Wim Hof in an ice bath

What is the Wim Hof Method? (Pt. 1)

Unless you've been living under a rock the last few years you may have started to hear about Wim Hof and his breathing technique. If you've been a patient of mine or follow my work online, you'll at least have had some exposure. In my opinion "The Iceman", as he's affectionately been labeled, has the potential to be one of the most important human beings of our lifetime. And that's probably underselling him a little.

For those unaware, the Dutchman has developed a breathing technique that's scientifically proven to grant us access and conscious control to a whole range of physiological functions. Functions we have long thought to be uncontrollable.

Through deep breathing and cold exposure, Wim Hof has developed the ability to control his immune system, hormone regulation and withstand brutally cold temperatures and other extreme situations.

This is highlighted by the 26 world records he's achieved.

His two most notable records include climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in only a pair of shorts in 2009, and holding the record for the longest ice bath at 1 hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds in 2011. Wim used these achievements as a way to garner interest and exposure to his method. And we should be eternally grateful.

For a little more insight into Wim Hof, have a watch of this VICE documentary from 2015. He comes across as a little eccentric, but the message remains the same. He's someone we need to take note of going forward.



Why The Wim Hof Method Is So Important

As noted in the VICE documentary above Wim's techniques have the potential to help us fight (and potentially conquer) many of the acute and chronic mental and physical health issues faced by society today.

A landmark study from 2014 highlighted that Wim's technique allowed conscious control of the nervous system and immune response. This is huge considering the basis of many modern illnesses are associated with these processes in some way.

Interestingly, the function of our nervous system and the immune system has long been seen as automatic. So much so we've labeled them part of the Autonomic Nervous system. We've assumed for so long that these processes happen on our behalf in the background, so you can imagine how amazing it is to even consider that we may have had actual control over them all along.

And it's this potential conscious control that may hold the key to a future filled with good health and happiness.

Importantly, Wim is not the first person to make claims of this nature. People have been preaching their magical cures for centuries. But the difference here is that Wim is the first to really take everything to science. And it's backing him up.



How Does The Wim Hof Breathing Work?

In short Wim's hyperventilation technique bombards our bodies with oxygen altering our inner chemical balance.

This is important because the modern human has a tendency to be more acidic thanks to processed foods, poor hydration choices, pollution, stress, etc. This acidity relates to inflammation, tissue injury and plays a strong role in the activation of pain receptors.

As a general rule, a neutral ph (a measure of acidity) is seven. Anything lower is considered more acidic and anything up to fourteen is considered more alkaline.

Despite being neither acidic nor alkaline on its own, oxygen has a strong influence on our body's ph. Its presence or lack thereof can shift the balance one way or another. It is the water that may put out the fire or the baking soda that neutralizes battery acid.

Any increase in oxygen saturation will positively shift our body's ph towards alkalinity potentially combating many of the acidic-based dysfunctions that support acute and chronic illness, inflammation and pain.

This is why the Wim Hof Method may hold the key to good health and happiness.

Furthermore, my own experience with Wim's technique has shown me some amazing practical applications. I've listed a number of these benefits in a separate article.

Disclaimer: It's important to note that it's ill-advised to practice the Wim Hof Method immersed in water or while driving. There have been instances where some people can briefly lose consciousness, so please do this at your own risk and in a comfortable, safe position. 


What is the Wim Hof Breathing Method

Let's explore what this method actually is. Right off the top, I'd genuinely urge everyone to give this a go. It's safe, it's free and it works. Nothing beats having this experience and feeling the results for yourself, and as Wim Hof says "feeling is understanding".

Here's the great man himself discussing his technique. Again, he's an intriguing guy so keep an open mind - he's onto something here!

As per the video, the Wim Hof breathing method is as follows:

wim hof breathing

It's worth noting it's ill-advised to do this while driving or in water as it has made people faint. It's rare but just be careful until you know how it makes you feel.

As I do with my patients consider timing how long you can exist without air in your lungs after the final exhale. Clinically those suffering from issues like Fibromyalgia or chronic pain may only get to 20-30 seconds initially - suggesting a highly acidic baseline. Those relatively better off may tap out closer to the 1-minute mark. However, what you should notice is the number goes up with each cycle of deep breathing as your body.

I'm certainly not amazing compared to some, but my PB is somewhere close to 2 minutes and 40 seconds. It's important to understand your limits as this phase is crucial when wanting to dictate terms to your body. The longer you can go during the period, the more time you have to direct your body to do something useful. Again, we'll cover this in more detail in the next article.


Cold Exposure

The full Wim Hof Method is not complete without a little cold exposure. Mastering the breath-work is one thing, but improving your tolerance to cold can supercharge its effects.

The cold has its own benefits for your nervous system, immune system, and levels of inflammation.

Personally, I would even consider it a "vascular workout." Asking your vascular system to routinely react to changes in temperature can be a great way to optimize your body's transportation of all that wonderful oxygen you're trying to supply it with.


Cold Showers

Wim suggests the best way to engage with the cold is through cold showers. Thankfully, Wim doesn't recommend jumping straight into a blatantly cold shower. He suggests a more measured approach. Here's a neat little summary:

benefits of cold exposure
Having a cold shower doesn't have to be a horrible experience.

The key to enjoying a cold shower lies in gradual, consistent exposure coupled with a strong focus on your breathing. We want to fight that initial instinct to react harshly to the cold and instead focus on remaining calm and relaxed while breathing slowly and deeply.

With this approach, you may even look forward to a cold shower each morning. I do!


Ice Baths

If you're looking to spice things up a little more, progress to an ice bath.

The need to remain calm and focus on your breathing will increase, but so will the benefits.



With all being said, I'd highly suggest you consider giving the Wim Hof Method a go. As someone who basis his Physiotherapy practice on results, I can't speak highly enough of what this type of technique can do. For many, it just takes an open mind to give it a go.

Furthermore, consider checking out Part 2 of these articles as I go through some amazing everyday benefits to the Wim Hof Method.

And if a guarantee over the internet means anything at all, I can at least guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Good luck!

What kind of numbers are you getting with your post-exhale hold?

How do you feel about the idea of a cold shower?

Let me know in the comments below!


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