We all heard (and sometimes experienced) about the benefits of a cold shower but how about making your immune system smarter through regular cold immersions, deep breathing or rather prolonged sessions of meditation in the snow? If you are looking for a natural way to boost your energy levels, decrease the signs of ageing, reduce stress, improve the quality of sleep, fight depression, combat belly fat, as well as improve the circulatory system, the Wim Hof Method might be the key to getting a stronger body and mind.
Created by the man famed for climbing Mount Everest wearing nothing but a pair of shorts (26-time Guinness World Record holder for endurance and resistance), it’s a combination of breathing exercises, mind-set and gradual cold exposure. A practise that promises to make you healthier by lighting your ‘inner fire‘.
I have been practising the Wim Hof Method for nearly five years. It came into my life when I was in extreme anxiety, stress and depression after separating from my husband – says a testimonial, Leah S., from Jindabyne, Snowy Mountains (Australia)-. Panic attacks, poor sleep and an overactive, distracted mind were common. I used the Wim Hof Method mobile app regularly and researched the internet to deepen my practice. Nothing compared to simply feeling, navigating and getting to know my own body in this practice. My morning starts with 3-5 rounds of breathing. I experience visuals, lights, colours, insights, feelings of euphoria. Afterwards, my internal state is calm and at peace. I follow this up with either yoga or a run. Then I’m ready to dive into the coldest river in Australia, the Thredbo River. I once deeply feared the cold. I now see it as one of my greatest teachers in life.
How the Wim Hof Method works
The Hof technique is not primarily aimed at putting the body into a relaxed state, but rather into an active state. The philosophy behind it suggests that our bodies – and brains – need exposure to physical extremes to realise what they are capable of. In particular, his method hinges on the idea that you can train your body to cope with stress more effectively. According to Hof, “as people are exposed to environmental stress and learn to manipulate their responses, the next time they encounter threats, they will have a more manageable reaction. It’s about switching on inbuilt energies and giving people a sense of control“.
The technique requires a series of deep breathing exercises for several minutes before submerging yourselves into the icy water. If you are brave enough to challenge yourself, his website outlines the basics (although, for more, you’ll have to pay). Sitting at home, you can easily try it for yourself. Take 30 quick, deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Then, take a deep breath and exhale; hold until you need to breathe in. Inhale again, as deep as you can, and hold it for 10 seconds.
What’s happening during the hold? According to Hof, you are firing up a good form of fat within your body. Brown fat is a type of tissue within mammals that will emit heat when necessary for survival. “We have brown fat adipose tissue inside of our chest on the back– Hof says-. Brown fat will be triggered by this breathing technique. It’s a way to influence the energy in the brown fat adipose tissue.”
Although not fully backed up by science, the outcome of multiple studies outlined the effectiveness of the method; by practising those simple yet effective techniques within a short timeframe, anyone can gain more control over their health (and mind). In particular, a study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure has found when exposed to icy conditions, Hof and his followers activate a part of the brain that releases opioids and cannabinoids into the body. These components can inhibit the signals responsible for telling your body you are feeling pain or cold, and trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin.
The breathing technique is to activate various physiological responses and will energize and strengthen the body. Ultimately, on exposure to cold (such as ice), these effects are even stronger. In simple terms, the breathing exercises help to get your body into the state required to gain access to your autonomic nervous system and to resist the cold.