The breath; our key source of life. Without it, we can’t survive longer than a few minutes, yet we spend most of our life completely unconscious of it.
We’re always told that we use only a tiny fraction of our brain, and to imagine what would be possible if we could really tap into it. Well, the same can be said about our breathing.
Except, we can tap into the full potential of our breathing, it just takes a little practice.
At Better Work Heroes, we are always on the lookout for superhuman performance hacks. Climbing Everest unguided and half-dressed as well as injecting oneself with the norovirus and having no negative impacts certainly captured our interest!
These were both actions of a man named Wim Hof and he was able to do them because he managed to find a way to tap into the full potential of breathing.
His mission has now become bringing this breathing method to the world so that everyone can reap the benefits.
These benefits are meant to include a strengthened immune system, greater focus and clarity, enhanced energy and awareness. It is also meant to help reduce stress and inflammation.
But what exactly is the Wim Hof breathing method? Why does it work? How do I do it?
Like Wim, we really want to bring this exciting, intriguing, simple method to more people. So, we’re going to be writing a series of articles on the Wim Hof Method (WHM) that answer a lot of questions, starting with those above.
We’ve been practising it for years and, as coaches, have been fortunate enough to help other people start practising it too. We’ve even trained with him up a mountain!
We can see the benefits in real-time and are fully signed up members of the WHM fan-club! (No idea if there is one, but maybe there should be!?).
What is The Wim Hof Method
The Wim Hof Method has been developed by, surprisingly, a man named Wim Hof. He is also known as the ‘Iceman’ due to his ability to endure exposure to extremely cold temperatures.
It fundamentally consists of three components:
- Cold Training
The breathwork aims to get us breathing fully and increasing the amount of oxygen we get into our bodies. You will even find you can hold your breath for longer after doing it. It simply consists of a few rounds of deep breaths, followed by a breath-hold. We’ll go into it in more detail later.
The cold training is what it sounds like, I’m afraid. It can be done by simply having a cold shower every day. We don’t want to put you off though, so it is not a vital component of the WHM to do right away. It can be built up in a very gradual way and was originally used by Wim Hof to demonstrate what the breathwork could do for the body.
The commitment is perhaps the most important of all. By making it a part of your everyday routine, the WHM will keep giving you greater and greater benefits as you get better and accumulate the positive effects.
As coaches, we’ve been on a mission to find for our clients, and ourselves, a way to tap quickly and naturally into a powerful state of flow, creativity, focus, positivity and energy. We wanted to figure out how to break the stress loops caused by our everyday frenetic external environment.
We trial and test everything we can around performance. Very few techniques have such a broad, positive and rapid impact as the WHM. Few are so easily applied in real life.
It’s also completely free to do and we think this is pretty exciting! We’ve checked, it appears no breathing taxes have been introduced yet.
We asked our clients that use the WHM for some of their favourite uses of it:
- “When feeling tired in the afternoon, it’s a great afternoon pick me up. It gives me some extra energy.”
- “Forms part of a powerful morning routine, pre or post meditation.”
- “Releasing out the stress of the day and getting me ready to relax in the evening.”
- “After a difficult/stressful situation or encounter.”
Why Does The Wim Hof Method Work?
We’re going to do a bit of science here, but not too much, don’t worry!
First, let’s look at the challenge we face in everyday life.
It’s not only the coronavirus that is a health crisis at the moment. The modern world keeps us switched on almost continuously. Like a car that never turns off, we risk overheating and suffering increased wear and tear.
This is not good for our health, nor our performance, and we are constantly flirting with burn out.
Combine this with the fact that we have learnt to breathe shallowly; just getting in enough oxygen to keep us going and not making full use of our lungs.
We are putting our bodies under increased stress while reducing its ability to cope with it by breathing poorly.
Let’s look at the breathing mechanism. It is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS controls functions of our body that we need to happen automatically, such as breathing, heartbeat, digestion, etc.
The ANS is divided into the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
The SNS is what we recognise as the ‘fight or flight’ system, reacting to stimuli that require a quick response from us.
The PNS is referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system, where we allow our body time to recover, repair and refuel.
It is very hard, especially in the middle of a busy day or with exciting stimuli such as social media or TV, to switch from the SNS to the PNS. In fact, it is believed that we have no manual control over this, we simply allow the autonomic nervous system to choose when is appropriate.
The Wim Hof Method brings us a way to add a manual switch between the SNS and PNS.
In addition to having some control over what state your nervous system is in, the WHM can help release ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and adrenaline.
In essence, we have found that the WHM can be used to help regulate things like:
The potential is that you can use this simple breathing technique to adjust your mood, tell your body to relax, get your body ready for action, improve your sleep* (*kids not accounted for!). This is where we feel it gets really exciting.
Talking about what we have seen ourselves with our own practice of the WHM and with what our many clients feedback to us, we have only ever seen positive results.
This is a very high-level look at what is happening with the WHM. There is so much more detail to go into in another article in this series.
How To Do The Wim Hof Method
We’ve talked a lot about how simple this method is, so let’s look at just how simple.
Step 1 – Set up (maybe not in a crowded office!)
Firstly, it is important to note that breathing more deeply than normal can affect people in different ways and so always do this in a safe environment, and always stick to the recommended amount of breathing.
Find a quiet place, maybe not a busy office. Lying down is best if you can. You can breathe through your mouth or nose.
Step 2 – Breathe rather deeply 30 or 40 times
Take a full breath, expanding your stomach, then chest and feeling the breath move towards your head. Then allow the breath to release, no need to force it out.
Do this 30 times. Be aware of how your body is feeling, you might feel tingling in the fingers.
After the 30th breath, release all of the air out of your lungs and just hold it there, in this silent and peaceful state. You may not be able to hold your breath for long periods to start with, that’s fine it will build up. It’s great for enhancing your O2 max.
When you feel you need a breath, breathe in deeply again and hold for 15 seconds.
Step 3 – Repeat
Release and prepare to do another set of 30 breaths, depending on the situation and time you have available.
We like to do 3 or 4 rounds in the morning.
However many rounds you decide to do, after you release your last breath-hold, just relax and take in how you feel. Breathe normally and slowly allow yourself back into the world.
You may feel very intense feelings in the body, hands, head to begin with. If it is too much then slow it down a touch and breathe via the nose for a less intense intake of oxygen.
Now go and jump in an ice bath.
If you want to see a video of Wim Hof taking you through all of this, then follow this link to his tutorial video on YouTube.
It can be easy to lose track of timings so there is also a guided ‘Breathing Bubble’ that helps you keep pace through the method.
Some practices, such a meditation, seem to be inaccessible to a lot of people because their minds can be very active and they want results now! The Wim Hof Method is simply a set of activities that you can do. The results are quick.
We’ve been practising the WHM for a long time and it is the single greatest thing we do to improve our wellbeing.
We’ve found it gives us a stronger immune system, increased energy and lower stress. The worst-case scenario is that you feel great for a while afterwards. Why not give it a try?