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The Wim Hof Method – A Breathing Technique Perplexing Scientists

While a relatively recent addition to the crowded world of “health-boosting practices,” The Wim Hof Method inspires passionate support from its adopters.

Founded in the hopes of aiding human wellbeing and restoring our lost connection to the natural environments around us, the method employs practical, reliable and affordable steps to inspire a “happier, healthier and stronger” humankind. 

For a detailed, introductory guide to this modern health phenomenon, we’ll take a look at the origins and critical aspects of the Wim Hof Method:

The Wim Hof Method

What Is It?

The Wim Hof Method (WHM) is a physical technique designed to help human beings access their inner power by adapting and reconnecting their body to the physical world around them.

Created by the eponymous Wim Hof (aka, the “Iceman”), a Dutch extreme athlete legendary for his ability to perform incredible feats of strength and endurance in harsh, frigid conditions, the technique centers around three pillars:

  1. Breathing
  2. Cold Therapy
  3. Commitment

In the words of the legendary Iceman himself, these pillars help humans “realize their full potential” by satisfying deep physical and mental needs.

Important Note: While we will break down each pillar shortly, we must first emphasize that Wim Hof intends for his three categories of techniques to be separate parts of a whole.

In other words, view each of the following three pillars as individual exercises to combine over the course of a day, not perform concurrently.

Breathing

Breathing is the first pillar of the Wim Hof Method, and it’s an excellent place to begin your experimentation.

This pillar consists of four steps:

First, you must get comfortable in a posture that best suits you, whether sitting, standing or even lying down.

Second, you must take 30-40 deep breaths. Shut your eyes and focus on your breathing. Inhale fully through your nose/mouth until the air completely fills your chest and belly. Then let the air go quickly. Repeat this in short, purposeful bursts for the entirety of the step.

It’s important to note that you may feel strange sensations in step two, such as tingling in your fingers/toes and lightheadedness. These are usually harmless and normal, but take time to listen to your body before proceeding.

Third, you must hold your breath. On your final deep breath of step two, make sure you inhale as completely as possible. Once your lungs are full, quickly let the air out again. After that, delay inhaling once again for as long as is safely possible.

Lastly, you must take your ultimate recovery breath. When you can no longer hold the final breath of step three, take another deep breath into your chest and belly. Hold for 15 seconds, then let go. Repeat 3-4 times to complete the exercise, then “take your time to bask in the bliss” of your rested state -- Hof’s words.

If completed consistently and correctly, these breathing techniques can introduce higher oxygen levels to the body, potentially contributing to a number of the benefits we’ll discuss later. 

Cold Therapy

Wim Hof is uber famous for his remarkable cold weather feats, so it’s little surprise he incorporated the potential benefits of cold therapy into his health-boosting method.

While there isn’t a step-by-step method to Hof’s techniques for exposure to cold temperatures, here are some essential things to keep in mind:

Cold therapy can stimulate recovery in the body by reducing inflammation, swelling and muscle soreness. It can also lead to better sleep, enhanced mental acuity and even improved immune function.

According to Wim Hof, you don’t need to spend inordinate amounts of time in the Arctic Circle, Alps, Rocky Mountains or any other icy destination he might thrive in to get the most from cold therapy.

Instead, you can incorporate cold therapy into your daily life in the form of a cold shower or ice bath. 

While these options aren’t as extreme as a stint in the tundra, they adequately offer the benefits of cold therapy in a controlled, safe environment. 

Commitment

Commitment may not sound like the typical final step of a meditation/self-improvement technique, but it’s vital to Wim Hof’s method.

This final pillar of the WHM combines multiple aspects of the first two pillars into one general guideline for successful living:

As emphasized by Hof himself, “conscious breathing and cold therapy require patience and dedication” and can “train your brain to increase willpower and self-control.” 

In other words, they test and strengthen your commitment to self-improvement and better health. 

The more you can successfully and safely practice the first two pillars, the better your brain learns to adapt and commit to new, complex situations that might currently be out of your comfort zone. 

According to Hof, one can also further strengthen the benefits of this pillar through other concentration exercises and guided meditations.

Physiological and Psychological Benefits

Proponents of the Wim Hof Method claim the technique offers a variety of benefits to both physical and mental functions.

Potential physiological benefits of this self-care practice include:

  • Increased Energy 
  • Strengthened Immune System
  • Improved Sleep
  • Enhanced Physical Performance and Recovery
  • Healthier Blood Pressure Levels
  • Reduced Inflammation
  • Headache and Migraine Relief

Potential psychological benefits include:

  • Reduced Stress
  • Enhanced Concentration
  • Strengthened Mind-Body Connection
  • Improved Reactions to Stressors
  • Stronger Willpower

What the Science Says

While the Wim Hof method may perplex some researchers, it has roots in scientific investigation and development.

As with many health and wellness techniques, there are supporters and detractors of the WHM who possess differing viewpoints. At this point, the only absolute certainty about the method is that more research is needed.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s break down the scientific consensus on each of Wim Hof’s three pillars to help you form your own opinion:

Breathing

The vast majority of the scientific community reiterates that targeted, mindful breathing techniques can have mental, emotional and physical health benefits. 

The consensus on the Wim Hof Method’s breathing techniques are more muddled, though generally positive:

Many scientific resources laud the WHM breathing technique for offering tangible benefits to the sympathetic nervous system and the immune system. 

Conversely, others claim the technique -- which can resemble hyperventilation -- can have adverse effects, such as potential, albeit rare, loss of consciousness.

Cold Therapy

The potential benefits of safe exposure to low temperatures are well-documented, and research suggests the Wim Hof Method of cold therapy is a reliable, affordable way to attain them.

According to studies featured in the National Academy of Sciences and Science Direct, the type of secure cold exposure promoted by the WHM can offer anti-inflammatory benefits in addition to promoting a boosted immune system and increased tolerance to challenging external conditions. 

Commitment 

While the type of commitment espoused by Wim Hof is challenging to quantify, many scientists laud the benefits of committing to and completing safe but arduous tasks

If you can successfully, responsibly commit to guided meditation/self-improvement techniques like the WHM, you open yourself up to incredible, science-backed benefits like enhanced concentration, memory and problem-solving.
For any questions about nutrition, self-care or other healthy living protocols, feel free to contact us at any time.

About the Author: Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee is a New York State Certified Dietician-Nutritionist, who has been counseling individuals on sustainable weight management and disease prevention for over 20 years. Her mission is to empower individuals to obtain healthy food relationships and to clearly understand the concept of food as medicine. Lisa chose to create a functional nutrition practice where what, why and how we eat are all part of the conversation. There is no One-Size-Fits-All dietary approach, but Ms Jubilee has experienced great success utilizing specific dietary protocols such as intermittent fasting, time restricted eating, low carb/ketogenic dietary regimens and AIP (autoimmune protocol) in her practice.

In 2005, Lisa co-created Living Proof Nutrition Strength Pilates, a private nutrition, HIST (high intensity strength training) and Pilates studio, located in midtown Manhattan. The inspiration behind Living Proof was to create a private fitness and wellness space, where the importance of nutrition and functional movement are emphasized in tandem.

As of March 2020, in order to continue to service her clients and the public at large during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Jubilee is offering all of her nutrition counseling and support services remotely. Feel free to contact Lisa with any questions: Lisa@livingproofnyc.com