When first hearing about Wim Hof years ago I brushed it off as just something weird that people who were bored in life attempted. Then a funny thing happens, you think you’re doing it all right in life and you become ill despite it, requiring a whole new way of life and mindset. Learning that what you thought was the “right “ way, was in fact, not! Now I’m a nerd at heart and love digging into science, so I tend to dig into things deeper than surface value, here I’ll share the basics, but also reference the study’s read as well!
As someone who battled anxiety for years, I would’ve told you this was impossible… but did you know you can influence your body’s Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)?
Your ANS regulates your body temp, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and determines whether your blood vessels dilate or contract. It’s kind of a big deal. We cannot control these functions, our ANS does.
Radmount University Medical Centre studied Wim’s method with 24 test subjects which showed people who practiced the Hof method were able to control their ANS.
Cold is considered to have many benefits such as:
Increased energy levels
We have 77,671 miles of blood vessels in our body, these ensure that the billions of cells continually receive enough nutrients and oxygen. If they work properly, the entire body will function better b/c it will receive more nutrients and oxygen. Your brain, muscles, intestines, heart, liver, etc will function better.
When you expose yourself to the cold (by stepping in a cold tub) your body automatically closes off the blood flow to the less vital parts of your body. This is necessary so your body temp doesn't fall below 95F.Your body is more concerned with keeping your heart pumping, than it is say your fingers and toes.
By exposing yourself to the cold you can train your blood vessels by closing them forcefully, then making them open again. Think about your muscles, when you first started training them, they were weaker and it hurt, but after they recovered they got stronger. It’s the same with your blood vessels. One thing I’ve noticed personally is my tolerance to cold is that much higher and fine being in a t-shirt when the house is 66F during the winter!
If you expose yourself to extreme cold without training you run the risk of damage. This is what happens when people get frostbite. Hypothermia is another concern as it puts normal metabolic functions at risk. When your core body temp drops below 95F, the cold will get into your bones and tissues can die.
A study by Hopman et al (2010) showed Hof’s metabolic rate increased by 300% when exposed to ice, turning up the body’s “stove” 3x higher than normal. Most people begin to shiver and shake to stay warm, but Hof does neither. He stays warm by controlling his ANS with breathing exercises. This training has given him a lot more brown fat.
We have two types of fat:
White fat stores energy and is a reserve for nutrients, also serving as insulation for the body. Protecting your organs ensuring they stay in place. Whereas brown fat is warming up your body by burning fatty acids and glucose.
Those who are overweight with excess white fat and train in the cold can teach their bodies to turn the white fat into fuel via brown fat. The benefits don’t stop at just blood vessels and brown fat.
You have between 5-6 liters of blood flowing through you. Blood consists of 55% plasma and 45% corpuscles. Plasma is mainly water with minerals, carbohydrates, fats, hormones and more than 100 different kinds of proteins.
There are 3 types of corpuscles:
Platelets help heal wounds by ensuring that the blood stops flowing and a scab forms. Red corpuscles absorb oxygen in the lungs then transport it to the organs. These cells contain hemoglobin which gives blood its red color and binds with oxygen. White corpuscles are a collective name for different cells and larger than red corpuscles and you have less of them.
They defend your body against infection from bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, yeasts, and foreign substances.
A 1994 study by Thrombosis Research Institute showed that people who took daily cold showers had a higher white blood cell count than those who didn’t, making them better at fending off disease.
Why read about these?
Understanding how your body works empowers you with knowledge of what happens when you expose yourself to the cold. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the thick of it trying to focus, keeping the science in mind and understanding how my system will benefit helps me to remain calm.
How to get started.
Take a warm shower as you normally do, while the water is running begin practicing your breathing exercises. Breathe in and out slowly. Do this for a good minute before shutting off the hot water. Once you flip it off, your body is going to be shocked, you’ll start breathing more quickly, breathing might feel impossible! The trick is to focus on breathing and remain calm (easier said than done in the beginning). Once you manage your breathing, the cold will feel differently on your body. For myself, it takes 10 seconds to adjust and get breathing back to normal, from there my body begins to warm up as I stand there focused on breathing as calmly as possible. It will be the strangest thing to feel the water hitting your body in the shower and yet you feel warm, no shivering or shaking, it is exhilarating. Begin with 30 seconds in the shower for a week, wash up as you normally would, the begin practice your breathing technique, followed by shutting off the heat. The first week just learning how to control your body when it goes into shock takes work. Next week go up to 1 minute in the cold water for a week. Each week thereafter add 1 minute to your time until finding your sweet spot. I prefer to start with my back to the shower so it can directly hit the vagus nerve (neck area is best) then turn around facing the shower the final minute.
If you’re not ready for that, take a bowl of bucket and fill it with cold water and ice. Put your hands and/or feet in there, it’ll tingle and hurt and as the blood vessels contract. As you focus on your breathing and calm your system down the pain will go away and you’ll begin to feel warmer as your body turns up the heat. If they’re not warm after 2 mins it's suggested to stop.
Exposure to cold improves your circulation, activates brown fat tissue, and activates the production of white corpuscles.
Next up is breathing, how you do is crucial to your success. This is the part that will aid in relaxing you. Those with a higher respiratory rate are at a higher risk for developing health problems such as:
Pain in shoulder or neck
Many people breathe 13-22x per minute! Our rate should be between 6-10x per minute, as you can see there’s quite a big range there in what will help us and what is not beneficial.
Two suggested breathing exercise
Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, pause *repeat*
Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth, prolonging your breath a little, pause *repeat*.
Wim’s method isn’t intended to relax you, not while performing the technique. His are designed to enable you to control your mind and body allowing you to influence your autonomic nervous system. You’ll most likely feel light headed when starting.
Wim’s method is to breathe in deeply, and then exhale at a comfortable pace *repeat 30x*. On the very last breath, breathe out completely slowly and then hold your breath until you need air. Repeating until feeling tingly, light headed, or sluggish.
By doing so you expel a lot of carbon dioxide, the CO2 concentration in the blood will decrease and blood vessels will contract. When you hold your breath after breathing out, your body compensates by releasing more oxygen in the mitochondria. This is your powerhouse that supplies the cells with energy. More oxygen generates more energy. Waste is expelled and the oxygen has space to penetrate deeper into the cells.
Vince and myself have been practicing this method for a few months now and it's become part of our daily routine. I've noticed a big decrease in inflammation, better support for endocrine system, sleep has been amazing, along with rarely cold!