I’ve recently added the Wim Hof breathing and meditation to my daily meditation practice. I’ve read a lot about him, and seen him on some documentaries, and it is hard to argue that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so I decided to try out his breathing technique just to see what it was like, and was quite surprised with how deep and quiet my normal meditation is after doing the Wim Hof breathing.
Wim hof is a guy from Holland who holds over 20 Guiness World Records, most of them having to do with withstanding cold, but one is for running a marathon in 2011 in the Namib desert without water. Befoire that, in 2009, in another astonishing feat he ran a full marathon above the arctic circle in nothing but shorts (no shoes) in temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit, in 5 hours 25 minutes. His most recent record in 2011 was to stand submerged in ice for 1 hour and 52 minutes. Most normal people would die after about 20 minutes.
So how does he do it? According to Wim, it is all about meditation, focus, and breathing- and he says he can teach anyone to do what he does!
The great thing about Wim, is that he is open about his technique. Yes you can take a class from him, both via the internet and in person, but you can learn pretty close to everything he teaches through the internet. At the end of the post I’ll share what I’ve learned and been practicing.
There are some great documentary videos about Wim Hoff, but one of the things that really impressed me are the research studies that have been done on Hof.
The first study in 2011 was just on Hof, and yielded amazing results on the physiological effects. The second study in 2014 was a follow up and instead of examining just Hof, it also looked at 12 volunteers trained in his method, and 12 untrained comparison subjects.
In this study they injected Wim with an “endotoxin,” basically a dead bacteria, that the body thinks is alive for about 3 hours. So for that 3 hours people experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, trembling and headaches. In the blood stream “inflammatory agents from the immune system goes way up. After 3 hours the body realizes nothing is wrong and returns to normal. It is a safe and standardized way of measuring a person’s immune response.
The researchers looked at brain activity, and monitored the inflammatory response in Wim When the endotoxin was injected into Wim, in terms of flu-like symptoms. The inflammatory agents were close to normal levels, and cortisol levels were much higher. This stress hormone is known to suppress the immune response.
This study amazed the researchers, who decided to do a follow up study in 2014 with a larger group of subjects.
This study looked a t a group of 24 people- 12 trained in Wim Hof’s method of breathing and meditation, and 12 normal people untrained in breathing or meditation. In this study the followed the same method. All participants were injected with the endotoxin, and their bodies monitored. Incredibly all 12 normal people went through 3 hours of flu-like hell, while those trained by Wim were fine: No flu-like symptoms, significantly higher blood PH, epinephrine, and anti-inflammatory agents, with significantly lower levels of inflammatory agents in the blood.
Incredibly the researchers reported that the trained individuals epinephrine levels rose higher than those reported in a recent study that monitored epinephrine in people about to bungee jump!
In the end the researchers concluded that: “…The sympathetic nervous system and immune system can be voluntarily influenced through practicing techniques that are relatively easy to learn within a short time frame. It therefore could have important implications for the treatment of a variety of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, especially autoimmune diseases” (Kox, et. al, 2014 p. 7383).
Prior to this most researchers believed the immune system and sympathetic nervous system were beyond voluntary control. Now we now that we can in fact control them and affect how our bodies react to inflammatory disease! Now for me this study was the clincher for why I decided to try this out, but the documentaries are also very powerful. The reactions of the researchers is quite impressive and can be seen in the documentary by vice, and in other videos around the web. Check them out.
So what I’ve been doing is:
- Breath in as deeply as you can
- Release breath naturally, but don’t force yourself to exhale completely
- Do this 30-40 times
- On last Breath, breath out fully and hold until gasp reflex(my record after 3 days of practice is 2 minutes 28 seconds)
- Inhale fully and hold for 10-15 seconds.
- Repeat this cylce 5 times.
- Meditate for 20 minutes.
Couple Other Things
Another thing that Wim recommends is cold training. This involves getting into cold showers for as long as you can stand it, which is actually harder than it sounds, then working your way up to ice baths. I’ve actually done ice baths in the past, as a way to recover from a long run, which I picked up from Dean Karnazes, but stepping into a cold shower is actually harder I think. I’ve made it for 2 minutes so far. I’ve lasted in an ice bath for 10 minutes.
Finally, he recommends throwing in exercise on the last set of breathing exercise. So after the 5th set of breathing exercise try to do as many push-ups as you can while holding your breath. I’m up to 35.
Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre. (2011, April 22). Research on ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof suggests it may be possible to influence autonomic nervous system and immune response. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 17, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110422090203.htm
Kox, M., van Eijk, L. T., Zwaag, J., van den Wildenberg, J., Sweep, F. C., van der Hoeven, J. G., & Pickkers, P. (2014). Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(20), 7379-7384. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/20/7379.long
How-to Guide for Wim Hof Method:
Many others on YouTube.