I’ve been hearing about Wim Hof [Wikipedia] and the Wim Hof Method for over a decade, but I didn’t take him seriously. It sounded too good to be true, and it was all little bit too “wild west” for me. I know people who did a class or a weekend and then never did it again, so it seemed to have limited value other than novelty. James Nestor’s book Breath: A New Science of a Lost Art [Amazon] was what changed my mind, and I started reading on the topic. One interesting thing was the very large number anecdotes of healing from the method, particularly people with auto-immune diseases. Me? I wanted to try this to see what effects it might have for people with burnout.
After rave reports by our friend Thorfin, I decided to give the Wim Hof Method a try, particularly because I didn’t have to spend much money. My initial plan was to do it for 30 days to make sure I could see what effect it had on me, and I wound up doing 65 days in a row.
The method includes breathing, cold exposure, meditation, exercise, and yoga/stretching. In this experiment I did the basic Wim Hof Method breathing twice a day for 65 days, took over 20 cold showers, did a lot of pushups. I did their ‘4 minute meditation’ something like 120 times as part of the basic breathing exercise. Stretching and exercise is already part of my daily routine.
The breathing exercise – which you can easily learn from Wim’s YouTube videos – is both easy and compelling. I never thought I’d be able to hold my breath for 180 seconds without straining. The experience of holding my breath after exhalation was one of intense quiet mental focus. I really look forward to that time.
My basic Wim Hof Method breathing cycle was 40~45 breaths, usually 5 or 6 cycles per sitting. The breathing was first thing in my morning, then I did it again just prior to bed. I do a lot of breath training so I was aggressive in my practice. You might begin by doing the breathing once a day, maybe 3 cycles of 30 breaths.
This kind of breathing technique [hypoxic breathing] really does have a profound and measurable effect on the body. Here is one factoid: Human blood stays within the pH range of 7.35 to 7.45. Studies show that WHM breathing moves blood pH towards the alkaline end of the range where it stays for hours. There is a replicated study of Wim and his students controlling a measured immune response in their bodies.
Cold showers are not my favorite, but you get over it. I was afraid, so delayed starting for over seven days. When I finally took the plunge I panicked a bit after about 20 seconds but, focusing on the breath [belly breathe: four seconds in, four seconds out] gets me through it. In case you are wondering, our tap water is ~50 degrees F. I average 4~5 minutes standing full body under running cold water. No hypothermia, no shivering. I’ve been too chicken to immerse myself in the Puget Sound, but that is in the future.
One thing people talk about is how you can do the breathing technique and do more pushups than you ever could before. Not me. I can do 20 pushups in a row. I can also do 20 pushups in a row with empty lungs after doing the WHM breathing. After doing these WHM pushups 7 or 8 days in a row I had really sore muscles and still could only do 20 at a time. Now I do WHM pushup every other day, and 20 is still my maximum for one set.
There is what looks like a fancy method for enhancing yoga and stretching. You do the WHM breathing and then stretch while doing a breath hold. I did it five? times, it didn’t help at all, if anything it got in the way.
When I started my program, aside from the fun of the breathing and the terror of the shower, the other thing I noticed was how I was a bit tired all the time. This lasted for about 30 days, then the tiredness disappeared. I optimistically hoped the tiredness was my body healing itself.
The practices increased my frequency of sleeping through the night – this is a big thing for me. WHM plus no alcohol gives very high likelihood of uninterrupted sleep. The breathing also often give me vivid dreams. Dreaming is very rare for me, and I take it as a sign that I am getting REM sleep. The practices have also had an astonishing positive effect on my qigong practice.
I did not get the pronounced ‘uplift’ that Thorfin got – no exuberance, no being filled with energy and vigor. To be fair (and honest) in contrast to my 4 minute cold showers, every day Thorfin was spending 12~15 minutes immersed in the Atlantic ocean (Nova Scotia) in Feb, Mar, April.
It seems like you can learn much or most of the WHM from YouTube. There are also a lot of free sources online. I used the $5.99 per month WHM app (useful but overpriced) and read Scott Carney’s book What Doesn’t Kill Us, [link to Amazon] which I can recommend. Since I had the app, I did the WHM audio challenge – you listen to a prerecorded 20 minute lecture by Wim Hof each day for 30 days. I can’t remember a word he said. Wim is enthusiastic and compelling and his attempts to explain the underlying science are more enthusiastic than accurate. He is not a scientist, he is not an engineer, he is an explorer. There are many others who do a better job explaining the evidence and research about the WHM.
My guess is that to the extent this method heals, it does over many months (or years). I’m now convinced that hypoxic breathing is a real and powerful thing, and I’m going to go deeper into this. WHM is one of three(?) easily available hypoxic breathing methods [WHM, SKY breathing, SOMA breathing]. James Nestor calls it ‘tummo breathing’ but I haven’t found a good set of instructions for performing tummo, a Tibetan Buddhist practice.
I’m interested to hear from other people who have tried the method for 30 days or longer. What was your experience?