By Linda Music
The Wim Hof Method is rapidly gaining popularity around the world and so I thought I’d write about my experiences with the method as well as the experiences of a fellow Hoffer, Kel Sanson.
For those of you who are not familiar with Wim Hof and his method, let me introduce you.
Wim Hof, also known as the iceman, is most famous for his ability to retain his body temperature while subjecting himself to extreme cold conditions. He has held almost 20 world records including the longest ice bath, running a marathon in polar circles and climbing a snow-capped mountain dressed only in a pair of shorts.
For many people, Wim would seem like an oddity, a freak of nature perhaps. This opinion may be reinforced when they view his slightly eccentric behaviour. However, what cannot be discounted are the scientific studies that have shown his amazing ability to, not only withstand extreme temperatures, but also regulate his autonomic nervous system and immune system, a feat previously not considered possible.
Despite his “supernormal” abilities, Wim believes that anyone is capable of learning his techniques and so the Wim Hof Method (WHM) was born.
Does it strengthen the immune system?
I stumbled across the WHM early in 2016. The main reason for my interest in the method was because it was promoted as a way of strengthening the immune system. This was a huge draw card for me because, at the time, I was getting sick with colds every three to four weeks and was actively looking for a way to get my immune system working the way I believed it should.
I am not easily convinced but after spending a few weeks immersed in research I became open-minded enough to decide I would enrol in the 10-week Wim Hof Method course.
There are three pillars to the WHM: cold therapy, breathing and commitment and it was my research on cold immersion that convinced me to give the method a go. According to numerous scientific studies, cold exposure can increase the number of immune cells in the body. In simple terms, taking a cold shower, increases the body’s metabolic rate both during, and after, the shower. This rise in metabolic rate then activates the immune system which, in turn, increases the production of white blood cells: the body’s “soldiers” in the fight against viruses and bacteria.
So, I set off on my 10-week cold adventure starting off with 10 seconds, then 30 seconds and finally reaching 10 minute cold showers. I was surprised at how quickly I started enjoying my cold showers, particularly the after-effects of increased alertness.
My personal verdict:
I have been having cold showers for over 18 months and, in that time, have had one or two sniffles which never really amounted to much. This is despite the fact that my husband and son have had numerous respiratory infections over the same period. So, for me, at least, cold showers have definitely resulted in an improvement in immunity
Breathing: the second pillar
The WHM advocates a special type of breathing exercise which is described on the Wim Hof website as “controlled hyperventilation”. In a nutshell, the exercise involves around 30 inhalations and exhalations followed by a breath retention (on the exhale) for as long as it feels comfortable. It is said that training in this technique, increases energy, reduces stress levels and also improves the immune response.
I did the breathing exercises for eight of the 10 weeks and found that it led to tinnitus and headaches. I enjoyed doing the exercises, particularly as I watched my retention times get longer and longer. But due to headaches and extreme ringing in my ears, I had no choice but to stop. I have noticed that on various Wim Hof Facebook groups, tinnitus seems to be a problem for a few people. However, it appears that for most, it is a passing phase either that or it doesn’t not bother them as much as it bothered me.
I can’t say that the breathing gave me more energy probably because I’m a fairly energetic person anyway, but in preparing to write this post, I got in touch with some Hoffers and asked them about their experiences. While they all had positive things to share, it was Kel Sanson’s experience with the method that truly stood out.
Does it alleviate depression/anxiety?
Diagnosed with depression late in 2016, but admitting to probably having had it for years, Kel was prescribed antidepressants which failed to improve any of his symptoms. The doctor’s response to this was to increase the dose. Not happy with the lack of improvement, particularly when it came to his extreme fatigue and irritability, Kel sought out another doctor who disagreed with the first doctor’s diagnosis and advised Kel to stop taking the meds. Stopping the antidepressants led to an extreme escalation of his symptoms with lethargy and severe moodiness taking over his life and starting to negatively impact on his family.
Kel was so fatigued that he could think of nothing but sleep. He shared his journal entries with me and it is obvious that he was a man suffering, badly.
“I just can’t keep acting like everything is ok, it’s incredibly tiring.” he wrote in one entry.
Luckily for Kel, he found the WHM and within a few days of starting began to see significant changes. His fatigue disappeared, literally overnight and his mood improved rapidly.
“I just feel like I’m alive again,” Kel says after only two-and-a-half weeks into the program.
“I don’t have that brain fog that I’ve had for the last few years.”
How can simple breathing exercises and cold showers have such a positive effect, I wondered?
According to health researcher, Rhonda Patrick PhD, one of the consistent responses to cold exposure is the release of a hormone known as norepinephrine which is involved in attention and mood. Decreased levels of this hormone is associated with low energy, poor mood and for some people, even depression.
I’m no scientist or doctor, but it seems to me that perhaps an increase in norepinephrine might be the reason for Kel’s increased energy and improved mood.
The future of the Wim Hof Method
The method is rapidly growing in popularity as Hof tours the world, teaching his method, as well as training people to become instructors.
On a research level, there are numerous scientific studies currently underway all over the world looking at WHM and its effects on such things as metabolic activity, auto-immune diseases, sleep patterns and stress levels.
Finally…. what about me?
I’m going to continue with my cold showers. They’ve become as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my hair and teeth.
Talking to Kel, and listening to his genuine exuberance for the method, I’m determined to give the breathing another go.
I’ll also be keeping an eye out on the results of the scientific studies as they are published and will report back with any significant findings that I think might be of interest.
If you’ve had experience with WHM or cold showers, let me know how you went in the comments section of this blog. I’d love to read about it.
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