This man is my breathwork guru really. Other than being crazy, he is a nature lover, eccentric, youthful and excited about sharing and helping people. He is daring, committed and challenges our society and our scientific understanding of ourselves. I am not speaking about my man crush, I am speaking about none other than the Ice-Man, Wim Hof.
He is a crazy person. And when I say that I mean, running a half marathon barefoot on ice, crazy. I mean, climbing well past Everest base camp in board shorts and thongs, stopping only because of a foot injury, crazy. This man is a wizard. And he attributes his successes to the Wim Hof Method.
The Wim Hof method is a 3 part technique that involves breathing, cold exposure and commitment. In a time like this where we have an epidemic of poor health that is being highlighted by this current pandemic, a technique like this is a god send. In this blog we will be focussing on the breathing technique, but I recommend you look further into him and his full method including ice baths or cold showers and hopefully integrate some of these health optimisation techniques into your daily routine.
Wim’s breathing technique is a crude system that aims at applying sufficient stress on to the body’s respiratory, circulatory and metabolic systems in order to attain the results that it claims to achieve. These involve increasing overall immunity (fighting pathogens and illnesses faster that an average person), improving metabolism throughout the body, increasing red blood cell production, modulating the inflammatory response of the body, and improving lung health and capacity.
Any of these effects are powerful in their own right let alone all of them coming together. Couple that with us being in a time where the world is struggling with a pandemic that affects lung health and capacity this technique is a must try!
The breathing technique is a 3 part cycle that can be done a number of times for greater benefits.
It starts with 30 continuous deep full breaths. The inhalation goes in – ideally through the nose but the mouth is ok, as Wim would say, any hole will do – filling up the belly, the lungs and then exhaling through the mouth. Towards the end of the 30 breaths you will likely start feeling light headedness and tingling in your extremities. This is ok, and in fact is a positive and almost necessary part of the process.
The second part to the technique is a breath hold. When you reach the 30th breath, upon the exhale hold your breath. The idea is doing this for as long as possible. Aim to hold for upwards of 45 seconds if possible, but never force it. You will likely be able to hold longer than you normally could. We will explain why below.
After you feel the need to breath the third part of the technique is a recovery breath. This is essentially a final breath in and out then holding for 10-15 seconds.
The way this works is based on our changed blood chemistry during the breathing which inhibits our body’s natural state and the stress of the breath hold. The body only really changes when put under an appropriate stress. This is the same with strength training, we grow the most when we are challenged appropriately.
While breathing in and out quickly we release a lot carbon dioxide which reduces the acidity of the blood stream, this actually stops our red blood cells from releasing oxygen to our cells, this causes a mild state of hypoxia even though we are breathing in a lot of oxygen. This is the reason we feel light headed or tingling in our hands and feet. Interestingly, carbon dioxide levels rising is actually the thing that makes us need to breathe, not the lack of oxygen. So, when we hold our breath after hyperventilating, because of our lowered carbon dioxide levels we don’t actually have to breathe for longer than we normally would. As we hold our breath our body’s acidity levels (carbon dioxide is acidic) rise which allows the red blood cells to release their oxygen. However, because of the stress that we have put the body under, we have already facilitated our body’s systems to adapt. These adaptations include, an increase in our level of adrenaline, improved immune response, increased red blood cell count and removes toxins from the cells and many more.
The technique is one that can be done 2-3 or even more times in a row and it will have greater effects each time. Having said that, if it is your first time, try it once and see how you go. It can be a little difficult but the benefits outweigh the cost! Give it a crack and see for yourself the power of your own breath!
As always, if you’re struggling, just take a breath and try again!
— Nathan Orenstein