If it’s true that there’s a fine line between genius and madness, Wim Hof has made his home on that line for years. A Dutch athlete whose legendary status comes less from what he’s doing and more from how he does it, he is best known for demonstrating incredible endurance and strength in extreme (even crazy?) conditions. With more than 20 Guinness World Records to his name, he has:
swum a distance of more than 200 feet under a layer of ice,
climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro dressed only in a pair of shorts, and
run both a half a marathon within the Arctic Circle (barefoot and, again, clad in just shorts) and a full marathon in the vast Namib Desert (without water).
Hof trained himself to withstand these harsh conditions by manipulating his breathing, heart rate, and circulation in order to control his body and nervous system. More, he developed his techniques into the Wim Hof Method, teaching others to harness that internal power and, as his 2020 book promises, “activate their full human potential.”
While most people probably aren’t planning to hike mountains half-naked, it turns out that there are a lot of practical, everyday benefits of the Wim Hof Method too. Read on for more!
Understanding the Wim Hof Method
The Wim Hof Method (WHM) combines three factors: breathwork, cold therapy, and commitment. The breathing is done in intervals, engaging in periods of hyperventilation (breathing more deeply or quickly than natural) interspersed with periods of holding the breath. With cold therapy, practitioners expose themselves to frigid temps for longer and longer periods of time to build the body’s endurance. Hof says that consistent practice of the two elements is key.
Benefits of the Wim Hof Method
Before Hof, the ability to voluntarily control or influence the autonomic nervous system was believed to be impossible. While his accomplishments and quest for a healthier life have inspired thousands to adopt his methods, they have also prompted scientific research to understand how they work. Researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands and Wayne State University in the United States found that his methods showed promise in reducing inflammation and increasing activity in areas of the brain related to pain management and well-being.
The potential benefits listed on the WHM website are extensive. The practice is said to improve everything from cold tolerance and stress response to creativity and concentration, or even happiness. Even more, practitioners (aptly nicknamed “Hoffers”) swear by the method, crediting it for helping them to manage arthritis, anxiety, and other long-term issues.
There are many ways to learn about and put the WHM into practice, including Hof’s books, experiences (live and virtual), and training courses. Luckily, you can also start to unlock the benefits of the practice at home.
Wim Hof breathwork is best done on an empty stomach, and, because it’s natural to feel lightheaded (or even to faint), it should be done in a safe, comfortable space. You can sit or lie down.
Start by taking 30 to 40 slow, deep breaths. Pull the air down into your belly, completely filling the lungs. Release each breath naturally, simply letting the air go from your body.
Release the last breath and hold it, without inhaling, for as long as you can. When you start to grow uncomfortable, take one more deep breath and hold it for another 10-15 seconds.
Repeat steps one and two for three or four rounds.
While your breaths should be deep and intentional, it’s important to not force them. Make them as natural as possible and, if you’re struggling, know that it’s okay to set the practice aside and return to it later. It’ll get easier with time!
One way for new practitioners to build their tolerance to cold is with the 20-Day Cold Shower Challenge. Over the course of four weeks (five days each week), this challenge trains the body with increasingly long blasts of cold water. In the first week, it’s 30 seconds. By week four, you should be able to make it through two full minutes.
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