety.
What Does the Science Say?
Numerous studies have put the Wim Hof method to the test, with positive results. One study at Wayne State University confirmed via MRI scans that the technique allowed the brain, not the body, to mediate responses to cold exposure. Hof activates the periaqueductal gray matter area of the brain, responsible for pain suppression. In effect, he trains his mind to ignore pain. In another study at the Radboud University Medical Center, subjects using the method were able to influence their autoimmune system by voluntarily resisting flu-like symptoms. This research crushed the theory that the autoimmune system was autonomous. In one of the most startling studies, a sensor revealed that Wim Hof was actually able to raise his own internal core temperature without any additional source of heat during ice immersion. Previously, this feat was thought to be impossible.
Athletes and fitness fanatics will be familiar with the idea of pushing beyond the comfort zone. The Wim Hof method extends this approach to the simple act of breathing. The beauty is that there is no opponent or benchmark to beat. Instead, it’s about mastering your own body processes and chemistry. If you’re serious about trying a new technique, you can download the Wim Hof app and follow the course with expert guidance from The Iceman himself.
Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround.