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In recent years, news outlets and researchers from around the globe have looked on in awe at the extreme feats practiced by a man named Wim Hof. Affectionately known as “The Iceman,” Hof is known for being able to endure prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. He has run a barefoot half-marathon over ice and has even broken records for swimming in ice water.
Is Hof simply a medical anomaly? No! In fact, Hof claims that anyone can strengthen their immune system, boost their energy levels, improve their heart rate, and improve their ability to tolerate stressful and challenging situations through his eponymous technique, the Wim Hof Method. Through breathing exercises and cold therapy, Hof claims that we can tap into a deeper level of health and wellness that lies within our innate biology.
Though the Wim Hof Method is still being studied by scientists, preliminary research suggests that there are likely some powerful physiological benefits to Hof’s breathing method. Thousands of individuals around the world claim to feel better as a result of following these simple techniques.
Are you interested in trying out the Wim Hof Method for yourself? Here is some basic information about Hof, his method, and the benefits of breathing like “the Iceman.”
Who Is Wim Hof?
Wim Hof began his life as a normal young man from the Netherlands. In his youth, he felt drawn to learn more about spirituality and wellness. At the age of 17, Hof claims that he was possessed by the sudden urge to jump into the ice-cold water of a canal. The experience left him feeling so transformed and rejuvenated that he repeated it, frequently exposing himself to extreme temperatures. This experience inspired him to develop the techniques that are now known as the Wim Hof Method. He now has over 20 Guinness World Records. A few highlights include running a half-marathon barefoot above the Arctic Circle, swimming under ice for 66 meters, and climbing some of the tallest mountains in the world wearing only shorts.
Hof lives by the motto, “what I am capable of, everybody can learn.” His mission is to help others feel their best and reach their fullest potential by practicing his techniques.
What is the Wim Hof Method?
The Wim Hof Method focuses on three main practices for achieving wellness: breathing, cold therapy, and commitment. Arguably the most essential pillar of the technique is the breathing method. The breathing technique generally involves roughly 30 cycles of breathing, deeply and fully in and deeply and fully out. This cycle of controlled hyperventilation is followed by exhalation. The individual practicing the method then holds their breath, lungs empty, for as long as possible, relaxing deeply while doing so. Once the individual feels the urge to breathe, they do so, holding the next breath for roughly 15 seconds before letting it go. This process is often repeated three times to achieve more powerful effects. Individuals often feel warm or light-headed after practicing this breathing technique. Some may experience tingling in the extremities.
With practice, one can calm the body and train one’s self to retain the breath during the exhalation phase for two minutes or longer. Even beginners will find that they can retain their breath for 60-90 seconds after the 30 deep breaths.
This form of deep breathing has the ability to change the body’s physiological responses. Though forced hyperventilation is temporarily stressful for the body, this practice ultimately calms the mind and the body for an extended period of time. Practicing this breathing technique at the beginning of the day, on an empty stomach, often leads to optimal feelings of wellness throughout the day. Many individuals report feeling less stressed, better rested, stronger and less fatigued, more focused, and more creative as a result of practicing these breathing techniques. Though there is still much research to be done on the Wim Hof Method, many individuals suffering from conditions ranging from Parkinson’s disease to vasculitis claim to notice a reduction in their symptoms as a result of practicing the method. Those interested in following Wim Hof’s breathing technique can find guided breathing meditations on YouTube or on the Wim Hof Method app.
Cold therapy is another pillar of the Wim Hof Method. Exposure to cold has been proven to reduce inflammation and swelling in the body. For many, cold therapy appears to also improve sleep quality and focus while boosting the immune system. Hof generally advocates taking cold showers or sitting in ice baths to achieve these results. Beginners to the method may find that spending just one to two minutes in a cold shower is enough to achieve noticeable results. Taking a cold shower will also force you to breathe deeply, the body’s natural response to such low temperatures. In this way, cold exposure also supports the breathing techniques advocated by Hof.
Commitment is the final pillar of the Wim Hof Method. Practicing the Wim Hof Method is essentially training one’s self to practice commitment, will-power, and self-control. Remaining under a cold shower for a few minutes requires learning how to cope with a physically stressful situation; sticking to these breathing techniques requires dedication and focus. When the mind is trained to stay focused on its goals, the body can conquer challenges that once seemed impossible.
Scientific Research Behind the Wim Hof Method
Scientists are currently studying both Wim Hof and his techniques, striving to learn more about how his method works. Preliminary research does seem to indicate that these practices benefit the body. Hof’s breathing technique, for instance, has been shown to suppress the body’s innate immune response. Perhaps the most intriguing study involved researchers injecting a toxin into Hof’s body; whereas most individuals developed flu-like symptoms from this toxin, Hof and his trained volunteers had no symptoms; Hof was observed to have just half of the cytokines in his system as the control subjects. This research seems to indicate that Hof’s breathing techniques can, in fact, improve the body’s immune response, potentially reducing symptoms associated with minor illnesses as well as chronic diseases. Though more research must be done, it appears that the Wim Hof Method has a certain grounding in science. These techniques just might be able to heal the body in ways we don’t yet fully understand.
As with many other alternative wellness practices, it is best to remain realistic in your expectati ons when practicing the Wim Hof Method. Though it appears that this breathing method, especially in conjunction with cold exposure, can improve the body’s immune response and improve one’s overall health, Hof’s techniques shouldn’t be viewed as an alternative to professional medical treatment. Though some individuals have noticed significant improvements in their health and well-being, individuals shouldn’t follow the Wim Hof Method with the expectation that it will cure them of major illnesses. Even so, most medical professionals state that there is little harm in trying the Wim Hof Method. Those who follow these techniques should simply remember to do so safely. Following Hof’s own YouTube videos or using the resources provided on Hof’s website or in his app are the safest ways to practice the Wim Hof Method.
If you want to try out the Wim Hof Method for yourself, do so in a safe environment. Sit down, inhale, exhale, and repeat! The transformative power of your breath just might astound you.
Photo: © Wim Hof