Wim Hof is one of the people who can call themselves 'superhuman'. This man is considered by some to be an adventurer, an endurance athlete and a Dutch philosopher.
This is a man who can control his own nervous and immune systems. He can withstand extreme cold and has shown that he can increase his own physical strength and stamina when needed.
Hof has an uncanny ability to tolerate cold temperatures in extreme conditions. He developed this ability through extensive training that allowed him to control his breathing, heart rate and blood circulation. Hof believes that ordinary people can also control their bodies to achieve difficult performances, and he teaches these techniques through online and in-person lessons.
The Wim Hof method consists of three basic steps:
The Wim Hof method is a breathing exercise combined with a regime of exposure to cold and meditation, which Wim claims can help you gain conscious control over your own nervous system and physiology.
- Controlled Hyperventilation - This is where you take in 30 deep, powerful breaths, inflating the lungs each time. You then follow this by “passively” releasing that air, just letting it out naturally a little bit before taking another deep breath. This process should have a regular rhythm and if you do it right you should find your legs and limbs tingling and you get a little light headed.
- Exhale - After your cycles, take one last deep breath and then let your breath out slowly and completely.
- Retention - You will feel a strong urge to inhale. If this happens, take that breath and hold it for 15-20 seconds. You may feel your head spin. You can repeat this entire process up to three times. If you try to get into a cold shower right now after this experience, you will notice that you are not freezing in the same way. You may even feel that the water is warm! Likewise, if you were to try to do push-ups, or to lift a heavy weight, you would notice a vast increase in strength. In fact, this is especially true if you're trying to do the push-ups with your breath held!
Not only that, but the Wim Hof method also claims the following benefits;
- Increased energy
- Sleep better
- Less stress
- Increased focus and determination
- Increased willpower
- Stronger immune system
How does breathing work in the Wim Hof method?
The breathing techniques of the Wim Hof method are an important part of his unique method, and they certainly release your inner fire! The techniques focus on deep and rhythmic inhalation and exhalation, also known as controlled hyperventilation or vigorous breathing. The breath is followed by a retention period, where you hold your breath for a certain amount of time. After mastering the Wim Hof method, you will be able to generate more energy, which helps to boost your immune system and health. By combining breathing techniques with controlled exposure to cold and training your focus, you have the ability to control your autonomic nervous system.
Breathing is an unconscious process regulated by the autonomic nervous system. All functions of the body, such as moving your muscles, digesting food, and even thinking, require oxygen. The processes behind these bodily functions produce carbon dioxide as a waste product, and it is the lungs that supply your body with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.
With the Wim Hof method you bring your breathing into a kind of hyperventilation by inhaling very deeply and exhaling stressed. What happens when you take a deep breath is you do indeed fill your lungs with oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide normally reacts with water to create carbonic acid, which makes the blood more acidic, like with lemonade. Therefore, by lowering carbon dioxide, you increase the pH of your blood and make it more alkaline. This ensures less acidification of your body.
By lowering carbon dioxide, you actually prevent the body from using oxygen properly. By holding your breath you ensure that the carbon dioxide can build up again in the body. Now the blood is saturated with oxygen it can use and the blood pH is returning.
This entire process also stimulates the production of adrenaline and norepinephrine - the hormones we associate with the fight or flight response. This could be the body's 'panic response' to the lack of available oxygen. But it can also be due to stimulation of the vagus nerve.
The job of the vagus nerve is to enable the body to monitor the state of various bodily processes and functions and this feedback partly regulates our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which in turn 'fight or flight' and controls 'rest and digest'. This is a largely unconscious process. But with the Wim Hof method this becomes a conscious process.
The calmer, more controlled and regular we breathe, the better we can activate our parasympathetic nervous system and calm ourselves. We tell the vagus nerve that everything is fine in the body and that we are calm. It responds by lowering the heart rate and getting started with processes such as digestion and muscle building. The opposite happens when we start to breathe more panically, increase our breathing. This increases focus and attention, and even boosts metabolism to boost fat burning.
Stimulating a sympathetic response increases the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we want to suppress inflammation when we run from lions and tigers. This is no time for a swollen ankle! That explains why practitioners of the Wim Hof method may be able to prevent an immune response when injected with a bacterial toxin, thereby warding off flu and cold symptoms.
The positive benefits of exposure to cold
So, put simply, if you use the Wim Hof method, you temporarily make your blood more alkaline, while also causing a short-term rise in adrenaline and other stimulant neurotransmitters.
The next part of the Wim Hof method is exposure to cold. In your highly focused and pumped state, it becomes much easier to tolerate the cold.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the cold that makes us sick. The cold can suppress our immune system, leaving us vulnerable to infection if we were at risk. But in healthy individuals, repeatedly challenging the immune system in this way only makes it stronger over time.
Wim also believes that continued exposure to cold over time will train the vascular smooth muscle to support circulation and make the cold easier to tolerate over time. This could also lead to improved overall 'thermal control' - the ability to adapt and function at different temperatures.
This also happens due to an increase in brown adipose tissue. Brown adipose tissue, also known as brown fat, is a type of fat that helps convert food into body heat. Hibernating animals have even more brown fat, just like newborn babies. This could also mean that the Wim Hof Method could contribute to long-term weight loss, as brown fat actually helps us burn more calories.
Submitting yourself to the icy cold forces you to control your own reaction. You need to stay calm to make the icy air or water more bearable, and this in turn can help keep you calm in high-stress situations. You train yourself to deal with any kind of stressor: you become tougher and mentally stronger and more resilient.