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The 'Iceman' Wim Hof Breathing Method

We had the privilege to attend Wim Hof's Melbourne seminar yesterday to learn his breathing method. Wim is world famous for his crazy feats of mental and physiological strength, like swimming under ice without goggles and getting a frozen cornea, climbing Mt Everest in just shorts, or running a marathon in the desert with no water. Wim is a charismatic and passionate man with a message to share about our innate ability to control our physiology to combat stress, disease and mental health disorders.

The Wim Hof Method (WHM) has 3 principles, mindset, breath and cold exposure. His tagline is 'from circus act, to scientific breakthrough' because his method has been studied and proven to positively influence stress hormones, increase immune function and energy, regulate body temperature and create a more alkaline ph level. It's worth mentioning that all of these feats are part of the autonomic nervous system, but his method has proven that we do have the ability to influence these normally untapped parts of our physiology.

One exciting study injected 2 groups of subjects with a bacterial toxin to prove an immune response. The control group experienced severe flu like symptoms and shaking, the group trained with the WHM had less flu symptoms, increased Adrenalin, faster adaptation of stress hormone Cortisol, and a decreased white blood cell immune response.

The Method

The basic breathing method is designed to increase oxygen saturation, and decrease Co2 levels in the body. With the WHM, it's surprisingly easy to hold your breath for extended periods of time. In regards to specific technique for the breath, we were instructed it doesn't matter if you breath through the nose, or the mouth, so long as it's a deep belly breath. Wim has been quoted as saying

"Just breath mother f*cker!"

  • The basic protocol is 30 power breaths. Inhale and exhale in short bursts

  • After the 30 power breaths, take a deeper breath in and let it all the way out

  • hold the breath for as long as possible without discomfort, teaching yourself to relax

  • When you feel the urge to breathe, take one deep recovery breath in and hold

  • Hold this breath as long as possible until it gets uncomfortable

  • Repeat the whole process 3-4 times

There are variations of faster or slower, and there is a danger of a blackout if you hold your breath too long, and so it's important to practice safety. The most astounding part of the method is the serene feeling of the breath holds, and how easy it becomes to not breath. As you lay with no breathe, many strange sensations emerge like tingling, seeing colours and it's quite literally an altered state of consciousness.

The Push Up Test

To illustrate the power of the technique, we performed the WHM just once, and then held the breath while pumping out as many pushups as possible. Many of us easily managed 20-30+ pushups with no breathing whatsoever. I haven't felt that strong in a pushup ever that is for sure! Wim claims he has people with severe arthritis or pain who cannot do one pushup, suddenly able to effortlessly perform the exercise.

The ice bath

The ice bath and cold exposure is integral to this concept for its ability to challenge your ability to control your mindset and physiology. Cold exposure, or cold thermogenesis is well famous for it's immune enhancing, mitochondrial promoting, and brown fat inducing benefits. By exposing the body to a perceived 'threat' we can challenge our survival response so that our system recovers to become stronger.

The energy powerhouses in our cells, mitochondria become more efficient and stronger, in response to cold. Cole exposure provokes our body to produce more brown fat, which gets it's colour from a higher level of mitochondrial density than white or beige fat. Brown fat helps regulate our temperature, and actually uses white fat for fuel. It helps us produce more energy, more efficiently.

You don't need to go to Wim's dramatic lengths to try the technique. An Ice bath is a big mental challenge, but a quick winter ocean swim, or a cold shower will also challenge you. As Wim says,

'A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away.'

We managed to snap a photo with Wim on our way out as he stood filling up the ice baths!


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