Deep breathing & cold showers
Wim Hof is a 61-year-old Dutch extreme athlete. He is known as “The Iceman” for enjoying freezing temperatures. At 48, he climbed Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes. He holds Guinness World Records for longest ice bath and fastest half-marathon barefoot on ice and snow.
Hof credits his achievements to the Wim Hof Method (WHM), a combination of deep breathing, meditation, and cold exposure. It’s similar to tummo techniques practiced by Tibetan monks for thousands of years in the Himalayas.
In a randomized controlled trial, Hof trained ordinary people to do WHM for 10 days. Then they were injected with bacterial toxin. Trained people had a stronger immune response to fight bacteria. They also had 50% less inflammation and 55% fewer symptoms.
In other studies, researchers investigated Hof himself. When he practiced WHM, his body released pain-relief chemicals and raised core body temperature.
Hof and his instructors have trained thousands of regular people around the world. There are testimonials about preventing illness, relieving stress and pain, and reducing symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis.
I welcome any doubter, any skeptic among the medical establishment to prove me wrong. I’m not afraid of criticism. No. Quite to the contrary, I think criticism polishes the diamond of truth.
How to start today
In his book The Wim Hof Method, Hof describes how to deep breathe:
Sit in a meditation posture or lie down.
Close your eyes and clear your mind. Take 30–40 deep breaths through your nose or mouth. Fill up your belly and chest. Don’t force the exhale. Just relax and let the air out.
At the end of the last breath, draw the breath in once more and fill the lungs to maximum capacity without using any force. Then relax to let the air out. Hold the breath until you feel the urge to breathe again.
When you feel the urge to breathe, take one deep breath in and hold it for 10–15 seconds.
Let your breath go and start a new round. Repeat the full cycle 3–4 times.
In addition, Hof recommends cold showers to improve vascular tone. Here is his 4-week program:
Week 1: 30 seconds of cold water at the end of a warm or hot shower
Week 2: 60 seconds of cold water
Week 3: 90 seconds of cold water
Week 4: 120 seconds of cold water
Cold showers are the gateway to flow and energy and peace. I’m not exaggerating. It’s the entry point from which you will learn the power of the mind over the body...all it takes is 10 days of these showers to regain your optimal vascular tone and achieve this control.
As part of my morning workout, I follow Hof’s 11-minute guided video on YouTube (search for “Guided Wim Hof Method Breathing”) followed by a cold shower. I was amazed I could hold my breath for 90 seconds and adapt quickly to icy water. I was even more amazed by the peace and clarity.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
Cromie WJ. (2002, April 18). Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2002/04/meditation-changes-temperatures/
Kox M et al. (2014). Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 111(20): 7379–7384.
In a randomized controlled trial, 12 of 24 subjects received 10 days of Wim Hof Method training (third-eye relaxation meditation, cyclic hyperventilation followed by breath retention, and immersions in ice cold water), and then all subjects were injected with E. coli endotoxin
Training resulted in intermittent respiratory alkalosis and hypoxia, which increased plasma epinephrine levels by about 600% (epinephrine is a hormone that helps reverse symptoms of allergic reaction)
In response to endotoxin, trained subjects had significantly higher leukocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, and neutrophils; lower plasma concentrations of inflammatory cytokines (51–57%); and higher concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines (194%)
Trained subjects also had lower fever and 56% less flu-like symptoms (nausea, headache, shivering, muscle pain, back pain)
Researchers concluded: “These results could have important implications for the treatment of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases”
Muzik O et a. (2018). “Brain over body”–A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure. Neuroimage. 172: 632–641.
fMRI and PET/CT imaging showed that Wim Hof’s deep inhalations and exhalations, followed by cold exposure and focused self-attention, activated brain areas that released stress-induced pain-relief chemicals (opioids and endocannabinoids), and improved internal focus and sustained attention
Hof’s deep breathing increased sympathetic innervation and glucose consumption in intercostal muscle, which generated heat that dissipated to lung tissue and warmed circulating blood, thus counteracting decrease in core body temperature from cold exposure
Vosselman MJ et al. (2018). Frequent extreme cold exposure and brown fat and cold-induced thermogenesis: a study in a monozygotic twin. PLoS One. 9(7): e101653.
Wim Hof and his identical twin brother were studied during 13°C and 31°C conditions using PET/CT imaging and indirect calorimetry
Deep breathing generated body heat via vigorous isometric respiratory muscle contractions, and enabled both brothers to not shiver during cold exposure
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