Developing your breath

Your breathing rate and pattern is a process within the autonomic nervous system that you can control to some extent to achieve different results. You may not be aware of your breath all of the time, but through practice you can gain a greater awareness of your breath and learn how to manipulate it to your advantage.

The Wim Hof Method breathing techniques have been developed by Wim Hof, who is also known as The Iceman. He believes you can accomplish incredible feats by developing command over your body through use of specific breathing techniques.

This is said to help you improve your productivity, performance, and overall well-being. Hof believes that learning to develop mastery over your nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems will help you be happier, stronger, and healthier.

Wim Hof is considered by some to be an adventurer, an endurance athlete, and a Dutch philosopher.

Hof has an uncanny ability to endure cold temperatures in extreme circumstances. He developed this ability through extensive training that allows him to control his breathing, heart rate, and blood circulation. Hof believes that ordinary people can control their bodies to accomplish difficult feats, and he teaches these techniques through online and in-person classes.

He developed the Wim Hof Method to teach people how to learn to control their bodies to achieve exceptional goals.

Some of Wim Hof’s reported achievements include climbing some of the highest mountains in the world while wearing shorts, standing in a container while immersed in ice cubes for nearly two hours, and swimming below ice for 57.5 meters (188 feet, 6 inches). Hof ran an entire marathon in the Namib Desert without drinking water and ran a half marathon north of the Arctic Circle with bare feet.

Hof has worked with scientists to gain credibility by proving that his techniques work to bring about health benefits. Currently, there are several studies underway researching the physical effects of the Wim Hof Method.

Scientists are learning about how Hof’s breathing techniques affect brain and metabolic activity, inflammation, and pain. More research is needed to understand exactly how the method works to bring about benefits. Scientists need to learn if the results are due to the breathing exercises, meditation, or cold exposure.

Participants in a 2014 study performed breathing techniques such as consciously hyperventilating and retaining the breath, meditated, and were immersed in ice cold water. Results showed that the sympathetic nervous system and the immune system can be voluntarily influenced. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory effect produced by the techniques.

Scientists believe this could be especially useful in treating inflammatory conditions, especially autoimmune conditions. People who learned the Wim Hof Method also had fewer flu-like symptoms and increased plasma epinephrine levels.

A 2014 report studied the effectiveness of the Wim Hof Method to reduce acute mountain sickness (AMS). A group of 26 trekkers used the technique while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was useful in preventing AMS and reversing symptoms that developed. More research is needed to expand upon these findings.

More recently, a 2017 case study of Wim Hof found that he is able to tolerate extreme cold by creating an artificial stress response in his body. Scientists believe the brain rather than the body helped Hof to respond to cold exposure. The study suggests that people can learn to control their autonomic nervous system to bring about similar changes.

According to the Wim Hof Method website, consistent practice offers many potential benefits, including:

  • boosting your immune system
  • improving concentration
  • improving your mental well-being
  • increasing willpower
  • increasing your energy
  • managing some fibromyalgia symptoms
  • relieving some symptoms of depression
  • relieving stress
  • improving sleep

You can learn the Wim Hof Method on your own at home using the official online video course or by finding a certified instructor.

Online Wim Hof Method training

Upon signing up for the online course you will be guided through the techniques and exercises through video lessons. All of the techniques and exercises will be thoroughly explained and demonstrated. The course includes breathing exercises, meditation, and cold training. Homework will be assigned throughout the training to reinforce your practice.

The course is designed to increase in difficulty as your mind and body adapt to increasing stimuli and different circumstances. You’re meant to develop mental strength, determination, and an understanding to reach and recognize your own limits.

Typically, the method is practiced daily for at least 20 minutes. But you’re encouraged to never force the practice. And always listen to your body. Take off a few days to rest if it’s needed.

In-person Wim Hof Method guidance

If you choose to learn with a certified instructor you can participate in a workshop. These workshops can sometimes be modified to accommodate your specific needs. They are sometimes done in conjunction with fitness activities or yoga.

Working with an instructor in person allows you to receive personal guidance and immediate feedback. You will be taught breathing, yoga, and meditation practices. Ice baths may be part of the program but exposure to cold increases the risks of adverse effects.

Make sure you find someone who has completed the training program and has an official license. Additional experience in medical training and physical therapy may also be beneficial.

Practice the Wim Hof Method in a safe and comfortable environment.

While practicing the technique, you may experience feelings of euphoria and elevated energy. You may feel tingling sensations or slight lightheadedness.

Exposure to cold is not needed to experience the benefits of the breathwork. Be aware that hypothermia is possible if the method isn’t practiced safely. Do not practice cold exposure if you are pregnant.

Cold exposure should be avoided after consuming a heavy meal or alcohol, or on an empty stomach. Discontinue the practice if you feel uncomfortable or develop any adverse reactions. Never attempt cold exposure alone.

The evidence to support the use of the Wim Hof Method is increasing, but there are potential dangers. Fainting is not uncommon and there could be accompanying injuries with a fall. The technique should still be used with caution.

If you have a history of respiratory problems (like asthma), stroke, or high or low blood pressure, or if you’re taking any medications, it’s worth discussing the Wim Hof Method with your healthcare provider to be sure it’s right for you.

It’s important that you use the technique in a responsible manner. Consult your doctor and a trained professional before attempting anything that could be considered dangerous or extreme.